Toorak Uniting Church

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"In time and out of season"

Matthew 21: 1 – 11
Rev. Ian Brown
20 March 2005

For years and years people accepted that Germany was a country of two strictly divided parts. War has consequences and the Berlin wall was a harsh reality that had to be lived with,... until one day, when something moved and it all came down.

It was something like that too with East Timor and apartheid in South Africa. We know that these changes did not just happen, that brave and far sighted people spent their lives for their causes. Is it like constant dripping wearing away the stone, is it the dramatic large gesture that draws momentum along with it, is it that just sometimes the "right time" arrives for an idea or for a change? I don't know!
But I think we all have that sense sometimes that things just come together, that the time is right.

I wonder if that is how is was for Jesus and his followers or for the crowds on that first Palm Sunday as they came into Jerusalem with the enthusiastic throng cheering and waving branches and laying them on the road.

"Hosanna to the son of David!
Blessed is the one who come in the name of the Lord!"

Matthew tells us "the whole city was in turmoil and they were asking, 'who is this?'"

Is it the one for whom the time has come?
Is this the one??!!!

The Gospel writers of course know Jesus is the one.
Jesus has already explained to the disciples how he must face betrayal, suffering and death. We know he had no 'illusions of grandeur" as we might say. But this story is full of poignant irony, full of the coming together of hope, of the fulfilment of promise, of the coming of richly and tragically bitter - sweet time.

So there is a procession of sorts. The time has come; Jesus resolute facing what he knows can only be painful, with courageous love, and the disciples are fearfully with him. The crowds respond - there is a sense of the time being right in this triumphal entry.
But the truth is, as Jesus new before and as the first readers of the gospel already knew - the truth is ironic and the crowds are fickle. There is never a good season to challenge Roman power, or to upset the balance of power with religious authorities. A good example is the furore created last week by a minister daring to suggest a national flag was not appropriate in a Christian funeral service. Processions, happy occasions and celebrations are good things for religious leaders to help with - but don't question state symbols or power, leaders who do this get put in their place - with nails if necessary.

The church enjoys the odd procession; we have one coming up on Good Friday, together with the other churches of the ecumenical movement. It is a great witness and significant time of devotion together.
And Jesus culture wasn't the only one where famous people are greeted in town by crowds gathering for a good look - often they are vocal crowds, expressing their like or dislike. It seems to matter little which, people like to gather to be part of the action. Think of the crowds who gathered for the recent royal visits here.

Today's gospel is an account of a fateful parade and in this story, from his heralded entry to his exit on the cross, the crowds, ordinary people - public opinion if you like, has a pivotal role.

The hero of this procession is Jesus, the preacher from the country. He has attracted a large following and the crowds are gathering in Jerusalem anyway for the Passover. It may seem strange to our ears - but the question on the lips of everyone was, "who is he?" Who is this man from Galilee? We might want to answer simply that he is Jesus, of course - technically Jesus bar Joseph. But they wanted to know his identity - his role - his destiny perhaps, it may have been the Galileans among the crowd who were saying "this is the prophet, Jesus from Nazareth." And behind this question is the big one. Is this the time? So we learn from the people Jesus was not seen as primarily a wonder worker, healer, or Rabbi, no Jesus was recognized as a prophet, one who speaks God's truth.

You might have overheard a conversation like this in the crowd,

"who did you say that fellow is Martha? The one in all that fuss with those people waving what used to be our botanical gardens!"

"Jesus, they say, he's meant to be a prophet from some country parts, but it's a motley crew he's got and why ride the little donkey, I don't know?"

"A prophet you say, well if he's a decent prophet he should stir up our weak knee-ed puppet leaders. Just what we need, I think some truth from God, rather than all this Roman rubbish - taxes and soldiers everywhere, I'm sick of it."

"Yes dear, but Nathaniel, you just remember what happened to the last prophet, that John the baptizer, being a prophet is a risky occupation, I'll bet they can't get a life insurance policy for love nor money!"

"Oh, but think what a prophet could do for us, or a real King with power and with God Almighty behind him!"

Perhaps that was part of the thinking in the crowd, that Palm Sunday, and yes speaking words of truth can be a risky business. The hard reality of this we know from the story that follows. Here we identify with the Psalm for the day:

"they plot to take my life,
but I trust in you O Lord, you are my God
my times are in your hand"

But we believe there was more to Jesus than being a prophet as the crowds identified him!
There was more even than being the Son of David - royalty as they acclaimed him on the way into Jerusalem. Words of truth are important, leaders are essential, but in Jesus, we believe we have more than just the word of God proclaimed
- he is the word of God

and we have more than just the truth told,
- he is truth,
and we have more than just talk about God,
- he is God.

To illustrate his nature I'd like to quote from a poem of Bruce Prewer's

Only one high priest comes to our church
not led by bishops and cardinals,
rich-robed with religious sentiment,
but led by a grubby gang of street kids
screaming their heads off with merriment.

Only one god comes down our street
not surrounded by holy angels
or shining like the sun at noon,
but with tears running down his cheeks
for those who play the devil's tune.

Only one true-man comes along this way
never looking to be served
or honoured with public praise,
but to serve and give his life
as a ransom for rebels and strays.

© B D Prewer 2001

And this, I believe is why we are here as a church!
We aren't here because we need more words about how to be good, or more moralizing about what is right or more ideas about God - we are here because we need God, ...
and Jesus is the one who reveals God for us.
Jesus is the one who opens this bridge of relating for us with God; us as his brothers and sisters with God, the "Abba, Father" of Jesus own devotion, of his own character and nature.

Hosanna then, Jesus is the one who opens a new way for us.
He is the one who, when he dies at the end of this week, Matthew tells us, the curtain in the Temple is ripped from top to bottom. This symbolic veil separating God from mere mortals like us is torn open.

That is why church is not a spectator event - it is about our own involvement with the living God, through Jesus in the now of our time. It is about each of us being a part of the action now that nothing can separate us from the love of God, each involved, like in a procession, where together we acclaim Jesus,

Hosanna in the highest heaven, where together we relate to God, as Jesus has opened the way for us,
Hosanna in the highest heaven, where together we get involved in God's work in the world, as we acclaim him and follow him together.

Before Jesus, we have a sense of waiting for God's time, for the promise of God to come. In the totality of Jesus life and ministry we have the arrival of this promised time into the here and now, available always now, as it was heralded on that first Palm Sunday.
Now we can access God through Christ.
Now we have the example of one who faced the anxious and difficult road ahead with courage and tremendously devoted, self giving love.
Now we have one to follow and so we too acclaim:

Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
Hosanna in the highest heaven.!!

Amen.

© Rev. Ian Brown, 2005


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