Palm/Passion Sunday A
Preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Three Lakes, WI.
As kids, one of my cousins was known for being particularly competitive. I don’t feel bad telling this story, because he admits this himself, and we can all look back on it and laugh. He knows I love him.
His house had all the fun games and toys, and, especially, the video games. He had a Super Nintendo! For us kids, that was a big deal. He played that thing over and over, trying to master as many of the games as he could. He was good. Very good. But he wasn’t perfect.
Every so often, we could beat him. There was no small measure of satisfaction watching his face as the realization dawned on him that he was going to lose. He would get so angry, his face would get all red, he’d get all stiff trying harder and harder to beat us, but eventually, he’d finally admit that he wasn’t going to win.
And then, the strangest thing would happen. He’d throw his controller down, rip the game out of the machine, turn off the TV, and start yelling at the top of his lungs how badly he beat us, and he didn’t lose because the game didn’t end. No amount of logic could convince him that ripping the game out before it was over didn’t mean he didn’t lose.
He hated losing. Still does to an extent, but has since learned how to lose graciously. But not back then. He had to be in total control, and if he wasn’t going to win, no one was going to win.
I like to try and convince myself that the way he acted back then was abnormal, was somehow in the minority. Now that I’m adult, I am sad to report that his behavior was not in the minority—for adults. I’m telling you, go look up the website notalwaysright.com for examples of people placing themselves in a position of delusional absolute power—the “customer”–who then have subsequent meltdowns when their tiniest demands are not met.
We have this curious relationship with control. As long as things are going our way, we are perfectly content to let someone else do all the work and take all the credit. But the moment things are no longer to our liking, well, that’s different. The results can be harmful, even deadly.
The story of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, and his death, is a story of control. On one level, it’s about the control of the crowd. Jesus enters the city on their terms, to their expectations. They are happy to welcome a new king.
Except that Jesus is not the king they expect, nor the king they want anything to do with. So they turn on him, sentencing him to death by state-sanctioned lynching. They lay charges against him so that, through deceit, they can convince the state to carry out their vigilante justice.
But there is more to this story than one crowd sentencing one man to death. On a whole separate, deeper level, this story is the story of humanity. It is our story. It is how we react to control and trying to make things go our way. The pattern goes like this:
We think we have control, and when things go our way, we are content with the illusion. Things start to change, and not in ways we like. We attempt to assert our control and “make things right”, only to find out we have no control at all. We use any means at our disposal to assert some sort of control over the situation.
We do this all the time. There are the customers who throw a fit just so they can get free food when they are unhappy. When political votes don’t go our way, we attempt to replace those who voted with people who agree with us instead. In the church, when things don’t go our way, we threaten to walk out and abandon the community, especially if we think we can use our weekly offering amount as leverage. Or we give our money to a cause, but stipulate exactly how it can be used, refusing to let go of it.
What happens when the other force we run up against is not a restaurant manager, politician, or pastor? What happens when it is God?
Ah, things are a little trickier then. How can we control God? We can’t threaten to take our lives and business elsewhere; this all belongs to God. We can’t refuse to play the game of life, since we don’t have any other game. There is nothing we can withhold from God that God does not already have.
We can yell at God, and we have good examples of that in the Psalms. But other than that, we can’t really touch God. We can’t affect God too much.
Then, there was Jesus Christ. God incarnate! For the first time, we, humanity, could look God in the eyes. We could touch God with our own hands, hear God in words and language we could understand. We could shout praises to God coming through the gate to Jerusalem and know, without a doubt, that God heard us. What a gift, and what an opportunity!
At the same time, we realized that gift could be used to our advantage. Finally, we had some leverage. We had some control, because, for the first time, we could kill God. And that is exactly what we did.
In one day, humanity focused all of its anger, all of its rage, greed, malice, and our desire to be the ones in control. We exerted our will over God, and we won. We killed God.
Palm Sunday is not the end of the story. We have entered into Holy Week, the most sacred week in the church year. The story spans the whole week. If you think you know the ending, let yourself be surprised.