See for Yourself

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | March 28, 2021

Psalm Sunday | Mark 11: 1-11

Driving around the countryside I see a lot of road signs. All in their own way putting a message out there.

No Trespassing. That’s pretty clear.

The food or services you can expect at the next freeway exit.

Billboards advertising all manner of goods and services.

Political and social messages.

Farmers letting it be known who they vote for.

Bumper stickers on cars and trucks.

Churches with message boards.

When you look for something on the internet, adverts start following your movements.

Everyone seems to have a message to share, to get across, to convince you to do something, to think it some way.

When I was serving a church in the Twin Cities years ago, people would occasionally call and ask about our services. Not just what time worship was on a Sunday, but what our Sunday School was like, or did we have a youth group, or what was our stance on a particular issue. Some folks were anxious about church growth and wondered what I was going to do about it.

I always feel uncomfortable trying to sell the church or convince someone of something. I would tell people, really you just have to come and see. And if you find what you’re looking for, then that’s great. That’s how it was in the early days of the Jesus movement. People said, “Come and see.”

We’ve seen how unpredictable life can be. We look to our faith to make some sense of it all. We realize that it can be hard work to live with the chaos and uncertainty of life. But that’s always been the challenge – living with God’s mysterious ways. If we want to understand how God works, one place to begin is to look at how the message of Jesus was shared.

The Messiah riding into town on a donkey makes good sense. He reveals what God is trying to accomplish. We sometimes try to recreate God in our image. That God sees things our way and agrees with our stand on the issues. That road leads to worshipping God in our image. God doesn’t work according to our expectations. God doesn’t buy into our assumptions. What’s more, God’s sense of humor is of cosmic proportions. We might not even get the joke, but if we listen, we can laugh along with God. 

“Son of God.” Jesus of Nazareth. He was the King of kings and Lord of lords, yet for his grand entrance he rode a donkey. His followers sang a few hymns and waved palm branches. Humility, servanthood and peace; not arrogance, war machines and violence.

When Jesus was born, there was no fanfare from the palace. Maybe God said to a legion of angels, “Go forth and tell the world the Messiah is born.”

“Where should we start?”

It’s as if God said, “There’s a little truck stop out on the road a few miles west of the city. Sometimes you’ll find a few people drinking coffee there around 3:00 AM. Try there.”

It’s as if God said, “We should let this event be known to some religious thinkers.” So some astrologers from Persia figured it out from the stars and rode all the way to Bethlehem to see for themselves.

Jesus was raised in a small town, from which most people said nothing good could come. The local rabbi taught him. When he was twelve, he was a fairly typical junior high kid. He angered his parents by wandering off without telling them, and when they demanded an answer, he gave them a smarty-pants explanation.

Before he started his ministry, he went on a vision quest in the wilderness. When he was ready to begin teaching, instead of seeking assignment to a synagogue, he went to the edge of a lake and started talking to people as they were trying to work. He gathered his followers from among the working poor. Not the most brilliant, the wisest, even the most kind. Perhaps just the people most in need of his vision. He was always telling them things like, “No, we’re not going to call down lightning on this village,” or “You should forgive as many times as it takes.”

A lot of his teaching was trying to convince his own followers. Telling them to welcome children, encouraging them to share, and showing them little by little the way God works. Always opening the ranks to include the outcasts. Even close to the end, when he had done a last-minute healing because one of his guys cut someone’s ear off, might he have thought, “Maybe I should have given it another year.”

But he had done all he could do. The things Jesus did would be hard to list on a resume. He taught a brand of radical reformation. He broke down religious and social barriers. What kind of holy man of God would touch the unclean lepers of the world? Jesus did. He was called a glutton because he partied with sinners. He was called a traitor because he recruited tax collectors. He was called a criminal because he broke the laws governing the Sabbath. He even helped out a Roman soldier by healing the Roman’s servant. He could walk on water, but when someone asked to prove himself, he said, “No way.” He could calm a storm, but when someone demanded that he defend himself, he offered not a word.

But there was something about the way he said things that made God come alive. No wonder the angel had said, “he will be called Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” There was no doubt, to the poor, the outcast, and all the people who looked at God and religion as unreachable, that when they looked at Jesus, they knew, God is with us.

People would say, “Tell us what God is like, tell us what God wants.” And he would say things like, “God is like a father who has two sons, when one of them runs away, he stands watch until the son returns. Or God is like a woman who loses a coin. She sweeps out the whole house until she finds it. Or God is like a shepherd whose lamb wanders away. He looks for it until he finds it.” And people said, “Yes, we are the son, we are the coin, we are the sheep.”

He would say things like, “God works like a sower who goes out sowing seed. He scatters the seed far and wide, flinging it with all his might, hoping that some of it will land on good soil.” Or, “It doesn’t take much faith to do what God wants you to do. If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, it would be enough.”

He showed his followers something about greatness. And what he showed was so topsy-turvy, so the opposite of all their assumptions. He showed them that true greatness is found in humility. True strength is found in turning the other cheek. If you want to be first in line, then go to the back of the line. And above all else, something that people hungered for, and yearned to hear, “God loves you, always and no matter what.”

Of course, the people who had God all figure out didn’t like Jesus one bit. Everything he did right was everything they claimed he did wrong. They were into following a list of rules and codes as a way to please God. Jesus was trying to get them to see the prophet’s creed that what God wants is humble and contrite spirit; that what God wants is for people to walk in mercy, kindness and love.

So, it really should come as no surprise, that when it was time to announce himself, once and for all, he chose a fitting symbol. Bouncing along on the back of a donkey. Music provided by the common choir. Fanfare courtesy of roadside palm trees.

Of course, the people who could never accept him, figured the only way to get rid of him, was to get rid of him once and for all. Even some of his own. He was betrayed by one of his friends and executed by people he loved. No special death for him, no royal execution. Nailed to a cross on a hill next to the garbage dump on the edge of town. If that’s where the story ended, then we would have some explaining to do. Why we would see such a character as role model or dare to follow him. But the point of the story seems to be that it doesn’t really end. It just keeps going on in you and me, through you and me. As if God is saying, “I’m here folks.” It’s like the song says, “They buried my body and they’d thought I’d gone; but I am the dance and I still go on. I never, never die. I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me.” However, that’s the story for next Sunday.  Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s