"Reframing Signs"
Tim Carson
Broadway Christian Church · Columbia, Missouri
The Worship of God · March 29, 2015
The Sixth Sunday of Lent
Palm Sunday
 
Psalm Litany
Based on Psalm 118
 
O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.
Steadfast love endures forever!
Out of my distress, I called on the Lord,
and the Lord answered me and set me on solid ground.
Steadfast love endures forever!
With the Lord on my side, I do not fear.
Steadfast love endures forever!
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.
Steadfast love endures forever!
This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.
Steadfast love endures forever!
Let us pray:
Open to us the gates of righteousness that we may enter through them.
Blessed is the one, who comes in the name of the Lord.
We thank you that you have answered us and become our salvation.
Hosanna and Halleluiah!
 
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen.
 
Pastoral Prayer
Terry Overfelt
 
Today’s Pastoral Prayer uses the Lord’s Prayer as a template to guide us.
 
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Let us pray.
 
Our Father Who Art In Heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Today God, your name is King of Kings as you enter into the city of Jerusalem and awaken our hopes.
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
God we pray your will for the earth manifest itself in our working for peace, justice, healing, and joy. Help heal the hearts of those who suffer loss in the plane crash over the Alps.  Thank you for the safe return and helps of our mission to El Salvador.  For Yemin, for Israel, for Palestine and these petitions we speak in our own hearts... 
Bring your Kingdom.
Give us this day our daily bread.
God we need bread for the world.  May we use the wealth of resources we have to abate the suffering of all your children.  Let us remember them and let all be fed by the bread of life you offer that we might engage also in the  promised spiritual feast.
And forgive us our debts
God our mistakes are many.  Help us to be cognizant of them.  Point them out to us in the depths of our hearts that we might turn around from our wayward choices that are not pleasing to you.
As we forgive our debtors.
Ah Lord, that we might know that forgiveness comes to us by your grace.  In amazing gratitude for you love, may we be more like you and stop carrying
the weight of stones to hurl at another in our own woundedness.
Lead us not into temptation
God the ways of the world distract and tempt us to follow false hopes and idols.  Clear our minds and hearts to seek and follow your ways of love.
But deliver us from evil
The snares of the world wrap softly around us at first and then tighten sometimes indiscernibly.  God do not let us divide in considering how best to love you.  Evil will not take the day when we call on your name and walk together.
For thine is the kingdom.
The earth and all that is in it is yours before and after all.
And the power
Let us lean into your amazing power to reroute, heal and enlighten us so that all your children will be loved and free.
And the glory.
Glory to you God!  Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.  Hosanna in the highest.
Forever
As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be. 
Your world without end. Amen.
Amen!
 
The Scripture
John 12:12-19
 
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!”
 
This is the Word of the Lord for us today.
Thanks be to God.
 
The Message
Reframing Signs
Tim Carson
 
I have often heard people ask, “Do you think Jesus knew what he was riding into?” They meant the vicious reception he would receive by the religious establishment and occupying military government. My short answer is: Of course he knew. How could he not?
 
In Jesus’ time one messianic movement after another was crushed under the Roman boot. Thousands of crosses lined the roads, something not unfamiliar to those who lived in Nazareth, Jesus’ boyhood home.
 
In the superheated atmosphere of Jerusalem during Passover, when crowds and revolutionary/terrorist Jews, the zealots, would conceal themselves among the crowds waiting to knife soldiers, Jesus knew that riding into town from the east in a first century flash mob just as a military column entered the city from the west with its Roman eagle posted on standards would inevitably lead to conflict.
He knew that turning over the changing tables in the outer courts of the Gentiles where commerce was transacted, a place guarded with the watchful eye of a Roman garrison, the same temple mount where protests had fomented for generations - all of this spelled a sure and certain demise for him. Of this there is no doubt, not a shred of doubt whatsoever. He had to know his time was short.
 
Since he knew in advance where he was going and what he was planning to do he also knew the end that would come to pass as a result. Interestingly, in John’s Gospel, his story of Jesus told from the future, from the vantage point of Christians who knew him already as the Risen One, the Gospel writer described Palm Sunday differently than his earlier synoptic friends, Matthew, Mark and Luke. He described the entrance of Jesus as a kind of sign.
 
First, there was the raising of Lazarus, said John, and that was a sign that drew crowds. Then there was this entrance into Jerusalem, another sign of God’s reign.
 
And some of the same curious crowds from the sign of Lazarus showed up at Jerusalem in hopes of witnessing another kind of sign. They were like groupies following their favorite band around the country.
 
But don’t trust signs too much, John said. If you always go searching for signs to confirm your faith that’s the wrong foundation. Signs don’t require faith.
 
What the fourth evangelist shared was that Jesus knew what was coming his way at the same time that fickle and sign-driven crowd missed the most important thing, the way that holy love pours itself out for the beloved. That is the thing that can really shake the soul and transform the world. If you think riding in on a donkey is something, just wait, he said. That’s just the beginning, the prelude to what comes next.
 
Just after what we have called the “triumphal entry” Jesus gathered his disciples together and spoke about uncomfortable things.
 
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”(12:32) Can you imagine how confused the disciples must have been? What do you mean; lifted up? We’re just getting momentum! We have a real movement here! In fact, the crowd asks, “We have heard that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up?”(12:34). They have one kind of expectation, and they don’t want it confused with another.
 
It is confusing, sobering, even disillusioning when a primary leader starts talking about his end.
 
The night before Martin Luther King was murdered, in his “I see the Promise Land” speech, he paused and said, “I may not go there with you…” His followers stopped and looked at each other and thought, “Say it isn’t true.” But of course it was. He knew that if he continued down that path, down the path of confronting the principalities, speaking truth to power, they would kill him for it. And they did.
 
This week our mission team visit to El Salvador coincided with the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. You may remember that El Salvador had become one of the stages on which the drama of the cold war was acted, with innocent citizens the usual victims. The US supported and supplied the right wing government with training and Vietnam era armaments. Right wing death squads were killing anyone who questioned the violence of the powerful, including religious figures that did so from a moral standpoint. The new Archbishop, Oscar Romero, began to challenge the government in its campaign of violence. He did so from the cathedral in weekly homilies broadcasted by radio.
 
One day Romero was celebrating mass in a small hospital chapel run by nuns. A lone assassin shot him at the altar as he lifted the communion host. At Romero’s funeral at the cathedral, government troops fired upon mourners outside the cathedral in the plaza.
 
In the days before Romero was martyred he began to speak of his death as though it were inevitable, an impending reality. People around him looked at each other and said, “No, tell us it is not true.” But of course it was. He knew. And he walked into the line of fire anyway.
 
And that’s the point, I think, when we consider Jesus entering Jerusalem. He did know the inevitable, just like Martin Luther King or Romero or thousands of others who have done the right thing only to be persecuted for it. They knew, he knew, and they went forward anyway. That’s why we call them martyrs and saints, because they did go anyway, regardless of the cost.
 
When I think of Jesus or Romero or King and compare the scale and depth of their sacrifices to mine, I have such a paltry little anemic faith. And yet their courageous hearts embolden my less than courageous heart to become more than it is. And that is truly hopeful.
 
Just after Jesus tells them what is going to happen to him there is a strange twist in the story. John tells us that Jesus slipped away and hid from them.
After all that, why the disappearing act? Was it because he had already given more than enough signs to believe and if they couldn’t trust him yet one more word or deed wouldn’t matter? Was it because they would only tempt him to turn back? Was it because he had to “walk that lonesome valley … and walk it by himself?”
 
In my experience, there exists a kind of solitariness around the hard decisions. We support one another, share life together, we try to find our way forward, but there come the times when you have to walk alone. You commit to the hard choice, the unpopular path, the resisted action, and you let the chips fall … by yourself.
 
When Jesus hides from them, is he doing that for his own sake or for theirs? Is Jesus escaping their shallowness? Or is he removing himself and with his absence removing the temptation to rely on signs instead of faith? Have they become too reliant on signs? Is there an important spiritual purpose to this intentional absence?
 
Sometimes I think that after the waving of the palms is over we come to a spiritual impasse. As paradoxical as it may seem, Jesus may hide, God may step back, the curtain of the spirit may close – however you would like to put it – in order for us to take the next step forward.
 
Another way to think about it is that the way of Jesus is the opposite of co-dependency. In other words, the Spirit takes us along as far as we can until we have to fly by ourselves. That is just the opposite of our usual Christian talk, isn’t it, the idea that we motor along on our own power until we can’t and then God picks us up and takes us when it seems like we can go no farther. That may be true, but the opposite is also true:
 
When we are coasting along with a too-easy faith sometimes God disappears. And in that absence we clamor to find God in the next deeper level.
I don’t know if Jesus disappeared for himself or for his disciples or for some other reason I don’t know. What I do know is that he knew what was ahead of him and went anyway. What I do know is that the time of easy comfortable signs was over. What I do know is that for a while faith makes life easier but then it makes it harder.
 
There comes a time when the signs that used to work, the signs that used to inspire, don’t anymore. And then out of that seemingly vast wasteland we are drawn to the One, who is lifted up for no other reason than God’s torn heart stay on conspicuous display so that we can no longer avoid it. And when we gaze upon God’s torn heart it rocks our small hard hearts, making room for something of God to be there, too. 
 
There is a whole lot I don’t know but of this I am certain:
 
There is a beam of light that obliterates the darkness of this world and when it does the darkness explodes into pieces. That’s what I believe, that somewhere on the other side of waving palms and seeking signs God has something else in store and it’s hard and good and unexpected all at the same time.
 
On our better days we walk the same direction he did for no other reason than we love the guy, like people waking up from a trance, walking out of a deep dark forest into a clearing. And if there were ever a sign that really mattered or lasted it would be that one; that after we gave up seeking after signs he was the one we got instead and it was enough.
 
Thanks be to God, Amen.
                                             
The Benediction
Tim Carson
 
And now may the Spirit of the Christ, and the Spirit that causes us to wave palms and bow down be with you and guide you and direct you now and always. Amen and Amen.
Last Published: April 1, 2015 11:52 PM