United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

"Save Us!"

Minister Kim Braxton
March 28, 2021

Good morning! Let us pray “Father, I pray that I decrease as You increase. Allow Your Word to reach each of your people and that the power of the Holy Spirit will bring the text to life. Seal Your Word on Your people’s hearts. In Christ’s name we pray believing it is done. Amen.”

Before the world changed I used to love to watch the red carpet arrivals at the Met Gala. Celebrities would converge at the Met Gala red carpet dressed in their absolute best, extreme, el-la-gan-za finery based on whatever the designated theme of the evening was proclaimed to be. Designers worked overtime to top previous year’s creations - - stitching, embellishing, doing everything to make sure that their piece, their “obeject d’arte” was seen, photographed and talked about in the press. And of course there was always a show stopper – whether it was Billy Porter arriving on a litter carried on pole bearer’s shoulders or Beyonce’s 2015 arrival at the gala. Queen B arrived a full hour after the last guest arrival on the red carpet so that she wouldn’t have to share the world’s attention in a stunning golden sheer dress. The Met Gala is a lot of things but subtle, subdued and humble is not one of them! When the stars arrived at the Gala they want to be seen, talked about, and adored! This brings us to today’s scripture. Up to this point in Jesus’ ministry He was discrete. He would instruct people not to tell anyone what He did, He even commanded demons to be silent when they tried to reveal His identity prematurely (Mark 1:34). But now in chapter 11 of Mark, Jesus was about to have His biblical version of a “Red Carpet Met Gala Arrival”. Jesus wasn’t going to use the “service entrance” to slip into Bethpage on His way to Jerusalem. He geared up to show the world that Messiah had come, Messiah was here, and that the King was ready to assume His position of authority. Looking at Verse 2 of Mark Chapter 11, Jesus instructed his disciples to “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden.” This specific request is important because the custom of the day according to the Mishnah, (the oral Torah), states that king’s horses cannot be ridden by anyone except the King.

Jesus very request reflects the ancient practice of impressment, where a king or government official could claim temporary rights to an item or person for immediate service (I Sam 8:16). And in verse 7 once the cloaks were laid over the donkey so Jesus could ride the animal into the city the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 would be fulfilled in their viewing, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” As Jesus entered the city verses 9 through 10 report that people cheered ““Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”. The people have finally received their Messiah and their promised King. And as the crowd shouted Hosanna! Now Hosanna is a shout of praise and adoration. However when literally translated Hosanna means “Save or Rescue Us”. And since there is “nothing new under the sun” in 2021 there are at least three items in the text that humanity still needs saving and rescuing from:

Point #1: Save us from “petty nationalism”: It’s easy to understand how for the people living under oppressive Roman rule at the time the coming of the Messiah was the hope they had been waiting for. In their minds, Jesus had come to Save them from their immediate situation. They wanted relief from their suffering and oppression under ‘Pax Romana’. They wanted to be restored to their former glory. Can you imagine the relief they must have felt to finally have Messiah, Jesus, coming to town? They could lift their heads up and walk in victory over the systems that had oppressed them and held them down. But Jesus was not sent down from heaven to walk among humanity in order to validate a particular political argument or to advance a specific political agenda. Jesus came to redeem all humankind from the curse of the law. To become a sacrificial offering so we can be reconciled to God as children of God. When he came to Jerusalem the people assumed He was there to overthrow Roman oppression. And He could have done that easily but that was not his mission. His ministry had a much broader scope that extended past a single nation to effect all of humanity. Even today people use the name of Jesus in order to co-sign and validate a particular vein of political ideology. Politicians to preachers to dating advice gurus use the name of Jesus to validate their causes. As the old people would say “To Bless their mess” but that is not the purpose of His ministry. Save us from this foolery Lord!

Point #2: Save Us From “Fair Weather” Faith: to quote David Garland “Jesus does not welcome cheers from throngs who will not pray with him in dark Gethsemane or go with him to an even darker Golgotha. He can little use those Christians who show up once a year when the cheering starts around Easter. He needs those who will endure to the end, even when faced with unspeakable suffering.” It is easy to praise God and have a “faith that can move mountains” when everything is going well. But are you still able to have faith during those difficult times, during seasons of scarcity, or in times of profound and absolute brokenness? A faith that causes you to cry out like Job in chapter 13 verse 15, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” A few months ago I was in Maine and one morning I went to the beach for a run. I had a choice – if I took one path the views weren’t as pretty and the beach had more people. The other way had beautiful views and was largely empty. I took the less occupied route. But as I began to run I encountered difficulty. I was running into the wind and the air had such a sharp bite to it that it hurt to face. In order to protect myself from the temporary discomfort of the wind I kept my head down and focused on keeping up my pace. But when I did that I didn’t allow myself the luxury of absorbing the beauty around me – the sun rising over the ocean, the whitecaps from the crashing waves, the patterns that the shells, seaweed and driftwood made in the sand. With my head down I could only see one foot falling in front of the other. The rigor of the work instead of the beauty of the environment. Even in the darkest periods in our lives our faith still enables us and empowers us to endure. And if you have to slow your pace to make it through the rough patch do it! Just don’t stop moving and don’t break faith.

Point #3: Save Us From Short Sightedness: It’s been said that there are three sides to every issue – my side, your side, and the truth.” When we are in middle of our respective situations it is easy to only see the circumstances from our personal point of view. And why not? We are the ones living through the situation day-to-day. We know the pains and the joys of what it means to walk out our steps in our respective realities. So when we encounter circumstances that cause us to experience discomfort and dis-ease it is understandable how our minds would drift to the comfortable hypothetical and think, “If I was in charge I would fix this by (insert random 10 step idea)” I think it’s safe to assume that we have all practiced a type of “armchair leadership” at least once. I’ve seen people do this while watching football on tv. Think about it an ordinary person who exercises for 30 minutes a day, has an office job, and plays fantasy football online will say with absolute conviction that they had better perspective on how to run a play in the NFL during a championship game than a professional athlete that has been training for years, whose body has been conditioned for the sole purpose of executing on an elite level at this sport and whose mind has studied plays for months in advance make in order to make the very decision that the armchair athlete dismisses as wrong. We sit, confidently declaring, “Ugghhh!!!! Why did he do that!!! Now if it was me I would have run with the ball and not pass it!” Because we believe that we know what’s best, that we have all the information, and that we can see the situation more clearly than the people actually calling the plays and doing the work. Our vision is short sighted. We don’t have all the information, we don’t know all the circumstances and variables and moving parts to make a truly informed “game time” decision. In the same way the crowds that gathered to celebrate the arrival the Messiah but did not fully understand where Jesus’ sovereign reign would lead them. They may have thought He arrived to provide immediate relief from their immediate suffering; however, Jesus’ ministry’s scope was expanded beyond what short sighted human understanding and felt needs. The crowd that was shouting “Hosana” one day so hopeful for a change in their current circumstances were shouting “Crucify Him” by the end of the week. Their limited vision and finite understand did not allow the to grasp the vastness of Jesus’ mission to Save humanity. As we enter into Passion Week this Palm Sunday let us take a moment to step back from the rigor of our day-to-day work and take a moment to reflect on the beauty of God’s love for us. Offering up praise and worship to the peaceful, powerful, humble King that rode into town on a donkey with all of humanity on his mind.

Let us pray.