Straight on Till Mourning (March 29, 2015)

palm branchesA sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon,
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA,

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Text: Luke 19:28-46 (The Message)

Who knows how to get to “Neverland”? According to J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, it is reached by flight, and Peter gives its location as being “second to the right, and straight on till morning,” but Barrie writes that Peter made up these directions to impress Wendy. In the end they find the island only because it was “out looking for them”. He says it is near the “stars of the milky way” and it is reached “always at the time of sunrise.” Walt Disney’s 1953 version of Peter Pan adds “star” to Peter’s directions: “second star to the right, and straight on till morning” and from afar, these stars depict Neverland in the distance.

I suppose it’s a stretch, but I wonder how many in that crowd the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem were looking for “Neverland”? How many were hoping that Jesus would teach them to fly away to some distant spot beyond the stress and strain of their daily life under Roman oppression? How many wanted to escape to a place among the stars, where the land would flow with milk and honey? Some of them may even have hoped for a place in which they would never have to grow up.

They shout and cheer, they wave tree branches and throw their cloaks onto the dusty road to create a sort of first century “red carpet.”

Blessed is he who comes,
the king in God’s name!
All’s well in heaven!
Glory in the high places!

How they hope that he will be the Messiah of their dreams, of their long-held expectations, the one who will lead a mighty army to drive out the Romans, put the collaborators and traitors in their place and restore the glory of Davidic rule. But Jesus is realistic enough to recognize this as a dream of “Neverland”, a place that promises wonder and magic but doesn’t exist beyond their imaginations.

How many of you think Jesus was a good student? I mean he didn’t go to school like you do or read a lot of books or have a lot of homework. His books were long scrolls written in Hebrew. They were the books of the Bible. Still, he must have been a good student. For instance, he knew well the book of Zechariah. How many of you have read Zechariah? Do you know where to find it? We had fun in Bible study last Tuesday finding Zechariah. For those of you who didn’t memorize the books of the Bible in Sunday School like I did, Zechariah is the next to the last book in the Hebrew scriptures, the Bible as Jesus would have known it – Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi – the last four books in Hebrew scripture. They were all minor prophets and nowadays we don’t spend a lot of time studying them. But Jesus must have.

He knew Zechariah 9:9-10:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As we’ve acknowledged before, this so-called “triumphal entry” into the old city is an act of guerilla theater. Jesus knows what Zechariah had written and many in the crowd would have also, but he understands the prophet’s words at a level the others do not grasp. They are dreaming of “Neverland,” he is riding on straight on till mourning. Right, I am making a play on words. They are hoping for a bright, “gettin’ up morning,” a day when all their troubles will be over and everything right with the world. Jesus knows that the one who comes riding on a donkey, a great symbol of humility, peace and nonviolence, will inevitably face mourning (with a “u”) before seeing the morning that breaks like the first morning “with God’s recreation of the new day.” He knows there will be a lot pain and suffering and death before Easter sunrise.

The crowd wants a great warrior king; Jesus is the Prince of Peace. The crowd would be happy with the destruction of their enemies; Jesus comes to save them all. The crowd wants it their way, “Give us Neverland”; Jesus offers instead the Beloved Community of God. Pilate comes riding in through the East Gate on his war horse, leading a heavily armed Roman legion; Jesus rides through the West Gate on a donkey, trailing a rag-tag crowd of peasants and children, in an act of nonviolent witness to a different way toward peace. Pilate comes to enforce the infamous Pax Romana, an uneasy peace dependent on the exercise of Roman military might; Jesus comes promising “peace the passes human understanding,” a genuine peace, grounded God’s love for the whole creation.

No wonder Jesus stops as the procession crests the hill, looking at the great city and weeping over its fate. He can see the destruction that is come, the leveling of the city and the Temple after those who trust violence rebel against the Romans. As the great apostle of nonviolent resistance, Martin Luther King, Jr., insisted, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.” Jesus knows this. The Prince of Peace, the Lord of Love sees the terrible consequences of dependence on power founded on force and violence.

But he doesn’t stop with weeping. We see him next in another act of guerilla theater. He disrupts the normal commercial routine that has grown up around corrupt religious practice in the Temple. The tradition teaches that the Temple is the very residence of God on earth, but they have fouled it. Once again, the student of the Bible proclaims the word:

“It’s written in Scripture,
My house is a house of prayer;
You have turned it into a religious bazaar.”

God’s way, the way to the Beloved Community, involves the simplest, humblest practice of prayer. Relationship with God is not dependent on or even facilitated by the religious trappings that traditions take on. Jesus understands that those trappings and their requirements often lead to further oppression of the poor and struggling. Jesus is no more interested in those ritual practices than he is in the exercise of power and might through violence. You can hear the echo of Amos, another minor prophet, rattling around in his brain as he clears the courtyard:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream (Amos 5:21-24).

Justice and peace. This is the Jesus way. He knows full-well it will cost him his life. Still he cannot find, nor will he walk, any other way. Before the week is out, we will find him pleading in the garden that his fate might not be sealed. We will witness him in monkey trials before Caiphas, the high priest, and Pilate, the Roman governor. The “high priests, religion scholars, and the leaders of the people” will have finally found a way “to get rid of him.” He will be convicted on trumped up charges and subjected to the most heinous form of execution the Romans could devise. At the end of this week, he will be buried in a borrowed tomb and the entry will be sealed with a great stone.

The way he walked leads straight on till mourning. Will it also lead to morning? We must wait to see. Only time will tell.

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We are a progressive Baptist Church affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, USA. We have been in Palo Alto since 1893. We celebrate our Baptist heritage. We affirm the historic Baptist tenets of: Bible Freedom, Soul Freedom, Church Freedom, Religious Freedom

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