180325 – Cross Trek: Temerity

Lent 6 – Palm Sunday – John 12:12-16

Even though each Gospel’s version of the story differs slightly in its details, the general thrust of what we call the Palm Sunday entry of Jesus into Jerusalem marking the beginning of his last week on earth is the same.
Jesus causes a fuss as he makes a dramatic and theatrical entrance into the city. People crowd around. There is singing and cheering. There is palm waving, or branch waving, or cloak laying (doesn’t really matter).
And there is Jesus on a donkey, tapping into an ancient Jewish writing about how a new king will arrive.
However it gets packaged in the story-telling, there is one fundamental thing we ought to notice and learn from this – Jesus has chutzpah!

That’s my sermon title today. I used a fancy word for it – temerity – because it fit with all my other key words during Lent – cruciformity, integrity, receptivity, and tenacity. So temerity is the perfect word, but chutzpah has more…chutzpah!!!

Temerity means boldness, rashness, brazen nerve, shameless audacity, gall, cheek, impudence, impertinence, and probably some more colourful colloquialisms you might know. But it’s all summed up nicely in the Yiddish word chutzpah.
The word originally had mostly negative connotations and was applied to people who had crossed the line of common decency and should’ve known better but didn’t seem to care. “Oy vay! What chutzpah!”
Over time the word was also applied admiringly by people who would look at someone’s brazen action and lament that they themselves didn’t have the guts to act in that manner. “That guy’s got chutzpah!”

Part of it depends on where you’re sitting. One group’s enemy is another group’s champion.
So let’s take a minute and look at the groups involved in this little Palm Sunday theatre piece and ponder how they might perceive this scene.

Imagine you’re in the crowd.
You’ve made the long pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival – a festival with decidedly political undertones about the oppressed Jewish people being released from Pharaoh’s captivity.
What are you thinking about all this? I’d imagine there was a mixture of expectation and curiosity. John 12:12 says, “The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.”

They’d heard about him, and that he was coming. That’s not on CNN or in the newspaper – that’s all word of mouth. The city is buzzing about this Jesus guy.
Wouldn’t you be curious?
Wouldn’t you be wondering if he was really the new Messiah who would deliver the people from Roman oppression? Wouldn’t your Hosannas – which means “save us now”, or “deliver us now” – take on a whole new level of meaning if you thought it was really possible?
Wouldn’t you be thinking, “Wow, that dude’s got a lot of chutzpah!”? And he’d better deliver after getting all their hopes up, right?

Imagine you’re one of Jesus’ disciples.
You’ve been journeying with him and learning from him and trying to figure him out for maybe a few years by this point.
What are you thinking about all this?
Pride, energy, validation, hope, excitement.
Wouldn’t you be thinking “All these people are looking at my guy as the one! We’re right. We’re going to change the world. Nothing’s going to stop us now. I wish I had as much chutzpah as Jesus!”

Imagine you’re a Roman soldier – standing guard at the city gate, watching this throng of people excitedly flock to this man and his disciples, waving palms and cheering.
What are you thinking about all this?
Wouldn’t you be wary of these trouble-makers, incredulous of their foolishness, ready to act if the crowd gets too rowdy?

Imagine you’re among the Jewish religious leaders.
You’ve managed a careful balance and an uneasy agreement with the Romans that you can still celebrate Passover but you can’t afford even the slightest hint of rebellion or the entire festival might be cancelled.
What are you thinking about all this?
Wouldn’t you be thinking, “He’s going to start a riot. He’s going to get us all killed. Who does he think he is? How dare he? That fool has too much chutzpah for his own good – or ours!”

Imagine you are Jesus.
What are you thinking about all this?
Foliage waving, people singing your praises, everyone looking at you. Calling you king!
The way John’s gospel tells the story it’s like Jesus was so moved by the crowd’s reaction to him that he quickly found a donkey on the spur of the moment and got on and rode it in. It’s like he was thinking “Wow, look at this response! They’re listening. Maybe they’re ready to hear about the kingdom of God and not just about the usual expectations of a messiah figure? I’ll hop on this donkey and use the symbolism to help make my point that this is entirely another kind of kingdom that we’re talking about.”

Well, actually that makes Jesus sound a bit naïve – and I don’t think that was the case at all.
He knew exactly the underlying messages he was sending.
He knew he was poking the bear.
He knew what was bound to happen next.

Of course, we all know what happens next in the story too.
The thing about audacity and boldness is that it almost always pushes someone’s buttons. Maybe those buttons absolutely need pushing, but there are going to be consequences.
Jesus riding on a donkey, purposely playing on the known symbolism from their scriptures of that indicating a king’s entrance, is being intentionally provocative.
There’s already a king, and he’s not going to be too happy about having a rival.
And the Romans who keep him on the throne as their puppet are not going to take kindly to some rabble-rouser coming in and claiming to be a new king.
How dare he?! The temerity! That dude’s got a lot of chutzpah!

Do you?

The danger in any great story about Jesus is that we can fall into the trap of thinking that the story is just about him. He does something faithful and wonderful and we might think “Well, of course he does, he’s Jesus.”
And when we do this we render him as just another historic artifact – a once-upon-a-time guy that did great things long ago and that we can learn from, like we might any historical figure.
But to do this is to really miss the point. His point! He said it just 2 chapters later in John’s gospel – John 14:12-14

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

Let that sink in for a minute.
You and I are called by Jesus, and expected by Jesus, to do the same kinds of works that he did, and greater works than his!
Christianity is not a stand-on-the-sidelines-and-watch religion.
We’re not just called to watch the parade – we’re not just encouraged to wave and cheer – we’re not even just expected to put on the Team Jesus jersey and be identified as part of his group.
No, my friends we’re expected to be on the donkey.
And not way-back-then but right here and now.

palm_sunday-silhouetteThis is the incredible challenge of the Palm Sunday story.
It’s not just about him. It’s about you. Today!
In our cushy, wealthy, safe and sound, fed, clothed, housed, and free-to-do-as-we-please world, what is going to get us up on that donkey?

If we were black and lived in the southern US in the 1960s we’d probably climb on our donkey and go with Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.
Surely you can see how King and his work would’ve been seen by those in power as provocative, galling, audacious, and even dangerous.
Why did King do it?
It was the expression of his deep faith.
And what happened to him?
Like Jesus, they tried to silence him.

If we lived in El Salvador during their civil war back in the 1980s we’d probably climb on our donkey and go with Archbishop Romero and his work to bring peace and justice to the people. He tried to appeal to Christians in the army not to follow their commanders’ orders to kill innocent people.
Surely you can see how Romero’s preaching would’ve been seen by those in power as rash, and impertinent, and impudent, and even dangerous.
Why did Romero do it?
It was the expression of his deep faith.
And what happened to him?
Like Jesus, they tried to silence him.

It’s sobering to remember that Martin Luther King’s harshest criticism was levelled at the white Christian churches who stood by and did nothing.
It’s infuriating to remember that the powerful government of the west (the US, but we’re not that different) was the one propping up the corrupt regime in El Salvador because it was decided that doing so was ultimately in their best interest.

Those in power hate the one on the donkey – because the donkey rider demands justice.
And how does power respond when challenged?
Jesus was crucified. King and Romero were shot. We aren’t playing games here.

His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. (John 12:16)

Please don’t misunderstand this message.
No, I am not encouraging you to become a militant person who is supposed to martyr yourself for the cause. That’s not it at all.

I am encouraging you to consider what following Jesus really means.
We come from a tradition that has highly valued order and civility and being nice.
These are good things – but they’re not exactly great acts of faith, and they don’t really demand much from us.
Being a good person is a good thing, but you don’t need Jesus for that.
But if you are his disciple, his follower, if you think this kingdom that he’s always on about where God is at the centre and everything flows from that centre with a focus on love, and shalom, and justice – then being nice is not going to cut it.

Jesus is at the gates of the city.
He’s about to enter his last week.
His deep, deep faith is empowering and emboldening him to stand in the face of power and speak his truth – God’s truth – about a new kind of kingdom.

Some will interpret his message as life-saving.
Hosanna indeed!
Others will hear it as impudence.

And that message of God’s kingdom reverberates through the centuries and lands on us – and we are faced with a choice.
I don’t know what your Jerusalem might be – but when you get to the gates of it I pray that you’ll look for a donkey.

And if you want a more recent example of what this might look like, watch the news reports about the student-led anti-gun protests all over the US yesterday.
That is what it looks like to ride the donkey!

And so I leave you with this question.
Is there anything in your faith life that you’d characterize as boldness, rashness, provocative, brazen nerve, shameless audacity, gall, cheek, impudence, or impertinence?
What might it take for someone to look at your faith journey and say, “Wow, that dude’s got a lot of chutzpah!”?