God Moves (Not How We Want)

Grace Lindvall
(Luke 19: 28-40)

Have you ever been disappointed? Hoped that something would turn out one way and it turned out another? Expected that something was going to be ok but then it turned out it wasn’t going to be ok? Do you know the feeling of disappointment, the sense of struggle and longing that comes with it? I bet you do.

As we usher into Holy Week, I think its important for us to slow down, pause and reflect on what is happening on this very day, on Palm Sunday. This is the beginning of Holy Week, later this week we’ll laugh and love on Maundy Thursday and we will weep on Good Friday, but first we watch as Jesus comes riding in on a colt.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve wanted things from Jesus before. I have wanted the pain to dissipate or be removed, I’ve wanted just a bit longer with someone on this earth, I have wanted better news from test results, I have wanted an end to the suffering of the world’s children. Perhaps you have wanted something from Jesus too:

-wanted to know Jesus was real, to be assured of Jesus’ presence and Jesus love

-wanted Jesus to fix the problems of life

-wanted Jesus to quickly change the way things are in the world

-maybe its something else

I would say this is quite an average list, quite a list that most people have in their head. So I wonder, have you ever been disappointed in Jesus, disappointed when Jesus didn’t offer these things you wanted? Disappointed in the way Jesus showed up. Disappointed in what Jesus did or didn’t do.

I imagine the crowd that gathered that day, and I wonder, were they a little disappointed with Jesus that day too?

Across town there is another parade with another person riding in, another crowd, another look, another feel. This is the parade of Pilate coming into Jerusalem to assert his strength and dominion over the people, to remind them of his power. If we’re being honest, it may be that that parade feels more like what we want and what we think we need. A heroic and physically strong parade, one that can in an instant make a community change its loyalty, one that can in an instant take life away, one that can in an instant give lavish gifts of gold and great wealth, one that can prove its power. But that other parade, my friends, that other parade is not what we need. Even if it may feel like what we need and may even be what we want.

A savior who comes to save, who rescues us from any and all danger, a savior who is strong and powerful, a savior who can protect us. And I wonder if we think sometimes that savior comes in the other processional, the processional with pomp and brut strength, the processional that is more organized and probably better manicured, the processional that displays strength, not confusion and even weakness.

Which savior do we want?

On Palm Sunday we are often encouraged to think of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as triumphant, a proud display of his strength as he paraded himself toward the cross. I don’t disagree with that, Jesus parades himself into Jerusalem, I believe, well aware of the events that are to unfold in the coming week. Well aware of the betrayal he will experience, the movement from utter praise to complete betrayal, the pain of hurt, and death on a cross, Jesus moves purposefully toward what is to come. But I disagree with the narrative that Jesus moves proudly and triumphantly, I think he stumbles toward the cross.

I mean look at this scene:

Instead of a strong horse, Jesus rides in on a colt that has never been ridden. Never been ridden, have you ever seen a dog on a leash for the first time or a horse in the midst of riding training? It’s a disaster, they zig and zag across the path, the jerk around, they fall. So here comes Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a tiny little colt who doesn’t know how to be ridden. And then to make the scene even more comical, instead of throwing gifts of praise, the people start covering the streets with their cloaks. Riding in on a colt, to a street lined with haphazardly thrown cloaks, I can’t imagine it looked very impressive. This whole scene is messy, Jesus literally comes stumbling into Jerusalem and to the cross, just as we do.

Earlier this week I sat around the dinner table with some of our faithful and caring members. One comment struck me as we talked, someone said “we are all just stumbling to the cross.” Indeed, our attempts at faithfulness are sometimes misguided, our efforts to help and serve are sometimes way off the mark, our praise can quickly become betrayal. We all don’t know what we are doing, there is no road map to the cross. Indeed, we are, stumbling on our way to the cross, unsure of the steps we are taking, hoping that we are moving toward the cross and not away from it. We come to the cross not perfect but haggard and in need. We come to the cross having tried what we thought would work, but not completely sure if we took the right path. We all stumble our way to the cross, in desperate need of someone to come and save us. 

I point this out not to make you wonder why Jesus is so weak or vulnerable or wonder why we worship Jesus on this day when this parade is so sort of comical, but rather to point out that I think this is actually the good news.

That Jesus comes stumbling to the cross, rather than riding pridefully in tells us a lot about who Jesus is. Jesus is not like the one claiming power across town, one who will assert power rather than earn it. One that will control us rather than grant us freedom. Jesus comes stumbling to the cross, just like we do. In desperate need of what the cross will show us all – the promise of new life.

The Scottish New Testament scholar, William Barclay once observed that there are two kinds of courage. There is the kind of courage the prompts someone to throw him or herself in the way of an oncoming car to push a child to safety. It is the kind of bravery that is instinctual, habitual, and is revealed in the moment of crisis. And there is also the kind of courage that sees danger coming a long way off, that has plenty of time to choose an alternative path, yet chooses to stay the course, to remain faithful, to endure the mounting fear in order to do one’s duty.

This is the courage Jesus reveals in this text, the courage to go stumbling to the cross. The courage to not take the burden away but to face it. The courage to ride into the fate of betrayal and death that await him. It is not the kind of courage we are used to, and perhaps, again, not the courage we wish for, but this is the courage we need. The courage that goes to the pain of the cross to be in solidarity with our pain, the courage to go to the cross to show us new life. This is the kind of courage we need. And my friends, the good news is that this is the Jesus we have, and will always have.

But the painful part of this all is that we have to come to terms with the truth that the Jesus we want is often not the Jesus we need.

Sometimes want may feel like need, it may feel as if it truly is the only way out. We can’t imagine another way forward, another way to cope with hurt or pain, we know we have the answer. But its what we want and Jesus comes forward with what we need, not with what we want but with what we need.

Sometimes need feels exactly wrong. Like the very thing that might tip us over the edge. Like the very last thing in the world that could pull you out of a hole

You may want a savior that acts swiftly and with power and strength. You may want a savior that can destroy your enemies and keep you from certain threat. But my friends, that is not the savior we need. And believe me, it may even feel like it is what we need, but from the depth of my heart, I do believe and say, that is not the savior we need.

The savior we need marches on with courage even in the midst of seeming weakness. The savior we need stumbles to the cross with us. The savior we need accepts us even in our betrayal. The savior we need takes the courage to face what is coming and to accept the burden of the cross for each of us. The savior we need does not cower from fear or betrayal, the savior we need walks triumphantly into Jerusalem today to accept a fate he could change.

It may not be the savior we want, but Jesus is the savior we need and the savior we have.

In the name of God our Creator, redeemer, and sustainer. Amen.