April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday

Passage: matthew 21:12-17
Service Type:

April 5, 2020

Demetrius may have been his Greek-given name, but religiously, he was a Jew. He was a poor tentmaker and in his 33rd year he was able to do something he had waited all his life to do.  With his 2 sons of now of age, he and Marcos and Lucas, most recently bar mitzvahed, packed up their bags and made the arduous journey to Jerusalem for the Passover Celebration.

Demetrius had always dreamed of going to Jerusalem for Passover. He kissed his wife Eugenia goodbye.  And as a Jew living in non-Jewish Greece, he made his way from Thieva with his 2 sons on holy pilgrimage – the three men alone.  Travel was difficult and expensive and unsafe. The 14-day trip on land and boat made getting to the Israeli port thrilling. 2 more days on foot followed.

Coming from the rural countryside, his tiny town of Thieva wasn’t exactly metropolitan Athens, so when he and his sons got to Jerusalem, they looked like tourists, real fish out of water.  No place to stay, little money remaining, they took their place on the long angry line at the temple to purchase the animal that would be sacrificed on his family’s behalf to atone for their sins.  As they got closer to the animal tables, they noticed that many left angry with no satisfaction.  The same was true for them, when they got to the head of the line, they were told that their money was no good, they needed to exchange their Greek money for Jewish kosher money.

2 long lines later and half the day over they returned to the original line only to be told that they didn’t have enough money to purchase the sacrifice.  Not knowing the corruption and trusting that those in charge of sacrifice and religion were pure in heart they had no idea that the money they exchanged was unfairly reduced.

Dejected and alone the three men felt powerless. Not only did they not have any money left for food or lodging, but their religious pilgrimage to the holy land was a lost cause.

As this was going on Jesus of Nazareth was making his own pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There he would offer a different sacrifice. The sacrifice of his own life.

It says in the Gospel of Matthew

1When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,
2 saying to them,‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.
3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’
4This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;
7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.
8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’
11The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

Caught in this commotion Demetrius and his sons wondered what this was all about – was it some annual street play reenacting the arrival of Judas Maccabeus? – the great warrior who rode into Jerusalem on a mighty steed after he had won the war against the Seleucids Empire and the Syrian king 160 years earlier?

He remembered hearing the story as a child, and he remembered that the people greeted the mighty and victorious warrior Judas Maccabaeus with waving palm branches.

The mock play was a thin diversion for Demetrius and his sons, and countless others who gathered at that gate as Jesus rode in.  He thought, why a donkey? Were these street actors unable to get a real horse.

By now the air was not only abuzz with the arrival of Jesus, but with complaining. This was no street play – the people were either too angry or too joyful at the arrival of this Jesus.  Their happy tears and angry vitriol gave them away.

Immediately the Gospel writer has this to say.

12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, ‘It is written,

“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
but you are making it a den of robbers.’

And then came the disadvantaged, streaming to him, the poor beggars who were blind and lame and hungry and homeless.

14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.
15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry
16and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’
Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,
“Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself”?’
17He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

Demetrius realized then that this Jesus came for him. And for all the poor who had gathered in the name of Yahweh and were taken advantage of because of their powerlessness and poverty. They were made fools of, were mocked and ripped off and Jesus came for them. To overturn the moneychangers and the tables of those who sold doves – a meager sacrifice that the poor had to resort to.

This is unacceptable for Jesus. He stormed into the temple turns over the money changers and says

“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
but you are making it a den of robbers.’

And who are the ones being robbed, but the poor. They came to connect with God, seeking God, longing for the eternal promises to be fulfilled.

Interesting, when the early church is trying to figure out who’s a Christian and who is not they said that everybody who believes in Jesus Christ is a Christian.  And then they add one interesting sentence. It says… 10They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do. Galatians 2:10.

To remember the poor, I think that was a prophetic utterance. And I think that that was really meant not only for them but for the Church of Jesus Christ today. Because how many churches feel pretty much helpless and don’t have any mission or don’t have any opportunity to be the presence of Jesus when the poor all around us.

Remember when Jesus was chastised for allowing the woman to pour expensive ointment on his head and feet. Judas said that it could have been sold and the money could have been used to feed the poor.

And Jesus says, let her be, the poor you will always have but you will not always have me.… wow another prophetic utterance… poor always with us.

How do I respond in this coronavirus.  There’re opportunities all around us.

I received this email from a local reporter:

Hello,

  • If you have a moment, I have a few questions via email for you about your house of worship for a potential story for The Coast Star. Here they are:
  • Have many members of your parish reached out to you in these troubled times?
  • If they have, what suggestions do you have for them when it comes to practicing their faith?
  • What services are you offering during this time?
  • Thank you so much for your time!

And this was my reply:

Mostly they are reaching out to ask how they can help. I just got a call from a parishioner saying that because of being in isolation their home business has not been as active so he and his wife wanted to know how they can help.

Somebody else from the church wanted to donate money towards the Manasquan Area Food Pantry located at the Presbyterian Church in Manasquan, so I was able to hook them up with the money so that they can do the shopping for the food pantry tomorrow. Others were asking if I know of anyone in need of food. I dropped off three different meals to parishioners.

I have been suggesting that we remember the poor who are usually the most victimized in crises like this. They simply do not have the opportunities that others have. I've been encouraging my congregation to rev up their support to the local food banks. The Ripple effects will surely be hitting the food banks very shortly. And the food supply needs to the available for them.

At this time, we are doing everything remotely. Our services are on Facebook live. Those who don't have Facebook and watch the services after they are posted. We are having all our meetings remotely as well.

I've been encouraging are prisoners through the remote worship services and through other posts to remain grounded in a time that could lead to a lot of anxiety and panic. Prayer, meditation, reading scripture and other good inspirational materials. Reaching out to others remotely as well.

I have been blessed with a wonderful team of I. T. Experts that have been working tirelessly to make sure social media covers everything we're doing. We are also reaching out to those who are not connected to social media or have computers by regular mail. This of course it is slower then texting or emailing but with that and personal phone calls to those who are especially unable to get out of their homes in normal times, we are trying to stay as connected as possible.

As a pastor this makes it very difficult because human touch and the human presence is so essential to the human spirit. I've been encouraging my visitation team to reach out by telephone as well.

See, when the people shouted hosanna, they weren’t praising Jesus for who he is, the savior and the answer. They were screaming at him to take action.  Do what you were sent to do. Do it to the fullest. And do it now.

Hosanna is a funny word – it means Lord Save Now!

And what does Jesus do – he marches into the temple and turns over the money changing tables and the corruption that keeps the poor poor and he does do what he came to do, he wages war on the powerful, and upon the bondage they put the weak in.

Shouting Hosanna takes on a whole new meaning now, does it not. Because the promise of hosanna isn’t for today, it is for a future day. A day when Jesus will be allowed to be King of everything and everyone. Right now, for some reason that is in keeping with God’s sovereignty – that God allows – the earth is in pain. Not only with coronavirus – that is just the presenting symptom – like that kid that is acting out – he is just an indication that the family is dysfunctional. So, coronavirus is a symptom that the earth itself is dysfunctional.

Hosanna is a cry for help. It is a plea to God. it is a cry for help. Save now O God.

If ever there was a day to shout hosanna it is today. Because we are made more keenly aware of the dysfunction that already exists. Homelessness, hunger, poor healthcare, poisoned waters, raped forests, weather patterns we’ve never seen, and because of what we have done to the world and to each other we cry hosanna. Save Lord. Save now. Save us from ourselves save us from further damage to the poor. Turn our hearts round. Let us sing once again joy and gladness. Turn our morning into joy, our ashes into praise to God.

If ever there was a day to shout hosanna – Lord, save now – it is today.

See one day Jesus will break through the clouds and in radiant glory, in kingly majesty he will come and make all wrongs right. The poor will become rich. The weak will be put in positions of power. And the waters will flow clean once again.

But sisters and brothers until then we are the hosannas people are crying out for, aren’t we?  We – the body of Christ – the people of God – the hands and feet of the Almighty. If ever there was a day to shout hosanna – Lord, save now – it is today.

And then turn around and be the Body of Jesus.

We too must remember the poor. Because the poor have no options. Unless we give it to them.