Racing Fuel and Fire: A Sermon on Mark 11

Mark 11

1When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.

3If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back immediately.”’

4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street.

As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.

7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and He sat on the colt.

8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.

9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

11 Then Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple; and when He had looked around at everything, as it was already late, He went back out to Bethany with the twelve.

Imagine:

A large party – filled with fireworks – is thrown at night.  There’s singing, eating and drinking, and everyone from the village – young and old – has come for a birthday celebration.

The party is held in honor of a famous resident of a small town, in a beautiful, hidden part of the world.

It’s his birthday – he has lived to a ripe, old age, and is loved by, well… almost everyone.

The part of the evening comes, when he must give a speech.  He stands up to cheers, clapping, and hoorays!!

He has planned his speech – especially what will happen at the end of it.

He speaks, and after he bids everyone a “very fond farewell” – poof!! – he disappears!  Just like that!

The nephew of the man who disappeared, rushes back to his uncle’s house, to see if everything’s okay.

When he arrives, he discovers… a wizard, waiting by the fire!

Perhaps you know the story already – you’ve read the books, or watched the movies: It’s the beginning of “The Lord of the Rings”!

The wizard – Gandalf the Grey – has a task for Frodo, the nephew of Bilbo Baggins: Frodo and his friends must take the Ring of Power to the Elves in Rivendell.

When they deliver the ring, their job will be done, and they can return to the comfort of their homes!

Frodo and his friends – after all – are Hobbits: They do not like grand adventures – adventures make you late for supper; they take you away from your snug Hobbit-hole!

Yes, Frodo and his friends want to be done with their dangerous work as soon as possible!

They wish it could be over and done with in a day or two!!

None of them really want to go on the dangerous journey from The Shire, where they live, to Rivendell, the valley of the Elves.

And, indeed, on the way to Rivendell, they encounter the most fearsome enemies of all: The Nine Riders!!

Nine riders, each ten feet tall, undead, kings of old, who now serve the Dark Lord, Sauron – the Evil Being who is trying to conquer Middle Earth!

The Nine Riders chase Frodo and his friends for days, and they JUST barely escape, landing safely in Rivendell, under the protection of the elves!

Surely this must be the end of the journey for Frodo and his friends!

They can hand off the Ring of Power, and be done with it!

They’ll return home, victorious, with a great story!

But if you know THIS story, then you know this is only the beginning:

Frodo and his friends will have to take the Ring of Power across Middle Earth – “through many dangers, toils, and snares” – to the Land of Mordor, where the Dark Lord, Sauron lives, and throw it into Mount Doom!

They are in for a much longer, harder time than they expected.  Their troubles will not end tomorrow, or the next day.  They are in for the long haul…

You can imagine their disappointment, AND the grim determination they had to summon to begin their long, dangerous journey to MORDOR, the kingdom of the Evil One…

That’s it, isn’t it?  When we face what seems like overwhelming, persistent difficulty, our strongest desire is to be done with!

For it to be over, as soon as tomorrow, or even better: Yesterday!

A long, hard road in the same direction seems daunting, when a snug Hobbit hole is waiting for us, only a few miles behind!

I’m going to go out on a limb, and say I sense an extraordinary desire for IMMEDIATE CHANGE in people I talk with both in and outside the church.

I would say there’s a general feeling that things can’t go on the way that they are, AND the sooner they change, the better.

If I had to say what’s driving our desire for a change NOW, I would say there at least two things at work in the world, and our lives, that are threatening AND destructive – that – as the Hobbits might say – is the work of the Dark Lord, Sauron:

They are: Division and Speed.

The first must seem like the most obvious: We seem to be experiencing more division than we have in the RECENT past:

Red and Blue,

Right and Left,

Black and White,

Men and Women,

Rich and Poor.

These divisions have always been with us, but they seem much more pronounced, now…

The second – Speed – may seem less obvious, but it acts almost like racing fuel, poured on the fires of our division – our divisiveness.

The speed with which we are updated on events, and persons, AND the speed with which we are asked to come to terms with them,

are almost too much to bear,

and we end up we making snap decisions

about the content of our neighbor’s character…

Speed, used in that way, is not to our benefit, AND

It may be used in this way, deliberately by people who do not have our best interests at heart.

Division and Speed:  Divide and conquer is usually done best

at blitzkrieg PACE, to the blitzkrieg BOP.

We could – each of us – point to examples of this in the news; or life situations; or even just personal, persistent feelings.

And what is “out there”, in the news, the big wide world, can very quickly make its way “in here”, into our families, friendships, workplaces – even the church!

We would all like things to change, and to change now!

We would love for the trouble we see, to be over and done with today!  … or at the latest, tomorrow!!

But what if that isn’t going to be OUR journey?

What if our journey:

Can’t be finished quickly, AND

Will require a new set of habits to make it to the other side?

At first glance, our passage from Mark’s Gospel – about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem – doesn’t seem helpful.

In fact, it appears to be a story about victory, triumph, change that will happen IMMEDIATELY:

“Finally, our Messiah has come!

Finally, the Romans and the Pharisees,

are going to be overthrown!!

Hosanna! Our King has arrived!”

The shout “hosanna” IS a shout of victory, of deliverance, and could be translated better: “Save NOW!”, or “Help NOW!”

This translation fits better with what we heard in Psalm 118 and Zechariah 9, read just before the Anthem:

“Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, … , give US success!” (Psa 118)

“Lo, your KING comes to you;
TRIUMPHANT and VICTORIOUS… ,…

He will CUT OFF the chariot from Ephraim
and the warhorse from Jerusalem;…” (Zech 9)

The people who go before AND who follow Jesus into Jerusalem, probably believe that He is going to bring change, tomorrow…  at the latest…

When we look more closely, a very different story presents itself.  Consider these three things:

Jesus rides in on a colt – a “slow and lowly animal”, as one commentator describes it – a burden-bearing animal – not a war horse.

This is the animal that Jesus chose, when it could have been a stallion; an elephant; or a tiger.

Slow and low, the animal He chose…

Jesus – like one of the prophets of Israel – choses an animal that helps him “say” something about who He is and how He works:

He will work slowly, low to the ground, bearing the burdens of others…

Second: As Chad Myers points out, over half the episode, is INSTRUCTIONS given by Jesus to his disciples, related to his entry into Jerusalem.

This suggests deliberation, planning – even careful choreography – all things that work against swift change, delivered at break-neck speed!

Jesus – God in the flesh – will be doing things IN his time, ACCORDING TO his plan.

Third: Did you catch what the “Hosanna!” was specifically for?  WAS it for Jesus?  Here’s what they shouted:

Hosanna for “the coming kingdom of our ancestor David”.

They shout for King David, for a return to a better time….

But DAVID’s kingdom was built on bloodshed, and David knew it….

God says to David: “You shall not build a house for my name, for you are a warrior and have shed blood.” (1 Chronicles 28:3)

The swiftest kind of change – of course – is brought about by bloodshed, …  but this will not be Jesus’ way.

In fact, after a long, protracted entry into Jerusalem, Jesus sizes everything up, and leaves!  He goes back out to Bethany, to huddle with his disciples!!

Waiting and more waiting, when the people want results, change, salvation NOW!

We know how the rest of the story goes – we will hear more of it at our Maundy Thursday service:

Jesus does NOT go to the kind of immediate, sweeping victory people want – in fact the crowds who shout Hosanna! now,

shout Crucify him! later.

The change that Jesus brings, will work slowly,

first with the women at the tomb,

then with the distressed disciples, hiding out in a house, behind locked doors,

and, then with the tiny band of followers, who gather at Pentecost.

The change that God brings, often comes slowly.

In fact, it might be the case that a quick change, is the sign of a bad solution.

Human beings ARE as we ARE: Fallible, sinful, slow to change, and so our cure, our change, must also work slowly, persistently, so that the change can be lasting.

What if our journey, in this time and place; our struggle against division and speed:

Can’t be finished quickly, AND

Will require a new set of habits to make it to the other side?

If that is the case, then we should look to people who have lived faithfully in times like – or even more difficult than – ours:

Consider the example of Vaclav Benda and his family.  Rod Dreher describes Benda this way:

Benda “was a Czechoslovakian mathematician, Roman Catholic, and leading anti-communist dissident. He spent time in jail with Vaclav Havel,” a fellow dissident and future President of the Czech Republic.

“Benda believed that Communism maintained its iron grip on the people by isolating them, fragmenting their natural social bonds. The Czech regime severely punished the Catholic Church, driving many believers to privatize their faith, retreating behind the walls of their homes so as not to attract attention from the authorities.

Benda’s distinct contribution to the dissident movement was the idea of a “parallel polis” – a separate … society existing alongside the official Communist order. …”

Under this kind of rule – Communist government – change would not happen quickly – it would not just happen tomorrow, much less right now!

And so the question became, what do we do in the meantime?

What kind of habits do we form so we can sustain life in our parallel polis – our Christian society within an intensely anti-Christian society?

The answer for Benda and his family was simple: “Faith, Family, and BOOKS!” – They especially read The Lord of the Rings, together!  Glorious!!

Dreher continues:

“Faith, family, and books: that’s what the Bendas are all about. Their [living] room is an icon of [this] way of living.

It is also a holy place, … . Kamila (the wife of Vaclav) shared this, “Because we lived just down the street from the place where the secret police tortured people, victims would often come here as soon as they were released, just to talk.” They knew there would be comfort at the Bendas’ house.

This is the house in which they raised their children. Kamila told me that she,… read to her kids two to three hours every day.

“Every day?” I asked.

“Every day,” she said. It was part of their… formation.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was a cornerstone of the family’s imagination.

I asked Kamila why.

“Because we knew Mordor was real. We felt that their story” — the hobbits and others resisting Mordor — “was our story too.”

—–

We are not under Communist rule – not even close.

But there are forces at work in our society that, if we are not aware of them, and if we don’t organize our way of life against them, will do us long term damage.

These destructive forces will not go away overnight, and it appears that God intends to transform us through our engagement – even disengagement – with them, slowly over time.

What must we do?  At least these four things:

  1. Build friendships with people who are very different from you, politically, socially, religiously, and invite them into a home like the Bendas – one that is an icon of God’s grace, peace, and welcome.
  2. Recognize that there is more information coming at us, more quickly than we can possibly take in, and that the great temptation, is to make snap judgments about events, and about the content of our neighbor’s character.
  3. Read adventure stories about boys and girls, men and women who set out against great odds, and persist in a long, hard journey that teaches them to grow in wisdom, strength, and perseverance.
  4. Worship, Sunday by Sunday. Come, listen to a different story – the story of how the world is slowly, lovingly, graciously being put back together God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Leesburg Presbyterian Church, 3/25/18