"Sadness On Palm Sunday"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 4, 2004

Psalm 118:12, 19-29; Like 19:28-42


     There is a wise saying that most of us have heard -- "Knowledge is power."  Indeed it is.  Knowledge gives us the power of understanding.  Understanding enables us to put more of our inner resources to work when we apply our knowledge to our relationships.  What happens when we have the power that knowledge gives us and we find ourselves living among others who have little or no understanding at all? 

     We have an excellent illustration that answers this question in today's Gospel lesson.  At the end of our Palm Sunday passage are these words, "He came closer to Jerusalem, and when he saw it, Jesus wept over the city saying, 'If you only knew today what is needed for peace!  But now you cannot see it!'"  The answer is that sadness comes.  We dread how ignorance tears people's lives apart.  Clearly, "They know not what they do." 

     These verses, like so many others in the Gospels, reveal that Jesus was way ahead of his time.  He was a visionary who tried to communicate what life would be like if people understood how to rise above their fears, bitterness and hatred of each other.  He said, "If you only knew today what is needed for peace!  But now you cannot see it!" It was his knowledge and understanding that produced his profound sadness.  He simply could not give such peace to others even though he sacrificed his own life trying.

     If we were to interview any number of today's outstanding psychiatrists and therapists, they would tell us of the many frustrations that accompany the work they do. They would say things like,  

You have no idea how challenging it is to teach people why and how they have become their own worst enemies.  How are we able to convince a couple that one fundamental problem with their relationship is that neither one has any communication skills?  How can we teach people that for years they have been living by unrecognized beliefs that sabotage nearly every wholesome decision they make?  Thank God we have today's miracle medications which have helped some people to remain functional!

    No matter how much understanding we have, we cannot put others in possession of it.  Such a realization makes those who are wise weep. 

     These are the kinds of frustrations that haunted the mind of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. He knew what produces peace when the people shouting his praises did not.  He knew the kind of Messiah his people were looking for, even though he understood that such a being would never come. 

     It was never part of God's created order to place into our midst someone who would do for people what they needed to do for themselves.  What produces sadness is that we cannot make others understand what they must do to be healed.  We cannot fix people. We cannot make people lay down their weapons or stop their aggressive acts in whatever form they take. All we can do is teach them and hopefully lead them. 

     Jesus had to live with the realization that he could not give his followers anything but instructions. They had to follow his teachings just as we do. There is no magical canopy that descends on us healing our incorrect perceptions and enabling our behavior to suddenly reflect love. The disciples only felt strong in their faith because Jesus was with them. But what did they really know?  How much had they learned?  

     According to Luke, immediately following the passing of the bread and the cup during the last supper, an argument took place among them as to which one was the greatest. (Luke 22:24) During the Passover meal, Thomas inquired about where Jesus was going?  Philip said, "Lord, just show us God and we will be satisfied." (John 14:5-8) What had these men learned?  During Jesus' arrest the disciples asked, "Lord, shall we use our swords? (Luke 22:49) Had they not absorbed anything about "loving their enemies"? There was Judas whom Jesus could not convince.  There was Peter whose courage was not as bold as he thought. 

     When Jesus was taken away, even the strongest among them fled in fear.  Jesus, alone, possessed the knowledge that others did not have.  They thought they had their mission well in hand, but when the dramas of life evoked their fears, they discovered that they were as ill-equipped as when Jesus first called them to lay down their fish nets and other vocational interests in order to follow him. 

     Where are we in our faith journey as we are confronted by various uncertain and unexpected episodes in life?  It is wonderful to be attracted to a happy parade, to wave our palm branches and sing praises to God.  Likewise, everyone enjoys a joyous, energy packed worship experience. During such a time, absolutely nothing is being expected or required of us.  We may even be proud of ourselves because we are "spiritual,"  because we have found the Lord or because we know the truth.  How much do we really know?  

     How much do we understand when life is miserable at work and we work with miserable people (notice the judgmental attitude)?  How much do we understand when the kind of response we believe we need from our spouse does not come. How much do we understand when we are not valued economically as highly as others in our field?  How much do we understand when we are surrounded by people who have no awareness of the mystical side of life? 

     Our minds constantly go to Iraq that illustrates this point on a daily basis.  Rather than collectively focusing on what it would take to make Iraq a stable nation, a number of tribes struggle with each other or demonstrate their hatred for the Americans, as they continue to destroy their own infrastructure.  Their focus appears to be on getting rid of what they do not want instead of concentrating on building together what they want. Just the word from a single cleric can send followers on a rampage of destruction. Talk about sadness!   Jesus said,  "If you only knew today what is needed for peace!  But now you cannot see it!"  His words are timeless. 

     The one thing no one can do, even someone as powerful and insightful as Jesus, is put people in possession of what will save them from perceiving incorrectly.  "Love one another" is what he pointed to regardless of the cost to himself. Why is the one way street of love such a challenge to achieve? Such knowledge has the power to heal us.  Jesus supplied the answer for humanity's greatest need and through the centuries men and women seem to have placed more value and faith in answers which have not worked.   Are we listening, and are we willing to make Jesus' teachings visible in what we do?  Amen. 


    Loving God, we confess that we are a lot like the people of old who greeted Jesus with enthusiasm.  We, too, are hungry for a hero.  We, too, seek a glimpse of your greatness.  We, too, want someone else to take responsibility for what we find challenging to do by ourselves.  Help us to sift through our traditions to find the nuggets of truth.  Help us focus again on Jesus' guidance to follow him.  Help us remember to greet each moment of challenge with quiet confidence and peace.  Help us remember that you created us with the potential to mirror your spirit.  Enable us to walk into every experience radiating your light and lightness.  Amen. 


    God of love, we thank you that each of us can enter this place and become transported into a time zone nearly 2,000 years ago.  As we go there now, we watch as the unpaved streets become filled with curiosity seekers.  When we listen closely, we can hear questions being asked, "Who is this man?"  We listen to responses about a man named Lazarus who was raised from the dead, about miracles and about teachings that are foreign to the Sanhedrin.  We hear that this Jesus could be the promised Messiah. 

    Yet, when the heightened anticipation ended on that first Palm Sunday, how quickly the curious returned to the activities from which they had excused themselves.  Had a savior come into our midst to do for us what we seemingly cannot do for ourselves?  O God, how quickly we forget Isaiah's words, "Here am I, Lord.  Send me." 

    Even in our poverty of spirit, you bless us.  You come to us with opened arms and hold us even in our blindness.  You forgive us long before we sin, because you would rather teach us than condemn us for not understanding the better way Jesus taught.  Help us to seek, find and live in that Kingdom that Jesus died to show us.  It is through his spirit that we now pray the prayer he taught his disciples to say . . .