AUDIO and TEXT of Sermon Preached 3/24/13- "the Jesus nobody Wants"

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Sermon Preached by the Rev. Fulton Porter, III at St Thomas Church, Chicago

March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday



The Jesus Nobody Wants


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.



On this Palm Sunday, allow your mind to travel back two millennia to Jerusalem, David’s city. You can hear shouts of excitement from a bustling crowd. There are throngs of people lining the road that leads to the inner city. If you look closer, you will see a man on a donkey. He is making his way slowly, through the pressing crowd, his mule carefully stepping over palm branches and cloaks that are strewn across the roadway. And if you strain your spiritual ear, you will hear the crowd shouting: “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”


The man is Jesus, the one we worship and serve today, from a distance of 2,000 years and half a world away. This is Jesus, born of Mary, baptized by John in the Jordan. This is Jesus, who preached and healed, who made it a habit of hanging around with outcasts and the weak and the despised. Here he is, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. We hear the crowd honor him as the Messiah they have awaited since the time of the earliest prophets. They’re shouting, “Hosanna in the highest!”


It seems like a great day for Jesus, but things are not always what they seem to be. His face shows signs of a man weighted down by adversity. There’s a shadow of disappointment in His eyes, and perhaps a touch of grief as He scans the crowd and considers their true feelings toward him.

David wrote about it many years prior: “I am the scorn of all my adversaries, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.” (Psalm 39:11-12)


Once Jesus passes by, the crowd takes on a different flavor. Palm branches drop to their sides, conversation turns to the Sabbath celebration and the need to bring their tithe to the Temple. Most of them have mixed feelings about Jesus. Is He the one we have waited for? Does He really have power to remove what oppresses us?


Jesus picks his way through the carnival atmosphere, while the undercurrent runs along with him. The crowd won’t admit it, but that menacing doubt about Jesus’ Deity is all around them. They welcome Jesus like royalty, but is He really their King? In just a few short days, this same crowd will answer their own questions when they turn into a mob and shout, “Crucify Him!”


Palm Sunday is the Sunday of uncertainty, the springtime of sorrows. There is a parade of palms on the one hand, and a spectacle of cynicism on the other. We may think we are observing all this from a distance, but the truth is that every one of us is standing in that same crowd right now, and each of us is either the crowd that greets Him, or the mob that beats Him.


Isaiah made the call more than 700 years hence, when he wrote. “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with sorrows, and we held him of no account.” (Isaiah 53:3). In the end, he becomes the Jesus nobody wants.


Palm Sunday has been called a festive dress rehearsal for Easter. Everything in-between is a flash in the pan, because we don’t want to look too long at the suffering and pain of the crucifixion. We would rather rush past the cacophony of the crisis to the joy of the empty tomb. We can’t seem to bear the indignity and the embarrassment of the Cross, because it somehow taints our worship experience.


During Holy Week, we must linger at the Cross. We walk the “stations of the cross” to force ourselves to remember every detail of their Savior’s suffering. While we wave our palms, we must bow and remember the passion.


Whatever lens you choose to look through, ultimately we all end up in the same place…the rejection of Jesus. Our minds will not let us skip over Good Friday. We may forget the deceit of Judas, the plotting of the Sanhedrin, the collusion between the Pharisees and Pilot, the loss of Peter’s courage and his painful denial. But we still end up at the same painful end…a broken Jesus. Psalm 39:13 says, “I have become like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many-- terror all around!-- as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.” (Psalm 39:13)


The Romans don’t want Him – he threatens their power.  The religious leaders don’t want Him – he questions their authority.  The Zealots don’t want Him – he won’t lead a revolt.  The crowd doesn’t want Him – they yell for his crucifixion.  His own friends don’t want Him – they desert him in the end.  And some of us don’t want Him – He cramps our lifestyle.


Somehow, even those of us who claim we love Him find even ourselves wanting to turn from him: turn from His call to forgive; turn from His command to love our enemies; turn from His requirement to serve the poor. It all seems just too much to expect of us. So it all boils down to this: Does anybody want Jesus?


We spent the last few months with Jesus down on the Plain, where He was easier to follow and easier to swallow. His Galilee preaching was so clear and powerful. He drew us in with His healing, as He taught and moved among us, speaking of justice. But now we hardly recognize him, on his way to betrayal, letting himself be humiliated and mocked. Does anybody want THIS JESUS?


The weeks leading up to Easter are necessary because they feed our memories. We need these celebrations of Palm Sunday and Good Friday to force us to face what happened. We need them because they help us to understand the ups and downs of our own faith; the reasons for our apathy, our fear, our reluctance, and even our rejection of God’s gift of a Savior. It helps us to understand why we need THIS JESUS!


This is a serious celebration we now engaged in. All of our hymns, our readings and our prayers are our attempt to put some order to our faith - to give it rhythm and movement and symbolism, especially when we do not understand the ways of God. We know the words. We have sung the hymns before. But still we need to sing them again and again each year to remind us of what Christ went through for us. We need to understand this Christ whom we claim to love and serve.


And we’d better pay attention, because things are not always what they appear to be. We may look like Christians today, but what about tomorrow, when nobody is looking? Will we be shouting Hosanna to our Christ, or will our actions reflect a denial of everything He stands for? His incarnation is at stake, and so is your redemption. Rather than shout “Hosanna” today, some may want to shout SAVE ME. SAVE ME…save me from myself. The world is a mess, and I am part of that mess.


Jesus did not come to hear our shouts of praise. He came to SAVE US…from ourselves. He came to wash us with His blood, and wrap us in His blanket of righteousness. He came to forgive us for every failure in our att

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