“We Want To See Jesus”Statement before scripture reading:
The Rev. Zachary S. Sasser
Chester Presbyterian Church
April 9, 2006
The Rev. Zachary S. Sasser
Chester Presbyterian Church
April 9, 2006
Our text and our theme for worship today are so familiar that it is easy to take them for granted. Most of us know this story so well we could recite it, which for the average Presbyterian is a pretty big deal. In the reading of this passage I want you to consider the issue of perspective. (John-Charles Holmes- 8:30, Kristen Carter- 11:00), a member of our confirmation class will be reading the majority of the text, but I’ll read verses 16-19 given that the author injects a parenthetical statement in these verses interpreting the events as they are unfolding. As this passage is read, I want you to pick a character and do your best to consider the story from that person’s perspective. Consider the sights, sounds, and smells. Consider the feeling of anticipation. Consider the way in which the crowd joins in and praises a man on a donkey like he was a king on the shoulders of servants. You might be one of the disciples. You might be a person in the crowd who has come to celebrate Passover. You might be someone who saw or heard about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead just days before in Bethany. Perhaps you are one of the Greeks who know of God’s activity but do not as of yet know the one true God of the universe. You could even be the donkey, who knows not why he serves but serves because he is in the right place at the right time.
Scripture Text: John 12: 12-26
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!’
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!’
His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!'
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
When I was a boy I remember fondly a series of books with the theme, “You were there.” My favorites were the “You were there at the Alamo” and “You were there in the Crusades,” and I would read them over and over again. The authors used first person accounts to put you in a particular event in time. It was more story than fact, and that was the point. They wanted you to feel like you were part of the event that they were describing. They wanted the story to become your story. And so it is with the familiar story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This is not just a familiar story that we read time and time again. It is our story. It is the place where the fullness of humanity comes out in search of the fullness of God.
Did you find yourself in the crowd when the scripture was read? Were you a festival goer... someone who comes out on the High Holy Day and somehow is not surprised that God has shown up because that’s who you came to see? How about one of Jesus’ fans... someone who is really impressed with all the healing and miracle stuff and wants to support this guy as long as you can do it from a distance? Maybe you are a member of his inner circle... his “posse” as the youth might say in jest... a disciple who does not quite get the point but is willing to turn to Jesus for leadership and who knows that something greater is to come from all of this. Maybe you are even a Pharisee... afraid that if everyone truly follows Christ your level of control and your status of importance could be compromised. Of course you could be one of the Greeks... not really knowing what is going on but knowing that this Jesus offers something that you have not found anywhere else. Maybe you thought of another character along the way... a child who shouted “Let’s get some palm branches!”... a laborer who knew the uneven bumps of the street and threw a garment down... or even the donkey who bore the burden because it was who he was to do so. I’ll admit it’s hard for me to see the perspective of the donkey without thinking of a certain cartoon character, but the men at breakfast last Wednesday threw that out and I can’t deny its connection with the bigger picture.
You see, the thing that I struggle with about the narrative part of this story is the idea of the lordship of Christ. We live in a time and place totally removed from the concept of a king who can tax us beyond our means, burn our crops, conscript us into military service, or even call for our death. A king or lord is someone who has absolute power over his subjects’ lives. And this king, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the opposite of what they expected and in many cases even wanted. And so it makes me wonder, what did it mean to them to call him “King of the Jews.” What were they really expecting... a warrior king? A mighty leader who could right the wrongs by his command? A man who would be beaten, whipped, and left to die on a cross? What did it mean to your character? Where did seeing Jesus in this parade and hearing of his arrest connect with this person’s need, and is it any wonder that this crowd turned in a matter of days from singing “Hosanna!” to shouting “Crucify! This man is not what I wanted. Give us Barabas. He may be a thief, but he’s one of us.”? What does it mean to you, with your knowledge of the resurrection, to say that Jesus Christ is lord?
Four years ago at the Massanetta Middle School Conference one of the leaders took a video camera and interviewed participants asking them the question, “What does it mean to you to say that Jesus is the light of the world?” Just for fun the leader flagged down a passing truck to ask a local resident this same question. The gentleman he asked was polite enough to spit into his cup before answering, “Well, I guess that means he controls it.” In a pure and simple way, this man has defined what Christians throughout the centuries have struggled with... the idea that God is in control but has given us free will... the idea that faith is both active and passive at the same time... the idea that our best guess is that God has something bigger in mind for the world we are living in, even while we struggle to determine our own destiny.
That’s why the crowd we imagined ourselves in eventually called for Jesus’ death. And our character either joined in or deserted him. Its easy, post resurrection, to pass judgment on these folks, but I think we all know that we are just as guilty. At some point we all participate in the move from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify!”
Maybe not intentionally, but each of us are in some way part of the need for Christ as well as we are the offered presence of Christ. In a church this active that may be a tough sell, but we are part of the 30% of the earth’s population that use 80% of it’s natural resources. Our collective power as the United States of America does as much to keep other nations from developing as it does to provide relief, and we have the resources to feed the world but instead use 80% of our grain to feed cattle and other livestock because you make more money from selling beef than from feeding hungry people. And we are partners in this because we elect our officials and our economy is a free market that responds to our choices. Right now our congress is debating the naturalization of migrant workers who support our economy by doing the jobs our citizens will not, and we in Chesterfield County have not fully resolved how we can be neighbors and fellow citizens with the Hispanic population in our midst.
Of course this is just my opinion of the way things are, and I have left out many of the wonderful things about being an American Citizen and a resident of Chesterfield County to prove a point. We live after the resurrection, and we do not have to deny Jesus or call for his death in order to save our own skins. In fact, the opposite is now true. You see, people still want to see Jesus. You do... I do... everyone you meet does, whether they know it or not! There is a space in us that we can try to fill with accomplishment and pride but that only makes it deeper and wider because only God fits there and adding other things just stretches it out.
Rick Ufford-Chase, moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), visited Union-PSCE in Richmond a few weeks ago, and here are some things he had to say about the way the church is called to respond to the Lordship of Christ. “We are going to have to stop doing mission by proxy. It can't be done by a check. It can't be done by standing in the pulpit on Sunday morning and preaching where we should be. Everybody is going to have to participate, and the mission begins as you leave out the doors of the church on Sunday.” Moderator Ufford-Chase is not saying that the elderly or the very young are irrelevant. He is saying that we need to rethink the term “mission.” He gets a little clearer and little more personal when he says, “We have to live mission rather than go one week a year. Are we willing to become God's truly Pentecostal multi-cultural church? Classism in our churches makes it uncomfortable to welcome new immigrants [and perhaps visitors in general]. I ask people: 'What makes your church special?' The number one answer is: 'We are very friendly.' Forgive me, friends. If we are so friendly, why are we a dying church? Jesus calls us to be friendly with those no one wants to be friendly with in our community.” As if already heading off the defensive comments he concludes, “There's no way to the resurrection than through the cross and suffering. Jesus makes it clear. He will suffer and anybody else who gets it will suffer, too.”
We are not a dying congregation. Our presbytery is one of the few in the denomination that is showing constant growth, and this congregation is a substantial part of that growth. Hallmarks of our attitude and personality are seen in the leadership our youth offer, the plans being made to hold a mission fair next fall, and the goal of the Mission Committee to get every member to participate in at least one program or action of extending Christ’s grace in the coming year. Even in our youth and adult mission trips we do not think of these efforts as a way to become involved in mission, but rather it is an expression of who we are.
And though it feels great to be a part of this congregation, it is just as easy to be a Pharisee who fears change and wants to create order rather than be ordered by God as it is proclaim the risen Christ here in this place. You see the session just reviewed a study on our area, and there are potentially 19,000 people who are underserved by the church universal in Chesterfield. They come from a wide range in age, income, and education. They are searching for meaning and looking for a place that feels like home. Can you hear them? Can you hear them saying, “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Ma’am, we want to see Jesus.” Can you hear them in you place of work? Can you hear them in your school? Can you hear them in your neighborhood?
As we journey to the cross this Holy Week, let us not be so dazzled by the joy of palms and the glory of Easter that we forget to spend time at the cross. Let us dance with palms in the air not like actors playing a part but more like Ebenizer Scrooge who danced in his own funeral procession, knowing that his past life of worthless struggle was over. Let us take note of the phrase in our bulletin, “The end of worship, the beginning of service.” And let us give honor and glory to the one who came not to be served but to serve. And let us go and do likewise, to God’s glory, now and always! Amen.