Sermons That Work

The Little Town of Spearfish…, Palm Sunday (B) – 1997

March 23, 1997

The little town of Spearfish, SD, nestled in the foot of the Black Hills holds a singular distinction. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Spearfish holds the record for the largest temperature drop ever recorded. As you can imagine, Spearfish is not San Diego. Well, Jerusalem is not San Diego either, but if it went in the record books it would have to be for the largest drop in mood ever recorded, and that’s what this service is all about.

Jesus came riding into Jerusalem to the joyful shouts of Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest! We celebrate with the people who welcomed Jesus that day with the Blessing of the Palms. It feels good. It’s like standing on the edge of a new era. Jesus is going to be on our side. Jesus will be our new leader. He will take up our cause.

But almost as soon as the echoes of “All glory, laud and honor” fade, the cheers turn to sneers. We wanted Jesus to be on our side, but we discovered something for which we weren’t quite prepared. Jesus didn’t just come to be on our side. He came to be on the side of everyone — even on the side of our enemies! He can’t do that in this world! We want him to be on our side, but we don’t want him to be on their side. You know who I’m talking about – them.

Jesus refused to fight against the Romans. “Render unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s,” he said. Well, Judas would have none of that. If Jesus wanted to be on Judas’ side, then he would just have to fight the Romans. Judas wanted to fight against the Romans, and apparently Jesus had no intention of leading the Zealots, so what use was he?

Judas had many committed and courageous comrades hiding all over Jerusalem, just waiting for Jesus to mobilize them; but he wouldn’t do it. He said that he was depending only on God, but God helps those who help themselves. Instead of leading them toward the new and glorious kingdom of Israel, he led them into a dark garden to pray. He was sweating, but they were so bored they could hardly keep their eyes open.

Jesus could have been a great religious leader, but he refused to join up with the other religious leaders. He’d shown great promise ever since he was twelve. Remember the day he wowed them in the Temple. But now he talks about bringing down the Temple. He says that he would build another not made with human hands., but anyone can see that would be a disaster. He’s really let go of the Traditions, and some of the things he says sound like blasphemy. Everyone knows it takes a good follower to be a good leader. He’s leading all right, but he’s leading in the wrong direction.

Jesus wasn’t even on the side of his own disciples. Peter, James and John wanted a successful outcome to this movement they had joined. They wanted him to lead them in overthrowing the oppressors and restoring David’s throne. But Jesus just seemed intent on endangering himself and them, and if he had a plan, he pretty much kept it to himself. If he was just going to recklessly throw everything away, then he’d have to do it alone.

And what about his miracles! Why did he start up his wonderful healing ministry? What was the wonderful feeding of thousands out of nothing all about if he was just going to drop it? Why did he stir up the people’s hunger if he wasn’t going to follow through? Was he playing them for suckers? Is he playing us for suckers today? He shouldn’t have gotten our hopes up if he was going to let us down like this. We need a man of action! Someone like Barabbas. You know what Jesus’ problem was? He simply would not lead. He tried to be on the side of everyone, and you can’t do that!

There were crowds ready to proclaim him King, but he just would not lead! He could have rallied the whole population in a minute, but he just stood there as they came to take him away. He even rebuked the one who tried to fight for him. He wouldn’t even take the lead in his own defense. Pilate was ready, even eager, to help him against the Jewish establishment, but how could you help someone who wouldn’t help himself? You can’t get along in this world if you won’t choose sides. If you are for everybody, you end up with nobody.

Will Campbell is a Baptist minister who drives people up a wall. He doesn’t have a church. He just preaches and pastors whenever he feels called. He’s from Mississippi, but he was an outcast in the 60s because of his belief in integration and his association with “outside agitators.”

One of those agitators, a young Episcopal minister named Jonathan Daniels was killed with a shotgun blast by Tom Coleman of Hayneville, Alabama, in 1966. An all-white jury found Coleman innocent and Will Campbell shocked and alienated his civil rights friends by standing beside Coleman.

“Jonathan can never have died in vain,” he said, “because he loved his killer — by his own words. And since he loved his murderer, his death is its own meaning. And what it means is that Tom Coleman, this man who pulled the trigger, is forgiven. If Jonathan forgives, then it is not for me to condemn him.”

Jesus came to unite us into a fellowship of love, a love so great that it will lay down its life for the beloved. But to this day we have refused. Liberal minded Episcopalians think Jesus is on their side, and when they see him sitting down with Assembly of God charismatic, they turn away from him. Evangelical Christians think Jesus is on their side, and when they hear he is sitting down with Jews, they pull away from him.

Straight Christians think he is on their side, but they are shocked and draw back from him when they see him move over to be with gay Christians. Black South Africans think he is their leader and liberator, and they cannot believe his willing presence in white Afrikaner churches.

Jesus rains on our parade because we all want him to take up our cause and lead us where we want to go. But Jesus came, not to join in our parade, but to teach us to take up our cross and join in his parade. It’s a parade that celebrates the Father’s love. We are called to abide in him that he might abide in us. Still, we turned away. But it was the Father’s will that he should not lose any one of us.

Jesus took the only option that we left open to him — he accepted the rejection of all so that he might show mercy on all. He was clothed with the purple robe of mockery and crowned with the thorns of shame, so that by suffering the rejection of all, we might at last be united by his forgiveness. Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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