The sermon begins about 21 minutes in.
One of the first things you will notice when you step into my office is the framed copy of The Plain Dealer front page from June 20th, 2016. In huge bold print, the headline reads: “BELIEVE IT! The Cavaliers Are NBA Champions!” The picture is of an enraptured LeBron James (The Chosen One – all sorts of messianic titles) holding the trophy, surrounded by his disciples… err… team mates.
One of the main reasons I placed that Plain Dealer front page where I did in my office is because when I heard we had called the Rev. Dr. Veronica Goines to be our Co-Pastor and I found out that she was from the Bay Area of the Golden State – I figured she would have Warrior bling and carry that “Steph Curry” attitude – and I just wanted her to know, that she was now in BELIEVE LAND!
The problem is that Rev. Goines doesn’t really care. I’m not sure she even knows who Steph Curry is!
Deanne, Jack and I were at the victory parade along with a million others. We waited for hours and finally The King – LeBron – passed by. We couldn’t see him, but we knew – and we screamed our hosannas. Everyone wanted to see and touch and get near when LeBron came into town!
Now THAT was a triumphal entry. He had actually won something! (PAUSE)
How dissimilar LeBron’s parade was from the so-called “triumphal entry” of the other Savior, the other anointed one… what’s his name? Oh yes, Jesus.
We have made it into a joyous day, enraptured mass recognizing the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but of course they didn’t really recognize him at all.
Not on a white horse of triumph but a colt that had never been ridden – that would NOT be a comfortable ride.
Luke writes that the “multitude of disciples,” but most likely not a huge crowd – mostly bystanders – on their way into the city.
It is a very poignant scene to me. It is one of those heavy moments when you see what you have to go through. You can’t pay that bill. You are going to get evicted. It is too late to change the path – so you climb that donkey that hasn’t been ridden.
Jesus knew this wasn’t any joyride. He knew he wasn’t going to be embracing a trophy.
Jesus, you see, had his eyes on Calvary!
Typically, we celebrate Palm Sunday as a happy day and then skip over all the shadows and horrors of Holy Week and celebrate Easter.
But you and I know that life is mostly lived in the shadows. Life is mostly lived in the “I’m not sure where this is going to lead” times, in the week in between – where faith is tested and refined as we climb on that donkey and look towards Calvary.
There is no getting around, or over, or under – Jesus had his eyes on Calvary – and he had to go through the refining fires, the shadows of death, suffering, abandonment.
Just like you and I have to go through the shadows, being pulled by forces we cannot control, sometimes feeling overwhelmed and acting out – sometimes so alone as to be unbearable.
That may not be want you want to hear – but I have to tell the truth.
God suffers. God in Christ suffers like you and I sometimes suffer.
God in Christ walks the lonesome valley.
God in Christ weeps and is helpless, just like when you and I get the bad news.
God in Christ is killed by the powers and principalities, just like the brown and black bodies who get shot reaching for their cell phones.
But Christ is not passive. Jesus didn’t have to die, he chose to give up his body. In defiance of the powers, he stood in the center of the temple, and in the face of Rome and said, “Come get me!”
You and I need to show a little more defiance too these days. For as William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
God suffers right now. Palm Sunday isn’t past. The spirit of Christ climbs on a donkey every day.
We tend to think of Jesus as some protective service but I have come to believe that Jesus is more of a transformative presence, like a friend walking with you in the valley of the shadows.
My mentor, my friend my pastor Herb Meza told me about the first Christmas after his divorce. He was devastated – feeling guilty and alone. He didn’t want to put up a tree or invite anyone over, or make a meal. But the Deacons from his church brought him a meal, decorated a tree.
They climbed on that donkey with him.
When their first child was stillborn – the youth group showed up at their house. There were 500 people at the memorial service for a child that never took a breath. It was God filled and life giving – transformative.
Because they had to ride that donkey, they didn’t have a choice – up and over Calvary.
Not too long ago I experienced Jesus at the bedside of dying man as the family gathered to sing and pray and let him go. We were on the donkey that day with our eyes on Calvary – but we knew God.
There is nothing that you are going through now that doesn’t contain its own fractured glory.
Some say that suffering proves there is no God. I think the fact that God suffers too in our suffering is the most compelling and unique teaching of Christianity.
When you ride down into the holy ground of suffering, you find a new way of experiencing joy. You find a power, a love that sets you free. Yes, tears tarry, but joy comes, too deep for words. And then when the beauty happens and resurrection comes – man-o-man – it’s a whole new world… born again.
It is why Paul could write:
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” NO, in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
You can’t say that unless you have climbed on the donkey; if you haven’t seen Calvary.
His disciples and the crowd such as they were – the ones who knew and loved him best –they desert, betray, deny.
The “Hosannas” turn to “Crucify!”
He is going to be all alone and cry in the garden.
He is going to despair that God even gives a damn.
And he is going to die – without certainty of what comes next. He is going to die – while the dream of God’s kingdom grows dim.
And yet…he persisted.
He gave up his body in love – a love so wide and expansive that it takes everybody in whether we like it or not.
Something kept him tethered to Abba – his daddy – this power of love. Even hanging on the cross – he forgives, shows compassion – faith, hope and the greatest of these is love – even in abandonment, even in fear, even in letting everything go – letting the flood take it away.
Jesus had his eyes set on Calvary… and so should you and I – it is the only way through.
As we place the cross in our front yard today, it is to remind us not only of what happened to Jesus in the past, but of what is still going on with bodies of every color being broken, maybe your body is broken. It is to remind you of the imperial powers that still want to oppress. It is to remind you of God’s defiance in the midst so you and I have to be defiant!
Because it seems like we are still living short of Easter. It doesn’t seem like Easter is coming as black churches are torched by hate, and lies, suspicion and fear dominate. We are still living in the shadow of Calvary.
But God has gone through it all and continues to go through with you: up and down the hills, into the shadows and beyond. And you and I as the body of Christ need to be climbing on the donkeys and keeping our eyes on Calvary – riding into the shadows.
But always remember this: for a shadow to be cast – there must be a source of light shining –blocked but not extinguished, a light in the darkness that the darkness cannot put out.
It is not what Christ did for you as much as what is Christ doing with you, beside you, through you, even now as you walk the lonesome valley and head up the hill to your Golgotha.
Ride on, Ride on in majesty
In holy pomp ride on to die.
Eyes on Calvary.
Defiantly hopeful for what comes next.