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March 2015 Sermons:
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

"What Are We Getting Into?" — March 1
"Good and Angry" — March 8
"Look Up and Live" — March 15
"Covenants, Old and New" — March 22
"From Fickle to Faithful" — March 29


“What Are We Getting Into?”
March 1, 2015
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Mark 8:31-38

Three times in Mark's gospel, Jesus predicts His own suffering and death. Today’s gospel reading is the first time the disciples hear the bad news. Each time, they make it clear that they don't like what Jesus is saying. Anyone who wants to come after Jesus must deny himself, take up His cross, and follow, He says to them. Anyone who tries to save her own life will lose it, and whoever loses her life for Christ’s sake will find it.

We hate to hear Jesus saying things like this. Discipleship had been going nicely for His followers, up to now. Jesus had become very popular, and the crowds had been huge. The disciples had seen Him cure the sick and lame, cast out demons, feed thousands of people, even restore life to a young girl. It was exhilarating to follow Him. In fact, it seemed a ticket to fame and fortune.

And, then, Jesus told them that they would have to take up the cross. Peter wasn’t happy to hear this. But, what he didn’t like, and what we don’t like, are rather different. Peter would have been more-or-less comfortable with the possibility of having to give up his own life. The Jews of that day were so eager to overthrow the Roman dictatorship, that many were ready to sacrifice their lives if necessary. In fact, many Jews did that. So Peter knew this was a possibility. What shocked Peter was the idea that the Messiah would have to suffer every single day for their faith—and that all His followers would, too. That’s where Peter lost his focus, and slipped off the side of God onto the side of human beings. Jesus had to bring him back. Jesus spoke not only to Peter, but to all the disciples. The reason they had a difficult time accepting the prediction of our Lord's passion is that they were basically selfish.

We have the opposite problem from that of Peter. We all understand that Jesus had to suffer and die. Every year during Lent, we retell the passion story. During Holy Week, we try to re-live those last days of His life. We have come to accept the fact that Christ was crucified, even though it makes us sad.

Where we get into trouble is in taking up our own crosses. We have a hard time with the idea of losing our lives in order to save them. Even though most of us won’t be called to literally give up our lives, we are called upon to give up control over the way we live our lives. We know that Jesus’ sayings apply to every one of us: young and old, men and women.

Often, when we hear the phrase, "that’s just a cross I’ll have to bear," the person who is speaking, is using it incorrectly. Many of you bear the burdens of failing sight and hearing, or the burden of grief, or having to endure difficult people on a daily basis. But these aren’t crosses. A cross is a burden we choose. A cross must be available for us to pick up, but we also need to have the option of saying no, and leaving it where it is. Cross-bearing means being willing to be shamed before others for being a follower of Jesus.

Here’s an example—a small-town surgeon once visited the local county jail. He saw that all the prisoners had been given Gideon Bibles. But he found out that nobody was leading Bible study classes for the inmates there. When he spoke to the warden and offered to teach the Bible at the jail, the other doctors in the county ridiculed him and called him a “holy roller.” But he continued his teaching ministry at the jail for fifteen years.

And that’s the choice for all of us, whether we will pick up and carry the ministry of Jesus Christ into the world. Some may decide to carry a big cross. Others will start out with a small one, like the surgeon who did Bible study. That’s okay. Crosses come in all sizes.

Taking up the cross means that our personal needs and fears are no longer the primary motivators for all we do. To deny yourself means to turn away from self-centeredness and to become centered on Christ. Cross-bearing applies to the problems we are willing to take on, because we profess our Christianity. Cross bearing can be escaped by denying the obligations of being a disciple—as if, for example, I had been living in the first century and had told Roman officials that “Caesar was Lord,” so I could save my family from imprisonment.

I don't know what following Christ means for you. Carrying a cross takes many forms: turning the other cheek, spending time with people who seem to have no rewards to offer us, caring for those who've made mistakes, doing good that will receive no applause, sharing food with the hungry, emptying bedpans, holding hands stiffened by arthritis, sitting in a home where someone has died, taking care of other people's children to give the parents a break, listening to a lonely older person, guiding a teenager who needs a mentor, and praying not for an easier life, but for strength, to follow Christ, and to discover grace.

Many of us, in our struggle to be faithful, try to pick up bigger and bigger crosses, which is great, except that we forget to lay down our lives. We get caught up in trying to carry on our own life and carry the cross. We are ready to follow Jesus, as long as He is headed in the direction that we want to go. But if the way He wants us to go is different from the way we want to go, we figure we have the right to say good-bye to Jesus and go off in another direction. That isn’t right. We can’t make God be anything we want.

Unless we give up our life to God, we will never do a good job of taking up the cross. But that’s a scary thought, isn’t it! We want to be in control of our own lives. We insist on it. Our society supports it. We live in a world that encourages self-absorption, self-advancement, self-assurance, self-improvement, self-interest, and self-fulfillment. Twenty years ago, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, whose name I don’t remember, was quoted as saying, “The American Dream is to reach a point in your life where you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, and can do everything that you want to do.” We’ve all heard people say things like this---as if their goal in life is to be a person like Donald Trump. We want to be like Jesus. And yet, we’re afraid to give control of our lives to Jesus. Maybe it’s not even the cross itself that we fear. It’s the thought of what we might have to give up in order to pick up the cross and carry it.

Listen again to what Jesus says to Peter, "Get in step behind me." That's where we belong, in step behind Jesus. We may not fully understand where He’s headed, but we follow Christ down a risky road that leads to God. My prayer is that we will each find the cross God intends us to carry, and take it up, and follow Jesus where He leads. This is where our hope lies. This is where the hope of the world lies.


Let us pray. Lord Jesus, we do not wish to bear a cross. Teach us not to be surprised if you are the suffering savior. If it is your will that we should suffer, we ask that, by the power of your Spirit, we may discover you walking beside us. AMEN




“Good and Angry”
March 8, 2015
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

John 2:13-22

People always seem to like this story of Jesus cleansing the Temple, because it shows Him getting angry. If even Jesus got angry, then it must be all right to lose your temper once in a while. If we are followers of Christ, we are not called to be gentle, meek and mild all the time. But to get angry without sinning—there’s the challenge! It’s harder than it sounds.

Jesus got angry more than once. He got angry at the Pharisees for their corruption of the faith. He got angry when they criticized Him for healing on the Sabbath. He criticized the disciples constantly for not understanding what His ministry was all about. Jesus was annoyed with His mother and brothers when they interrupted Him while He was preaching. He rebuked His disciples when they tried to keep the little children away from Him.

This story about Jesus making a scene in the temple can be found in all four gospels—which is a good indication that it actually happened. But only John places this episode at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Matthew, Mark, and Luke place this story of the cleansing of the temple during Holy Week. They see it as the main event leading to His arrest and crucifixion.

John, the gospel writer, wants his readers to notice the spiritual reasons beyond Jesus’ righteous anger. John helps us to understand WHY the money changing, animal selling industry in the temple is corrupt, and WHY Jesus came to earth to make things right….all things, not just the injustice of temple worship.

As Christians we might say to ourselves: "It's okay for me to be angry, because Jesus got angry." But look at the difference between the situations that trigger our anger and the situations that angered Jesus. Much of our anger is selfish. We react without thinking when others make mistakes that annoy us, or when something they do, inconveniences us for a few minutes. We get annoyed when the supermarket manager takes too long to open another cash register, even when the two open registers have long lines. We grind our teeth when we’re following a car going sixty miles an hour in a seventy mile an hour zone. We snap at the dry cleaner when a button is missing from a favorite coat on the day we pick it up.

A news story from Grand Rapids, Michigan told of how a trucker became enraged because an 85-year-old man maneuvered his car in a way that angered the trucker. The trucker saw the man pull into a gas station. A quarter of a mile later, the trucker pulled over to the side of the road, ran back the quarter of a mile to that same gas station, and -- as the 85-year-old was filling his gas tank – knocked the older man to the ground. Such road rage is inexcusable.

It’s important to examine the reasons why we get angry. Jesus' anger was light years from that example of trucker road rage. His was a righteous anger, based on His faith in God. Let’s go back to the temple story. The sight of people pocketing money from poor, tired pilgrims, and killing helpless animals during worship, made Him whip-cracking mad. Mad at the temple being turned into a marketplace. Mad at the money-changers who had turned a holy obligation into a time-consuming bureaucracy and a way for people to get rich. Mad at the temple priests, who preferred observing law to making the temple shine with the living Spirit of God. He was even mad at the Passover pilgrims, who saw the temple as a place to perform a yearly obligation, not a holy place where God’s presence could be felt. Jesus had to clean house in order to once again make room for the Holy Spirit in that place of worship.

The system of Passover worship wasn’t worshiper-friendly, to say the least. Jesus saw it extorting money from believers. To Him, collecting money, in and of itself, wasn’t evil—just the fact that people had come to worship God, not to be robbed. How did this situation get so bad in the first place? Animal sacrifice was required of every Jewish family. Pilgrims were required to bring one perfect animal to sacrifice in the temple during Passover. Acceptable sacrifices included cattle, sheep, and doves. The Jews often had to travel from long distances and it wouldn’t have been practical to bring their own animals with them. What's more, they couldn’t pay their annual temple tax, which was also required, with imperial coins from their home countries. They had to have their tax money, from home, changed into image-free Judean currency, acceptable at the temple. And they had to pay for sacrifice animals with coins that didn’t have the Emperor’s picture on them. That’s why the money changers had to be there. The process of money-changing made for long lines. You can imagine how un-worshipful these travelers felt, after they were done waiting in line all day.

Jesus got angry because it seemed to Him that the sacrifice system, with the money changers and the animal sellers, was based on ambition and greed. The animals were being sold at a steep mark-up. The money changers were charging a huge interest. The temple officials were enriching themselves, rather than glorifying God. Jesus’ anger was a righteous rage—not a selfish, sinful rage. Righteous anger is the emotion prophets feel when they are confronted with injustice.

The first readers of the Gospel of John would have known that the Jerusalem temple was already a smoking crater. All but one wall of the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. The gospel of John was probably written about ten years after its destruction. Jesus’ words, in this gospel story, remind us that any institution is doomed if it doesn’t pay attention to God’s purposes. This story challenges us to examine all we do as a church, and as individuals, to be sure that it is faithful to His call.

We must always ask WHY, when we, as church leaders, make changes in the ways we do things. We need to ask WHY for everything we do. Here are some examples. We will do background checks on our staff and volunteers who work with youth before June. Why? Not just because state law now requires it, but also because we want our children to be safe. Why do our elders need to learn about the New Form of Government, as outlined in the BOOK OF ORDER? Why do we require a form to be filled out when members use the kitchen? Because we need to make the best use of our limited resources in order to be faithful to God. A kitchen that isn’t left spotless, means extra work for staff and volunteers. It might mean damaged or broken equipment.

The temple officials of Jesus’ time were big on rules, but they had lost sight of the WHY behind the rules. Today’s gospel story calls us to look at the spiritual reasons WHY we do the things we do. Jesus came to earth to be the new temple for his faithful people. He is the means by which we make contact with God. In all the decisions we make, let us keep Jesus in charge.


Almighty God, Bring us out of the chaos of this world, into that place of stillness and peace, where you dwell in righteousness. Bring us through this Lenten season to the simple beauty of the empty tomb, to the place where we are able to worship your Son, Jesus Christ, in spirit and in truth. In His name we pray. Amen.



“Look Up and Live”
March 15, 2015
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Numbers 21:4-9
John 3:14-21

I can’t think of a more frightening symbol for sin than a poisonous snake. As the people of Israel crossed the desert to the Promised Land, snakes began to bite them. The people believed God was punishing them for complaining about the food on the journey. They cried out for Moses to save them.

What does this strange story have to do with Lent? It’s about an arrogant people and the consequences of sin. No human being has ever been free of sin, except for Jesus. Sin lies coiled up like a viper inside each of us. It can strike at any moment to poison our hearts. Sin cuts us off from God and from each other.

Sin pollutes the earth. For hundreds of years people in civilized societies threw away garbage without thinking of how it might harm the planet. The sin of selfishness poisons society, just as pollutants poison the earth. We see it in the ways we treat each other.

Sin poisons religion. It shows up in a "we’re right, and you’re wrong" mentality. It was hiding in the hearts of the temple officials who “had it in” for Jesus. They thought sin was only a problem for others, and not for them. Instead of celebrating Jesus’ mercy and grace, they conspired to do away with Him.

After God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, they complained that God had liberated them, only to kill them in the wilderness. They cried out, "Moses! We know we have sinned against God and against you. Pray to God to take these snakes away! Deliver us from this danger and fear!" But God didn’t call the serpents off the Israelites. God did something else. God told Moses to make a poisonous serpent out of metal and put it up on a pole, so that those who were bitten could look at it and be healed. So Moses made a serpent out of bronze and put it on a pole. When snakes bit the Israelites, they looked up at the bronze serpent Moses had made, and they were healed.

Many centuries later, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to handle the snake of sin that lives in human hearts. People had hoped He would be the kind of leader who would whip things into shape. They hoped He would defeat the Roman oppressors by force and restore Israel to glory.

But Jesus wasn’t that kind of leader. He preached a message of loving your enemies. He worked to heal people. He made friends with sinners whose lives were poisoned, and forgave them. Jesus pointed out the poison to people who thought they were immune to it since they had been keeping all the laws. And what happened? Were they grateful? Did they repent? No! They rejected Him. Even His disciples fell away when He was arrested.

Sin unleashed all its poison on Jesus and riveted Him to the cross. The snakes that kill God’s people succeeded in killing the one who came to express God’s love. It appeared as though all was lost.

But remember! We live on this side of Good Friday and this side of Easter. We understand now what Jesus meant when He said, "As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up." He is lifted high on the cross, and even higher up from the tomb. And everyone who believes in Him, will have life. Sin may kill our bodies, but it cannot kill us forever.

That is the wonder and mystery of the cross. Christ loved us. He wanted to save us from the snakebite of sin. He wanted to make its venom powerless to kill us. And so, Christ exposed Himself to the snake. Christ let its venom kill Him instead of us.

That’s how much God loves us. That’s how far God will go to do something about the sin that cuts us off from Him and from each other, and even from our own best selves. God loved us and wanted to save us from this poison that kills. So He gave His only Son. Christ’s blood is the medicine of salvation.

Christ’s love is our forgiveness. It is the power to live as members of the household of God, walking in His ways instead of being a slave to the snake. And even though poisonous snakes still prowl around and bite us, and though they still dwell in our hearts, those who look to Jesus are saved.

Moses told the Israelites to look at the serpent on the pole as God said. But people did not believe him. Some kept on trying to fight off the snakes themselves, instead of looking at the serpent on the pole. It didn’t work. Those people all died.

Why do we think we have to battle it out on our own? We try to save ourselves. Sin always comes back. On our own, the struggle is hopeless, until we look to Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean we can simply nod at the cross and say “yes” to Jesus with our mouths. We must say "yes" with our whole beings. We know where people can get the medicine of salvation.

There is sin in the world, coiled up in my heart and yours, ready to strike. We must take it seriously. But we need to take Jesus Christ even more seriously. Jesus was lifted up to save us all. Don’t be afraid of the coiled snake of sin. God heals what sin destroys.

A bishop in France once told a story about a rebellious gang of boys who stood outside a cathedral and jeered at the worshipers standing in line to go into the confessional. One boy said, “So you believe in God, do you? Well, there is no God. The priests just made up this religion stuff to make money.” Another boy said, “So you believe in forgiveness, do you? Don’t count on it. There’s no such thing! Jesus was just a man, not God’s son.”

One of the boys said to the leader, “I dare you to go into the church and tell the priest what we’ve been saying!” The leader agreed. He liked a good dare, he said. So he walked into the cathedral, found the priest, and said, “I’m not here to confess anything. I just came in on a dare, to tell you what my gang has been saying to the people outside in line. We’ve been telling them that there is no God, and that Jesus was just a man, and that there’s no forgiveness. There, I’ve said it. Goodbye, old man!”

“Wait a minute!” the priest answered. “If you like a good dare, I have one for you. Go up to the altar, look at the face of Jesus on the cross, and say, ‘Jesus died for me and I don’t give a damn.’”

The boy agreed. When he got to the front of the church, the boy shouted, “Jesus died for me and I don’t give -a damn.”

“Do it again!” the priest commanded. “Show me you’re not afraid.” So the boy, once again, spoke to the cross on the altar, saying, “Jesus died for me and I don’t give a damn.” He turned to the priest. “Now I’ve done it,” he said. “Good-bye.” “Not yet,” said the priest. “One more time and you can go.”

The boy slowly walked down the aisle. Slowly he raised his head and looked at Jesus, nailed to the cross. Then he hung his head. “Jesus died for me,” he said through tears. Then he knelt before the cross. The old man in the back of the church smiled.

The bishop ended the story by saying, “I am that boy!”


Let us pray. O Lord, only you can keep this world, and all who live in it, on the right track. Lead us in paths of love, humility and service. Help us to Follow Jesus out into the world to work with him to heal and reconcile. In the name of Jesus, we pray. AMEN



“Covenants, Old and New”
March 22, 2015
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Jeremiah 31: 31-34
II Corinthians 4:3-6

When you were young, did you make a solemn promise with another child? Did the two of you agree not to tell a secret? When I did this with my best friend in third grade, we pricked our thumbs until they bled, and then held our thumbs together. It was a way of pledging our loyalty to each other. We didn’t know it, but our promise was a covenant. When my friend showed up to pay her respects at my mother’s funeral, more than fifty years after we had made that promise, we were still blood sisters. That, we could remember. But we didn’t remember what the promise was!

“Covenant” is a word we don’t use very often, in everyday conversation. But in our church, we honor the covenant of baptism and the covenant of marriage. New church officers make covenants with the congregation, too. The church by-laws are a kind of covenant.

In the covenant of Christian marriage, two people pledge to be faithful, in joy and in sorrow, in plenty and in want, and in sickness and in health, as long as they live. Their agreement is made before God. Their vows help them to remain faithful to each other.

In the covenant of infant baptism, two or more adults promise to honor God’s unconditional love for a child. When an infant is baptized, he or she is too young to do anything to earn God’s love yet. That’s why a baby’s baptismal covenant is made by adults with a congregation, on his or her behalf. Parents and godparents speak on behalf of infants. Ashlynn Grace’s parents, Jennifer and Shawn, will make promises, and you, as the congregation, will pledge --- to help her grow in faith. Baptism is a covenant of Christian obedience. When adults are baptized, they make the promise on their own, with their congregation. As baptized Christians, we spend all of our years learning to live as God’s beloved children.

The word, “covenant,” appears many times in the Bible. Think about the lifelong impact of having made covenants with God—through baptism, or marriage, or as a church officer, or all of the above. The word, “testament,” actually means, “covenant.” The word, “Old,” refers to the covenant that came first. We don’t mean that it is worn out or outdated.

The book of Genesis, the first of the Old Testament, has a series of covenants that God makes with the Israelites, beginning with Abraham. God’s promises to Abraham were unconditional. God promised to bless all the families of the earth through the descendants of Abraham and Sarah—no matter what they did to earn or deserve this honor.

But some Old Testament covenants were conditional. In other words, God might end the covenant if the people did not obey. God’s covenant with King David, in First Samuel, was an example of a conditional covenant. The giving of the Ten Commandments listed the minimum requirements of building a community of faith and justice. The commandments are another conditional covenant. There’s a bumper sticker downstairs on the bulletin board that says, “The Ten Commandments are not Multiple Choice.” We know that God will be displeased with us if we disobey them.

The New Testament is also called the “New Covenant.” But you may not know that the words, “New Covenant,” were first spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, several hundred years before Jesus was born. In today’s Old Testament reading, Jeremiah speaks for God at a time of exile in Babylon, when many Israelites had lost all hope of salvation. He says there will come a time when God will write the law on their hearts, so that everyone will know God. In other words, the old covenant laws won’t have to be written down. People who are part of the New Covenant—and that includes us—won’t need to read the law from tablets, in order to behave justly.

The law is still important, to teach us and to protect the society we live in. Imagine the Lehigh Valley with no traffic lights and no stop signs! The commandments of Moses are basic laws for ethical and moral living. But the New Covenant shows God’s love for us, in Jesus. It is written on our hearts, rather than on tablets of stone.

When Christ came, the New Covenant which Jeremiah had predicted so many years before, began to take effect. In the death and resurrection of Christ, God did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. He gave us Jesus to take away the sins of the world. In the life of His Son, God has shown us an example we can follow, to cope with injustice and to live faithfully, even if life is a constant struggle. Christians need both the law and the Spirit. That’s why we include both the Old and the New Testaments in the Bible. The Jews began the worship of one God and we Presbyterians come from that tradition.

Having received God’s Spirit in the person of Jesus, the early Christians of Corinth were empowered to act out His love. The Apostle Paul was the founder and leader of the church in Corinth. These early Christians were a small minority in the middle of the dominant Roman Empire. It was against the law, not to worship the Emperor, so the Corinthians found that they were lawbreakers. This frightened them. The converts needed to be reassured that they were worthy of God’s love. Paul reassured them in the letters he wrote, and in the sermons he preached. He promised these folks that the Holy Spirit would strengthen them to live in such a way that their lives would recommend Christ to others. We still try to do that, with God’s help. It wasn’t all up to them, and it’s not up to us.

To whom do we belong? Babies know the answer to that question, instinctively. Ashlynn Grace Hartman Buskirk has a beautiful smile. She doesn’t know me, so I don’t blame her for not smiling at me, especially since I put cold water on her head! But she knows her mom and dad and her grandparents and her sisters. Did you see the smile on her face when she saw people she recognized? She knows to whom she belongs. As she grows, she will also learn that she belongs to God. This congregation is ready to teach her.

Do we always remember that we belong to God? Paul preached to the Corinthians that it didn’t matter where they lived, or how much money they had, or who their parents were, or where they came from, because they were all children of God, through the covenant of baptism. And so are we.

Baptism is about being made sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ. Just as the many parts are brought together in the one body, so our many baptisms are united in one baptism. Baptism charts our direction in a way that we are bound to God and one another in the face of challenging times and divisive issues. When the world seems to close in on us, we might forget that we are a family. Remember that the covenants we share in Christ are more significant than our differences---in education, in political beliefs, in age, or in gender. God will never give up on us. He is shaping us into new people, each moment we live. God says, and we join in saying to Ashlynn Grace, “Welcome to the family!”


O God, we thank you for the joy of birth, and for the hope that comes with the first years of life. We also thank you for the wisdom of age and the knowledge that comes from experience. We thank you for your faithfulness, from age to age the same. Praise be to you for your loving care, in all the times of our lives. AMEN



“From Fickle to Faithful”
March 29, 2015
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Mark 11:1-11

Have you ever been called “fickle”? If you have, I’m pretty sure you didn’t take it as a compliment. Words that mean the same thing as “fickle” are listed in Roget’s Thesaurus. “Irresponsible” and “unstable,” are synonyms for the word, “fickle.” We sometimes say fickle people are wishy-washy, or weak, or dishonest.

Jesus was the least fickle person who ever lived. Every year, at the beginning of Holy Week, we read about the last week of Jesus’ life. Mark’s gospel gives us the oldest account of the passion week.

We love Palm Sunday. It’s a celebration; we wave the palms because we love Jesus. As the week goes on, we hear His passion story, which we don’t love in the same way. I, for one, can’t help but see the Jerusalem crowds as wishy-washy and dishonest, and, well, fickle by the time Good Friday rolls around. A big crowd had shouted, “Hosanna,” on Palm Sunday when they saw Him coming. And yet, just a few days later, the same crowd of people had shouted, “Crucify Him!” What could be more fickle than that?

But maybe it’s not surprising. If we look carefully at the events of Holy Week, we can figure out why these same folks ended up calling for Jesus to be crucified. We might see a reflection of our own behavior in the actions of the ancient people of Jerusalem.

Let’s look at what happened just before Christ’s ride into the holy city. Jesus told two of the disciples to go on ahead of the others and get a donkey colt for Him to ride on. He told them where to find the donkey. The men did this, and Jesus mounted the donkey and began His journey into town.

I think the donkey colt was part of Jesus’ problem. After all, wouldn’t you expect the Messiah to enter a city in triumph, riding on a white stallion? His choice of a donkey might have ruined his image. Donkeys pull wagons and plow fields. Would you respect a leader who rides on a donkey? You wouldn’t want me to preach on Easter morning in sweat pants and a t-shirt. During Lent you would prefer to see me in a robe and purple stole. Appearances matter a lot. Some folks in that Jerusalem crowd cared about how powerful their king might look. They wanted a dignified Messiah, riding a big, majestic horse—not an ordinary looking guy on a donkey colt.

Actually, in the ancient Near East, kings DID ride on donkeys when they went to sign a peace treaty. King David Himself had ridden on a donkey, on more than one occasion, when Israel had been at the summit of international power. A few of the people who saw Jesus that day would have known that. But not all the people!

Remember, this crowd of Jewish pilgrims in the streets came from all over the world. Each ethnic group had a different expectation about what God’s son would look like. The population of Jerusalem in a normal week was forty thousand people, but on this Passover weekend there were more than two hundred thousand people in town. Most of them were illiterate. Very few of them had ever read the Bible.

Have you heard of the Zealots? This was a small group of radicals who knew their Bible backwards and forwards. They were a party of radical Jews who wanted to overthrow the Romans. They weren’t interested in any man of peace. They wanted a warrior Messiah. They had hoped he would drive Caesar’s armies from Israel. “Hosanna,” after all, means “Save us now!” It wasn’t just a cheer for a hero. It was a cry for a fighter like King David to lead their people to freedom. Jesus was pretty clear that He had no interest in meeting the expectations of these Zealots. Some historians think Judas, the disciple, was a Zealot --- and that he later betrayed Jesus because he was disappointed that Jesus wasn’t a warrior.

The day after Jesus’ triumphal ride, Jesus went to the temple and made a wreck of the place. The officials there had been doing a thriving business of selling animals and changing money for worshipers. Visitors had been forced to stand in line all day, and after they got to the front of the line, they were royally ripped off by the money changers. Jesus refused to sit still and watch temple leaders making money from enforcing outmoded rules. He got good and angry. He put a stop to the extortion by cleansing the temple. These leaders of the temple became furious.

A day or so later, Jesus and His friends were back in the temple, where they saw a poor widow making an offering. As you may remember, she didn’t put much money in the jar---—just two little coins, not even worth a penny. Wealthier people were coming into the temple and making bigger offerings, in a more public way. But this woman was the one who caught Jesus’ attention. He told everyone that this poor widow had given a greater offering than even those who had given huge amounts of money. He said that the bigger offerings weren’t such a big deal, because the rich people had so much money. But this woman was giving everything she had—and really needed to survive. God expects a real commitment from everyone. It can’t be half-hearted, or taken lightly. It shouldn’t be given after all the other household expenses are paid. This wouldn’t have made Jesus popular with the powerful.

Folks turned against Jesus when they found out He wouldn’t lead them where they wanted to go. People rejected Him when they saw that His goal was peace, instead of victory. People got angry when Jesus said that offerings ought to be gifts of the heart—not necessarily extravagant amounts of money. How could those “Hosannas” have turned to ‘Crucify Him” in just five days? It’s not hard at all to figure this out.

Fickle people—wishy-washy, indecisive—and maybe dishonest. Such a contrast between the Palm Sunday crowd and the Good Friday crowd. Hard to imagine? Not really. After all, those people of two thousand years ago were like us. When we stand in a crowd, sometimes the mob mentality takes over. We hear things second or third hand. We oversimplify the most complicated issues. We go along with friends. We prefer to be on the winning side. Wishy-washy, indeed. It’s easy to slide into a comfortable, sidewalk brand of Christianity.

Let’s go back to the parade and the sad events that followed. Jesus may have been the God they needed, but He wasn’t the God they wanted. Thanks be to God, Good Friday wasn’t the end of the story for Jesus. Easter came, and, with it, new life for Jesus and the promise of new life for us. By the power of the risen Lord, fickle people become faithful people. May we all have the courage to follow Jesus’ procession to the cross, and beyond.


Let us pray. Lord Jesus, we saw you coming. Someone pressed a palm branch in our hand. We shouted, “Hosanna,” together as our spirits rode high on the crest of all the applause. But now you’ve gone. The street ahead of us is covered with palms, but the crowds have gone away, too. A few people stepped forward to follow you. Give us the courage, Lord, to join those courageous folks, and walk through this entire week with you. AMEN




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