Rev. George Miller
April 17, 2011
It’s Palm Sunday! Let me hear you say “Hosanna!” Let me hear you say “Save us now!”
The Messiah is at the Mount of Olives, about to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 14:4.
Cloaks have been placed upon a donkey, a crowd has gathered, some cutting down tree branches and spreading them on the ground.
It’s amazing- the Promised King, the Anointed One, has entered into the Holy City!
People are shouting, they are singing out “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Jesus seems so perfect, so right, riding on a donkey, showing his solidarity with the common person. So humble, meek and mild.
Everything seems to be going according to God’s plan… until you hear what happens next: the so called Messiah immediately challenges the Temple and creates a scene!
Jesus storms into the Temple, drives people out, overturns tables, upends seats and sends money flying.
Religious leaders become furious of his havoc causing, worship space attack and the manner in which he speaks back to them.
It’s as if Jesus done lost his mind!
Things don’t go much better when Jesus comes back the next day, doing whatever he wants. When he’s questioned by the elders, Jesus responds in a way that is meant to embarrass them.
Then, to add extra insult, he informs them that tax collectors and whores will enter the Kingdom of God before they do…
…Is it any wonder that Jesus was crucified? Why he was seen as a threat to the throne, a threat to the current religious system, a threat to the established powers-that-be?
Is it any wonder that a week which began with a triumphant entry of tree branches and song would end with a public act of punishment?
Can anyone truly be surprised by the turn of events in which a public figure falls victim to powers beyond their control?
I’m not, because look how many times we’ve seen those who experience public appreciation also experience public humiliation…
…Throughout Lent I’ve thought about Jesus as a leader: as a very strong, very alpha male.
And I’ve wondered how the events of Palm Sunday turned into the grimness of Good Friday.
How could the crowds that welcomed Jesus with loud “Hosannas” be the same ones who turned on him with shouts of “Crucify!”?
Then I had a thought- that Jesus, as a man, was someone who had become a blank slate in the eyes of the people.
A blank slate in which people put their own expectations, their own beliefs, their own agendas onto.
In other words, I believe that Jesus wasn’t always seen as he actually was, but as people wanted to see him.
When it turned out that he wasn’t that, the people turned on him.
Even today, 2,000 years later, there seems to be a misunderstanding of who Jesus is, how he spoke, what he did, what he tolerated.
In fact, I’ve come to believe that Jesus Christ was killed for the very fact that he himself was considered to be un-Christ-like.
Yes, he did some really awesome things, like feeding and healing folk, calming storms and telling great stories.
But for someone who was supposed to be the Messiah, he did some questionable things.
Think about it.
He hung out with people of questionable morals, eating meals with women who sold their body and men who ripped off their neighbors.
Instead of surrounding himself with proven leaders and religious men he spent time with fishermen, engaged women in conversation, touched sick people who had who-knows-what and welcomed children.
Then there was his mouth! My God, Jesus didn’t talk unicorns and daisies all day!
He could be blunt, curt and down-right rude. For example, he refers to the disciples as faithless and perverse (Matt 17:17), he calls Peter Satan (Matt 16:23).
Plus he seems to delight in publicly humiliating authority figures (Matt 15:6-7) such as when he alludes to the Pharisees and Sadducees as being adulterous and evil, before he storms off (Matt 16:1-4).
Finally, as we see in Palm Sunday, Jesus did not totally fit the expectations of the Messiah.
He comes in humble and gentle, not with a sword. He arrives on a donkey, not a military-style warhorse. Then the whole incident when he goes into the Temple to chase the insiders out and bring the outsiders in.
This will not do.
The hoped for Messianic Ministry that Jesus rode in with is not the ministry the people wanted after all. Wild chaos sets forth and he will have to pay the price…
It’s a hard task to undertake; a complex mix of research, teaching, caring, advocating, administrating and, hopefully, praying.
When done right, a minister looks and gives off a vibe, like they are actually not working at all, just doing what comes naturally.
When done wrong, you can see the seams, sense the work, and feel the urgency.
In other words, you can tell when the minister has fallen off of his or her…donkey.
Ministry is way harder then most can imagine.
Anyone who steps behind a pulpit, takes on a leadership role or volunteers to be on a committee is usually unprepared for just often they will fall off that donkey, are told they’re riding the donkey wrong, or find that someone wants to push them off the donkey.
It is a sad truth, but a reality of the world.
This doesn’t just happen to ministers. It happens to anyone who takes on a leader’s role. Doesn’t matter if you are a parent or head of the PTA, CEO or shift manager of Burger King.
There is always someone who will claim you can do your job better, faster, nicer, and that sometimes you are wrong or that you have totally…fallen off your donkey.
…and sometimes they are absolutely, 100%, without a shadow of a doubt, right…
…do ya’ll realize that I’ve been here for a full year already? A lot has transpired, some good, some bad.
Almost 20 people left because of my orientation. A few others dropped their membership. For some it was about decisions made, for others it was because, well things just didn’t feel the same. This is natural and happens in every church.
What about the good? Despite worries, attendance has held steady. Members who left were replaced with new members, returning members, visiting family and friends.
Our Spaghetti Supper, Harvest Home, Global Mission Fair and Stewardship Season were successes.
And yes, some mistakes have been made.
So before we enter into Holiest of all Christian weeks, I would like to say that I am sorry and to ask for your forgiveness.
I apologize that sometimes I, as a pastor, can be abrupt or loud, act as if I already know what you are about to say.
These are traits I am not proud of and I’ve been working on.
I apologize that sometimes I have such a need for control that I seem to hold on with my hands, feet and teeth.
But I say “Thank you” because you have taught me more about letting go then any other group of folk.
I apologize that sometimes my mind gets stuck on a one-way track and I can’t so easily jump off it.
What I ask is that when that happens, allow me to say that I am on that track and I’ll just need some time or space to get off of it.
Also, I am sorry if there have been decisions made that have upset you or made you feel as if we are not acting like good Christians.
I can truly say that all decisions that have been made have been for the best interest of the church.
Many times these decisions are based on information that can not be openly shared.
Some decisions are based on things seen through a set of eyes shaped by ethics, psychology and legality.
None of these decisions have been made in a vacuum but talked about with other pastors, the FL Conference or amongst church leaders.
But I do recognize that some decisions were not carried off in the best manner or done in the best possible way. Hindsight, instincts and group dynamics only goes so far.
For this, I apologize. I am sorry, and I ask for your grace and mercy, and for your forgiveness, because that forgiveness allows us to move forward and to continue on.
In conclusion, ministry is indeed a difficult task. It often involves riding in on a donkey and sometimes looking like a…well, a donkey.
But it is a task that one is called to. The ministry we embark on is not always the ministry we imagined or expected to embrace.
Although ministry is designed to help and bring healing, sometimes that very same ministry can upset some, or feel like it alienates others.
But if it is the ministry that God has placed ahead on the path, then it is a ministry in which results can be reached, surprises will occur and moments of transformation and resurrection happen.
As we continue our Lenten journey to the table and to the cross, may we trust and believe that God may not give us what we want, but will give us what we in fact need.
For our next year together, when a mistake is made, when a wrong path has been followed, when a perceived blank slate is not blank at all, may we all find within ourselves the ability to engage in acts of forgiveness, moments of grace and signs of mercy.
Blessings be to the Spirit, the Son and to our God.
Amen and amen.