Tag: kindom of God

What Anticipation!

Matthew 21:1-11
Philippians 2:5-11

palmSunday.jpgRoughly translated today, we are cheering: “Praises for the Prince! Anyone who comes in the name of God is a blessing! Let there be praises in heaven!”

We are anticipating the new prince, the new rule. We are making a religious statement- God celebrates this person, this Jesus. We are making a social statement- anyone who proclaims God is a blessing to us. And, we are making a political statement – Jesus is our Lord, it is Jesus we follow – not any other politician.

Is it any wonder the whole city of Jerusalem is in an uproar asking ‘Who is this man?’

The whole world should be in a uproar when we make such bold statements! If only we could live up to this hope and anticipation and proclamations of faith!

But you and I both know – these very same crowds turn on Jesus in just a matter of days. And we, who praise here this morning, will face hours when we’re tempted to deny Christ like Peter, and betray our faith like Judas, and sleep while on watch like everyone else.

So, in this reprieve between the reflection of Lent and the beginning of our holiest of weeks, let’s slow down like the Gospels do and really look at our scripture. Let’s sing our hosannas and understand why we do so.

In each Gospel, Jesus enters Jerusalem a little differently, but always hosannas are shouted. Always praises to God, and asserting heaven is praising this person. Hosanna means two things – literally, it is “Save us, we pray!” But over the centuries in ancient Israel, it also took on the meaning of huzzah, or yeah – a cheer. So we and the people are cheering for Jesus… but we’re also praying: save us!

“Save us, prince. Those who come doing God’s will are blessings. Save us, God.”

And slow down and look at what people are carrying. What people carry is different in the different gospels to reflect what celebration parades looked like to the people the Gospel was addressing. So cloaks here, palm fronds there, tree branches in Matthew, but always cheers and loud praises of Hosanna everywhere. Maybe today, if we were to write about this, we would say the crowd waved flags and threw confetti as we yelled PRAISE GOD! SAVE US! One way or another, it’s in God’s name, it’s about a savior, and it’s a big celebration!

But the items used are also symbols. They tell us more about the story.

See, Jesus comes on a donkey – and not just any donkey, but a young one. This is the symbol of peace. A warrior king rides in on a stallion – a big huge war horse. But the king of peace comes on a young donkey – a little common creature, skittish and untrained. Humble. Just as the prophets foretold that the promised savior would do. Curiously, in Matthew, did you notice the colt is so young that Jesus rides the baby donkey’s mother instead of the colt, and the colt goes along with his mother? I like this image. This is an image of peace, prosperity, family, love. You’re surely not running into war with a mother donkey and her nursing foal. This is like the image coming up in our gospel of Jesus wishing to gather up, protect, and love Jerusalem like a mother hen gathers her chicks. Jesus enters not as a warrior with weapons and might – but as a member of a loving family.

He might be on a donkey, but they still welcomed Jesus as a king and the center of the impromptu celebration parade.

Just like we roll out the red carpet for stars, ancient peoples would lay down their jackets or cloaks to make a special path for a ruler to travel. Again, they’re saying he is their ruler and someone super special.

But even more symbolism is at play in this tiny scene!

To Greeks reading or seeing this occur, the palm frond is the symbol of victory. The goddess Nike carries palms in victory.

However, to the Egyptians hearing this story or seeing the procession, palms are a symbol of eternal life because they stay green for so long.

And so, we receive the fronds as a powerful symbol reminding us of Jesus’ victorious power over death, and we celebrate in the promise of eternal life.

Now, welcoming Jesus in this manner is how someone would welcome a returning victorious war general, or a king… and the songs being sung by the crowd are Davidic songs… songs related to the fallen kingdom. This isn’t just a religious welcoming. This is a political welcoming.

I like this scene as the play ‘Jesus Christ Super Star’ sets it. The people are singing “Hosanna!” to Jesus, and nearby the Jerusalem authorities are grumbling and warning each other that this is getting out of hand. It was cool when Jesus was a teacher, or Rabbi, with parlor tricks… but now the people are mentioning words like miracle, king, and messiah. In that play, the high priest sings, “They crowd crown him as king, which the Romans would ban. I see blood and destruction, Our elimination because of one man… The stakes we are gambling are frighteningly high! … For the sake of the nation, this Jesus must die.”

In other words – just as we read last week Babylon would tolerate no political uprising, so too, will Rome not tolerate such. If the people crown Jesus as their king – a Jewish king – Rome is going to sweep in and bring blood and destruction… just as Babylon did a few hundred years back. These officials don’t see a prince of peace coming on a donkey… they see the would-be-king bringing the end of their city, and people. They see a heretical cult leader.

In Luke, some of Jerusalem’s authorities in the crowd about Jesus tell him, “Rabbi, rebuke your disciples!” Shut them up! Get them to stop saying you are messiah, king, savior!

But Jesus answers, “I tell you, if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.”

Recall – John has said God could raise up descendants of Abraham from stones. Perhaps Jesus is alluded that even should the authorities silence every voice crying out Save Us! Praise God! that Jesus’ mission and word would continue. New stones would arise, and they would cry out too – prayers for salvation and praises of God.

Hope cannot be finally destroyed. Jesus’ whole mission is one of hope – of love – of joy – of forgiveness – and God’s love message to the world cannot be snuffed out. Even if lives are extinguished and voices made silent – the message continues on in new places, with new voices, in new lives.

The tension in this scene is incredible. There are the people – believing and hoping in their messiah. Some dreaming of a return to a beautiful earthly kingdom. Some dreaming of the golden age of God’s reign on earth. Some in the crowd already living in this golden age — people who have known and experienced Jesus’ miracles. And also in that same crowd are people dreaming of Rome coming and repeating what Babylon did, and leveling the city to nothing — scattering the people — and leaving a valley of dry bones. Some dreaming of God taking affront to this guy who is suggesting he is God, and God taking revenge.

The tension here at the beginning of Holy Week is just a faint echo – but what do you feel? When Jesus comes into town, how do you picture him? What do you anticipate?

Do you anticipate his miracles? His cures?

Do you anticipate his leaderships? His reign?

Do you anticipate war and the End Times?

When the Son of Man comes – what do you anticipate?

….

Paul encourages us to wait with our anticipation with the mind of Christ. A mind that does not take advantage of others, does not abuse privilege, and is obedient to God. A hymn asking that we not abuse the privilege we have of being alive, being made in the image of God, being able to greatly affect in and influence the world around us. A mind that is concerned with caring for others. A mind that takes all our hopes and anticipations and puts them to use – caring for, and loving, our hurting world.

Do you anticipate, and live into, God’s kin-dom, God’s reign and rule, now?

Amen.

House Sparrows

1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11

Psalm 84

Great big monuments – monuments like the Statue of Liberty, like the Eiffel Tower, like Stonehenge and the Sydney Opera House- all share one big woe…

Birds.

Sparrows.

Like the little house sparrows who like to live in each and every little crevasse they can fit into within our own homes. I’ve got one family in a nest in a little nook between my chimney and my house; and another in between the beam and the siding of my shed. I can see a nest in the eaves of my neighbor’s porch, and I think there is one in each of the bird houses he’s put up all about his drive.

And still they want more nesting space. One keeps trying to turn a ledge against my window into a nest. There just isn’t enough of a ledge for her.

Today’s scripture is about the magnificence of the first temple. It is a sampling of pages of description. When it was wrote, the people were in exile and so wrote these remembering a fond building that was no longer around. It is a verbal tour of a remembered sacred spot. They wanted to record what an amazing building the temple was, and to keep its memory around.

The psalms about the temple, however, include humorous little insights about temple life. For instance — birds liked to nest in the temple eaves. Nations rise and fall, sacred buildings are built and destroyed – but sparrows continue to nest in eaves.

It doesn’t matter if that eave belongs to the first temple to God… or to a desolate ruin in a war-torn land… respectful or shameful, the birds nest there.

Although it is just a little insight, a small part of our reading, the lines about the sparrows nesting in the temple speak to me about God. Speak to me about who God is and God’s relationship to us.

Sometimes, I think I am a sparrow. In more ways than one.

For instance, some evenings I feel like I’ve felt the whole day flying here and there, to and fro. Like a sparrow, I’ve been busy all day but I don’t have anything to show for it. No stores of food gathered, nothing checked off my to do list, but yet I was busy all day it seems.

I know I landed on a few branches to take a breather just because it was so hectic!

But what did all this rush accomplish?

Other days, I feel like a sparrow seeking a dry spot from a storm. I huddle into this little eave but the wind buffets me here. I shoot over to that little branch and hope it is dryer, but it’s just as wet when I get there. I hide under a bush and cats startle me. I hide in places I thought were safe – like under a car – but it turns out they’re not. I go to people I thought were safe, friends or family – and it turns out they’re not. I’m weary to my bones and I feel like I’m dragging myself place to place but there is no rest.

Where is there safe shelter when it rains?

And some days, I am a sparrow below notice or care. The blue birds get special boxes made for them, the hummingbirds get special feeders made for them. I get chased out of my nests with brooms and angry curses. I get chased away from feeding on grain and feed by barn cats and yappy dogs. The green heron is protected and I am shot for sport. The cedar waxwing is photographed, the oriole praised for his song, and I am called a dull, drab nuisance bird.

Even the pigeon, called by some people a rat with wings, is said to sing prettily with those wings when it flies.

When everyone seems to get preferential treatment but me, I don’t feel special or wanted. Who cares about me? I’m not one in a million, but one OF a billion mes? As common as common can be.

Some days, we are sparrows. Pests. Getting into places we ought not. Rushing. To and fro without getting anything done. Common. Not flashy, not note-worthy, not on TV or YouTube. When we are sparrows – and we are sparrows more often than peaceful doves or proud cardinals I think – When we are sparrows, how does God feel about us? Where do we turn for comfort?

Usually we turn to the Bible for comfort. But it speaks of doves. Praises those rats with wings. It speaks of the dove of the Holy Spirit descending, the dove of peace with the olive branch in her mouth returning to Noah, the doves offered in the temple. But sparrows?

Because some days, I know I’m not a pure white dove. I’m a sparrow – common. I don’t stand out in the least. But I sing nevertheless. I raise my family. I sunbathe and splash in shallow pools. I gather thistle seed and millet. But this makes me common. A pest to some. A welcome song to others. And below the notice of most.

And yet, Jesus notices us.

The word for ‘sparrow,’ or a small bird, in the Bible is used by Jesus to represent the smallest of things. According to some scholars, sparrows were the meat of the poor. Hotdogs. Spam.

Jesus asks his disciples in Matthew, “Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny?” and in Luke, “Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies?” So sparrows are a buy four get one deal! … we have buy one get one on hotdogs all the time. They’re not valuable. Other parts of the bible talk about snaring sparrows, and making them flee – catching and eating the little birds. But no one brags “I caught a sparrow for dinner!” Just like no one brags, “Come over for a Thanksgiving dinner of hotdogs!”

Cheap meat.

In Matthew Jesus continues, “Yet not one of these sparrows fall to the ground outside of your Father’s notice. Even the very hairs on your head are all numbered.” In Luke, Jesus continues, “Yet not one of these sparrows is forgotten by God. Indeed, even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.”

You are worth more than many hotdogs, and yet God even notices and cares for that cheap meat, too. God knows how many sparrows there are, and how many hairs are on your head. God knows. God notices. God cares.

Our Psalmist writes how in the temple are sparrows making their nests up in the porch, and in the eaves. The very least of meat, the very least of birds, the most common and not noteworthy are right there, with God. Living right under God’s protection, nesting in a place of honor.

No one and nothing is beneath the notice and care of God.

And the least are the most important to our loving parent.

The least – the ones who are without honor. The ones who keep messing up. The ones who need assistance to get by. The ones who need God’s forgiveness and mercy. God gives them love, welcomes them in, and provides for them the honor and security they don’t have in the normal world.

The normal world is cruel. The person who tries to do good is often burned, hurt, because they chose to follow their morals. The people who lie, cheat, steal, and speak badly about others seem to get ahead.

In the normal world, those who forgive are call weak. Those who do kind deeds are said to be self-righteous, or out to get something. Those who call themselves Christian and go to church are mocked in the public eye. Those who call themselves Christian and go to church and disagree with some of the things other Christians do and say are alienated, isolated, and told they are not true Christians for not being so radical. In the cruel normal world, no good deed goes unpunished… right? And the nice guy finishes last.

But we – we who know the temple of God – we who see the sparrows in the eaves – we know God envisions a new world. God is making, is speaking, is dreaming a new reality. In this to-come world, there is harmony. There is peace. There is justice. Even the lowly sparrow, the cheap meat, the pest, has a place and purpose. Has honor. Is wanted and welcomed. Even the lowly sinner, the one who keeps falling short, the one who society scorns has a place and a purpose. Has honor.

We, here today, are invited to live in this new world NOW. We who call ourselves Christians are standing with the sparrows and the outcasts. We are standing with one foot in the new world. We are dreaming with God and working with God to make the kindom – the land of mutual kinship – NOW. Heaven is not distant, the kingdom of God, the kindom of creation, is not far off in the future: it is now. And the more we live into it, the more we welcome it, the more visible and accessible it is to all people.

We have eternal life – we have life always new, always abundant – we have the promise of rebirth, of life after death and defeats – we have the promise of God’s abiding presence and love. There is no need to be afraid, to be silent, or to hang our heads in shame. Let us praise our God like a sparrow tweets over seed – let us praise God with sheer delight – for our God is love! And in this love, all have a place!

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore Ohio, 8-23-15