Sunday, April 2, 2023
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 & Matthew 21:1-11
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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Crowds are a powerful thing. Depending on the purpose of the crowd it can be really fun if there’s positive energy. One of the biggest crowds that I’ve ever been in was at the Big House when Michigan was playing my alma mater, the University of Washington. It’s been years since I’d been at a college football game and it was SO much fun. The crowd was amazing! You couldn’t help but get swept up in all of the excitement of cheering on Michigan. We made friends with the people sitting around us. I was enjoying the crowd so much that I didn’t even care (that much) that my alma mater was significantly beaten that day. 

There was also an air of excitement in the crowd present when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Excitement and hope were palpable. But crowds can also be scary.

The Roman empire was frightened by the crowd that came out for Jesus. The crowd was comprised of the people Rome looked down upon and who Rome actively kept at the bottom of society. They were peasants. 

But to see them come out en masse was frightening. If it’s the Empire of Rome versus one peasant there is a clear winner. But to see a giant crowd of peasants joining their voices together and yelling “save us” in honor of another peasant, that was deeply disconcerting to those who held all of the power. 

But both Rome and the crowd got Jesus wrong. Their assumptions about who Jesus is and what he could do were wrong. Rome and those who put Jesus to death thought that was how they were going to end Jesus’ influence and get rid of him forever. The crowd hoped Jesus would overthrow the Roman Empire and I’d venture to guess they looked forward to being the ones with all of the power. Both Rome and the crowd needed to spend more time with Jesus to know him better.

When Phoebe was a newborn, Matt and I brought her to her first pediatrician appointment. As is the case with every new parent we were sleep deprived, elated, in love with our baby girl, but also terrified that we were going to do something wrong. After that appointment I’ll never forget what the pediatrician told us on our way out: “Great job and congrats again on your beautiful little girl. Now have fun continuing to get to know each other!”

I was a bit stunned. As this little baby’s mom, wasn’t I supposed to naturally know what my baby girl needed? As I thought about it more, however, the pediatrician’s words were a gift. She had reminded us that of course, we hadn’t figured out this whole parenting thing yet because part of parenting is getting to know your children even when they are infants. All so we can better know how to take care of them and to relate to them.

So is the case with us and Jesus. We need to continue to get to know him. By spending time in God’s word, time in prayer, time in worship and time with one another in a Christ-centered community. When we do we will realize that we, like the crowd and Rome, have assumptions about who Jesus is. Just when we thought we truly knew Jesus, we realize there’s so much more to know about him.

I want to a moment to focus on the quote on the front of your bulletin:

While I love Garrison Keilor, I want to point out that just because Jesus didn’t overthrow Rome doesn’t mean Rome was right. It doesn’t mean that politics don’t matter. That’s one way I’ve changed as a result of getting to know Jesus better. In the years I’ve preached on the Palm Sunday passages, I, as many other pastors focused on the fact that Israel wanted Jesus to instantly overthrow Rome. That they wanted a political savior instead of a savior. While this is true, it can be taken too far – to the point that we think Jesus didn’t care about the cruelty of the corrupt government. This plays into the advice that one should not talk about religion and politics at dinner parties. Wise advice, but we’ve confused that with the thought that as Christians we should not talk about politics at all. 

As if we as Christians are supposed to be apolitical. But politics affects people. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to care about all people, therefore we should care about voting for lawmakers in both local and national offices who are for the greater good of all. Not just those they think are worthy of being protected. And I’m not going to agree with everything they stand for, but if the majority of what they stand for is in line with the values of God’s kingdom then I’m all for it. 

Also, no disrespect to Garrison Keillor, but Jesus also came for Rome. Jesus wanted to rescue them from their greed and insatiable appetite for power. It’s not that Jesus was apolitical or that he chose to ignore how Rome’s tyrannical rule stripped people of their basic rights for shelter, food and the opportunity to provide for their families. Jesus came to rescue them from the sin of greed and power so that another Rome could be prevented.

As followers of Jesus Christ, Jesus needs to influence all of who we are and all of what we do. This includes how we vote as well as how we live our lives. I think we tend to separate the two, but the two aren’t mutually exclusive. 

In the last verse of our passage, Matthew tells us that Jerusalem was “in turmoil.” The word in Greek can also mean “shaken.” Jesus’s presence was disconcerting. His presence was disruptive. Something big was about to happen and it wasn’t necessarily a welcomed feeling. Life as they knew it was about to change and that was scary. Life was comfortable. It was predictable.  It was “this is the way it’s always been.” 

If we aren’t continually “shaken” up by Christ’s presence then we need to spend more time with him. Not because Jesus enjoys bringing constant turmoil into our lives, but because he wants to shake up any assumptions we have about him so that we can then know truly know him. We’ve fooled ourselves into thinking we’ve got Jesus all figured out. When Jesus shakes up and blasts apart our assumptions about him we find ourselves on an even more firm and stable foundation. All of that “shaking up” results in a foundation of faith made up of who Jesus truly is – not our assumptions about him. 

My friend Lydia posted on Facebook an unusually personal post. It was about marking the year anniversary since her divorce was finalized and her grieving process. A situation that she never dreamed in a million years would find herself in. She and her former husband were missionaries together and they seemed like the perfect Christian couple. What was not in the post was her ex-husband’s struggle with addiction and his refusal to accept his addiction. It was not for a lack of trying. He was in and out of treatments and she did her best to support and encourage him until it became apparent she was no longer safe with him. 

So it was very hurtful when a well-meaning person, who Lydia hadn’t spoken to in years, posted: “I am still praying for reconciliation for you and your husband.” This person assumed that Lydia and her ex-husband didn’t try to save their marriage. She also assumed there was no addiction or abuse involved. You might be thinking this is another example of how damaging social media can be. Our assumptions about others are not limited to insensitive posts on social media as they can come up in face-to-face interactions.

What’s hurtful about assumptions is that the person or people we have assumptions about aren’t given space to share their experiences. We’ve already made up our minds about them. It’s become a one-way relationship as we’ve already decided what we believe about one another. By doing so we hold onto our assumptions rather than do the hard work of understanding where another person is coming from. 

Similarly, our assumptions about Jesus are hurtful. In the end we are the ones who are hurt. When we hold onto our assumptions about Jesus we miss out on Jesus himself as our assumptions block us from what God wants us to know about God’s own self and about how God sees us. 

So my prayer for us this Holy Week and as we inch closer to Easter, is that we are continually shaken up by Christ’s presence so that any assumptions we may have about him are blasted apart allowing us to see Jesus for who he really is.