ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH PALM SUNDAY, MARCH 25, 2018
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
A SERVANT KING
Psalm 118: 1 – 2 & 19 – 29; John 12: 12- 16; John 13: 1 – 8
Two weeks ago, we witnessed the election of the new leader of the Ontario Conservative Party. Although it took half the night and a lot of counting, in the end Doug Ford was deemed the winner. There’s been a lot of discussion since, as many wonder if Doug will be the provincial leader we need. On the other hand, can we, in good conscience, re-elect Kathleen Wynne? Looking for the lesser of 3 evils, some are considering Andrea Horwath and the NDP. I don’t envy the person who gets the job. When people go to the polls, we’re hoping for a saviour. Someone who will rescue us from the short-comings of the last government. We want more than a politician, we want a leader. We want someone of strength and determination. Someone with a sense of moral purpose. Someone willing to fight for the good of others. Someone who will stand up for right and not back down. We want a conquering hero. A William Wallace who taunts his enemy, “Let your masters come and attack us: we are ready to meet them beard to beard.” A John Paul Jones who has, “…not yet begun to fight.” A Churchill who will, “Never, never, never give up”. A MacArthur declaring, “I shall return”. A leader who conquers and liberates. Those are the leaders who fill the hearts of people with a sense of triumph and jubilation. We want what the people of Jerusalem wanted; like them we cry out, “Hosanna” – in English “Save us now.” In Ontario in 2018, we want to be safe from ineptness, embarrassing scandals, financial ruin or callous disregard for the needs or people and nature. In Jerusalem in 33, they needed to be saved from the oppressive tyranny of an occupying army – from constant fear, destruction, rape, imprisonment and starvation. In the week before Passover, the polls favored Jesus of Nazareth.
You know the scene. Throngs of people lined the road into the city hoping to get a glimpse of the hero who was reportedly on his way. Waving palm branches, throwing down their coats, yelling “Hosanna” and quoting scripture, their excitement was uncontainable. The last time their people had felt such hope was 150 years earlier when having defeated and driven the Greeks from Israel, Simon Maccabee entered Jerusalem as the conquering hero welcomed by a similar, joy-filled mob. Now a King from the line of David was coming. Talk about a second coming! They just knew that Jesus would ride into Jerusalem and send the Romans running with their tails between their legs. They had no doubt. Once and for all, they would be free.
Finally, Jesus appeared at the city gate, riding a borrowed donkey. No horse, no armour, no army, no weapons. Just a regular looking guy on a pony. More like Yankee Doodle than a conquering hero. However, the people were so desperate for Jesus to be the type of Saviour “Messiah” that they wanted, they were ready to crown him king and follow him to death. The shouting continued. This was a guy who could raise the dead, after all – imagine what he could do if the people got behind him. Instead of seeing what was in front of them, they saw the Jesus they wanted to see. In their minds and hearts, they created an idol, a false god and so missed the real God in front of them. The Pharisees watching the scene shook their heads – the world had gone mad!
What a shock it must have been when they discovered Jesus was less war hero and more suffering servant. As the week went on, instead of raising an army and driving out the Romans, Jesus picked up a towel and removed the dirt from his disciples’ feet. Not what they were anticipating. Many people would follow a conquering hero into battle, many would die beside him if it gained them the freedom for which they yearned, but who follows a guy with a towel around his waste? The only place a servant can lead you is into servitude. We can feel the disappointment of the crowd. Disillusioned, hopeless, angry.
But what about us? What kind of Saviour are we looking for? What kind of person are we willing to follow? Do we worship Jesus Christ as revealed in the Holy scriptures or do we worship an idol of our own making? Do we worship Jesus for who he is, or do we insist he must meet our desires? Misunderstanding who Jesus is and what type of Messiah he is continues to be a problem today. Many Christians serve a false god whom they call by Jesus’ name. People are willing to follow Jesus if (1) he doesn’t ask anything of us. We want a Jesus who won’t ask us to die in service to his kingdom. We want a comfortable Christianity in which Jesus is our friend and we’re supported by a community of nice people but should the going get tough we’re out of here. It’s Jesus who dies for us, not the other way around. We don’t want to make a commitment of integrity that we may have to live up to. We are willing to sit in a pew for Jesus, but not to stand up for him. We want a Jesus who doesn’t ask to be our top priority. We have busy lives. Our families are important; our children come first, then there’s work, our homes, friends, hobbies, down time. We don’t need to choose between worship and other commitments, we can worship in the recesses of our hearts and minds while we do other things and we want a Jesus who gets that and is good with it. We want a Jesus who doesn’t ask us to think about others, to make a sacrifice, to not have everything I want, to worry about the needs of others or the injustices in our world. We certainly don’t want a Jesus who expects us to stick our necks out, have a voice, do something if it doesn’t concern us directly. We want a Jesus who forgives us without asking anything in return. Who lets us ignore him all our lives, so he can open the doors to heaven when we arrive. Who keeps us from feeling remorse or shame. Who puts up with our disdain, our ignorance, our anger, our abuse like a punching bag and smiles on us for it.
People are willing to follow Jesus if (2) he makes me feel good about myself. The saviour I’m looking for makes me feel secure, loved and affirmed. He doesn’t convict me of my sin and shortcomings. He doesn’t ask me to examine myself. He doesn’t expect me to grow. He doesn’t ask me to give up anything. He just tells me I’m special the way I am. We want a Jesus who promotes the prosperity gospel and wants us to be rich. One who will reward me for the wonder that I am. One who gets excited every time we indulge our self. And best of all, one who doesn’t make us feel guilty for our decadent lifestyle. We want a Jesus who gives us whatever we want just for thinking positively or putting a brain wave out to the universe. We want a genie who grants us wishes. A bubble gum machine that drops the sweet things of life into our hands. A 24-hour drive through Jesus who exists to give us what we want when we want it.
People are willing to follow Jesus if (3) he takes away our troubles and pain. We want a healer who defies his own laws to keep us going. A problem solver who gets us out of debt. A match maker who brings love and romance into our lives on our terms. A marriage counselor who does a personality make over on our spouse. A saviour who fixes our children. A night in shining armour who protects us from all of life’s violence, griefs, and self-inflicted sorrows.
The Jesus we don’t want to follow is the one who takes up a towel and basin and washes people’s stinky feet. The Jesus who is a servant and calls us to be servants also. In worshipping our idolized Jesus, the Church has managed to turn the gospel upside down. No longer is it about Jesus. No longer is it about others. Basically, its about me. Rather than striving to come to “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” We have remained “children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine…” (Ephesians 4: 13 & 14). It is easy to be part of the crowd that see Jesus as what we want him to be for us. It is easy to be part of the crowd who gets angry enough to destroy him. It’s not so easy to grow into mature Christians who are like the true Jesus who washes feet and serves and doesn’t sulk or retaliate when he is spat at. It’s not so easy to deny ourselves or lay down our lives. It’s not so easy to be the grown up – the one who rises above all the pettiness we encounter, who discerns what really matters, who admits when we’re wrong, who builds up instead of tearing down, who offers forgiveness 70 X 7 times if necessary, who follows the Jesus who entered Jerusalem. A woman visited a village where she met an elderly man. She asked the man if any great men had ever been born in his village. The man replied, “No, just babies.” We all start our spiritual journey in an infantile state – we grow to maturity. In the Church today, it’s time for us to take off our bibs and exchange them for towels.
Perhaps some of you are balking at that – you are mature, you constantly serve, you don’t wear a bib. Perhaps you are. Only you and the Holy Spirit really know that. I will concede that you may be maturing at a faster than I. But if you think you’re a servant and you want to know for sure, pay attention to how you react when someone treats you like one. The renowned educator Booker T. Washington was walking down the street one day when he encountered a wealthy white woman who asked if he’d like to earn a few dollars chopping wood. Booker went with her, chopped the wood, stacked it and brought some into the house where her daughter was sitting. When he left the young woman told her mother he was the president of the Tuskegee Institute. Embarrassed the woman went to the university the next day to apologize. Booker replied, “It’s perfectly all right, Madam, I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a new friend.”
All of us are looking for a saviour. We have an image of what that person is like and what he will do. We seek our own personal conquering hero. When we give up the Christ of our own making, the Christ of our desires, we discover God made in his own image. The Saviour who comes in the name of the Lord. The King who rides a donkey. The servant King who washes feet, takes up his cross and lays down his life for his friends. We discover Jesus and he invites us to follow him.