Today we live in an age of celebrities, where we love to put people on pedestals only to then to love watching them crash and burn.
Celebrity or ‘fame’ is probably one of the most pervasive idols within our country, Jesus could have had fame by the bucket load (the devil offered it to Jesus right at the start of his ministry)…
Yet Jesus came in to Jerusalem not on a war horse, a stretch limo or on a tank… but on a colt, a donkey, which was both a prophetic declaration Zachariah 9:9 which also was subverting all the ideas the Jewish people had about their Messiah being some kind of politician or warlord and a display of humility.
Can you imagine Teresa May or Queen Elizabeth riding on a Weston donkey?
Here sat on that donkey Jesus is almost ridiculing the whole emptiness of fame… this was the guy who suggested that the first should be last, and in his ‘keynote speech’ turned the how world’s world view up on its end…
But the people seem to over-look the irony, or they choose to over-look it, or maybe they are so caught up with the fulfilment of Zachariah’s prophecy that the penny doesn’t drop with its context?
Still, I think you can forgive them for getting a bit carried away, you can imagine the whispers in the crowd… “he’s the guy who raised Lazarus from the dead!”, “he’s the guy who healed the man born blind” and he’s the guy that told that amazing story of the sinful son and the running dad””…
The truth is that when we lead radically different lives people notice and people talk… but also, if you read the story carefully too, not everyone is pleased to see Jesus… It is a simple piece of wisdom that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but it is amazing how strong the pull of ‘people pleasing’ can be in our lives.
We seem to skirt over verses which say things like, ‘anyone wanting to lead a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’, and think we can go through lives being everyone’s mate, but sometimes salt has a ‘bite’ to it and bright lights can make us squint.
The story of Palm Sunday seems to have an Adventy feel to it. Celebrating Jesus arrival, coming in not as a King but in humility and poverty, echoes of his birth. Jesus comes in as a King but a King that is later crowded with barbaric thorns, and the same perfume -Myrrh – given at his birth anointing his body in death.
A Saviour coming to die, a sacrifice -pure and blameless- being sent for us.
The gospel, and this story in particular, reminds us of the fickle nature of humanity… opinions change, just as children’s “must have gadget” soon gathers dust replaced by a new favourite, so we can be with our spiritual loyalties, what I call the danger of the ‘spiritual dimmer switch’ where we turn up the brightness to look holy in Church before dimming it down for the rest of the week.
I often think Palm Sunday’s ‘Hosannas’ becoming Good Friday’s ‘Crucifies’ is a little like Simon-Peter who shouts his mouth off about how loyal he’d be -‘even if I have to die with you I won’t deny you’ and yet we know the next step of the story where he denies Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times.
The tide of public opinion changed in just days, and with it comes the pressure to conform and say whatever everyone else is saying… If we are being salt and light, these are things that don’t blend into the background… Our calling is to be ‘transformed by the renewing of our mind’, we are called to transform the world, our culture and our community; yet sadly the world, our culture and our community can transform us… Eugene Patterson in the message talk about this passage about “not letting the world squeeze you into its mould”.
But I wonder how many people actually changed their minds about Jesus, or did the majority of them go along with the crowd?
The Bible talks of people being like sheep, and there is a truth in that, you only have to watch people with ‘heard instincts’ copying what everyone else is doing.
Are we people of conviction? Or are we easily swayed?
Are we like a Salmon (swimming against the tide?) or are we like a dead fish (getting swept along by it)?
Shane Claiborne writes about the Christian symbols having been doves, fish and even a wild goose but never a chameleon… We follow the most radical human being ever to walk the planet, and yet we try and pretend we are the same as everyone else, we have (to quote a song) “the God of heaven living in us”… “he that is within us is greater than he that is within the world”… “the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead within our hearts and lives”…
And we think people won’t notice, or hope people might miss it.
We should be different.
People who aren’t Christians should be looking at our lives and scratch their heads and murmur “I don’t get it!”
Yet this is where the rubber has got to hit the road, we talk about being different, and people think it means about saying “sugar” not “s**t” when you drop a brick on your foot and about not doing anything wrong (and don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that personal holiness doesn’t matter, it matters a great deal) but the question I want to ask is “what do you actually DO differently” HOW do you live out your calling to be salt and light, holding out the word that gives life, Christ’s ambassador in the complex network or web of relationships that make up your daily lives…
A great -but uncomfortable question- would be would my bank manager know I was a Christian, by the way I spend my money?
I love the idea of the hurting and the broken, the marginalised and the disenfranchised, the least/last/lost cheering as they hear that a new Church has been planted in their neighbour hood, because the thought of 20 people living lives sold out for Jesus is going to be good news for them… whilst the loan sharks, drug pushers, pimps and bullies groan and loose sleep over the Church coming into the neighbourhood.
At the moment I don’t think this is happening, but I believe it could, and should be happening…
So this Advent, lets ditch silly notions of fame, celebrity… place our ‘people pleasing fears’ at the foot of the cross of Christ’… And lets live for the only cause worth anything at all, the cause of ‘seeing the advance of the Kingdom of God’, praying in and living out the phrase “may your Kingdom come on earth as in heaven”… not just saying the right thing on Sunday night but also Monday Morning (and for the rest of the week).
A call to a new life.
A life lived as a living sacrifice -Holy and pleasing to God… a spiritual a sacrifice, living for God 24-7, 265 until I do or until Christ returns.
It is hard, it is tough, when Paul talked of the Christian life being a struggle, or a battle, he was joking! Yet as Palm Sunday opens the door to Good Friday, Good Friday opens the door to Easter day, a day of resurrection power.
You might be reading this thinking, “I couldn’t possibly do this radical life style in my own strength” the good news is you don’t have too, God not only knows ‘of what we are made, but he sends his Holy Spirit to enable us to live for Christ, to shine out for Christ, it’s his power at work in us, “Christ in us the Hope of Glory”…