From Camelot to Cross

Isaiah 42:1-9

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,     my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him;     he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice,     or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break,     and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;     he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed     until he has established justice in the earth;     and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord,     who created the heavens and stretched them out,     who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it     and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,     I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people,[a]     a light to the nations,     to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,     from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord, that is my name;     my glory I give to no other,     nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass,     and new things I now declare; before they spring forth,     I tell you of them.

 

John 12:12-16

12  The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.

13  So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord– the King of Israel!”

14  Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:

15  “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

16  His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

 

Jerusalem was going to be Camelot, and Jesus was going to be King Arthur; that’s what the crowd thought.

 

At least that’s the way we could characterize the situation.

The crowds were dreaming of trumpets, towers, tapestries, capes, sashes, long flowing robes, glimmering crowns, and sparkling silver scepters. The disciples would be knights at the round table, shining in their armor, using might for right, battling to snuff out evil. The rain will never fall until after sundown. By eight the morning fog will disappear. There will be a legal limit to the snow. July and August cannot be too hot. It was going to be Camelot.

 

You see five hundred years earlier, the prophet Zechariah said that one day there would be a day like this one.

That the Messiah would come riding on a donkey.

 

That ancient promise was known to everybody and as we stated last week every dream that ever was for them was always answered with…

When the Messiah comes……

 

These days we would say. When I win the lottery…..

They didn’t have lottery tickets upon which to build their dreams…

 

In those days they were a little more religious… and they said…When the Messiah comes.

 

 

When the Messiah came, there would be a chicken in every pot, a chariot in every driveway, nobody would be hungry, nobody would be sick, the wolf will lie down with the lamb, nations would beat their swords into tractors and combines, there wouldn’t be war….

and in particular these oppressors the Romans and their soldiers and their taxes would be gone…

it would be heaven…….

 

For 500 years, they kept an eye out for David’s successor to gallop into town and assume the throne. The orchestra was forever practicing, “Happy days are here again.”

 

When Jesus decided it was finally time for the world’s most anticipated parade, they were ready. As he rode like a conquering king into his capital city, tourists from all over Israel lined the street and cheered wildly. The owner of the dry cleaners suggested that all participants lay their coats before Jesus’ donkey. Those that didn’t want to get their coats dirty found palm branches and spread them like a royal carpet. Today we would have balloons and confetti and tickertape and vendors would be selling pop and peanuts and popcorn and cotton candy and, and those obnoxious, long, skinny horns.

 

The crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David, the promised one.” They cheered until they were hoarse. They laughed and cried and danced and sang. The disciples thought that it was the best day they had ever known, and they weren’t far from the truth.

 

There were old men who had been making this pilgrimage for the Passover for 50 years. They knew how unlikely it seemed that Jesus was the one they had been waiting for all of their lives, but it might be so.

There were children who didn’t know exactly what was going on, but they smiled back at the kind man on the donkey.

There were wives glad they came even though they couldn’t get their husbands out of the Lazy Boy.

There were young men there happy to be there even though they couldn’t get a date.

 

But by and large the crowds lining the parade route were not there because they just loved a good parade.

They were there because they wanted to believe. They wanted the Messiah. They believed in the Messiah as fervently has any gambling addict believes he is going to win.

 

And they were ready to praise anybody who would make their lives better. They would follow this person if he was going to make their lives better.

They believed in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They believed that somewhere over the rainbow the sky was blue and everything was wonderful and rosy.

 

And to be honest in general I like these people much better than the pessimists who won’t believe in anything or anybody.

Yeah, I would rather have somebody who thinks that things can be better and will be better, who gets sucked into a get-rich scheme once in a while and loses some money. I would rather have these people who have hopes and dreams and are willing to invest in them a little and work towards them, than the people who put down every idea and every person that comes along.

You’ve met those kinds of people. They say that nobody is honest, everybody cheats. They say that there has never been an honest politician or lawyer.

They say that the world is bad and rotten and getting worse and that there is nothing that anybody can do. They love to say I told you so…

They love to rub salt in the wounds of peoples who tried and failed.

They don’t try anything knew. They say, “yeah we tried that. It didn’t work. “That’ll never get off the ground.

They say that the church is just out to get your money and that miracles are bogus.

 

I’d rather have the optimists than the pessimists.

 

And then there are the people who are just too busy. Too busy to hope and dream…or too busy to put others down. These people don’t have time for parades because there is just too much to be done and more important things than frivolities like parades. These peoples have routines and schedules and meetings. Too busy….

 

I don’t know where you fit in….optimist, pessimist, or just plain too busy to worry about it.

But I do know this. There are a whole lot of people who have lost faith. A whole lot of Christians have lost faith, and for the same sort or reasons the crowd on Palm Sunday lost faith. Because so many of us come at faith with this question: “What’s in it for Me?”

 

And you see the crowd was filled with people who were hoping that there was something good in it for them.

And they were caught up in the emotion. It was enough to give almost anybody a lump in the throat, goose bumps, and the wide eyes of wonder.

 

If this was the one they had been expecting for so many years, then the big takeover was about to begin. Jesus would bring down the Romans and establish the kingdom in all of its glory.

It was almost too much to hope –

and it didn’t quite add up.

All the hosannas, palm branches, and dirt-encrusted jackets couldn’t hide the fact that he was less than what they expected. A white stallion would have been better than this little donkey that left Jesus’ feet dragging the ground.        There were no conquerors’ weapons attached to the saddle.

In fact, Jesus had no saddle, only an overcoat.

He didn’t fit the messianic profile. Jesus was poor. He was from backwater Nazareth. He was like no king they’d seen before. What kind of king walks to work, sleeps beneath the stars, lives among the poor, and fills his calendar with people for whom kings have no time?

 

And so whatever questions the crowd had were answered five days later when the grand marshal of the parade was carried out of town in a casket. The people held an election, and Jesus lost. The parade turned out to be a death march.

There would be no round table, no Camelot. The new monarch was crowned with thorns. Jesus’ chosen path was revealed not only on Palm Sunday, but also on Good Friday as well. This king rules not with a cape and a scepter, but with the glory of a cross. This king’s followers weren’t following anymore.

 

They had their answer. It’s now clear what it means to follow Jesus. And this isn’t what they were hoping for.

What’s in it for me? What’s in it for me? What’s in it for me?

And Jesus answers

“A cross.”

 

I understand why people do not flock to the church anymore in droves. I understand why on Sundays it is not Standing room only. I understand whey there will not be five services on Easter Sunday.

I understand why Christmas Eve is so much more popular than Good Friday.

 

It is not that people are not religious, or that they don’t believe in God, that there’s a higher power somewhere.

Most people believe that we should love our neighbours.

 

People don’t come to church though for this reason. They don’t want to carry a cross. It is too much work and too much commitment and not enough Messiah.

Not enough for me in it.

 

As long as we believe that Jesus might fix up the marriage and help with the finances and heal this nagging backache. As long as we think that Jesus will fix the crime problems or end war or do something pretty extraordinary we are very interested, but when we ask him. “What’s in it for me?” and he says:

“The cross.”

Boy oh boy, I have to tell you we are a little disappointed.

 

And for us who are in church it is still tempting to praise Jesus without following Jesus.

 

Like the Palm Sunday crowd, we want to see what we want to see. We, too, would like a Messiah who makes our lives easier.

I have in my mind the Messiah I think I’d most enjoy following. My Messiah has a sense of humour and would give jobs to everybody and make post-secondary free.

You too, have your own ideas of what a good Messiah would do.

 

But in order to follow, we have to give up our ideas about the path Jesus should take, and admit that his way leads to the cross.

 

Four hundred years after Christ, a man called Nestorius declared, “A born God, a dead God, a buried God I cannot adore.” His feelings are easily understood. Most people don’t want to follow one who gives his life away like Jesus does.

 

Sometimes I have to confess that I live like a Palm Sunday Christians, keeping a safe distance from the one I say I am following. It’s simpler to set my own agenda and follow where my own ambitions lead.

Sometimes in the church our goals reflect the popular ideas of what it means to be a religious success instead of what it means to follow Jesus.

 

Sometimes, the Christian community is tempted to skip the struggles and become the home of convention, caution, prudence, discretion, and reasonableness. The church is lured by comfort and security, tempted to line the road on Palm Sunday, but turn away when Jesus continues to the cross.

 

In the 1960s, Clarence Jordan founded Koinonia Farm near Americus, Georgia, as a Christian community that built friendships across the lines of race, class, gender, and age. Not surprisingly, Jordan wasn’t popular with most of the local folks, though he came from a prestigious family. The farm was controversial and constantly in trouble. On one occasion, Clarence approached his brother Robert, who would later become a Georgia state senator, to ask him to be the legal representative for Koinonia Farm.

Robert answered, “Clarence, I can’t do that. You know my political aspirations. Why, if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.”

      “We might lose everything too, Bob.”

      “It’s different for you.”

      “Why is it different? I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church the same Sunday, as boys. I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me about the same questions he did you. He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ What did you say?”

      “I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.”

      “Could that point by any chance be the cross?”

      “That’s right. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m

not getting myself crucified.”

       “I don’t believe you’re a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer not a disciple.”

       “Well now, if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldn’t have a church, would we?”

       “The question,” Clarence said, “is, do you have a church?” (James

McClendon Jr., Biography as Theology [Nashville: Abingdon, 1974], pp. 127-128.)

 

 

We are all tempted to be admirers rather than followers.

Christ’s church is not the fellowship of the comfortable, but of the cross.

 

If we follow Christ we’ll live against the grain.

We’ll tell the truth in a world that lies, give in a world that takes, love in a world that lusts, make peace in a world that fights, serve in a world that waits to be served, worship in a world that entertains, carry a cross in a world that crucifies those who love.

The crowd at the foot of the cross is smaller than the crowd on Palm Sunday. Most people don’t stay for the whole parade, because genuine belief in Christ has difficult consequences.

 

Alan Paton tells the story of Robert Mansfield, a white man in South Africa. Mansfield was the headmaster of a white school who took his athletic teams to play cricket and hockey against the black schools until the department of education forbade him to do it anymore, and so he resigned in protest.

Shortly thereafter, Emmanuel Nene, a leader in the black community, came to meet him: “I’ve come to see a man who resigns his job because he doesn’t wish to obey an order that will prevent children from playing with one another.”

       “I resigned because I think it is time to go out and fight everything that separates people from one another. Do I look like a knight in shining armor?”

        “Yes, you look like a knight in shining armor, but you are going to get wounded. Do you know that?”

       “I expect that may happen.”

       “Well you expect correctly. People don’t like what you are doing, but I am thinking of joining with you in the battle.”

      “You’re going to wear the shining armor, too.”

      “Yes, and I’m going to get wounded, too. Not only by the government, but also by my own people as well.”

      “Aren’t you worried about the wounds?”

 

      “I don’t worry about the wounds. When I go up there, which is my intention, the Big Judge will say to me, ‘Where are your wounds?’, and if I say, ‘I haven’t any,’ he will say, ‘Was there nothing to fight for?’ I couldn’t face that question.” (Alan Paton, But Your Land Is Beautiful [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982], pp. 64-67.)

 

Christians are on a journey that goes all the way to the cross. Disciples take their places with Christ, give their lives away, go to hard places, and do difficult things. Christ is forever asking, “Do you really believe that love is stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death? Do you really believe that love is superior to success, to comfort, to an easy path?”

Answering “yes” is hard.

Carrying a cross takes a variety of forms:

turning the other cheek,

spending time with people who seem to have nothing to offer us,

standing with the people who are losing,

caring for those who have made terrible mistakes,

doing good that will receive no applause,

sharing food with the hungry,

becoming a real friend to someone in jail,

emptying bedpans,

holding hands stiffened by arthritis,

sitting in a home where someone has died,

taking other people’s children to the park,

listening to a lonely person,

treating discarded people as children of God,

living with the freedom to be vulnerable,

loving enough to give others power over us,

praying not for an easier life but for strength,

following Christ on the road less-traveled,

discovering the grace of God.

 

In following all the way to the cross, we find that the journey offers only one guarantee: in the long run, we will lose.

What’s in it for me? Not much.

Really there is nothing in it for me.

 

But strangely enough when we lose our lives we find life.

For paradoxically when we understand that in following Jesus there is nothing in for ourselves and when we accept that there is nothing in for me, we find everything.

 

I understand why a lot of people are disappointed in Jesus. He didn’t heal my cancer and he didn’t stop my child’s car accident and he didn’t save my marriage or find me a job. To paraphrase a Janet Jackson song from a few years ago

What has he done for me lately???

Not much that a million dollars couldn’t do better…

 

But he has given us an opportunity to love and to care and to reach out to others

He has given us an opportunity to help those who are sick, and comfort others who are dying or grieving, counsel others who have troubles and help others find jobs.

 

And you know as life goes along we find it is more meaningful to help others, than it is to help ourselves.

And we find life.

 

 

The cross has changed all the definitions.

Power, success, and even happiness, as the world knows them, belong to those who take them for themselves; but peace, love, and joy are gifts from God given to those who give themselves.

 

Palm Sunday is wonderful and glorious but, is not nearly enough.

You and I need the cross.

…Because deep inside of all of us, we are made in the image of God, and have God within us.

And when we carry the cross, then God comes alive in us and is born in us and grows in us.

 

And it is the only thing that really gives meaning to our lives.

To give our lives away in love for others….

 

It is hard….following Christ is hard,

but if we carry our crosses, and give our lives away for others…

then by the grace of God, Easter happens…

and we find a life more loving, more peaceful more joyful.. than anything we have every imagined.

 

Amen 

 

 

Discussion Questions

 

What parades have you been to? What parades have you watched? What is so fun about a parade?

 

What do you think about the popularity of Jesus? There seemed to be times that he was quite popular and drew crowds. What do you think the draw to Jesus was?

 

Are you more of an optimist or a pessimist? About what sorts of things are you optimistic or pessimistic?

 

Or are you just too busy to worry about things? Are you swamped with stuff?

 

What part of Jesus do you find hardest to take? What part of his message or life or story or way do you find hardest to take?

When I say “there is nothing in there for me” what do you think I mean?

What is in the story of Jesus for you?

 

Do you think that people do not come to church because they do not want to take up a cross? Is that a real reason or are there other more pressing factors?

 

In what ways do you live like a Palm Sunday Christian, keeping Jesus at a safe distance, praising him when things go ok, but backing off and following your own agenda, when his agenda clashes with yours?

 

What do people these days stand to lose following Jesus?

Is there a problem that we don’t lose enough.? Is that why the faith was stronger under Communism and oppression than it is in North America? Is it too easy to be a Christian and therefore less meaningful?

 

What do you think about the statement, “we are tempted to be admirers rather than followers”?

 

What are the consequences of following Jesus?        Will we suffer wounds?

 

What do you think it means to carry a cross?

 

What does it mean to you to say that if we lose our lives we will find life? Does Jesus means we will lose our lives literally or figuratively? What kind of life will we find?

 

Do you think we need the cross? Why or why not?

 

“By the grace of God, Easter happens.” What does that mean to you?