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Sermon: "Why did the cheering stop?"
John Nadasi
Mark 11: 1-11

Some years ago a book was written entitled When The Cheering Stopped. It was the story of President Woodrow Wilson and the events leading up to and following WWI.

When that war was over, Wilson was an international hero. There was a great spirit of optimism abroad, and people actually believed that the last war had been fought and the world had been made safe for democracy.

On his first visit to Paris after the war Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than their own heroes.

The same thing was true in England and Italy. In a Vienna hospital a Red Cross worker had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents because of the war and the hard times. The children didn’t believe her.

They said that President Wilson was coming and they knew that everything would be alright.

The cheering lasted about a year. Then it gradually began to stop. It turned out that the political leaders in Europe were more concerned with their own agendas than they were a lasting peace.

At home, Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the United States Senate and his League of Nations was not ratified. Under the strain of it all the President’s health began to break.

In the next election his party was defeated. So it was that Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year or two earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days a broken and defeated man. It’s a sad story, but one that is not altogether unfamiliar. The ultimate reward for someone who tires to translate ideals into reality is apt to be frustration and defeat. There are some exceptions, of course, but not too many.

This of course bring us to the story of Jesus; A man would was murdered for trying to bring his ideals into reality.

This morning, we celebrate his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And, as with many stories with Jesus, a set of curious events begin to follow.

Jesus entered the city on a donkey Now, we have heard the story enough times that this may not strike us as odd. But think about it. Is this the way you would expect a king to enter his land?

A political leader would have been surrounded by security guards who would have kept crowds from close physical contact to prevent any personal harm to him...

Jesus was surrounded by his disciples representing many walks of life and rode into the midst of the people, almost at their height.

A military leader would have galloped along the road, passing the crowds with perhaps a wave of the hand or a nod of the head if there were any recognition at all...

Jesus on a donkey moved slowly with the people, accompanying the people, as well as accompanied by the people.

A religious leader in traditional, appropriate priestly robes would have moved sedately through the crowds surrounded by an orderly contingency of other religious leaders who would've prevented anyone who was unclean from touching him...

Jesus, dressed in his usual attire, moved humbly through the crowds, surrounded by his diverse band of disciples, not shrinking from the touch of anyone. The whole entry is not what one would expect from a great leader or a king.

One could just as likely expect the president of the United States To roll in for his inauguration on a moped he borrowed from his next door neighbor.

The whole event is odd. It is odd to us because of the extraordinary humility That we find in the person of Jesus Christ.

And the peasant people recognized their carpenter king By cutting down branches and laying their cloaks before him. Afterall, was this not the man who raised Lazarus from the dead? Does this man not have the power to become a powerful king And drive the Romans out of our land?

Afterall, he has talked so long about the Kingdom of God, Surely he will take power and restore the Kingdom of David in our land.

Surely that is what any good king would do. Surely that is why this king has come. He is here to take his rightful power and crush our oppressors before us.

Hail Jesus, our militaristic political king who will destroy the Romans And take charge of our nation.

(pause) How tremendously lonely it must have been for Jesus that day. He was surrounded by people who had absolutely no idea who he was or why he came. These were people completely consumed by their own desire for whom they wanted him to be, rather than true disciples. He knew full well that these were the same people who would turn against him at His trial before Pilate when they found that he did not meet their expectations.

One could only wonder if even the cross could have been as lonely. It is a wonder that anyone would ever accept such a mission. Why would Jesus ever venture to such a place?

The scripture continues

And he entered Jerusalem, and went into the temple; and when he had looked round at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. {Mark 11:11 RSV} This alone may not sound very significant, yet it does tell us why Jesus had come. This was an official visit of the King of Israel, On an inspection tour of the heart of the nation.

He went into the temple, where the very heartbeat of the nation was throbbing, represented in the worship that was lifted up to God.

And he looked at everything. We know what he saw: commercialism, moneychangers, exploitation, corruption, and injustice. He saw dirt, filth, and squalor, pride, hypocrisy, and haughtiness.

He saw that religious ceremonies were being carried on without any meaning whatsoever. But he did not say a word. He just looked around at everything.

Although the peasants in the streets regarded him as the coming king And spread their cloaks before him no one in the syagogues really seemed to notice him. But the unsuspecting leaders had no idea that this was an official tour of inspection by the King.

Perhaps there is something here for us this morning. God does have a way of coming into our lives that way, doesn't he?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if God looked at us only when we came to church on Sunday morning, if he would read our hearts only when we were sitting with the Bible open before us, and thinking all the things we should? Wouldn’t that be great if God only saw us when we Were prepared?

But, that’s not the way it works, is it?

He sees us at home, at work-- and in our cars! He comes in and looks around at everything, and most of the time, like in Scripture, He does not say a word. God stands back and allows us to make our own mistakes. God stands back and lets us make our own decisions. God stands back and says nothing.

It is not all that much different than God allowing Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.

Could God have stopped this? Could God have stepped in and said, “No, no more!” “This is not what I want or have planned for you!” Could God have prevented all this?

Sure. He could. But it is not the way that we have seen God act throughout history.

Why? Well, it is a question of faith that opens a lot of different theological doors. But, for one reason or another, God has chosen throughout time To give us freedom to do right and wrong. And, there are consequences that we will bear for The decisions that we make in this lifetime.

And Jesus knew the consequences that were about to come. He must have been filled with tremendous grief as he knew the destruction That the church was about to bring upon itself.

In the nineteenth chapter of Luke's Gospel we read, Verses 41-44: And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation." {Luke 19:41-44 RSV}

Amazing words, fulfilled to the letter forty years later when the Roman general, Titus, brought his armies and began a prolonged siege of Jerusalem, and eventually destroyed it.

And against the general's command the temple was burned, and the gold of the temple's treasury ran down into the cracks of the stones. In their efforts to get at the gold, the soldiers pried apart the stones, and literally left not one stone standing upon another.

Jesus knew all about consequences Jesus knew all about sin and the churches’ inability to follow God’s commands.

Jesus knew all that was coming, and he wept because, as Luke records, he says, "you did not know the time of your visitation."

"you did not know the time of your visitation."

That is perhaps the most tragic sentences in the entire Bible. Through the prophets, God had sent out invitations to this great event five hundred years before, had told when it would happen, had given an exact time schedule, had told how to recognize the King.

But when he came, nobody in the city knew who he was, except a handul of Galilean peasants and their children, who were there celebrating the Passover.

What an ironic twist! Those who had studied the law and were the pillars of the church Completely missed their Messiah.

Those who did come to celebrate were only willing to follow So long as Jesus produced for them the freedom of the nation. Not one person, no, not even the disciples were prepared for the cross that lay ahead for their leader. No one was that committed to the cause of Christ and The cause of the church.

Jesus’ followers, fan clubs, and cheering committees only stuck close When things were good and it profited them to do so.

Clarence Forseburg, a Methodist pastor, tells of a story that occurred to him several years ago. He was on the campus of Nebraska Wesleyan talking to a group of students who had expressed an interest in the ministry.

When asked how many of them were definitely committed to going into the parish ministry, only one raised their hand. One young lady spoke up and said: I have a problem with your use of the word commitment. That sounds very binding and restricting.”

Bishop Kenneth Carder of Tennessee recently wrote: “The church of today has become an institution in which even belief in God is optional or peripheral.

Marketing techniques for a multiple option institution have replaced response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the means of membership enlistment.

The basic appeal is to self-defined needs rather than a call to radical discipleship. The church’s mission all too often is to meet it’s members perceived needs rather than to serve God’s need for a redeemed, reconciled, and healed world.”

One might think that after 2000 years, We as the church, the followers of Jesus Christ would have learned something. One might think that the church, particularly it leaders would Have learned something about commitment, about following the Christ, about the importance of discipleship.

Instead, we have many similarities to the churches that Jesus found when he inspected Jerusalem. The question is asked, “what can the church, what can God do for me?” Rather than “How is it that I can serve God through my church?” And “How can I become a better disciple?”

Discipleship means knowing who Jesus Christ is and following the revelation made known to us in his teaching, death, resurrection, and presence even if it may lead you to a cross.

I would suggest to you that this is when cheering stopped The cheering stopped when Jesus began to talk more and more about a cross. In the early part of his ministry Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God.

People wanted to hear about, especially since they misunderstood this kingdom to be a restoration of Israel to the days of King David’s glory.

But increasingly Jesus began to talk about sacrifice —even giving up your life.

This was not nearly as popular with the people.

The story is told of the pee-wee baseball game. When the young boy got up to the plate he looked over to the coach, and he saw him give the signal to sacrifice bunt. He then promptly proceeded to take three big swings and strike out.

The coach ran up to him and said: Didn’t you see me give you the signal to sacrifice. Yes, the boy replied. But I didn’t really think that you meant it.

I would imagine that is what happened to the disciples the night that they fled. I would imagine that is why the people scattered when they found that The kingdom of God had nothing to do with driving out Rome. I would imaging that is what happened when Jesus was carried Away and crucified.

(Pause) I would imagine that is also what we so often say to God. Yes, lord, I heard that talk about sacrifice but I didn’t really think that you meant it. The cross says emphatically that he did mean it.

People of God, I invite you this Holy Week to remember the reason that we are here. The purpose that God gives us in our lives. The depth of our commitment to our God, and his commitment to us.

I began this sermon with the question, "Why did the cheering stop?" It stopped because Jesus more and more began to talk about commitment; It stopped because Jesus opened up the doors of the church and invited people to come in.

It stopped because people realized Jesus had meant everything he said. That whole “pick up your cross and follow me” thing. Yeah, he really meant that, and then he went and he did it.

 


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