A Sermon for Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday.
I had a friend in college I'll call “Bob”. Bob was drop dead cute. He had big brown puppy dog eyes and girls just swooned around him. I hated that!
Bob was never without a girlfriend. His problem was he could never keep a girlfriend for more than a couple of months. Bob would fall "in love" with a girl and he would be absolutely sure that this was the woman for him. Everything about her was perfect. She was pretty. She was bright.
She had all the qualities that he was looking for – for a couple months.
After a couple of months, about the time something was expected of him, things started to change. Bob started to realize that he was dealing with was actually another person. She was not just a projection of all his fantasies but actually had her own perspective and her own opinions. She had her own way of doing things. She had her own expectations. She had expectations of him. At that point, Bob would break up with her, disillusioned. Before long, he would fall in love with another girl and the whole sequence would start over again.
Bob was given to projecting his fantasies onto the girls with whom he was infatuated. But, those fantasies kept bumping up against the actual person. He was good at infatuation, but not so good at actual love.
I wonder if that isn’t how most of us engage Jesus much of the time. We are in love with the idea of Jesus. We are infatuated with Jesus. We want to welcome Jesus with shouts of
Hosanna. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
But mostly we are just projecting our own expectations and wishes onto the idea of Jesus. When Jesus turns out to be something other than our preconceived notion of what he is or should be, we must either change or do something to avoid changing. Or was must try to change him. And, like those in this Passion we just heard, our Hosannas turn to, “Crucify him!”
[Let’s be clear here: In the passion narratives, when the gospels refer to "the Jews" the Jews are the representatives of all humanity are not peculiarly culpable.]
It’s not just that Jesus did not conform to the expectations his fellow Jews had for the Messiah. Jesus – and the God that Jesus reveals – messes with the usual categories of all of us for what God should be. And Jesus calls into question many things that each of us wants to assume about what is right and good and true about the way life should be lived.
It’s not just that the Jews expected a Warrior Messiah and got a non-violent, self-sacrificing Messiah instead. It’s that all of us prefer the Lion of Judah to the Lamb of God.
All of us want to enlist God in our battles – literally when we go to war, but also our political and other battles. We want to assume that God is on our side. What we want – what we are infatuated with – is a God we can exploit for our own comfort and to our own ends. We want a God we can use to prop up our own preconceived notions about what life is all about. We want a God we can exploit against those who threaten those notions. Indeed, we often want a God we can enlist to beat up our enemies – rhetorically at least, but often enough, literally.
But that is precisely where the God we know in Jesus frustrates our infatuation. A God who humbly empties himself is hard to exploit as a tool for our own purposes. Certainly it is hard to use such a God as a stick with which to whack the people we don’t like.
The God revealed in Jesus will frustrate all easy certainties about what God is like and what God wants. To believe in such a humble God turns our expectations of God upside down and demands of us a corresponding humility. It calls us to resist being too sure that God agrees with us or only likes the people we like. It means being prepared to let go of even our most cherished fantasies of what God is or should be. It will require that we not gloss over or ignore those things Jesus says and does that challenge our prejudices and assumptions about God and life. To move from infatuation with the idea of God to love of God in Jesus Christ requires a willingness to get to know the one we claim to love. If the God we claim to love is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Philippians 2 is a good place to start.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
It’s right about there that we find out if we truly love Jesus or are just infatuated with him, when we realize that following him means the cross, when we realize it means denying ourselves for the sake of the other, when we realize it means emptying ourselves and walking the way of his suffering.
Jesus looks down from the cross at the very people who are taunting, threatening, and crucifying him. And he prays, “Father, forgive them.”
How will we demonstrate our love for such a God as we engage others? Will we love and forgive and welcome others in the name of Jesus? Or will we find excuses to avoid, ignore, or reject them? Will we be perfect in mercy as Jesus says his Father is, pouring out mercy on everyone? Or will we decide only some people really deserve mercy – those we like and those who look like us. Will we withhold mercy from others?
Our love of the God of Jesus will mean that we welcome him – all of him – with our hosannas. And that means welcoming all other people, beloved by this God, with hosannas. Do we love Jesus? Or are we just infatuated with the idea of Jesus? As we enter Holy Week, may we enter more deeply in love with Jesus as he really is and follow him in the shadow of the cross, singing our hosanna’s as we recommit to denying ourselves that we might love with his self-sacrificial love.