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Mark 15_1-39 (40-47)

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TITLE:   Staying on the Hosanna Side of Life  

SCRIPTURE:    Mark 15:1-39 (40-47)

What's the difference between a crowd and a mob?  My dictionary says that a crowd is "a large group of people gathered in one place" and that a mob is "a large and unruly group of people."  The difference, then, is that word, "unruly."  Both a crowd and a mob are large and gathered together, but a mob is unruly.

I looked up that word, "unruly."  Unruly means "difficult to control."  But a mob isn't really difficult to control.  A mob is easy to control.  Usually one or two people get a mob excited, and then they manipulate the mob to do what they want.

When I think of mobs, the scene that comes to mind is the mob scene in the movie, "To Kill a Mockingbird."  That was a great movie.  Gregory Peck plays the part of Atticus Finch, a southern lawyer in Macon, Georgia, during the 1940s.  A black man is accused of raping a white woman, and Atticus decides to defend him -- infuriating his white neighbors. 

A mob gathers, many of them armed, to lynch the accused man.  Atticus, however, learns their intentions and goes to the jail.  He pulls up a chair outside the jail and sits -- blocking the door -- defending his client.  The mob tells him to move, but he stays put.  Eventually, in the face of his quiet courage, the mob calms down and goes home.

That, of course, isn't the end of the movie.  At the trial, Atticus mounts a convincing defense, but the jury finds his client guilty anyway.  Atticus determines to appeal, but never gets the chance.   Soon after the trial, the black man is shot and killed.  The sheriff explained that he tried to escape.

That makes it sound like a depressing movie, but it isn't.  Atticus Finch is such an appealing character that the movie is more inspiring than depressing.  I especially like the scene at the end of the trial.  As Atticus stands to leave, having lost a case that couldn't be won, the black townspeople in the balcony stand to show him respect.  Atticus' children are sitting there too, and one of the men says to Atticus' daughter, "Miss Jean Louise. Miss Jean Louise. Stand up (pause). Your father's passing by."

"Miss Jean Louise. Miss Jean Louise. Stand up. Your father's passing by."  I don't know why that scene moves me so, but it does.  I think it's that Atticus was such a good man -- that he showed such strength -- that he has cared and continued to care -- that he had the courage to stand against the crowd -- that he mounted an excellent defense against a stacked deck. 

The black families gathered in the balcony stood to honor Atticus as the trial ended, even though he failed to save their man.  They honored Atticus for caring -- and for continuing to care.  And they weren't willing to honor him alone.  They let his children know that their father was worthy of honor.  "Miss Jean Louise. Miss Jean Louise. Stand up. Your father's passing by." 

I was reminded of the mob scene in that movie when I thought of Jesus being tried before Pilate.  "Crucify him! Crucify him!" they cried.  Jesus demonstrated quiet courage in that situation too, but it didn't dissuade the crowd.  They continued to shout, "Crucify him!  Crucify him!"

I said earlier that a mob is easy to control.  That was true of the mob that shouted for Jesus' death.  Behind the scenes, the chief priests were stirring up the crowd -- inciting them to persuade the Romans to kill Jesus.  The chief priests were the brains behind the mob -- the brains behind the crucifixion.

Earlier, the mob had been a crowd.  They had welcomed Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  They had carpeted his pathway with palm branches.  They had shouted, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!"

That was on Sunday.  On Sunday, they shouted, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" Five days later they shouted, "Crucify him!  Crucify him!"  The shift in their passions is hard to fathom.  How could they turn on Jesus so quickly and so totally?  We are left to wonder if it's a true story.

But I believe this to be a true story.  For one thing, the people in the crowd and the people in the mob could be different people.  It wouldn't come as a surprise to anyone to learn that some people love Jesus and others hate him.  But even if the crowd and the mob were the same people, there is the matter of leadership -- of the chief priests.  They wanted Jesus dead, and they knew how to stir up a mob.

But I also know that some people are here-today and gone-tomorrow when it comes to faith.  I have been surprised in the past by people who seemed to be solidly grounded in the faith but ended up rejecting Christ. So I  hear the phrase, “ I can’t be bothered now.” 

That's what we have to watch out for, isn't it -- "Can't be bothered."  Some people get angry at Jesus and move from "Hosanna!" to "Crucify him!" -- but the real danger for most of us is that we will move from "Hosanna!" to "Can't be bothered."

Or, as a man named Paul Little says:

      "Collapse in the Christian life is seldom a blowout;
      it is usually a slow leak."

Or, as Walter Farrell says:

      "The devil does not shock a saint into alertness
      by suggesting whopping crimes.
      He starts off with little, almost inoffensive things
      to which even the heart of a saint would make only mild protests."

As we reflect today on the "Hosanna!" crowd of Palm Sunday and the "Crucify him!" mob of Good Friday, I would like to suggest that we consider how to stay in the "Hosanna!" crowd and not to move to the "Crucify him" mob -- or even to the "Can't be bothered" group.

I am convinced that one of the big reasons that Jesus established the church on earth was that we Christians need each other -- we help each other -- we keep each other strong.  I believe in private prayer, but I also believe that, when we come together in worship, something happens that cannot happen when we worship alone.  When we come together to sing hymns -- and to listen to the scripture being read -- and to partake of the sacraments -- our communal worship girds us spiritually for the week ahead.  So we need to keep ourselves strong through communal worship so that we can stay in the "Hosanna!" crowd without being tempted to move to the "Can't be bothered" group.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that it helps to attend a coffee hour after church -- to rub elbows with other Christians -- to talk with them -- to become friends -- to learn their joys and sorrows.  There is something almost sacramental about that sort of Christian fellowship.  It helps to keep us in the "Hosanna!" crowd.

We need other spiritual disciplines too -- reading the scriptures and prayer.  We can do those things on our own, if we are disciplined enough.  But it helps to join a Bible study group that meets regularly so that we can be strengthened regularly.  That sort of thing helps to keep us in the "Hosanna!" crowd.

But I found what I believe to be the best recipe for keeping our faith strong in a quotation by Sir Thomas More.  More was born in London more than five centuries ago.  He first studied to be a lawyer, and then felt called to be a monk.  For the rest of his life, he found himself engaged in the affairs of both church and state.  He has been dead now almost five hundred years (he died in 1535), but his writings and his example continue to inspire people even today. 

In one of his books, More wrote these words, and I commend them to you as a recipe for staying on the "Hosanna!" side of life.  More said:

      "Let us fence us in with faith
      and comfort us with hope
      and smite the devil in the face
      with the firebrand of charity....

      That fire of charity, thrown in his face,
      striketh the devil suddenly so blind
      that he cannot see where to fasten a stroke on us."

The language in that quotation is dated and somewhat difficult to follow, but I would like to draw your attention once more to what More said about charity.  He said:

      "Let us...smite the devil in the face
      with the firebrand of charity....
      That fire of charity, thrown in his face,
      striketh the devil suddenly so blind
      that he cannot see where to fasten a stroke on us."

More is saying that the best way to avoid temptation -- the best way to keep ourselves on the "Hosanna!" side of life -- is to devote our lives, not to our own welfare, but to those around us.  He is saying that, when we devote ourselves to serving others, the devil can't get his hooks into us.  He is saying that the best way to keep ourselves from being dragged down is to spend our lives helping other people up.

During Holy Week, the people of Jerusalem moved from "Hosanna!" to "Crucify him!"  We will probably never be tempted to say, "Crucify him!" but we will be tempted to say, "Can't be bothered."  Let us devote ourselves to worship, Bible study, prayer, and service. Let us keep ourselves on the "Hosanna!" side of life.

All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name  UMH #154-155

Were You There  UMH #288

Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed  UMH #294

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