First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
April 14, 2019 – Palm Sunday
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
On the other side of the city, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus had sent two of his disciples to go into the village and find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. He instructed them, “If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They replied with the answer Jesus had given. “The Lord needs it,” they said.
Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and Jesus sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who needed answers, those who had come looking for peace, began shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Robert was an advertising executive, on his way up the corporate ladder. He was also one of the members of the church and he often volunteered at the foot clinic that his church offered to the homeless people of the city. He would be there, almost every Tuesday in his crisp shirt and red suspenders, sleeves rolled up to the elbow, sitting on a stool in front of one of the homeless guests that had come to the clinic that night. Joanna Adams, his pastor, reflects on watching him work one night as he took the guest’s feet and “placed them in a basin of warm water. He takes a towel and dries the feet. He applies ointment to their sores. The ritual ends with the gift of a clean, white pair of socks.” As the man in the chair slips the socks on, he brushes a tear from his cheek. It’s been a while since anyone has touched him with tenderness.
Rev. Adams asked Robert one time why he came to the clinic every week. “I figure I have a better chance of running into Jesus here than most places. That’s all.”
Holy week is upon us. We stand along the roadside as the parade marches on. Are we in a place where we would have a pretty good chance of running into the Messiah?
When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, it’s pretty obvious that people were hoping to run into a messiah, a savior. And, being Passover, they figured they had a pretty good chance of running into him in Jerusalem. Most were probably expecting a mighty-warrior type messiah to come riding in on a great white steed, all decked out in armor and ready to take on the bad guys with a mighty army.
So when those people in the city saw a parade coming, they must have been thinking, “this is it! The messiah. The anointed one is coming at long last!” So they were standing along the street, on tippy toes, waiting, watching, looking for that first glimpse of shiny armor in the sun or the flash of the white mane along the neck of a prancing majestic steed.
They would have actually seen that on one side of town… the side closer to Rome. There was an army coming in to down about that time. It might have even been led by someone all decked out in armor riding a great white steed. We’ve come to know who that person might have been as Pontius Pilate. Caesar would have sent him because, there was rumors that a Messiah was expected to arrive and liberate the folks. If you’re one of the folks needing to be liberated… that’s good news. If you’re the one they want to be liberated from… not so much.
So.. two parades happened… Run where people ran into Jesus in a surprising way and one where people ran into the power of Rome … and there was nothing surprising about that.
It must have been pretty chaotic – it says that the whole city was in a turmoil. I would imagine that it would be. After all, it was Passover – a major Jewish festival commemorating liberation from Pharaoh’s slavery. So there’s tons of people showing up. And then Rome pours on the power.
When Pilate’s parade arrived on one side of town, there would have been no question about just who he was and what his purpose was. But what about Jesus’ parade on the other side of town? There was no white steed there. There was no armor. There was no army. When Jesus makes his entrance, those in the city see this guy riding on a donkey, and they say, “Who is this?”
It was Jesus, the man from Nazareth. Mary’s son. Son of the carpenter, Joseph. He wore no armor, just the clothes of a peasant. He was accompanied by a ragtag conglomeration of fishermen, tax collectors and sinners, women, children and other various folks who had once been blind, possessed, crippled or deathly ill. This messiah, riding on a donkey – this my friends….. is the Messiah. This is as good as it gets. For them – for us.
Were they disappointed? It would seem so. After all, within the week the cries in the city were to crucify him.
But how about us.
Who is the messiah we are expecting to run into? And where do we go to run into that messiah? The gospel story tells us over and over and over again that God continually does the unexpected, in the unexpected places and through the unexpected people. We should not be surprised that the Messiah came in such an unexpected manner.
But how about us today…. Who is the messiah that you are expecting to run into today? Who is the messiah you are expecting to run into this week? Who is the messiah you are expecting to rise from the dead?
And where will you go to find what you are looking for? We are still confronted by the draw to power and control that enters in on one side of life. It’s enticing to be drawn to the big parades and be swept up by strength that seems to come with them. But, Jesus has shown us that God enters into the world and life from another side, through unlikely places, by unexpected means, sometimes even in ways that are contrary to the powers and norms and expectations of the world.
For Robert, the foot-washing executive, in his seeking of Jesus amid the poor and those in need, God entered in from an unexpected place. Perhaps Robert found Jesus in the eyes and feet of those he served. My guess is, while that was happening, a few people perhaps recognized Jesus in the hands that held their feet and washed away the dust of their journey.
This should be no surprise for us. For over and over and over again, the gospel story, the bible story has told us that God will be who God will be and will act in ways that God chooses. But often, often, God shows up in the most unlikely and unexpected places. The call for us then is to simply be people of faith, not only trusting but relying on that God. At first, it might seem somewhat wishy-washy – kind of chancy, kind of well, uncertain. But, if we look at all the ways that God has acted in the past, God always comes through – maybe not in the ways we expect or want, but God always comes through.