April 9, 2017

Come on the Journey

 

Matthew 21:1-11

21 When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task. He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anybody says anything to you, say that the Lord needs it.” He sent them off right away. Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, Say to Daughter Zion, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.” The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.

Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. 11 The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

 

Emily and I like to go hiking.  Unlike my preferred vacation spots on the coast, the mountains offer rest through movement. I am the restless type, so hikes help me stretch my muscles and enjoy nature actively. Sitting on the beach is about tranquility. Hikes are about journey.

 

Journeys are, to give a short definition, any path taken to reach a destination. We use the word journey more often to describe a process or life event. When we have a dedicated start and end, we tend to use words like trek or trip. Journeys, while they may have an end, are something to be enjoyed along the way, but they also contain an air of difficulty.

 

I’m not the best at marveling along the way. Emily has done wonders to stretch the part of me that likes to reach the finishline so I can go on to something else. I get too restless, even for hikes. She tells me to stay and take a breath; smell the air. What’s the point in going on a hike if the goal is to get back to the parking lot as soon as possible?

 

The other difficultly I have with journeys is the risk. For someone like me who can be very results-driven, getting to the end with little to no failure is the perceived goal. I don’t like taking trips where I could fail along the way. In the case of our trip to Utah we took a couple of years ago with her father, I almost missed seeing the breathtaking Delicate Arch. I mean that literally – the height and lack of guard rail took my breath away. And most of my stomach. I had to tell myself that pushing through meant the payoff was greater. And it was.

 

Journeys are about marvel and risk, and they help us grow. They are, by nature, averse to fostering complacency. The path makes the end more worthwhile.

 

The fear and motivation of a journey hung over the head of Christ as he rode into Jerusalem. The city was electric with the notion that their messiah had come in glory. The people were looking for their savior who would rid the world of the evil oppressors that took money from the poor and upheld their rule with violence.

 

Except that wasn’t Christ’s journey. He would indeed take on the burden of this belief, and his plan was that the powers of evil would be overthrown and a kingdom of justice, mercy, and love would reign. But, like I talked about last week, the expectations were different. Jesus knew his journey would not end with the finish line everyone expected.

 

His journey would end in what many would see as failure. His journey would end in death.

 

The image of the palms and the glory strikes a hard contrast against what we will experience this coming week, but for now, we will celebrate that there is still a journey to be had before we get to the cross.

 

What makes Jesus so counter to our expectations can be summarized by the quote you see above me: “Gurus sit on mountaintops, speak only to the masses, and stay clean. Shepherds walk in valleys, carry wounded sheep, and get dirty.” Before his journey ends, Christ will have done everything you would not expect a messiah to do. Instead of leading an army, he walks with a band of brothers and sisters; instead of riding on a horse, he walks on dusty roads and rides a lowly donkey through the street; instead of being a soldier, he is teacher.

 

We have built vast empires of thought as to what a good Christian should look like. We believe goodness to be evidence by good manners, strong moral character, loyalty to family and friends, and all these other things that lead us to want to be gurus with our divine knowledge of goodness. Jesus, arriving into the city on a donkey, puts those things aside. His power is his humility in serving the will of God.

 

The greatest conflict within any church will always be living in the image of Jesus. We have developed a false idol of the good standing citizen that often shouts over the words and actions of Christ. We want to attract people who look and act and believe like we do. He welcomed everybody – no matter how crazy or smelly. We want ministries that are Insta-ready, Facebook postable. He touched people with puss-covered skin.

 

The great challenge of Holy Week is following the journey of Christ. As he takes his triumphant steps through the city leading to the cross, so must we be willing to participate in great rejoicing and honest suffering. We must give up our comfort; we do not have the luxury of worry.

 

To be honest, with all the handwringing about the decline of Christianity in the modern age, I echo the words I heard from Dave Barnes two weeks ago: “The church is being forced back into the margins where…God intends for us to be.” The Church has long been a powerful entity in society. We have put ourselves in front of others and our wishes as being most important. That is not Christ. We, too, must take up the cross, be servants, and transform not through force of hand or of voice but through self-sacrificing love.

 

Come on the journey this Holy Week. Put aside, as much as you can, all the other labels you give yourself. Here, you are pilgrims, following Christ on the journey to the cross. Shout a loud ‘hosanna,’ speak of the goodness of your savior, follow him wherever he goes – even to the end.

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