Tuesday, April 3, 2012

This was my sermon for Palm-Passion Sunday, April 1.  Before reading this, you need to know that I passed out toothbrushes instead of palms for the folks to wave as we processed into the sanctuary.

Company's Coming

Palm/Passion Sunday, 2012

Mark 11:1-14

How many of you have been "April Fooled" already today?

Did you get salt out of the sugar bowl for your coffee or cereal? Did the lids to the pepper and salt shakers fall completely off with the first shake?

Were all your shirt sleeves turned inside out?

Good April Fool jokes and pranks are supposed to strike out at our routines, shake up our perceptions, make something ordinary odd and extraordinary. Which brings us to the toothbrushes. You were probably expecting the palm crosses that we usually wave—but why toothbrushes?

Palm Sunday remembers Jesus' being welcomed into Jerusalem. It's about honoring the King. Company's coming and the people want to welcome him.

Company's coming. I don't know how it is in your house, but when we know company's coming we do three things. Clean the house, set the table, and finally shower, change into nice clothes, comb our hair (well, Fay does) and brush our teeth so we look and smell nice for our guests. Why? Because we want them to feel welcome. Because we want to honor their presence with us. That's why the palms: that's why the toothbrushes.

Toothbrushes are handy for a lot more than brushing our teeth. Some of you may have used them to clean the tile grout in your bathroom or kitchen. I find them handy for cleaning around the faucet, for cleaning my electric razor, and even when shining my shoes. In the Air Force we used to joke about cleaning the runway with a toothbrush when some big mucky muck was coming. As Jesus rides into Jerusalem, he also rides into our hearts, and into our lives. Like cleaning the house for company, Lent is a time for cleansing our lives as we prepare to welcome the risen Christ. Fasting, alms giving, prayer, meditation, and confession cleanse our hearts and prepare our souls for the coming King.

Shortly after we were married, Fay and I visited her grandmother and a whole bunch of cousins in Oklahoma. When one of her aunts answered the door she exclaimed: “If I’d known you was comin', I woulda baked a cake.” There is probably no greater act of hospitality than sharing food, breaking bread together. When we share a meal, we share the building blocks of life, itself—we share the stuff of which we are made; we share life. That's why we set out the best table linens, the fine china, the good silver, and the crystal. To share not only life with our guests, but to share the best we have to offer. The Lenten call to alms giving is a call to share the best we have with Jesus and with others.

When we are expecting company, we want not only the house, but ourselves, to look good—so the last thing we do before the doorbell rings is to wash our face, comb our hair and brush our teeth. Our attention to our appearance honors our guests.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, his disciples honored him by laying their coats on the ground in front of the donkey. The crowds joined in, covering the road with branches and shouting “Hosanna” “Save we pray!” “Blessed, happy, is the one who comes in God's name.” They honored Jesus and recognized him as the messiah, the one who will restore the kingdom of David. It was a joyous time, but it was not to last.

An old proverb states that in three days guests and fish grow smelly. Sometime between the Palms and the Passover the crowds changed. This is not unusual. Even the most popular and charismatic who challenge the status quo, find their popularity soon wanes. Noted historian Gene Smith, in his book "When The Cheering Stopped,” tells 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.

Only a few days after entering Jerusalem to the accolades of the crowd, Jesus found himself again in front of the crowd. But this time, instead of shouting “hosanna!” they shouted “Crucify!” And of all those present, only Jesus understood that the kingdom he would usher in would come only through his suffering, death and resurrection. Let us remember the passion as we stand and sing together #288, Were You There? AMEN.

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