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Pasadena Presbyterian Church Sermon Text
March 24, 2002
- Palm Sunday

"Seeds of Betrayal"
Preached by The Rev. Dr. Barbara Anderson

Scripture: Matthew 21: 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."

Matthew 21: 1-11

The City of Jerusalem has been patrolled by soldiers at many times in its history. Today, Israeli soldiers stand on street corners, automatic weapons at the ready. Two thousand years ago, Roman soldiers were on the corners, charged with keeping the Jews in line during the always risky week of Passover. Every Jew who could get to Jerusalem for Passover was there. It was like the Tournament of Roses, the Winter Olympics, the LA Marathon and the Oscars happening at the same time in the same place.

The memory of deliverance and freedom, the experience of oppression, the longing for freedom again, this made Passover in Jerusalem a dangerous time for the human powers in charge. You know how it is. Illegitimate power always gets nervous, and rightly so, when oppressed people gather to remember their former days of freedom. Remembering the past leads to dreams of the future, and invariably, that means trouble.

American slave owners kept African slaves from gathering to sing because faithful worship tastes of freedom and leads to hope ... and hope is dangerous to oppressive power. The Taliban destroyed art and books, music and shrines because these embodied memory and the Taliban knew the power of memory to create a movement for freedom in the present. Israel and Palestine continue their violence not only because of a cycle of hatred and revenge, but because each side remembers freedom, and wants to live free once again.

Every human being wants to live in freedom. In fact, freedom is so dear that many of us are willing to die for it. Many of our ancestors and relatives have died fighting for freedom for themselves and others. Some of us in this room have risked our own lives for freedom. Although most of us take it for granted, if you have ever lived without freedom, even briefly, you know how precious it is.

Into this mass longing for freedom rides a quiet man on a donkey. That's not unusual; lots of people ride donkeys in the ancient Middle East. But this is different because people are laying their shawls down to make a carpet for his donkey to walk on. Others are taking weeds from the fields and fronds from the trees to cover the dirty road. All around him, people shout, "Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!" These are the words one says when a king passes by, the words for the Messiah, the one who will save us. He must be the one who will set us free!

Even today, 2,000 years later, we join their song because we know enough of bondage to long for a savior who will set us free, as well. We, who now know we live in the shadow of terror and war: aching for Israelis and Palestinians and wondering what we can do to effect peace; aching for villages in Columbia destroyed in civil war with our weapons; wondering when terrorism will strike our own people again and what liberties we will give up to keep it from happening.

We know enough of bondage to long for a savior who will set us free, as well -- we, who see the pain of the world brought into our living rooms: aching for thousands displaced by earthquake, flood and hurricane; aching for victims of drive-by shootings, children overcrowded in schools and communities without medical care.

We know enough of bondage to long for a savior who will set us free, as well -- we who struggle to face another day because of illness or grief, loneliness or tragedy, addiction or despair.

We know enough of bondage to long for a savior to set us free. So from the bottoms of our feet we shout "Hosanna," and we sing our praise. From the bottoms of our heart come songs of gratitude that God has sent Jesus Christ to save us and finally, to make the world whole.

Today is Palm Sunday, and we know why we shout Hosanna: like they so long ago, we too, want freedom and dare to hope that God has finally sent it in Jesus Christ. I so wish we could stay here, in Palm Sunday and rewrite the rest of the story. I wish that knowing how the week played out, long ago, I could say it would be different today. I wish that I could say we would all listen to Jesus' words, follow his path, live the life he described, that the world would fall into line and that everything would be rosy and joyous and peaceful. God's work would be done and the creation made whole.

But it ain't so, Joe. Our "Hosannas" change to "crucify" just as surely as did theirs long ago. We change to "crucify" when Christ becomes inconvenient, or uncomfortable or dangerous as God's way inevitably does. We betray, we judge and crucify the Christ in one another not with wooden crosses, but with our words and deeds nonetheless, because someone doesn't meet our expectations, or fulfill our agendas; because they refuse to let us control their actions or, heaven forbid, they call us to accountability and expect us to change.

As I look beyond my palm frond to the cross, I realize that Jesus not only died for me, but that he dies all over again because of me. It's not that I want to beat myself up with guilt and shame, but rather, as I look from my palm to the cross, I become aware of my own culpability for the inequities my life supports, and my responsibility for the pain my actions cause.

If, as Jesus says, in Matthew 25, when we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned we are caring for him, then so, too, every time a child dies of hunger; every time a bomb explodes, we crucify Christ as well.

Every time prejudice keeps people from using their God-given gifts, every time we slash someone with our words, every time a homeless man sleeps on the street, we crucify Christ again.

Every time one person strikes another in anger, every time we allow injustice, every time we refuse to hear the cries of those in need, we crucify Christ again.

Even in the face of how much you and I long for the freedom Christ brings, you and I who sing Hosanna become the crowd that yells "Crucify him!" in our own day. We are the disciples who love him, yet turn away. We are the Pilates who know Jesus speaks truth, but refuse to risk what we have for the truth he offers. So we turn away from his power to set us free, and instead hold onto that which keeps us in bondage.

What is most amazing in this passion story of Holy Week is not that "Hosanna!" changes to "Crucify!", as tragically stunning as that is. What is most amazing is not that we discover our clay feet match those of the disciples and the crowd.

What is most amazing is that God knew what would happen when Christ was born in Bethlehem and came among us anyway; that Jesus knew what would happen when he entered Jerusalem and he went anyway. What is most amazing is that God knows who and what we are, that God knows our love, our courage, our faith, our hatred and our fear, and God loves us so fully as to enter the Jerusalems of our hearts and our world, to be willing to die there and be raised there, so that we may know God's love, may have hope of freedom, and may participate in God's final triumph over evil and death.

No matter how much we want to linger on Palm Sunday, the story doesn't stop here. It doesn't stop on Good Friday. Neither does it stop on Easter. Palm Sunday and Good Friday and Easter and all the days in between are re-enacted each and every day of your life and mine, and all of human history, until in the fullness of time Christ shall come again and we shall be free.

Then with all the saints of all the ages we shall with unchanging and whole hearts proclaim, "Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of Lord" forever!

(c) Copyright 2002 by Barbara A. Anderson. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution.