At the heart of our faith is a God who has a really annoying habit of doing just about everything the wrong way. God doesn’t give prepackaged answers to life’s most challenging questions. God rarely, if ever, wraps things up in a nice and tidy bow so that we always know the one, right, only way forward. At the heart of our faith is a God who said I love you so much that I will die for you. I am powerful enough that I will lay down all that I am and all that I have to be by your side through all that is to come.

 In a world without simple, clear answers around every corner, there is no other sure foundation than the love and acceptance of King Jesus. Without that foundation, fear is all we have left. Upon that foundation, there is no challenge or problem or unknown pathway too daunting. Embracing the cross of Christ means embracing the challenge to give up control and learn to trust in the Lord.

3/25/2018

Mark 11:1-11
11When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and 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. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11Then 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.

God has a really annoying habit of doing just about everything the wrong way. In a time when being the firstborn meant you were the one who gets to carry on the family name and inherit the lion’s share of the wealth; God chose the second born to give birth to God’s people. In a time when physical size and strength was the primary mark of a true leader; God chose the musical pretty boy to be anointed king. When the kingdom was falling God sent prophets with a message instead of soldiers with a weapon. When Jesus picked the 12 most effective church planters of all time, he went with uneducated tradesmen who never understood what he was doing and always questioned his every move.

When God was supposed to take His place as king of all and overthrow the Roman government once and for all – instead God carried his own cross in the streets of Jerusalem. Jesus was supposed to be the last best hope of God’s people to escape from oppression – instead he was crucified a criminal. Jesus was supposed to come and fix it all; to restore God’s people to life and relationship; to end the brokenness and division; to raise up a new leader who would sit on the throne forever more – instead he wound up hanging from the tree with barely a word and certainly not a single battle fought, much less won.

God has a really annoying habit of doing just about everything the wrong way. Of course, the cross is not the end of the story, three days later Jesus rose from the grave to raise us up to new life and defeat even death itself. The Christian story is absolutely one of triumph and glory and victory in Jesus. But there is no line from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday without the cross in between. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey with the crowd chanting and waving palms to declare that he is the Messiah, the King – and there is no pathway from this moment to the empty grave without the humiliation and execution of that king.  

God has a really annoying habit of doing just about everything the wrong way. Holy Week is a week each year in which we focus on this very pathway from triumphant entry with palms to the joy of Easter morning. The week ahead is a challenge to Christians all over the world to refuse all the easy answers that the world wants to offer – to resist thinking that God is just here to approve everything we already think and do and believe – to reclaim this profound statement of faith that at the heart of Christianity is the claim that God died.

If I were the one in charge of all the universe, I struggle to imagine a weirder way to be king than the way God chose. The setup was perfect for Jesus to take over as king. That first palm Sunday, Jesus sent two of his disciples to go and get a colt that had never been ridden. And Jesus said if anyone asks why you are taking it, tell them, the Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.  And just like you would expect in a perfect fairy tale, the disciples find this colt, someone asks why they’re taking it and when the disciples say “for the Lord” it all works out.

Jesus rode the colt into town and the people gave him a royal welcome. Palm branches were a symbol of victory and peace. It was like the crowd knew the battle was over before it was begun. Some scholars even argue that Jesus entered town around the same time the Roman ruler would have entered on the other side of town. This was so profoundly and obviously a way for Jesus to say without words that he was the alternative to the ruler of Rome. The people had a choice – to bow down to the Roman emperor or to bow down to king Jesus.

The stage was set. The stakes were clear. Nothing short of life and freedom were at on the table for whichever side wound up winning the war. But God has a really annoying habit of doing just about everything the wrong way. Jesus didn’t sweep through the towns and across the countryside like a supercharged version of Thor, destroying armies and rulers in his wake. Jesus didn’t so much as lift a finger against the soldiers who came to take him away, or Pontius Pilate who sealed his fate, or the crowds who pushed him up that fateful hill.

Tensions had been building for generations. God’s people were primed for the Messiah, the chosen one, the next and final king who would restore God’s kingdom here on earth. There were revolts and minor revolutions all the time in those days – no one came close to getting rid of the Roman army but plenty of people tried. Jesus had the perfect opportunity to accomplish what so many others failed to do. The setup was there, the expectations were high…and the son of God died.

God has a really annoying habit of doing just about everything the wrong way. The idea that Jesus is king has to challenge just about every notion we have over what it means to be a king and how one gets to take the position. If crucifixion were a requirement before becoming king, Game of Thrones would probably look a lot different. All the values Jesus upholds, the way he goes about claiming victory and asserting authority is the polar opposite to everything we’re usually taught in life. Just look at the models of power and authority we have in the world today.

It’s hard to even conceive of a world in which it makes sense for a country to try and influence the world without at least the threat of military strength. The threat of going to war looms large in our divided and terrified world. We’re perhaps even more at war with each other at this point. Right vs left, city vs rural, red vs blue – the goal of so much of the verbal war seems to be not only victory against each other, but as much humiliation and destruction as possible along the way. We live in a world that wants these kinds of victory – we see the struggle for power over one another played out all the time.

And if I controlled the universe, I think I’d probably lay out the uniforms for my side and start raining down warning shots of fire and brimstone to give everyone the chance to choose the obvious winning side. But God has a really annoying habit of doing just about everything the wrong way. Jesus isn’t on the winning side. Jesus is on the side that never lifts a weapon. Jesus is the one who is humiliated relentlessly; his body is the one that is destroyed in the process. What it means to say Jesus is king has nothing to do with the way power and authority are so often used and abused.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, it should come as no surprise that God doesn’t work by simply pushing us to vote Republican or Democrat. We humans have a profound way of dividing ourselves and picking sides even within the sides of the battles we’ve already picked. The story of palm Sunday is very short in Mark, but it doesn’t take much imagination to picture the kind of cranky, divided people there were on Jesus’ side of town.

The crowd on Jesus’ side of town made a decision for Jesus over and against Rome as the one to whom they would pledge their allegiance. It was a joyous celebration and a triumphant ride into town, but I can still picture the side conversations. “Why are we wasting these palm branches – they could have been sold and we could have done some real good with that money.” OR “Great, now all the blankets are dirty, I just washed them. What a waste of time and effort.” AND I just know there was someone in that crowd saying, “Why is he on a donkey? Those colors are hideous. I should have been on the parade committee and I would have made so many better decisions.”

If I’m being honest, on most days I would not be the guy faithfully and joyfully waving the palm for King Jesus. I’d absolutely be the guy thinking to himself “is this really the best use of our time? What’s the point of this march if Jesus isn’t going to actually do anything to take on Rome afterward?” Power and authority are so often used as opportunities to take control. But the message of a king on the cross is exactly the opposite.

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it. And whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Real power and authority are not found by asserting control over our lives. The power to change the world comes through trusting in the one who gave his life for us all. The authority to speak and act and live for the sake of the gospel comes when we give up thinking we can control the outcome.

There is nothing more frustratingly beautiful than realizing that a cross shaped faith leaves no room for control. There is no point to keeping a white knuckle grip on the way things used to be or the ways we know God really ought to act. God has a really annoying habit of doing just about everything the wrong way, and then inviting us to place our trust in Him.

I would venture to guess that our greatest cultural sin at the moment is refusing to live as though it’s ok when we don’t have all the answers. Over 800 marches took place this weekend to save children from gun violence. And what bothers me the most about the response I’ve seen is our readiness to stick to the preapproved talking points of our teams. “Marches are useless, what’s the point?” OR “You can’t take my guns.” OR “You can either support guns or you can care about children’s safety, but you can’t do both.”

None of the talking points help. None of our attempts at taking white knuckle control over our future lead anywhere good or productive. It is way beyond time to do something, try anything to stem the tide of violence. We act like we have to have THE one God ordained answer or nothing at all. What I hope you hear more than anything else in this cultural moment, is that children are afraid. And the adults that want tighter gun regulations are afraid. And the adults that want easier access to guns to fight back against the guns that are already out there… are afraid. And most importantly, responding to fear with your favorite talking point does nothing but breed more fear.

At the heart of our faith is a God who has a really annoying habit of doing just about everything the wrong way. God doesn’t give prepackaged answers to life’s most challenging questions. God rarely, if ever, wraps things up in a nice and tidy bow so that we always know the one, right, only way forward. At the heart of our faith is a God who said I love you so much that I will die for you. I am powerful enough that I will lay down all that I am and all that I have to be by your side through all that is to come.  

In a world without simple, clear answers around every corner, there is no other sure foundation than the love and acceptance of King Jesus. Without that foundation, fear is all we have left. Upon that foundation, there is no challenge or problem or unknown pathway too daunting. Embracing the cross of Christ means embracing the challenge to give up control and learn to trust in the Lord. That doesn’t mean we’ll have all the answers or that we’ll have any idea what we’re getting ourselves into all the time – if anything, it means just the opposite. Jesus Christ is king. But he’s not a king without a cross.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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