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When the Cheering Stopped

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Palm Sunday Sermon - Save me, don't change me

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When the Cheering Stopped

Some years ago a book was written by Gene Smith, a noted American historian. The title was "When The Cheering Stopped." It was the story of President Woodrow Wilson and the events leading up to and following WWI.
When that war was over Wilson was an international hero. There was a great spirit of optimism abroad, and people actually believed that the last war had been fought and the world had been made safe for democracy.
On his first visit to Paris after the war Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy. In a Vienna hospital a Red Cross worker had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents because of the war and the hard times. The children didn’t believe her. They said that President Wilson was coming and they knew that everything would be all right.
The cheering lasted about a year. Then it gradually began to stop. It turned out that the political leaders in Europe were more concerned with their own agendas than they were a lasting peace. At home, Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the United States Senate and his League of Nations was not ratified.
Under the strain of it all the President’s health began to break. In the next election his party was defeated. So it was that Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year or two earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days a broken and defeated man.

Hosanna Then

“Hosanna!” They cried… “Hosanna in the highest!!” This year as we hear the Palm Sunday story, I am struck by this cheer of the crowd. For some in the crowd, this “Hosanna” cheer was to literally say, “Save us.” Find time to make everything in the world right again for us, Jesus. We’re sick… we’re hungry… we’re dying. Have mercy—save us.
For others “Hosanna” was cheered in adoration… “Savior!” There he is… see little ones, I told you that he would be here someday. And there he is, that’s the Savior right over there. “Hosanna! Hosanna!”
For others “Hosanna” was cheered in adoration… “Savior!” There he is… see little ones, I told you that he would be here someday. And there he is, that’s the Savior right over there. “Hosanna! Hosanna!”
In either case, this single word captures the hopes, pleas, dreams, needs, and expectations of a crowd of people who were worn out by occupation, by feeling like strangers in their own land, and who had little day-to-day hope of improving their lot in life.
They have been living in fear of the future.
They have lost faith in their local government that has been transformed into puppets for their oppressors, they can’t trust law enforcement to actually give them justice but rather see law enforcement as a tool of their oppressors, the church seems to be full of hypocrites who are more interested in judging them than helping them.
It was a hard time to be a Jew. And so, they turn to Jesus.

Hosanna Now

And, I dare say, there are many in our country today who have similar fears. We have gun lobbyists who are afraid that the government is going to take their rights to bear arms away. We have students who are afraid that the guns won’t be taken away.
We have minorities who fear that they are being unjustly persecuted by some police officers—perhaps even being killed because of the color of their skin. We have others who fear the potential danger of those minorities and wish to keep them out of the country and out of the towns.
We have Christians who fear that Christianity is dying here in the United States. And we have many who have been hurt by the church—and would indeed gladly see organized religion die.
There are similarities between that Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago and the Palm Sunday we celebrate today. And I can’t help but wonder if Jesus were to enter Washington D.C. today, riding in a V.W. Bus or whatever it might be—just who would turn up. And my guess is that we would see folks representing every group that I just mentioned. Each of them crying out, “Save us!” “Have mercy!” “Be the Savior we have been wanting and make things right again!”

The Problem of Palm Sunday

And now, the problem of Palm Sunday begins to reveal itself. There is confusion amongst the ranks. The people want salvation, yes!! But on their own terms… on our own terms. 2,000 years ago many of the people wanted a Savior to dramatically lead a rebellion, defeat their Roman oppressors, and restore Israel to its former glory.
What those that gathered 2,00 years didn’t imagine and, truth be told, didn’t want, was a Savior that would die.
They wanted a Savior that would elevate them to where they wanted to be—to have their status in life changed to be more comfortable… but instead they had a Savior that identified with them , truly became one of them.
He suffered what they had suffered, and then some. He came to change their lives through his death.
But here’s the kicker… they didn’t want a Savior or a God who would challenge their view of themselves. They didn’t want a God to challenge the way they thought of or treated their neighbors. They didn’t want a God that would question their values.
They wanted a Savior who would reinforce and even validate their values and their beliefs. “Hosanna, Save us!!! But… don’t change us… not really.”

Law

Conviction

And I pause… because I can’t help but wonder how often we too would rather just be saved rather than changed. How often do we want to hear Christ validating OUR beliefs… OUR political positions… OUR stances on gun control or immigration or whatever else the issue might be. Or, at the very least, if God isn’t validating our beliefs then God should stay out of those issues.
Why does the cheering of Palm Sunday stop? Because Christ didn’t fit into the kind of Savior role that people were looking for. When we get right down to it, Palm Sunday can be a troubling time for us as it can cause us to ask just what exactly it is we are looking for in Christ. And, we might ask whether or not we are open to not only being saved by Christ’s love… but if we are open to being changed and transformed by it as well.
It perhaps is of little surprise that the cheers “Savior!” turn quickly to chants of “Crucify! Crucify!” It’s the same crowd. The same people. Those who had been hopeful adorers of Christ become hateful accusers—why? Because he didn’t come to tell them that they were right—but instead to transform them that they might become righteous before God.

Gospel

And while it might not be a surprise that these folks turn against Jesus… there is something that I think is surprising. And that is the compassion and commitment of Jesus to those who would nail him to a tree.
He sets his face on Jerusalem—he enters Jerusalem to the sound of these “Hosanna” cheers that he knows will soon turn against him. He knows the path that he is on and where it will lead him to. And he goes anyway.
And on this journey toward the cross he does not cry out to God to send those angels and rewrite the script. Instead, he goes, willingly, to the cross. He goes, to die. He isn’t the kind of Savior the people wanted… but he is the kind of Savior that the world needed.

Marco Polo

Legend has it that during Marco Polo's celebrated trip to Asia, he was taken before the great and fearsome ruler, Genghis Khan. Now what was Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant and adventurer, supposed to do before this mighty pagan conqueror?
One false move could cost him his life. He decided to tell the story of Jesus as it is recorded in the gospels. It is said that when Marco Polo related the events of Holy Week, and described Jesus' betrayal, his trial, his scourging and crucifixion, Genghis Khan became more and more agitated, more engrossed in the story, and more tense. When Marco Polo pronounced the words, "Then Jesus bowed his head and yielded up his spirit,"
Genghis Khan could no longer contain himself. He interrupted, bellowing, "What did the Christian's God do then? Did he send thousands of angels from heaven to smite and destroy those who killed his Son?"
What did the Christian's God do then?
He watched his beloved Son die, that's what the Christian's God did then. For that was the way Jesus chose to ascend the throne of his kingdom and to establish his Lordship for all time. Not at all the way we would expect God to demonstrate his might and power, but that's the way it was and that is how we know what our God is like.
Steady your hearts and your minds as we enter Holy Week. Seek not to be validated, but to be changed. Know the heart of your God—who loves you to death, even to such a foolish death as execution on a cross.
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