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

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why and Fine and Why Not

2015-03-29 Why and Fine and Why Not

Palm Sunday Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Mark 11:1-11


Why? Anyone who’s had children has come to both love and hate the question.

Palm Sunday is always a favorite. Why? We start the morning with the little kids processing through the sanctuary with palm branches. Why? Because people put them on the road when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Why? Because that’s how you welcomed a king. Why? Because you didn’t want them to get their feet dirty? Why? Becuzzzzzz cleanliness is next to godliness. Why? Go ask your mother.


It’s always easier to distract kids – and ourselves – than to deal with the tough questions, like, Why? Why? Can wear you out. But it’s how kids learn. Why is a very good sign. Why means they’re growing up and no longer accepting things as they are. That’s good, but it also comes with challenges, doesn’t it? Not only do you have to get really good at Googling things quickly, you have to figure out how to explain them in language kids can understand. Why is the sky blue? Because of atmospheric molecules and refraction. Yes, your three year-old will love that. Thank goodness for God. “That’s just the way God made it, sweetie.”

Why? “Whoah, there. Do not question God.”


It’s easier to shut kids down – and shut ourselves down – than to deal with the tough questions, like, Why? Then the kids get older and the real fun starts. Confirmation Class at Lake Hills is for kids around 6th and 7th grade. Do you know any 6th or 7th graders? By that age, they’ve stopped with “Why?”. Why is that? Because they’ve moved on to, “Fine.”

As in, “How was your day?”


 “Hey, how ya’ doin?”


“Why” and “Fine” have an interesting relationship.

A lot of times things seem fine, but then someone asks, “Why” and maybe it’s not so fine.

“Why?” is at the center of today’s New Testament, New Covenant scripture. You might not have heard it because we move so fast to the palm processional, where on the surface everything appears fine. But before the palms, before the Triumphal Entry, it’s there. Mark 11, verse 3: "Why... are you doing this?"

It's part of Jesus’ instruction to his disciples. And it’s probably something they wondered, too. “Why… is Jesus doing this? Why… are we helping him?”


Why? It’s the simplest question. And also the most difficult. We ask it at the worst of times, as in, “Why is this happening to me?”

We ask it in the most challenging situations, like when we’re in a strange situation, or when strangers do strange things:

“Why do you people do that?”

It’s a fine question. But it leads us down roads that don’t always end so fine, or as finally as we might wish. From an early age, we teach and we learn – to love and to hate, to press and to suppress – the question, “Why?”




“Because the Lord needs it, and will send it back here immediately.”


In the Gospel According to Mark, Mark’s version of the Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem starts like this:


When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you…


You know what comes next. “Why?”


One of the scariest things someone can ask in a church is, “Why?” Like, Why do we stand up and sit down so much? Why would anyone want to sit in something called a “pew”? Why don’t we re-brand them to something less olfactory? I don’t know.  Why not? That’s the scary part of why. In fact, I would say the asking of Why directly correlates to how healthy a church is. If nobody’s asking Why? you’ve got trouble. Why? Because of the Seven Last Words of The Church: “We’ve never done it that way before.” The middle school translation of which is, “We’re fine.” They threaten to become idolatrously more important than the liberating question, “Why not?”


So. Jesus tells the disciples to go to the village and find the colt that has never been ridden. Hmm. Something that’s never been done before. Why? Now, there’s definitely a line of thinking that says the common belief at the time of Mark’s writing was that everything needed to be a fulfillment of prophesy. In this case it’s Zechariah 9:9:


Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.


Oh, that’s why. Because the Bible tells us so. But why?


Any of you ride horses? Any of you ever been on a colt that has never been ridden? I hear it’s kind of a bumpy ride. In places like Texas they find it very entertaining. So, either Jesus is the first Horse Whisperer, or something else is up. Sometimes taking the Bible literally is dangerous, literally. Or maybe that IS why. Palm Sunday is dangerous from the start. It’s clearly not “just fine.”


Today, it’s happy palms. Friday, it’s the cross. Jesus is getting ready to do something new, something untested, something never before imagined. Jesus, God incarnate, is turning himself toward an uncharted, dangerous place. Because if Jesus IS the Lord, if he IS the Messiah, Rule #1 is, Messiahs Don’t Die. God doesn’t die. This whole idea has never been ridden. And while today the crowds lay down their palm branches and say, “Hosanna!”, by Thursday they’re back to, “We’ve never done it that way before.” And they’re calling for his neck. And so is the Roman occupation. Because if it even looks like you’re mocking Roman authority – riding a donkey when they ride white stallions, being called king when Caesar is clearly king – if it even looks like you’re poking a finger in authority’s eye, they’ll hang you on a cross before you can blink. Happens all the time. What Jesus does on Palm Sunday isn’t a happy children’s parade (although we make it one, and that’s fine). It’s dangerous. It’s so outside ideas of what’s normal and what’s natural nobody dares follow him all the way to Friday. Not even his disciples.


By Friday, they’re all looking away. They’re distracting themselves. They’re shutting down the parade, ending the discussion. They’re scared to death of being anything other than “fine.”

Aren’t we all?


This morning out class confirmed their baptisms, or they were baptized. Why? We’ve moved beyond the Dark Ages fear that children not baptized might not get to heaven. Baptism is more than the Salvation Switch. Baptism, as we understand it today, is a little more nuanced. Like the board on the cross that points from left to right, baptism is a spiritual direction-finder. It’s like the GPS that says, “You are here.”


It points both back and forward. Baptism is the public sign that we stand in the stream of faith behind us. It shows we’re connected to the proclamation of the gospel, as it’s found in scripture and as it has been found for centuries in the church. But baptism also shows points us toward an expectant future, a Messianic future, the joyful hope of new life in Christ.[1]


Jesus, on Palm Sunday, stood at a similar crossroad. Riding the unridden colt, he connects to prophesy from centuries past. He places himself squarely in the tradition of worshipers yearning for a Savior. And, on Palm Sunday, Jesus pointed himself toward an expectant future, to a joyful hope of new life beyond the cross, beyond Good Friday, beyond even death, to Easter. He points us that direction, too.


In this sense, Palm Sunday is a baptismal scene. It’s not a baptism itself, but it carries much the same meaning. Baptism looks back to God’s covenant promise. Baptism looks forward to God’s new covenant of life beyond and without the dread of death. Like baptism, Palm Sunday connects us and redirects us toward a life beyond the imagination of limited and tyrannical earthly powers that, “Threaten to undo us.”


Palm Sunday says we’re beyond fine. It says that in God’s eyes we’re so much more than just fine. Palm Sunday says we’ll soon be free, free enough to see today and ask “Why am I doing this?” without confusion, to look at tomorrow and ask, “Why not?” without fear. -- “If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’”


Why? Why are we here today? Why Palm Sunday? Why confirm? Why baptize? The answer, I think, to all of these is the same. Jesus tells us the answer. “Just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’”


We are here, we observe Palm Sunday, we confirm, and we baptize because the Lord has need of us. The Lord has a purpose for us. The Lord has a vocation for each of us. And, to get our jobs done (for him) the Lord sends us back here immediately. So we can get to work. Here and now.


Here we are. Here we are on Palm Sunday, connecting to a past we can’t remember, and looking toward a future we can barely imagine. We’re baptized in prophesy and palms. Where will the Lord send us? For what purpose will God use us? As with the colt’s owner, we aren’t told. The only way to find out is to not settle for being fine, but to say, “Why not?” and to go find out what God has in store.

[1] Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 226-240.