We Are A Group Project

I love art. From the Renaissance Era, to the Dutch Masters, the Impressionists, and even street artists. Slam poetry. Literature. I encourage all art.

We might miss it, but Jesus is a bit of an artist, too. His parables are masterful. And today, he becomes a performance artist. Jesus does a DIY parody parade of the well-oiled parade of terror Rome would have done.

We are leading up to the Jewish Passover, which is all about the Jewish people breaking their bonds and God liberating them from slavery. Passover would be a troubling time to an occupying power, and there are many instances of protests and revolts in this period. So Pilate, that ruthless governor, would have done a show of power. A parade that would be a full Roman legion from the northwest. From Caesarea, where a garrison was stationed.

Jesus comes in from the east, from Bethphage and Bethany. Jesus sends two disciples to get a colt. He instructs that if anyone asks, to say, “The Lord needs it.” This is smart. The Lord would be Caesar, and Rome. People at that time wouldn’t think of an itinerant Palestinian rabbi as the Lord. Jesus enters the city on a borrowed colt on one side of the city, while the Romans paraded in from the north.

It’s brilliant. It’s a counter-protest. A parade of parody. Instead of coming in with might and strength and war, God comes with joy, and humility, and peace. No weapons gleaming. No threat of violence whether implicit or explicit.

Praising God saying, “blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

The religious who see this display are troubled. They see the parody. They know what the parade means. “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”

Jesus answers, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

We’ve talked about that voice inside your head that often sounds like the religious. “Stop. You’re going to get in trouble.” We hear Jesus telling that voice, in his own way, “Silenzio, Bruno!” Remember that phrase about telling the negative voice in your head to be quiet? Let’s bring that back for Palm Sunday. I’ll say something, you say, “Silenzio, Bruno!” Ready?

You’re going to get in trouble! (“Silenzio, Bruno!”)

Hey, stop praising God and waving those palms! (“Silenzio, Bruno!”)

Order your disciples to stop! (“Silenzio, Bruno!”)

Yet there is something else going on just under the surface here. Palm Sunday is at once the most joyful and also the most tragic day in the church calendar. Here is the triumphal entry! Here’s joy. Singing out and praising God no matter the cost.

In Matthew’s account, people cry out “Hosanna!” which means, “Save us!” If we scratch the surface of that cry, we find a whole host of expectations.

The people at the time, and even some of Jesus’ disciples expected Jesus to be the Messiah. The title Messiah had very specific expectations. The land of Palestine was ruled by the Romans, and many Jews expected the Messiah to be a military figure who would fight the Romans and drive them out. They were expecting a prophet like Moses. There was an expectation that Israel would return to its glory days under their greatest ruler, King David. This military leader would liberate the people, lead them from oppression like Moses, and rule like King David.

With every step, Jesus has been countering those expectations. He didn’t live like a king. He lived very humbly. He was centered on teachings like Moses, but he made them new and more expansive. Jesus never differentiated between Jew and Gentile. He spoke with, ate with, and healed both men and women. He crossed lines.

He also never spoke war. His way was peace. His rule was the opposite of what was expected of the military messiah.

“SAVE US!” Jesus refused to. At least, not like we were expecting. No. Jesus said, “If you want salvation, be kind. If you want salvation, love your neighbor as yourself. If you want salvation, take care of the poor, welcome the outcast, and love your enemy.”

On Ash Wednesday, I spoke of how our expectations can trip us up. They sure do on Palm Sunday. When the violent military insurrection Judas wants doesn’t begin, Judas betrays Jesus. Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie point out that, if we’re honest, we’re more like Judas than Peter. Peter denies Jesus.[1] We’re in church, we’re here because of Jesus. We’re not denying. We’re betraying.

We betray when our expectations aren’t met. Prayers aren’t answered, or at least not answered in a timely fashion and like how we specified we wanted them answered.

We betray when Jesus doesn’t give us the sparkly life we see on TV. When we aren’t keeping up with the Joneses.

We betray when we ignore those hurting. Yes, we need affordable housing and recovery programs, but often think “Not in my backyard” and betray our faith.

Sometimes we betray when hard times hit. We lose all faith. The hard times are for WHEN faith is needed. We walk by faith, not by sight. When we see war, then we need to commit to our faith in peace. When we see hate, we need to commit to our faith in love. When we see division, we need to commit to our faith in unity. Nothing huge, just small acts of faith each and every day. Small times of prayer. Those are good enough.

SAVE US! Well, maybe the work is with us. Once Rome is gone, then we’ll be saved. No. You can be saved right here, right now. Your salvation is not dependent on them. We think, “If only they will get out of our way.” That type of thinking isn’t helpful.

Maybe we’ll be saved once restrictions or other’s expectations or whatever are lifted… No. I like how Kate and Jessica put it in the book Good Enough. They remind us how creative practices like art have their own sets of rules. “Art breathes from containments and suffocates from freedom,” said Leonardo da Vinci. It is in limitations where great art is created.

As Robert Frost stated, “Writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net.”[2] It’d be no fun. We can learn the rules, expectations, and constraints, and then make great art within those. We often just need to change our perspective.

One perspective is to maybe change the thinking that we’re not good enough or worth saving. God came to us to help us see God all around us. All the gifts: flowering trees. Warming earths, and gardens being prepared. The gift of heat. Of cars. Of this house of worship and the live stream.

Don’t look past these gifts. Delight in them. Notice them. All great artists used their limitations to produce great works. It started small. A notice of a particular brush stroke. A camera lens and filter. The way the sea made someone feel. Then within their limitations they got to work. Limited by skill, time, color palette, equipment, context, and willingness to experiment. They made what they made, and it stirred up a feeling in us. A gift to us.

And we’re surrounded even now by the art and creativity of others. Someone had to create this pulpit. The seat you’re in. We didn’t create those. Someone else did. We’re a group project. And each little act of art adds to the whole tapestry. Each act of loving creativity adds to someone’s enjoyment of life. In a way, the church is still the big parade coming through the east of town. Picking people up along the way as we sing praises to the world. We create art that feeds people; literally like Garfield. Figuratively through music, worship space, and bible study. The church has moved through time and have given us so much. Our own ancestors here, from those 6 who met in a log cabin when Medina was still a pioneer town, to our own saints whose work we enjoy to this day. The space. The atmosphere. The heat from the boilers. The new addition and the elevator and stairs that brought us here. Those who put flowers around the church and those who mow the grass. All acts of art and loving creation made by our group.

Don’t worry about everything, focus on the small stuff. No need to create a huge parade when a step will do. You’re here! You’re in the parade. You are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. You are never alone. Nor are you alone in thinking you are. Others walking beside you feel the same way. We are in the big parade that started on that Palm Sunday and continues to this day. A movement with and toward Jesus. Jesus who saves in the small gifts given by all our relations.

SAVE US! Are you willing to be saved? Or do you want it your way? Have it your way is Burger King not Christ the King. Let those expectations go, you’ll miss who it is exactly who rides on the borrowed colt.

We can wave the palms and celebrate this day. Yet from the high of this day, to the lows of Holy Week, let us not betray Christ when things don’t go our way. Let us sing praise and when things get hard, just stick by his side. Peter denied. Judas betrayed. Yet the women never left. They were with him each step of the way through the coming holy week. The triumphant parade! The teachings in Jerusalem. The last Supper and the command to love of Thursday. The sham trial and execution on Friday. The silence of Saturday. And the resurrection joy of Easter!

God is always thwarting our expectations. For this God of ours is not a military dictator, but an artist. An artist who creates small things and delights in them. Small things like palms. Colts. Me. You. All glory, laud and honor to our Redeemer King. Who doesn’t save us like we expected. Instead accepts our praises and prayers we bring and delights in our good-enough-ness. Thanks be to our Good and Gracious King. Amen.

Works Cited

[1] Good Enough, page 23

[2] Good Enough, page 74.

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