Broadway Baptist Church
March 29, 2015
The story actually begins earlier and miles away, in Galilee, where Jesus of Nazareth lived and for three years taught in the synagogues
in the fishing villages around the lake and
on the hillsides and
on the roads.
He had gathered followers, disciples, men and women who accompanied him, and as his reputation as a gifted rabbi and healer grew, so did the concern of religious and political authorities all the way down to the capital city of Jerusalem.
Delegations were sent from Jerusalem to investigate: they
tried to bait him.
But, as John Buchanan retells this story, Jesus was safe in Galilee, really, because he was with his own people—
small-town people mostly,
poor people mostly,
people who would not have been much
impressed with these delegations of educated,
sophisticated, urbane, experts from the big city,
having come all the way up here to harass and
implicate one of their own.
But now Jesus has decided to go
to the city,
to Jerusalem. His closest friends advise him not to do it. It’s a big mistake. Why in the world would you want to go to the capital city where, under the watchful eyes of the occupying Romans, a peasant from Galilee could get in a lot of trouble?
When he rejected their advice and “set his face toward Jerusalem,” they followed, reluctantly, frightened about what might happen to him—to them, for that matter.
[John Buchanan, “Spellbound,” Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, Illinois, April 1, 2007]
This year in Lent I have been trying to frame the scripture each Sunday with the idea of interruption—these things that break in and disrupt our lives and our plans, these unexpected and often unwanted interruptions.
The Lenten question for us is, What would happen if we began to look at interruptions differently?
What if we began to look at interruptions as opportunities?
What if you saw an interruption as a calling?
So we’ve talked about the interruption of wilderness and the interruption of suffering. Last week we talked about the interruption of death—final death as well as the kind of daily dying to self that Jesus so often talked about.
Do you remember, two weeks ago, I talked about the interruption of Jesus. We looked at the story of Jesus interrupting the human centered religious activity of the temple when he went in and turned over the tables and chased out the money changers. And we thought about what it means when Jesus comes in and interrupts our church.
Today, Jesus is, again, the interruption. That’s one of the things that has struck me as I have looked at all of these biblical stories through the lens of interruption: that that’s a big part of who Jesus was and what he did. Jesus was an interrupter—and is.
Today, Jesus is interrupting again. This time it’s not the church. This time Jesus is interrupting the city. Why did he have to go to Jerusalem? He didn’t need to do it. He was doing fine, he was doing really well, actually, in Galilee.
But here he goes, walking right into the city. Interrupting.
We might wish that he had not gone to the city, but he did. We might wish he had just gone to the temple. But he didn’t.
The late Lord George MacLeod, House of Lords, Church of Scotland minister, founder of the Iona Community, said:
I simply argue that the cross be raised at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but
on a cross between two thieves;
on a town garbage heap;
at a crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan that
they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin
and in Greek . . . and
at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and
thieves curse and soldiers gamble.
that is where he died, and
that is what he died about. And
that is where Christ’s people ought to be and
what church people ought to be about.
Jesus didn’t just go to the temple. He went to the city.
On the road to Jerusalem, they joined large crowds of people, all walking in the same direction, for the same reason. It was the Passover, the central celebration of the year for the Jewish people, a celebration actually of their liberation from enslavement in Egypt centuries before. It was a time of religious fervor and passionate patriotism. Every Jew was supposed to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem at least once.
It all made the occupying Romans so nervous that the Roman governor, a man by the name of Pontius Pilate, moved his headquarters from Caesarea by the sea to the capital city and brought along a troop of elite Roman soldiers to keep order and to deal with any dangerous outbursts of enthusiasm that might escalate into an insurrection, an interruption. It was a city surging with religious expectation.
It was a walk of several days, and near the end, when they arrived at the small town of Bethany, a few miles outside Jerusalem, Jesus told two of his friends to bring a donkey, specifically a colt, and although no one had ever seen him ride a donkey, he allowed them to set him on it, and they resumed the journey.
Now when the others on the road saw it, saw him bumping along on the back of that little donkey, it stirred their passion. They knew exactly what was happening. Their favorite scriptural promise was from the prophet Zechariah: Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).
It was particularly powerful as they walked toward their capital city, where there already was a king, and
not a humble and lowly one, but
a powerful, brutal king
who was allowed to remain in power because he collaborated and cooperated with the Romans. Herod was his name.
But on the road, here was Jesus, their own king, the promised Messiah, the Son of God. They erupted in joyful exuberance. Some of them cut branches from the trees and spread them out in front of Jesus and the donkey– a kind of poor man’s red carpet treatment. Maybe they were palm branches. The Gospels don’t say what they were exactly.
Some of the people who were there got so carried away by what was happening that they took the clothes off their backs and spread them out on the road in front of him along with the branches. So there were
spread out there in the dust.
And maybe you and I would have taken off our blue blazers and sweaters and jackets and spread them out there with everything else, if we had been there, because it was such a moment of hope and passion.
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
When they proceed over the final hill, the city is there, looming ahead, a sight most had only dreamt of:
the winding streets,
Herod’s grand palace, and
the temple, first built by Solomon, rebuilt
carefully after the exile.
And we know what happened once he entered that city—this drama of Holy Week that we are about to live out—as Jesus interrupted and disrupted. When Jesus enters Jerusalem,
he interrupts Temple practice and indicts those
associated with it.
He undermines the authority of the authorities.
He accuses the Sadducees of ignorance of both the
scriptures and God’s power.
Finally, he predicts the destruction of the Temple
This is what happens when Jesus enters the city. He interrupts everything. The people of Jerusalem roll out the red carpet, only to discover that Jesus has come to challenge all that they prize.
The problem, of course, is that the Jesus the crowds welcome and want is not the Jesus they in fact get. They welcome the kingdom of David but do not understand what that kingdom means. And the interruption of expectations turns to
misunderstanding, which turns to
rejection, which turns to
[Texts for Preaching, Year B: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV edited by Walter Brueggemann, Charles B. Cousar, Beverly Roberts Gaventa, James D. Newsome Jr., p. 248]
And all of this because Jesus was compelled to leave his place of comfort and go to the city, no matter what. And Jesus is reminding us today, on Palm Sunday, that his business, the business of the church, is not the church but the world. Jesus reminds us today, particularly those of us who
love the church,
work in and for the church,
maintain the church,
support the church,
that our business is the world God loves and the people of the world God so loves and for whom Jesus Christ died.
That’s why we are doing this multi-million dollar capital campaign. Not because we love the church but because we love the world. It’s because we love our city and the people in it.
What if instead of measuring our church by its attendance, we measured it by its love for the city?
instead of trying to get more people to attend church
more of the time,
we tried to get people who attend church to do so
only as much as is necessary,
so we could spend more time entering our own
city and loving and interrupting the city where we
Writer Brian McLaren talks about this and says that one of the greatest enemies of evangelism—one of the greatest enemies of our doing what Jesus did— is when the church becomes either a fortress or a social club; it sucks Christians out of our
social networks and
and isolates us in a religious ghetto—our own city within the city. And there the church entertains us and holds on to us by any means necessary.
Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic priest and writer, spent many hours at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, studying the great paining by Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son.
While staring at this painting, Nouwen gained a new insight into the parable of the prodigal son. The insight he gained was the idea that Jesus became somewhat of a prodigal for our sakes. Jesus
left the comfortable home of his heavenly Father,
came to a foreign country,
gave away all he had for the welfare of the people,
and returned through a cross to his Father’s
All of this Jesus did, not as a rebellious son, but as the obedient son, sent out to bring home all the lost children of God.
What would happen, do you think, if we followed Jesus to the point that we gave ourselves away out of love for the city in which we live?
To raise the cross at the center of the city.
that is where Jesus died, and
that is what he died about. And
that is where Christ’s people ought to be and
where the church out to be and
what church people ought to be about.
Jesus didn’t just go to church. He went to the city.
Now it should be acknowledged that this is risky. I mean, look what happened to Jesus. It only took five days for him to arrested and crucified.
But you know what? The major themes of the Christian life—
all of these are high-risk behavior.
When you set your face toward Jerusalem, when you enter the city, you risk something.
When you give to the city, you risk.
When you trust the city, you risk.
When you love the city, you risk.
When you hope for the city, you risk.
When Albert Schweitzer made his decision to go as a missionary to Africa, he communicated this to his friends by letter. He was astounded to receive their replies, as they counseled that for a man of his prodigious gifts and abilities to go as a missionary in a primitive land was an incredible waste of talent. Schweitzer said: It moved me strangely to see my friends, all of them Christian, so far from perceiving that to be a follower of Christ may well sweep a person into an entirely new course of life.
It is a risk.
Fred Craddock, who died a couple of weeks ago, tells the story of when his wife was away for a few days and he was going to fix one of his big meals. He stopped off at the Winn Dixie to get a jar of peanut butter.
He was in a hurry; you know when it’s a big store and you don’t really know where things are you can spend your whole afternoon looking around. So he saw a woman who was pushing a cart along, and he thought, She looks like she’s comfortable here, she’s right at home. I’ll ask her.
He said, Um, lady, could you direct me to the peanut butter.
She jerked around, stared at him, and said, Are you trying to hit on me?
He said, I’m looking for the peanut butter.
As he backed away from there, he saw a stock boy, so he said, Where’s the peanut butter?
Aisle five, I think, way down on the left.
He went down there, and halfway down on the left were big jars of peanut butter. He took one. As he turned to leave, that woman was there, and she said, You were looking for the peanut butter!
He said, I told you I was looking for the peanut butter.
She said, Well, nowadays in this city you can’t be too careful.
And he said, Lady, yes you can. Yes you can.
There goes Jesus, on a donkey, riding into the city. I can see him now.