"Teachers Are Better Than Heroes"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 4/5/1998
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; John 12:12-19
Heroes are a curiosity to us. They are like miracle workers to whom we are drawn because they appear to do the impossible. Whether they are on the gold medal platform during the Olympics or riding into Jerusalem appearing as our Savior, most of us are more than ready to become spectators who cheer enthusiastically. We are fine as long as our heroes please us.
There was an older gentlemen in my former church who was a member of an organization called, "The Quarterback Club." The club members ate together on the Monday following each Redskins' home football game. Following the meal, there would be a program where a number of players would answer questions about the game.
During one of those occasions, I happened to be a guest when Mark Mosley was one of the spokespersons for the Redskins. Many of you may recall when Mark was the team's field goal specialist. During the program someone asked Mark to describe his thoughts when he first realized that he was falling from favor among the fans.
His first reaction was to play big. He said, "Hey, performance is part of the game. When one can no longer perform at the expectation level of the coaches or the fans one can expect to experience a chorus of "boooos." Recently, I have certainly had my share."
But Mark went on to share his much deeper thoughts and feelings. He said, "You are everyone's hero when your kick wins the game, particularly when it's from 52 yards away. I have had some of those. The reaction of the fans is electrifying, wild and unbelievable. And it follows you right into the locker room. But, the minute you can no longer be what everyone wants you to be, many people abandon you. When that first started to happen, I'll be honest, it was very hard to deal with. Even socially, people began to treat me differently. It was then that I began to realize that I was not as important to people as when I was giving them what they wanted."
Easter week offers us the opportunity once again to look at what Jesus was doing during the last days of his life. We have to be careful that we do not try to make Jesus into something that he never intended to be. Bringing such caution to our thinking may require quite a shift in our understanding. In many respects our faith has taught us to be like that crowd on the first Palm Sunday. If we want Jesus to be our personal miracle worker, we may be disappointed.
The Book of John is the most unique among the Gospels. A number of scholars believe that John contains eye witness accounts. Further, they believe the Gospel was either written or dictated by John himself. His words about the first Palm Sunday tell us why the crowd had assembled so enthusiastically.
John wrote, "The people who had been with Jesus when he called Lazarus out of the grave and raised him from death had reported what had happened. This is why the crowd met himbecause they heard that he had performed this miracle." (12:17-18) It should be no surprise to any of us why there were few supporters when Jesus hung dying on the cross a handful of days later. Jesus had failed to meet the expectations of his once enthusiastic crowd.
Throughout the ages, Christianity has taught, "Come to Jesus! He will save you! He died on the cross for you." We have all heard this message. This is the basis of hope for many Christians. Yet, Jesus never gave such a meaning to his life. What Jesus did throughout his ministry was to teach and to demonstrate what he wanted us to do until he drew his last breath.
As Christians, we can easily find ourselves wanting a miracle worker instead of putting into practice the very teachings that Jesus said would save us. Save us from what? His teachings save us from developing and living by a spirit that is ruled by fear. Who we want Jesus to be and who Jesus actually was can make an enormous difference in how we understand and practice our discipleship.
For example, our faith response may be to approach Jesus and say, "O Jesus, please do something to help me! You are the one who can make a difference in my life. You are the one who can work miracles and change everything!" Isn't this what the Palm Sunday crowd wanted of Jesus? They were disappointed and, quite predictably, their interest in him faded.
Another faith response could be, "Here I am Jesus. Use me. I have heard your truth and I am prepared to trust it." One response reflects a spirit that seeks deliverance from our circumstances. The other one reflects a spirit that understands that our role is to bring the light of God's eternal love and presence into those circumstances. This latter response is what Jesus continued to teach during his ministry, even up to the last moment when he left his body.
During one of the resurrection experiences, Jesus' purpose and role on earth could not have been made more clear. Jesus said to Peter three times, "Do you love me more than these others do?" Each time Peter said, "Yes, Lord. You know that I do." To each of Peter's responses Jesus said, "Feed my lambs. Feed by sheep. Feed my sheep." Rather than wanting us to look at him as a miracle worker, as did the crowd on Palm Sunday, Jesus wanted us to live as he had taught his disciples. He wanted us to continue his ministry by teaching others through our words and our lives what salvation looks like. Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Eternal God, as with the people of old, we often look to others to open the doors to our fulfillment. In many ways, we are like the joy-filled people who had hoped that Jesus would save them. We are guilty of giving such power to people, places and things. We look to wealth, to relationships, to knowledge and even to the church, to deliver us from life's challenges. Inspire us to remember that what saves us is a changed heart. As we come to the table today, may each of us renew our understanding of how our choices affect the spirit by which we live. May the Holy Spirit purify our thoughts so that our personalities will always radiate from a loving spirit. As Jesus led and taught us by example, inspire us to follow. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
In the hush of these moments, O God, our minds enjoy their travels back to Jerusalem. While it was not as complex a time to live as our present age, even during those days people were reaching for someone who might bring a positive change to their circumstances.
How tempted we are to want the same for ourselves. There is such a searching in our minds for something or someone to undo many of the harsh realities of life over which we have had no control. While most of us are surrounded by the material blessings that humankind has longed to experience, we still seek for love, for cooperation, for that spirit of togetherness and community that makes us feel safe and valued.
Help us today to look to Jesus not for what he can do for us, but rather for what he gave through his life to teach us. And as we follow his walk this week, may we not merely be distracted by the gross injustices that occurred, but become inspired by the spirit he radiated through them all. May we come to see that even during his most painful moments, Jesus was teaching us. We pray these thoughts through his spirit who taught his disciples to say when they prayed. .