"The Mistake Of Praising God For What We See"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 1, 2007

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Luke 19:28-40


     I would like us to become time travelers this morning.  Go back with me and become a part of the Palm Sunday gathering. Imagine you are one of Jesus’ disciples.  Luke has a slightly different version of the story from the one recorded in the other three Gospels.  The large group of followers that shouted their praises was made up of Jesus’ disciples and not strangers who were in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.  The theme I want to discuss comes from the text, “The large crowd of his disciples began to thank and praise God for all the miracles they had seen.” (Luke 19:37)           

     One of the most difficult tasks in life is to refrain from being absolutely convinced of the truth of what stands before us because of what our senses perceive.  Everything in the material world of the disciples, including their understanding of Jesus, was in a state of constant change.  When we put our hope in what we see, what happens to our enthusiasm when what we experience does not deliver what we had hoped?   We have all had lots of practice with having our expectations derailed by disappointment.            

     How many of us remember the spirit that was in this town when fans of the Washington Redskins learned that owner, Dan Snyder, had convinced Joe Gibbs to return as the team’s coach? There was euphoria everywhere among the fans. If you pardon the comparison, it was Palm Sunday in another context.  Our savior was coming to town.  We were filled with praise and thanksgiving for all that we had seen Coach Gibbs do in the past.   We had visions of the Redskins going to the Super Bowl. Our confidence was restored.            

     The challenge for Coach Gibbs was that, while he possessed excellent coaching skills, it was very difficult for him to get his highly paid athletes to play as a team.  Jesus had enormous skills of spirit, but the disciples had placed their hope in what he had been doing for them.  Their identity came from being known as Jesus’ disciples.  On Palm Sunday, their confidence was soaring to an all time high.   They were so proud, so confident, so together.   They were a team.   
     When Jesus was arrested, however, where were they?  When he did not straighten out their world as they had hoped, where were they?  When he was dying on the cross, why was John the only disciple standing with Jesus’ mother at the foot of the cross?  Again, the conclusions we draw from what our senses tell us, often set us up for disappointment.             

     This theme happens repeatedly throughout our lives.  Let us transfer this response into yet another context.   Men and women come to me all the time accompanied by the love of their life to make arrangements for their marriage.  They are so “in love.”   They may not realize that being “in love” has little to do with love.  Being “in love” translates into feelings when he or she is with or thinking about the other.  Each communicates, “I feel complete when I am with you.”  These feelings were identical to what the disciples were experiencing.  Jesus’ miracles, message and the crowds he attracted instilled enormous confidence in them. Who would they be if they had to face life without him?   

     Love is when our spirits, our energy and our thought and emotional patterns are always surrounding the other in spite of what he or she has become.  When partners fill their lives with attitudes and behaviors that disappoint the expectations of the other, being “in love” is among the initial qualities of a relationship to disappear.  Their identity and their definition of a meaningful relationship have become dependent on the other living up to their expectations, many that may go unrecognized. 

     As strange as it may sound, our love cannot be dependent on others being able to return it.  Our love must be motivated by an act of will, one that allows others to be whomever they want to be.  Why is this true?  Because this is the way God’s love is toward us.  God’s love is not dependent on whether or not we respond.  God’s love is constant.  We are the ones who sabotage our lives by our choices, not because God’s patience has worn thin.  We are the ones who create many of the consequences we experience, not because God is punishing us.  

     What did the enthusiastic crowd on Palm Sunday really want from Jesus?  Judging from their response following his crucifixion, their expectations were all material. Possibly they thought in terms of Jesus establishing some form of government much like the ones created by kings David and Solomon.  

     A week prior to the first Palm Sunday, Mary and Martha both said to Jesus, “Had you only been here, our brother would not have died.”  Listen to their expectation, almost spoken in scolding tones.  What were these sisters thinking about their friend?  The shortest verse in the Bible is, “Jesus wept.”  Did he cry because Lazarus had died, or were his tears the result of frustration that even among his closest friends his message had gone unrecognized?

     Jesus had not come to set up a form of government.  Jesus had not come to cure all illnesses or to prevent death from happening to those who believed in him.  Every material hope people concluded from Jesus’ ministry would vaporize as they watched his crucifixion from a distance.  Again, without him who would they be?     

     Palm Sunday has assumed a new meaning for us in the 21st century.  We now understand that Jesus came to teach and to demonstrate a new consciousness, a kingdom that has little to do with the material forms of our world.  His disciples proclaimed him as a king when he rode into Jerusalem, but Jesus made it quite clear to Pontius Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world.   

     Our King, our Prince of Peace, our Savior is the one who used his life to point to all the qualities of spirit we have the potential to develop when we surrender our individual wills to the stream of consciousness his kingdom represents.  On this Palm Sunday, have we done that or are we still looking to Jesus to save us from ourselves?  Jesus did not say, “Let me live your life for you.”  What he said was, “Follow me.”  Again, are we doing that?


     On this Palm Sunday, O God, we thank you for your mercy and grace.  We are creatures of this world, subject to the uncertainties and fears that result from our being here.  Sometimes powerful voices invite us to ignore the world we cannot see.  Sometimes we believe that wealth, power and relationships have the ability to rescue us.  Sometimes we forget that our desire to be rescued is rooted in the fear that you have abandoned us.   Restore our vision that this world has no power over us.  Enable us to remember that our world offers only shadows that have no substance in the realm where you dwell.  Awaken our confidence in your presence.  Help us to remember that there is nothing of which we ever need to be afraid.   Amen.