Saturday, March 15, 2008

Misreading God's Intentions

John 12:12-19

Have you ever misinterpreted something someone said or did? Anyone who has tried dating knows how easy it is to "misread signals." I’ve done it on many an occasion – just ask Cheryl. Maybe she looks at you in a certain way, and you think: My, she must like me. Later on you discover that she didn’t even know you were there. She was looking somewhere else and missed you in the foreground. Sometimes you get lucky. You’ve misread the signals, or the lack thereof, but you get the courage to go up and talk to her, or maybe make a fateful phone call and invite her on a date. Now, of course, I’m speaking from my own experiences, yours might be different.

Then there are those pesky dreams – you know those visions you get in the middle of the night, which seem to be a sense of God’s calling. When you have those kinds of dreams, how do you know whether its God or not? Maybe the reason you can’t sleep isn’t that God is talking you, but is instead that pizza you ate at 9 P.M.. Sometimes we appeal to our dreams to try to rationalize ideas and decisions. We hope that by baptizing them in pious language, God might just decide to claim them.

When the crowd saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, at least some of the people got the idea that he was about to lead a revolution that would throw out the Roman occupiers. They seemed to think that maybe this was the promised Messiah who would restore Israel to its former greatness. In John’s telling, we must keep in mind the story of Lazarus, which got everyone hoping. And so, when they see Jesus, they begin to shout.

"Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord--The King of Israel!"

This was an auspicious moment for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem. It was, we are told, the beginning of Passover Week. The city was full of pilgrims coming to celebrate God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. And as the city swelled with pilgrims, the Roman governor, always wary of trouble, was entering the city, bringing with him his troops – just in case. Jerusalem was like a forest full of dry brush and timber. It wouldn’t take much to set off a fire.

If you had been there and had seen Jesus entering the city the way he did, what would you have thought? What if you were a Roman authority? Or, a Jewish religious leader? A Jewish nationalistic rebel? A common Jewish peasant? What would your expectations have been? Would you have correctly understood Jesus' mission, or would you have misread the situation?

We all look at life through sets of lenses. If you’ve been listening to the news, you may have heard about a certain pastor’s sermons that are raising questions about a certain candidate. How you hear the message is rooted in how you see the world – that is, the lens you use to see.

Jesus’s fellow pilgrims saw their world through the lens of living in an occupied country. They looked forward to a time of freedom, and Passover helped inspire that idea. There was another lens that may have influenced the way they saw Jesus. Indeed, Jesus likely knew what he was doing when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey that day. You see there was this prophet named Zechariah. You’ll find his words near the end of the Old Testament. This prophet lived after the exile, and he spoke of a triumphant king who would, interestingly enough, enter Jerusalem riding humbly on a donkey, after having triumphed over the chariot and the war horse. What a vision this is, that God’s chosen one would come and take his throne and reign in peace over the nations (Zechariah 9:9-10). Could this, they wondered, be the one? And I’m pretty sure Jesus knew they’d react this way! Though, according to John, the Disciples didn’t understand until after the resurrection. They didn’t understand that the cross lay in the path of God’s victory. They had a different set of lenses.

So, if you had been there, how would you have responded? What lenses would you have been using to interpret what was happening that day in Jerusalem?

On this Palm Sunday morning in Lompoc – I want to push the question a bit. How do you see God’s work in your life? In this community? In this nation? And beyond? Where do you see God at work? And, how do you know it’s God?
It’s not always easy to know what God is doing. We like to think in conventional terms, but God doesn’t always work that way. Jesus understood that his entrance wasn’t the defining moment of his ministry. He knew that he was moving toward a violent and humiliating death. Victory would come, but not without pain.
I mentioned last week that I had been learning about change and that change required pain. If you’re happy and content, you don’t change. Jesus understood this as well. If change was going to happen in the lives of his people, then he himself would have to suffer. He would have to give up his life, so that God might transform the people. Jesus could have chosen an easier route. Free bread, for instance. Surely he could have raised an army to throw out the Romans. But he chose a different route. It was slower, but the change would be permanent and powerful.

So, what kinds of dreams do we have? And are they in line with what God desires for you and for the world? Could you be misreading God's intentions? We all must answer these questions. Indeed, I am asking them these days – very carefully, I might add. My hope is that my dreams are God’s dreams. That my lenses are the right ones.

We like Palm Sunday. It’s a fun day. We get to sing happy songs and wave palm branches. But when you take a look at those palm crosses, you’ll see that the palm branches form a cross. Jesus will triumph, but first we must go through Good Friday. But, the promise of Palm Sunday is that Good Friday doesn’t have the last word. Good Friday is one lens, but it’s not the final lens through which we discern God’s intentions.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
Palm Sunday
March 16, 2008

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