“Excitement then Agony”

Matthew 21:1-11, March 28th, 2021

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


Sixth Sunday of Lent – Palm & Passion Sunday

“Hear now these words from the gospel account of Jesus’ ministry, his life, and all that happened surrounding the events in Jerusalem at that time.  Our reading today comes from the gospel of Matthew, chapter twenty-one, verses one thru eleven.”

Matthew Chapter 21: verses 1-11,

1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.  3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”  4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.  8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”  11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

“Having heard the writings pertaining to the excitement of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the crowd that greeted him… let us now open our hearts to hear and reflect on the full story.”

“Excitement then Agony”

What is it that you remember about the first time you heard the story, which we just read this morning, where you not excited and filled with awe and wonder that Jesus had a parade!?  For years we have dragged in great branches of Palm Branches to symbolize all that this day means.  When the children would be parading around the church with the pastor singing and shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!”  The words that correctly tell us what Hosanna truly means are: “Help Us!  We beseech you O Lord… Please… We pray… Save Us!”   Symbolically they threw down their cloaks as Jesus, rides by them on his small young donkey.  They cut branches from the trees and put them down on the dusty road trying to create a ‘red carpet’ style of a parade as he rode by!  The pleas for help seemed to have taken a ‘back seat’ as story tellers retold this account over, and over again over the years, the decades, the centuries that now number into two millennial!  We all have rallied around the palm branches that can be cut for such a celebration here in Florida – here where such branches are common.     

Moving away from the accounting of that first Palm Sunday parade and into our current time, things seem a bit different.  Here we are in the Twenty-First Century, a full year, twelve months, three-hundred and sixty-five plus days… into a world-wide pandemic that has altered so, so many things in our lives!  “Hosanna!” Now it feels like what it truly means: “Help Us!  We beseech you O Lord… Please… We pray… Save Us!”  It has been a long and difficult year.  The sanctuary last year at this time, on Palm Sunday, had just two Palm Branches which Tyler cut for me and dragged into the sanctuary.  There may have been six of us as we broadcast a very small worship celebration out over Facebook and then posted the audio of the pastor’s sermon on our website.  It sure didn’t seem like Palm Sunday that day.  Today, we might have a larger number in our service… twenty, thirty maybe.  Maybe another hundred folks are with us through various social media avenues as we celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  This year, even as we see major strides forward… as millions are getting the vaccine administered, we are still losing loved ones to the virus.    

Even as we work to come back to ‘right order’, we have begun to realize that things, our understanding of our very lives have shifted!  No, life has not gone back to what it once was, and perhaps it ought not!  During the pain of this last year many different events have caused us, as a small church community, as a city, county, state and as a country… that this pandemic has tested us to the breaking point!  Thankfully, there is a great many Americans, and men, women and children throughout the world who have stood up and expressed love in countless ways!  Christ surely is smiling upon those we now lift-up.  Where do we start?  Was it the child that began a food drive to feed the hungry and it mushroomed and got national attention?  And was it from her ‘heart felt love’ that a great number of people have been fed, in a time of ‘great hardship and necessity?’  Nurses, doctors, fire fighters and EMT’s, the local police, both men and women, black Hispanic and white, have stood up and done the right thing!  Love, love has taken hold in the most unexpected places.  We have only named a few of our front-line workers during this period, in ‘spirit’ we lift them all up, in gratitude, and ask God’s blessing upon them as they continue to work diligently to save others – realizing that they do this out of love, dedication and with integrity!  Where did all this love and goodness come from!?  It came into town on a small donkey as the people reached out to Jesus – begging for compassion and mercy!  And Jesus responded with his all!  

Evil, Immorality, and Maliciousness, were also parading into Jerusalem.  The powers of the Roman army and Pilate himself came into Jerusalem ignoring and scoffing at the needs of the people, sneering at their pathetic efforts to be justly treated and be freed from the oppression of their conquerors!  What we do not know is what crowd, what people were watching and cheering them on – as they entered the gates of Jerusalem.  As the weeks led into months of social distancing and shortages of paper products and various food items, people allowed their dark sides to emerge.  Were they always there, behind the shadows, in the back of the crowds that cheered Jesus and even welcomed Pilate into Jerusalem?  Were they there before the ‘public outcry’ over yet another unjust killing of an innocent man, a man judged guilty because of the color of his skin, his ethnicity?  The parade into Jerusalem is just the beginning of a very dramatic story.  The full telling of the story of this past year in these United States of America… it will reveal the truth, the depth, and the fullness of the dark side of humankind – which exists within our very own society.  Yes, there are at least two sides to every story… but what we have seen, heard, and experienced firsthand… is the living thread of human hate which is cultivated through fear, greed, and power, hate that is seeking to expel the love of God in our society!

This leads us away from the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and deeper into the human drama, the tragedy which follows.  Listen now to the words as written in the gospel of Matthew Chapter 26: (Verses:14-16, 26-28 & 36) “14 Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver.  16 And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him (to betray Jesus).  26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  Betrayal within the ranks of Jesus’ own ‘handpicked’ closest followers and disciples.  Thirty pieces of silver was enough to buy off the loyalty of one of his followers, Judas Iscariot!  Even as Jesus knew who was to betray him, he took no action against him.  Rather he asked his loyal followers to go with him as he went to pray. 

The rest of the story of the arrest, the pain and injustice of the mock trial that night is difficult to read.  Yet, without it, the story is incomplete!  That very night, Jesus stopped his disciples from resisting the soldiers who came to arrest him, saying, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” /Matthew 26:52-54/ After being taken before Pilot and flogged, in a mock trial, Jesus is dragged away to be crucified at a place called Golgotha.  As he hung on that cross dying, they nailed a marker upon the cross. “Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” /Matthew 26:37/ The man Jesus died that day on a cruel torturous cross.  The evil of humankind did their utmost to kill love, kindness, compassion, and mercy that day.  For three long agonizing days it appeared that wickedness, hatefulness, and immorality had won out!  We cannot allow ourselves to skip over this pain, for we shall not celebrate Easter until we have accepted the darkness of human treachery.  Deceitfulness, treason, and sedition still exist, and it hurts; it hurts really bad!

In the Fourth Century after the time of the man Jesus, the leaders of the then Christian Church discussed the full story of Jesus.  They called the ecumenical conference as the ‘The First Council of Nicaea’.  They came to the agreement that the man Jesus, born of Mary, was in essence one-hundred percent human and God incarnate; therefore, one hundred percent the essence of God as well.  History refers to that agreement as the Nicene Creed, held in the year 325 AD.  For all you scholars of church history out there, forgive me my brevity and brief summation of the work done so long ago.  Yet, many well educated men and women, better qualified than I, have come to similar summaries.  The professors at the Theological School I attended and received my Master’s in Divinity degree gave me these words to work with.  What’s the point of this you ask?  The point being is the essence of God has suffered the pain of life and death.  The man Jesus died on that cross, giving his very life so that we might live!  The Son of Man, the Son of Humankind died, died on a cruel cross for our sinfulness that we might have life everlasting!  William Loader tells us that “The killing of love, the killing of Jesus, becomes the would-be killing of God.  It is ‘decisive, conclusive and the standard’ (paradigmatic) for all time.”  (Adapted words of William Loader) Yes, this model, this typical would-be killing of all forms of the loving essence of humankind is still happening! 

We need not go through the list of modern time examples of human evil, sinfulness that still seeks to rob humankind of the love so freely offered to us all!  If you have a short memory or are in denial, simply take the time to read four or five of the top stories of the past week.  IE: Another Mass Shooting, the need for Sympathetic and Compassionate Immigration reform, the January sixth Violence, over a Half Million Americans have died of the Covid-19 virus, Racism, Discrimination, Racial Intolerance, and Intolerance of others that do not look like us or sound like us!  Let us pray “We Shall Over Come!” just as this gospel song proclaims.  Let us all raise up Dr. Martin Luther King and broadcast those famous words “I Have a Dream!  “Hosanna!” “Help Us!  We beseech you O Lord… Please… We pray… Save Us!”  “Hosanna! Hosanna! to the Highest Heaven!” 

Amen.     

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