Palm SundayB, March 29, 2015

March 31, 2015

Large Jesus

11:1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

I don’t know if it’s credit or blame that I deserve for this morning’s giant Jesus puppet. But I didn’t act alone on this deal. Melissa James was my primary co-conspirator. A few of the young people got their hands messy one night. My wife gets all the credit for redeeming his face with paint. Anne Weaver was on board with helping create his robe until she broke her wrist, and I’m so grateful for Brian Minyard’s willingness to be the wearer of the puppet! Next time he’ll know better than to answer a phone call from the preacher on a Saturday morning.

I must say that it was an interesting process for me to try to create a larger-than-life Jesus head. I found a web-site that gave instructions for making a large paper-mache head, and it sort of worked, but it’s not the way I would do it again. The method didn’t lend itself to a well-proportioned head. It made for a large head, and that’s what I was after, but I can tell you that his head was not shaped properly.

It was a good exercise for me to spend time thinking about what Jesus would have looked like. I found myself paying a lot more attention than I normally do to the way people’s heads are shaped. I’m not sure what look I was after, and while I’m sure this is a mangled portrayal of Jesus, you should have seen it before I fixed it. It was much worse early on. I found myself wishing I could create a really handsome Jesus, but that was more about my own vanity than in trying to create the right look for Jesus. From what I can tell, people weren’t drawn to Jesus by his looks. I’m not saying he was unattractive, but it wasn’t his surface appearance that made him so desirable.

I spent a lot of time this last week creating what you might call a mask of Jesus, but I think one way of describing who Jesus was – is to describe him as a man who didn’t wear a mask. Jesus wasn’t someone who pretended to be someone other than himself. He was a bit secretive at times. He didn’t want to be the object of too much attention — particularly in the early days of his ministry, but that was because he knew that crowds of people wouldn’t see him for who he was. Jesus didn’t trust the acclaim that came with fame. He recognized the way in which we often love who we perceive others to be and not who they really are.

Jesus spent much of his time trying to reveal who he was, and who he was not. There was a whole lot of expectation for him to live down, and he did his best to discourage people from following him for the wrong reason. He repeatedly told people to expect hardship if they followed him, but they followed him anyway – not because they understood what he was doing or where he was going but because our illusions of ourselves and of others are hard to destroy.

I had a stray dog come up and visit with me when I was on my bike trip last spring. I was taking a break in the shade in the countryside. There were a few houses here and there, and this dog came up from somewhere and just hung around while I was sitting in the shade. I got ready to go and that dog started following me. I yelled at him a couple of times to go away, but he kept running after me. It was sort of hilly and I would get good distance from him going downhill, but he would gain ground when I started going up hill. It wore me out trying to get away from him, but I finally lost sight of him. Clearly he had no idea where I was going.

I don’t think Jesus tried to shake people the way I tried to shake that dog, but he didn’t just want a bunch of followers. He wanted people to see him for who he was – not for who they wanted him to be.

Until it came time for him to enter Jerusalem – and then he allowed people to simply get excited about his arrival. He knew that there were all kinds of misunderstandings about him, but he didn’t rain on the parade. He accepted the praise of all the people who had no idea who he really was and what he was going to do. You might say he allowed people to put all kinds of masks upon him, but he was never confused about who he was and what he intended to do.

Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he went along with this crowd that welcomed him in to Jerusalem. The text reveals details about how he had made these very specific plans for his arrival in to Jerusalem. We’re told that he sent two of his disciples in to town to retrieve a colt that no one had ever ridden, and that they were to bring it to him. He told them exactly what to say when someone asked them what they were doing, and it went exactly as he had said it would. Jesus was very clear about what he was doing, and what would transpire.

The fact that they were to get a colt that had never been ridden is a strange little detail. Some speculate that it might have pointed to the ceremonial quality of the animal, but I’m thinking this detail is designed to alert us to the fact that Jesus was about to do something that no one had ever done before. Of course when you get on a colt that’s never been ridden I’m thinking you are introducing a significant variable to the situation. Of course it could be that that colt was the only creature who truly understood what was really going on and he was totally cooperative with Jesus. Sometimes it the non-human animals who are the most sympathetic to what’s going on in our lives.

This was quite a parade that accompanied Jesus in to Jerusalem. Jesus was surrounded by people who had all kinds of agendas, and there’s no indication that there was anyone who truly understood his agenda. I’m guessing most of the people who were ushering him in to town were hoping he was going to spark a revolution and get them out from under Roman occupation. Others were just hoping to get close enough to him to experience one of those miracles they had heard people talking about, and then there would have been others who had never heard of Jesus but were always up for a good mass movement of some kind. Jesus was accompanied by a lot of people, but he might not have ever been more alone.

If you find Palm Sunday to be an emotionally confusing celebration I’m right with you. I’m really not sure how to feel about a day like this. It’s the day we celebrate the dramatic entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, and it’s a painful reminder of how misunderstood Jesus really was. We want to whoop it up for our guy who entered Jerusalem with the means and resolve to change the world, and we now know that it would cost him his life.

It’s not easy to hold together a sense of celebration and sorrow, but I think this passage invites us to embrace both of these emotions on this day we call Palm Sunday. I think it makes sense to have a good time parading a giant Jesus in our sanctuary because we aren’t unlike the people who were excited about the big arrival of Jesus in to Jerusalem. The people who welcomed Jesus in to Jerusalem weren’t being malicious. They were genuinely excited about what they thought he was going to do, and what he was going to do was truly extraordinary – but they had no idea what that was.

The arrival of Jesus in to Jerusalem is something for us to cheer – and to bemoan. It’s an event that is worthy of our gratitude, but it’s also a story that contains a startling revelation. It’s a story that reveals how mistaken our expectations can be, and how costly this journey often is. Following Jesus is not a walk in the park on a sunny spring day.

Today’s story highlights the essence of the struggle we have as Christians. I think we have this desire to be a part of something big and dramatic and powerful and life changing, but the way of discipleship is costly and hard.

We don’t get to wear the masks we like to wear, nor do we get to place the mask on Jesus that will turn him in to the savior we want him to be. Unfortunately we don’t get to create him in the image we prefer. To follow Jesus is to seek to see him for who he is, and to want to be seen for who we are. This can be a frightening undertaking because we can be terribly confused about both Jesus and ourselves, but seeing those truths are the source of our salvation and the avenue to true life.

This story of the way Jesus entered Jerusalem is a story that designed to make us wonder. We don’t know what Jesus was thinking when he walked into the Temple and looked around, but I believe the way this story ends invites us to look around and reflect on who we are and what we are doing.

There is a lot of mystery surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but it’s not that hard to see what Jesus considered to be important. People put a lot of different masks on Jesus, but there was only one real look on his face, and it was the look of a person who loves us all and who challenges us all to love one another. He had the look of undiscriminating love, and that is not a familiar face to any of us. In fact some people feel like their affection for Jesus calls for them to engage in discrimination.

But this story invites us to try to see the ways in which we are blind to the truth about Jesus and ourselves. Jesus isn’t larger than life – Jesus is life, and Jesus wants us to be truly alive as well. I invite you to take a fresh look at who Jesus is and to discover who you really are. Jesus didn’t just want attention – Jesus wanted to be seen for who he was, so that we might see who we can be.

Thanks be to God for the remarkable way God continues to be unmasked before our very eyes. Amen


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