Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 11:1-11
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
March 25, 2018 – Palm Sunday
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
We come to the much-anticipated day when Jesus enters Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and to teach in the Temple.
But great expectations don’t always turn out the way we anticipate and our hopes and our history do not always write themselves the way we would do it ourselves.
The people greet Jesus warmly. Great Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. God bless the coming kingdom of our ancestor David. They shout Hosannah as Jesus rides toward the city on a donkey and they would have known that Hosannah and Jesus come from the same root word in Hebrew.
There are many coincidences appearing before them at this moment and their history gives special meaning to this present day. They know that their culture is better than the Rome and that their history of deliverance and freedom is more powerful than the Roman legions that now occupy their country.
They know that their God is greater than Caesar, who only calls himself a God. Their history is their testimony to that greatness, and their law is older than Rome itself.
But they have been a subject people for over 500 years now and they also know what happened to the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem.
His sons were brought before him and killed and then he was blinded. The last thing he saw was that none of his sons would succeed him to the throne.
And they knew that their present king, Herod, only ruled by consent of their pagan occupiers. So their warm welcome to this prophet from the hill country of Galilee was more than a bold claim of what would now happen to their unworthy rulers.
It was also a statement of their faith in God who had not given them the glory of self-rule and worldwide respect for more than 500 years. Their hope was based on their history, but it was also rooted in their faith in a loving God who had shown them, again and again, that good would always triumph over evil in the end.
Jesus knows the same history and he knows that Jerusalem has a bad habit of killing the prophets and stoning the messengers that have been sent to it.
He knows, too, as we read last week, that some Greeks who have come to celebrate the Passover have heard of him and want to see him. He is famous, people know he is in the area, and his arrival is anticipated joyously by the people and with hate by the Temple priests.
He pondered this from Bethany last week and wondered if he should pray to be saved from what was waiting for him in Jerusalem, but he concludes that this…all of this…is the reason he has come to this time. He has turned his face like a flint to Jerusalem and he will not turn back.
So this moment is a statement of his faith in God, too, as he rides toward the great capital city of David and receives a welcome worthy of a conquering general…even though he brings no army with him.
He rides into the city and looks around at the Temple, the place where he will preach and heal during the festival, and he rides back to Bethany, returning the donkey to its owner.
The great wheel of life has brought him to the top of the heap this day, but Jesus knows that it will continue to turn and it will bring him low again.
In his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks talks about the difference between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. The resume virtues are the ones that will get you the right job, the right house, the right car, the right spouse and the perfect children.
The eulogy virtues are the ones that will get you into heaven. Work that is meaningful, a life that lets you develop your God-given talents in a way that benefits not only yourself but the world you live in, and lets you see that you have made a difference in the world, that it is a better place because you were here.
The friends I visited in Denver a few years ago gave me the clearest example I know. Mark was one of my roommates my third year in law school. He had worked for the same prestigious firm in Denver for almost 40 years.
Kathryn lived with roommates in a row house across the street from us and she had worked as a trusted and very capable assistant to a United States Senator from her home state of New Hampshire.
By the time we had dinner that night, she had been the president of almost every civic club in Denver and was famous across town as a good and capable person.
Their children had gone to Stanford and Bryn Mawr, top-flight colleges, and they had both landed world-beater jobs, that Mark and Kathryn pointed out meant it would be a while before they had grandchildren.
Their house was paid for, their kids’ college educations were paid for, 18th Century paintings of two of Mark’s illustrious ancestors hung on the living room wall, dinner was perfect and everything in the house was in its proper place.
So…they asked me…what do we do now to give our lives some meaning? I am sure they were taking a poll of their friends and I suggested Peace Corps, and they went to Africa the next year.
They had garnered all of the resume virtues and they still felt there was something missing, some greater calling that was awaiting them, another quest they should embark upon for its own sake.
What is the eulogy virtue that is waiting for you? I want it written on my tombstone: I know I came in here for something. That something is my eulogy virtue, and I thank God, you good people, and our bishop that I am getting to look for it in Bigfork, Montana, the home of the 2018 State Class B Basketball Champions and many, many world beaters.
We did a memorial service for a man who was a world-beater on New Year’s Eve day and as I looked around the room was full of men in suits and ties and women with fur coats. I told Mark I guessed there was about a billion dollars in the room that day. I have since been told that there were at least four billionaires in the room.
This is a special place. But it became even more special for all of us last month when our friends in the Blackfeet Nation were buried in snow, were low of fuel oil, needed firewood and food and bottled water.
Dawn Squires is our pastor in Columbia Falls and she reported that her church, which has been a jumping off place for volunteers and supplies was revitalized by that calling.
I took a load of supplies up a couple of weeks ago and there were supplies stacked in the back of the sanctuary and volunteers at about a dozen tables in the fellowship hall working away on a Tuesday afternoon. Three people came out to help me move the things I had brought into the church.
We are feeling a new sense of purpose here with our Thursday free meal program aimed at students who are hungry but open to the whole community. Rotary Club that meets here sent three people to help Stan Bones set up the pool table in the basement that attracted the attention of a few of those students.
We have a purpose. Everyone in the community is eager to make this work and to get good food to kids who need it. I mentioned it to my massage therapist a few weeks ago and she was one of the servers last Thursday.
Now we need the hungry students. We have had between 5 and 12 each Thursday, and we had 7 last week. Patience is the virtue we have to show in this effort and persistence is essential.
During a conversation last week it became apparent that we need a student or faculty member that will bring the students over so they can see that we are real people and not just a bunch of holy rollers who show up to pat ourselves on the back.
We are working on that. It is amazing to me to see how important these ministries are to people. We suddenly realize that the church is not here for us so much as we are here for the church and all the good words and timeless truths take on a special meaning, a purpose, as we build up our eulogy virtues by building up the least and the last and the lost in our community and make it an even more special place, not only because people who can live anywhere choose to live here, but because everyone who lives here is a precious member of our community.
And this is just the beginning of all we can do, all we can give, all we can be, all we can become in the world.
As Jesus told himself…and us…last week, this is the reason we have come to this time. May God bless the coming of God’s kingdom here…now…in our midst…in our hearts. May it be on earth as it is in heaven.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosannah! Amen.