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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Coffee House Hosannas

2014-04-13 Palm Sunday

“Coffee-house Hosannas”

Matthew 21:1-11


We gave out palm branches this morning to everybody. I want you to do something with them. When I go like this [insert expressive signal] I want you to wave your palm branch and say, "Hosanna!" Let's practice. ("Hosanna!)


This is the day that the Lord has made; (Hosanna!)

let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Hosanna!)

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. (Hosanna!)

Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. (Hosanna!)

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Hosanna!)


Now, how did that feel? Did you like it?


Some of you loved it. You’d like to do it every week. Wave again if that’s you. You like the wave. You're wavy.


Others of you weren't sure what to think. But everybody else was waving, so you played along. "Hosanna. Whatever. I hope there's a point. This can't go on much longer."


Others are thinking, "Oh, dear God, what's next? Dancing in the aisles? Snakes? I didn't come to church to... participate. Church is for sitting still. Church is for suffering. It's good for you." You want to Purel after touching one. "No thanks. I'm allergic." It's OK. I understand.


At youth conferences, they have these awful things called, "Energizers." Some ridiculously perky 20 year-old stands on the stage and makes you get up and do full body motions to a song about Star Trek. At nine in the morning. I loathe Energizers.


So if you're one who wants to declare church a "Palm-free Zone," I feel your pain.


But here's the point of this little palmy-wavy time. Back long ago, the people heard Jesus was coming to town. They didn't know exactly what he was going to do. But they were excited. They thought, "He's our hero! He's gonna change things, for good!" They cut palm branches and waved them. And they shouted. "Hooray! Hosanna! Save us now! (which is what Hosanna means, Save us now)." They had no idea how Jesus was gonna do that. (Well, maybe they had some ideas but they were WRONG.) Couldn't say exactly how, but they knew he was going to shake things up. So they waved.


I’m not certain how excited WE get about Jesus coming to town. I’m not certain some of his celebrity buzz hasn’t worn off. He’s been here so long we’ve kind of domesticated him. We’ve sort of pinned him to an hour on Sunday mornings. Stuck him on our bumpers. We sing Hosanna once year to Jesus. But given our familiarity with him, what are we saying? Hosanna is just a word without particular meaning. It's lost it's original purpose.


We waved branches. We said "Hosanna!" But if I hadn't asked you to, would you have done anything? No, you would have sat quietly in church, wondering what the branch was for. Hosanna is for children and confused Jerusalemites. We've all heard the news, "Jesus saves." Actually, not so much news; it's more of a sectarian slogan.


Every Palm Sunday, we have the children say Hosanna. It's tradition. We make it cute and we make kids do it, because we really don't expect it to happen. Do we really expect Jesus to "save us now"? Today? Or was that a one-and-done 2000 years ago? Or is that something we push off to heaven, or a Second Coming? Or just a sweet idea? Do we even WANT Jesus to save us, right now? Or do we want him to wait until we're done, with whatever we're doing?


So. Back to the waving and how it felt. Pick one: (a) Hosanna!!! (b) (Hosanna.) (c) Pass. What kind of Hosanna do you WANT to give Jesus? And what would you think if he said, "Ok"?




As much as I love coming to the office, I also enjoy reading, writing, emailing – and drinking way too much coffee -- at The Church of St. Arbuck's. (Starbucks.) And Panera. Even McDonalds is OK when they're giving away free coffee.


I've done this enough that I've developed a personal system for maximizing efficiency at the altar of coffee additives. 1. Cup down. 2. Sweetener. 3. Drop of milkish stuff. 4. Paper sleeve. 5. Coffee. 6. Lid. 7. Go. See, if you do the additives first, you don't waste time stirring. You get in, you get out, you drink. If the line is really long, switch to Plan B: Be a man; drink it black.


There's nothing as disruptive to the system as when the patron in front of you is lollygagging.  Bewildered by the choice of sweeteners. (“Oh, look they’ve got pink, blue, AND yellow.” Some places add green. Curse you, Stevia.) Perhaps mentally debating the benefits of skim milk versus Half-and-Half. It's like they don't even feel your hot, impatient breath against the back of their neck. Dear God, now they're getting a phone call. I find myself thinking, "Save me, Lord." That’s my coffee-house Hosanna.


Your husband insists the toilet paper should roll over the top. Your children are hitting each other with sticks. The teacher keeps class 15 minutes late. You can't find your other shoe. You're on the phone with Comcast. The person in front of you is mesmerized by the spirals made by creamer. You think, "Save me, Lord! Save me now." Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, you're lifting up a coffee house hosanna.


Of course, you don't expect the Almighty to intervene. But wouldn't it be great?


We are so lucky. Most of the time, when we toss out a Hosanna, it's preceded by a wave of irritation. Momentary frustration. The naughty universe is not revolving around us. Our little systems have been altered by little people with their tiny thoughtlessness. We're shouting, muttering, or thinking coffee-house hosannas.


If problems like these prompt your Hosannas stop saying Hosanna and start saying PRAISE THE LORD! You might want Jesus to save you from irritation, but seriously, you have nothing to complain about. And that's the thing. When we talk about Jesus saving us, saving us now, it's most always from the things we'd LIKE to be saved from. We'd like it if Jesus rode in and saved us from this, or saved us from that, vaporized somebody. We want Jesus to save us for heaven because that's so much better than the alternative. We throw up a superstitious Hosanna for the stuff we'd LIKE to save ourselves from enduring, but can't, without being arrested. If this is the system of your hosannas, you've got a coffee-house Jesus. A domesticated Jesus. He’s named and tamed and really more of a servant than a Savior.


Jesus came to seek and save the lost, not the annoyed. I think Jesus still comes to save us. But not necessarily from things we'd LIKE to be saved from in the way we've planned. Jesus comes to save us from what we NEED to be saved from. It's just that a coffee-house Hosanna costs us nothing, and is so much easier to say.




Matthew 21 says, "A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”


The people of Jerusalem knew their Bible. So they had that going for them. They hailed Jesus as  Savior. They got that right. So, they were at least half-right. Batting .500's pretty good, if you're playing baseball. But if you're shooting free throws or recognizing Jesus, not so much. The half-empty part of their Hosannas was that they thought Jesus was going to be a political liberator who would drive out the Roman overlords. You know, with a big white horse and a "say you want a revolution" attitude.


"Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar!" "Open the gates so the Lord may enter through them." So they throw open the gates and instead of Che Guevara on a stallion, it's... an itinerant preacher on a donkey?


"Uh, I cut up a palm tree for this?" "(Hosanna.)" Which could be a big reason they were so quick to yell, “Crucify!” later in the week. Could have been they were mad that he didn’t “Save us now” the way they wanted, when they wanted, by their little coffee house systems of salvation. Could have been what they wanted to be saved from wasn't what they NEEDED to be saved from.




What do you need to be saved from, really? What do we as a church need to be saved from, really?


What do we expect the Holy Spirit to do in our hearts, today? What do we expect the Creator God to make of our church, right now? Are we excited about it? Really? Or a little embarrassed by the idea? It's cute when kids do it. On our behalf. Are we a little afraid of what Jesus might want to do, or might want US to do, if we mean those Hosannas?


Given Jesus's biblical track record for being unconventional and doing the unexpected, maybe we SHOULD be scared. Maybe we SHOULD be on the edge of our pews. Maybe we SHOULD be shaking like leaves. Because this scripture shows, as soon as Jesus comes rides in, things change. And you know how much people just love change. It's one thing to want EVERYBODY ELSE to change. It's one thing to pray, earnestly, that Jesus will make somebody else change, or vaporize. It's something else entirely when somebody shakes up our personal status quo. We're likely to give them a different kind of wave. With not as a much palm. Like when you accidentally someone cut off in traffic and they wave "Hello new friend" in a special way. What if the system shaker is God in shabby clothes on a donkey?


We're cool with God when God saves us when and how we want. But change and surprise don't rate as high.




What do you need to be saved from, really? What do we as a church need to be saved from, really?


I have this feeling that in our world, if Jesus rode into town, we wouldn't shout Hosanna. We wouldn't beg, "Save us now!" If we shouted anything, it wouldn't be "Save US," it would be, "Save ME!" Because these days the "we" in about everything has been replaced by "me". The i-device, the me-saver. ME-sanna.


I don't know what you need to be saved from, personally. I'm sure if you gave it some thought, or asked your friends or parents or spouse, they could come up with some helpful ideas. Lose 10 pounds, exercise more, read the Bible, learn a second language. They're all good. They'll all save you from something. But you don't need God to make them happen. You may WANT God to magically make you slimmer, fitter, and smarter, but there's no magic, and Dr. Oz can do just as well.


Shouting Hosanna, switching from "Save ME now," to "Save US now," - when you think about it in this day and age - is a pretty seismic shift. It's downright counter-cultural. It's not "Save me," or "Save them," or "Deliver me from these wicked sinners," or "Lord, that you would purge the earth of  infidels, unbelievers, secularists, extremists, and Democrats. Or Republicans." A true Hosanna, which not even the people in Jerusalem got more than half-right, a true Hosanna flips everything. It puts the "we" in front of the "me" and "God" in front of all of us. "Save us, Lord. Save ALL of US, Lord. Save US. Save US now."


But not because the Royal We want it our way. But because we know, deep down, that WE need to be saved from our "me's." That's a true and full Hosanna worth shouting.


What if we all put the "we" before the "me"? What if everyone here got our Hosannas out of the coffee shops and into our deeper needs?




So, Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. But also, Hosanna. Hosanna in the lowest. Hosanna AT the lowest. Hosanna when we put our wants before others' needs. Hosanna in our homes. Hosanna in our church, but then again, that's only half-right. It's not our church. It's God's church. Hosanna, Lord, save us from claiming that which is yours. Help us Lord to sing true and full Hosannas right now, and every now, all year long.