“Living Peacefully In Organized Chaos

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – March 25, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 118: 19-29; Mark 11:1-11

Palm Sunday

    This morning we are going to discuss Palm Sunday in a way that may be different for a number of you.  Because this is such a familiar occasion that is celebrated each year, I try to find some nugget of information that will help us to personalize such moments by giving them more meaning.

     Have we ever wondered about the actual influence that Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem had on the people who were there to witness it?  

    When we think about the first Palm Sunday, we know that the event took place during Passover.  Most of us have little or no idea about what it was like to experience the organized chaos that routinely took place annually in Jerusalem. 

    Celebrating Passover was an occasion like we would celebrate Christmas and Easter.  This national observance was a major economic boom for Jerusalem.  Socially, large families experienced a reunion of people that were currently living all over the world.  Spiritually, it was a time of remembering how God had delivered them from their Egyptian task masters. This event took massive planning and coordination in order to accommodate the numbers of people that arrived each year.

    Thirty years after the first Palm Sunday, the Roman governor took a census of the number of lambs that were slaughtered for the Passover meal. By Roman methods of accounting, the number came to slightly over 250,000 lambs.  

    There was a firmly established Jewish law that a person could only purchase a lamb if he or she intended to feed at least ten people.  If the number of the Roman census is accurate, this meant that two and a half million people were crowded into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.  Try to imagine the organized chaos that would result if Bermuda's 65,000 citizens tried to absorb another two and a quarter million people.

    The atmosphere of Jerusalem was one where Jewish women were gathering the absolute necessities for their main meal.  Vendors were selling all manner of memorabilia, groceries, and lodging for all the people.  In the midst of this annual confusion, who was available among two and a half million people to get close enough or care enough to witness an unknown carpenter-rabbi entering Jerusalem on a donkey?

    We have to remember that the attention of most of the Jews during Passover was to celebrate the memory of what happened 1250 years earlier.  These people were not thinking about toppling the Roman authorities.  No one was thinking that the promised Messiah would come in the fashion that Jesus entered Jerusalem. 

    If there was to be a triumphant entry into Jerusalem in their distant future by some promised Messiah, most of the Jews believed that their new king would have thousands of well-armed rebels marching behind him.

    Because of the vast number of distractions happening among over two million people, Jesus would have attracted very little attention as he rode into Jerusalem, particularly when he paused at the Temple, looked around, and then continued his journey to Bethany.  (Mark 11:11)  

    The only excitement generated by Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem would have come from the few people who knew Jesus and who had followed his ministry in Capernaum and Galilee.  

    History would have never recorded this event had it not been from the reported appearances of Jesus on Easter morning. Following Jesus' resurrection experiences, a great deal of attention was given by Jesus' followers and the authors of the Gospel to details of his entrance into Jerusalem. 

    This act would define the kind of Messiah that Jesus represented. He would become the king of our inner world that has no end. He would save people not by changing the form of the government once again as King David had done, but by teaching how to live creatively and lovingly in our world just as it is.

    Ninety-nine percent of the people attending the celebration of the Passover that year missed the message Jesus was illustrating.  Jesus wanted to be seen as a liberator of people from being tyrannized by the countless illusionary distractions of this world.  He taught qualities of spirit like peace, acceptance, community, and cooperation.  Paul listed other qualities in one of his letters. (Galatians 5:22)

    What is miraculous is that the memory of Palm Sunday and what Jesus was communicating has been preserved for thousands of years.  The history of Christianity, however, tells us that the headwinds to Jesus' message became even more distracting and intense following his resurrection experiences.

    During the centuries that followed, The Way of Jesus, as the movement was described, slowly became institutionalized with a hierarchy of Bishops, church leaders and clergy that continued to refine Jesus' message.

    The simple seeds that Jesus sowed of love your neighbors, your enemies, and forgive others constantly fell on the unfertile ground.  His seeds landed on the soil that sprouted The Holy Roman Empire, Papal authority, power-wielding clergy, marching armies during the Crusades, the Holy Inquisition, the exclusive access of Christians to God's love, and that the true path of salvation was lined by the beliefs of a person instead of by the spirit by which he or she lived. 

    Just as the celebration and meaning of Passover often became hijacked by the organized chaos of its preparation, so The Way of Jesus was evolving into a world religion.  Christianity slowly began to lose its ability to help people personalize and internalize what Jesus had been teaching.

    If we were to look in our own culture for how the essence and meaning of a sacred celebration can become lost during its preparation, we need to look no further than what can take place during some wedding ceremonies.

    Every pastor that has officiated at a good number of marriage ceremonies could write a book about the organized chaos involved in all phases of planning for weddings, particularly when they become major productions.  One bride came into my office during my meeting with the couple with an organized binder that was six inches thick.

    I have officiated at a wedding where the family rented the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. Lois and I had another wedding that became a three-day extravaganza at Disney World.  Such weddings rival what happened annually in Jerusalem during the Passover celebration, but on a lesser scale.

    There have been a number of occasions where the bride's father gave his daughter a choice, "Honey, your mother and I will give you the 20 percent down payment on the home of your dreams anywhere in the United States, or give you the wedding of your dreams."  In my experience, three brides chose having the wedding of their dreams. 

    When weddings involve a major financial expense, a pastor quickly learns that he or she is reduced to becoming a necessary functionary in the midst of many moving parts that must be synchronized with precision.  The attention given to the details of these major dramas becomes far more important than celebrating the love of two people.  Weddings of this nature are seldom ones of which dreams are made. 

    There is the purchase of a one-of-a-kind designer wedding dress, wedding rings that are exquisite art forms, violin ensembles, soloists, florists, photographers, videographers, the planning for an elaborate rehearsal dinner, getting six fraternity brothers to behave themselves, getting all the women to the beauty salon within the same time-line to have their hair done, the planning of an expansive reception following the wedding and the involvement of the all important wedding coordinator who can have the personality of a dictator.  

    Well-seasoned pastors are way ahead of such games of organized chaos by realizing that their role is one of necessity whose opinion is seldom sought, valued, or needed.  Pastors do well to surrender any control they normally have by realizing that "This, too, shall pass." AND, it always does.

    The result of all the highly choreographed unfolding of this dream wedding is a woman who comes down the aisle on her big day like a zombie, heavily medicated from all the stress. Many brides seldom remember anything that was discussed during the rehearsal, let alone recall what had just happened when the wedding is over.  This is when wedding pictures become invaluable.

    Meanwhile, everyone in the massive congregation wants the ceremony to end quickly because their appetites and thirst are waiting to experience the bounty of heavy hors d'oeuvres, carving stations, the ever important open bar, the loud music and dancing.  In fact, the modern trend among their dearest friends is to skip the wedding ceremony and head straight to the reception.

    If the pastor is invited to pray at the reception, many listeners are so unaccustomed to hearing a prayer that they burst into thunderous applause at its conclusion as though the prayer had been part of this beautifully choreographed, well-synchronized Hollywood production.   Just where the unselfish and humble sharing of wedding vows and the exchanging of rings between two loving spirits fits into an occasion like this is anyone's guess.  

    This is what has happened to Jesus' easy-to-understand lessons for living when pageantry, doctrine, dogma, sacred rituals, pompous clerics, domestic needs, and financial assets have actually hijacked the mission and teaching of a humble carpenter.  It is nothing but a sheer miracle that anything of substance about Jesus' mission has survived, but it did.  None of this would have lasted had it not been for the divine architect behind all the organized chaos.

    Hardly anyone noticed that first Palm Sunday while it was occurring.  Just as Jesus had become the leaven for the loaf by being a Savior that no one recognized, so must we.  With time, God is changing the world through the ministry of a humble carpenter who lived and died in one of the most remote parts of the world. 

    God also uses Jesus' future disciples like us who are helping others to find their way through the organized chaos caused by illusions, mirages, fake news, and of fulfilling dreams that have no substance. 

    God's patience will never become exhausted or disturbed by the numerous distractions, detours, and smoke screens that the world continues to put in the path of God's will.  

      All of God's children are loved and they will come home when each is finished playing in the organized chaos they found in our physical world. With all that Jesus taught and demonstrated, what he wanted people to understand was that his kingdom is not of this world. He was teaching people the qualities that will work when they leave this life.   

    We can live in both worlds quite successfully when we have the greater insights that are produced by seeing the broader picture.  It is then that Palm Sunday is of great value to us.  We know the kind of world Jesus was demonstrating both by his entrance into Jerusalem and by his final words during his crucifixion.  He wanted all of us to enter his world while we are still living in our skin just as he had done.


Thank you, merciful God, for Jesus who helped humanity to think differently about a Messiah. We know how many times we have prayed to be delivered from painful circumstances and awkward moments. Rather than desiring deliverance, Jesus taught us how to be part of finding solutions by showing up as peace makers. Yet, many people remain blind to love. How quickly the enthusiastic crowd of Palm Sunday was silenced by the cries for the release of Barabbas! We have learned that being the leaven for the loaf may take thousands of years to accomplish.  Amen.


Loving and creative God, how wonderful it is that we can remember Palm Sunday while imagining all the mixture of emotions on display by the participants.  There was the pride of the disciples as they walked beside the Master. There was the mood of expectancy that Jesus might be the Messiah that was promised by the prophets of their ancestors. 

How often we are tempted to want someone or some event in our world to save us from our fears.  We know throughout history, people have looked for saviors that appear in many different forms.  Sometimes we have searched for someone to end our loneliness.  We have longed for a pill that works for weight loss.  We have longed for the inspiration that helps us to believe in ourselves so that we can reach our dreams.  We can easily misunderstand Jesus’ invitation to follow him as a recipe for filling our lives with miraculous events.  Such a hope can block our remembrance that he wandered from place to place, was publicly attacked by respected citizens, consorted with people who society tolerated as undesirables, and was crucified between two thieves.

As we continue our journey with Jesus, we do so knowing the imperfections of our world. Comfort us with the knowledge that Jesus also experienced the same darkness, the same temptations, the same uncertainties, and the same lack of justice and fairness that can come to any of us.  Help us to refine our understanding that we are your children and no one can take that relationship away from us. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ who taught us to say when we pray . . .