Matthew 19:13-15, 21:8-9
Some people brought children to Jesus so that he would place his hands on them and pray. But the disciples scolded them. “Allow the children to come to me,” Jesus said. “Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.” Then he blessed the children and went away from there.
Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
Jesus welcomes the children, invites them to gather around his knees, and blesses them. Jesus tells his disciples that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children. In today’s hymn, “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus,” William Parker’s words describe “Jesus’ blessing of [the children] and his triumphal entry into Jerusalem from the viewpoint of a child.” Even our typical Palm Sunday celebrations are “cute and cheerful, with children waving palm leaves as we sing chipper melodies.” Is that what it means to be like a child? Are we to be happy all the time? Are we to be simple and obedient in our faith? Except, as a parent of a child and once a child myself, I was not happy all the time and my child is not happy all the time. Little things upset her, and oftentimes, she needs help. Even though Sophie is only two, she is full of questions, often holding up objects in her little hands for us to name and explain to her. Children are full of questions, they are disruptive and disorderly. Though, that’s really not all that far off from the stories we tell about Jesus. He is often full of questions, as well as causing chaos and headaches wherever he goes! That’s the thing, after all, this story of Jesus we tell during Holy Week overturns everything, for to declare “‘Jesus is King’” is to choose to follow a troublemaker and become questioning, disruptive, and disorderly children ourselves!
I am glad Pepper Choplin’s cantata, “God So Loved,” talked about the meaning behind Hosanna last week! Often we shout it out as a “churchy way of saying ‘Yay!’ But the Hebrew is more desperate; meaning ‘Save us!’ or ‘Lord, help!’” There is an edge to the cries of the crowd, they are not simply excited to see Jesus, they need help. We need help still. Jesus is that help, his own name comes from the Hebrew, “yeshu’a, [which] means “Lord, help!” as well. Jesus’ own name reveals God echoing our cry for help, and also being the very answer to that cry. That answer is Christ’s life and his death. Those stories “I love to hear.” What kind of stories are they? Why would children love to hear them?
After all, we have Jesus causing trouble in every word that leaves his mouth, everything he does, and every story he tells! He eats with tax collectors and prostitutes. He criticizes the political and religious leaders, like Caesar, Herod, and the Pharisees. He touches the unclean, heals on the Sabbath, and interacts with Gentiles. In his stories, Jesus lifts up Samaritans and wayward sons. When in Jerusalem, just after the palm branches and the loud “Hosannas,” Jesus goes to the temple to flip over the tables of money changers, so he even goes so far as to damage property and block legitimate business! Let’s not forget that he is also the son of an unwed teenage mother, who he then later turns around and disrespects. What kid doesn’t love a troublemaker?
You see, we sometimes get it into our heads that Jesus came to make the world “decent” or “nice” but that’s not in the stories. Jesus comes and disrupts the decent lives of those in power, disturbing those who benefit from the status quo. Why? It’s very simple, people have been living decent lives before Christ and after Christ but that has done nothing to reconnect anyone with God. That does not absolve anyone from their sins or prevent someone from sinning. Jesus came to wake us up and bring us back to the simple fact that none of us are restored to God without God’s grace and love. Rather than decent people, God wants loving people, which sounds easy, but it really isn’t. Look at those stories of Jesus after all, and how much trouble he gets in for asking people to do one thing, to love and have compassion for their neighbor.
In a TV show called Good Omens, based on a satirical fantasy book of the same name co-written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, you can find the two main characters, angels named Crowley and Aziraphale, standing at Calvary and witnessing Jesus being nailed to the cross. Crowley casually asks Aziraphale “What was it he said that got everyone so upset?” and Aziraphale responds, “‘Be kind to each other.’” Crowley then quips, “Oh yeah. That’ll do it.” The ethic of love is a difficult one, one that leads Jesus down the road that begins here on Palm Sunday and ends on Good Friday. If Jesus were just a man, that would be the end of the story, but Christ’s stony road leads to one final disruption, he defies death on that Easter morning.
God’s grace redeems us, and Jesus invites us to follow that same ethic of love, and that can only lead to trouble. You cannot be decent and live an ordinary life and follow this ethic. It requires us to love our family and friends as well as our enemies and to seek their good rather than the good we think they should get. That’s where those pesky questions come into things. God knows what we need, but we are a bit more limited than the divine. We will not know what is best for our neighbor and our enemy without getting to know them first. If we are in doubt of loving those enemies, look no further than those famous words of the Apostle Paul, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NRSV). There’s another word Paul uses in place of sinners and that is of enemies, we were all, decent and nice or not, enemies of God. We as enemies of God called out to God with a loud Hosanna, “God save us!” God heard and answered, not with wrath but with love. Look again at the hymn, where the children see God’s character clearly, with Jesus giving “words full of kindness, deeds full of grace, all in the love light of Jesus’ face.” This love disrupts our lives, and it disrupts the world.
Let’s face it, creation has never been the same since Christ caused trouble for all of us by opening our eyes to the way of love. This way is difficult. It will lead us to pray for the victims of school shootings as well as the shooters. It will cause us to sit with drug addicts and the homeless. It will necessitate us to love the rough and sharp parts of ourselves and others. It will cause us to seek the other, the outsider, and make them like family. Love is difficult. The world will not understand it and will reject it. It will lead us down a rocky road, but we have seen where this road ends. For all the trouble, disruption, and questions on this path, there, just up ahead, this road leads not to death but to resurrection for us all. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman