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

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Save Us Now. Please.

2016-03-20 Lk 19 28-40 Palm Sunday – "Save Us, Now. Please."

I turned on the TV last week, and was astounded to discover: there's a presidential race going on. I know. You're just as surprised as I was. Shh, shh. Don't speak. Let it sink in. You don't need to talk right now. We have until November. Surely, by then, the candidates and the media and your Facebook friends will find the courage to speak more openly, more directly. Until then, please accept this rose. And this bumper sticker. And these yard signs. And baseball caps. And hourly phone calls. I know it's hard to take it all in at once. But sometimes pastors have to deliver the hard news. If only someone could save us all from the coming months. Could save us now. Please.




I spent last week with my parents. Like most members of the Greatest Generation, Mom and Dad watch a lot of TV news. Ask your doctor if you're healthy enough for TV news. Whatever the channel you're watching, whatever feeds you're reading, or station you're listening to, or acquaintances you're trying not to kill, if it's about politics, it's hard to keep your blood pressure down. Don't skip your Clonodine. Especially this year. But it's always the same. The last guy was always so bad. And the next guy or next gal will finally clean up the mess. Because she or he will have the answers. They'll solve it. They'll save us. Save us now.




Save us when? Now.

Interesting how that one little word changes everything. Now.

Like, when your mom tells you, "Clean your room." It's kind of philosophical. "Well, yes. Clean is good. All rooms should be clean. I'm sure I will clean my room. Or perhaps you will when I go to college."

But when your mom says, "Clean your room. Now!" without moving her jaw, there's an implied threat. "Now! Or else." Save yourself. Save your cell phone. You clean. Now.

Now. It's one thing when it's just you saying Now. But when a huge crowd puts the Now into Save Us, things change. It gets blood-pressury tense.

If an open-carry crowd of armed supporters shouts Now!, it's scary.

If an angry crowd of Black Lives Matter shouts Now!, it's scary. Especially for you white folks.

If a whole congregation shouts, Now!, shouts "Save us NOW!" at a potential saver, a savior, or if they shout it at someone who ought to be saving, but isn't, it gets scary.

Now, There is no waiting.

Now, There is no, Then.

Now, It's demanding.

Now, It's pleading.

Now, It's begging.

Now, It's threatening.

It's now.

Or else.

Now is scary.




Now is scary times, aren't they. They say our nation's divided. They say it – on TV news, and in barber shops, and in Flint, Michigan, and over steaks at Mar a Lago. They say we're divided. I don't know. Divided makes me think of two sides. Two sides would be easy. In the now's Now the sides have sides that have sides. It's complicated. Before now, Back Then, they called America a melting pot. Now, it feels more like a boiling pot. True?

Some of you are thinking, "Hold on, preacher. Don't go gettin' political." Well, sorry, not sorry. Jesus, when he was saving, Jesus got political. (And look how well that turned out. Kinda scary.) "Save us now" – is a political statement. And it's scary. Scary Back Then. Scary Now.




Palm Sunday may have started out purely religious. But by the time Jesus came to town, it was scary political. Jesus, the new saver, the people's savior, rode into town. And the people cheered. "Save us! Now! Please!"

But save them from what? Roman occupation. Save them from whom? Roman Emperor Caesar. Caesar and his minions. In order to get the full effect of Jesus riding into town, it helps to know how Caesar would have.

Roman Emperor Caesar – the savior God to the Empire – Caesar would ride into a city surrounded by legions of soldiers. He'd have secret speculatores serving as protection. Caesar rode a white stallion. The big parade was, of course, funded at taxpayer expense. Excessive wealth was a sign of divinity.

But Jesus was so the opposite. Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the feast of Passover on the back of a borrowed donkey. That should tell you something about this motorcade. Jesus had to bum a ride on someone else's donkey. Like, "Hey kid, lemme borrow your bike." Jesus's triumphal entry (as it's known) is better described as anti-triumphal. It wasn't a march of power. It was a march of the people. It was a march of the lowest of people, the poorest of people. People who couldn't even afford their own transportation. And this crowd was riled up, big time. These were people were ready. They were way beyond ready for someone to save them. Save them Now. Please.

The people were so ready. They were so tired of Roman dictators and the Half-Hebrew hangmen of Herod's hierarchy. (Say THAT three times fast.) In the mighty words of Mississippi Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, these people were, "Sick and tired of being sick and tired." Sick and tired of being taxed for every spare shekel. Sick and tired of being crucified as "bandits." The Roman word was, "lestes," which least-offensively means, "bandits." But it's more closely translated, "insurrectionists," or even, "terrorists." That's what you always call people who want to overthrow your government. Rome did not negotiate with terrorists. It crucified them.

So the citizens of God's Holy City, Jerusalem, were doing what they always did at Passover. But with a sharp edge. They cut palm branches and waved them to heaven, because that's what the Bible told them to. "Bind the festal procession with branches." But it was way more than just religious. Don't tell. The palm branches of Passover had turned into sort-of secret protest signs. The palm branch was the people's symbol of resistance to Rome's regime. They waved the palms for God, but against against their masters. At one point, they had even printed their own coins with palm branches on them, so they didn't have to see, "In Caesar We Trust." Didn't go well. When you're poor and oppressed, illiterate and indentured, you do what you can with what you've got on hand. So, palm branches. They look so soft and innocent. Perfect. Even little children got it.

Did you know all that? It might be a surprise to find out the Jewish people were always trying to have an election. Sort of. Or a rebellion, more like it. Open revolution. Shh, shh. Don't say it too loud. "Teacher, order your disciples to stop!" said the Pharisees. "Not just because, you know, getting rowdy in church is uncultured. But if the Romans find out, we'll all be crucified. After all, it wasn't that long ago that Herod Antipas slaughtered thousands in the streets at Passover. For God's sake, for all our sakes, Jesus, hush! Save us all from swift Roman retribution."

But it wasn't quite that simple. The shusshers, the scribes and Pharisees, had their hands in Roman pockets. They might want to be saved, too, but not if it was going to cost them. So, save us someday in the future, Lord. Save us religiously. Hypothetically. Un-politically.

So Jesus rides into the already rowdy, chaotic festival of Passover, with palm branches of protest all around him. Passover, the Jewish festival born of escape from oppression. Passover, the remembrance of the great Exodus led by Moses the Liberator, who emancipated the Israelite necks from beneath the boot of Pharaoh's Egypt. Into this religiously-fueled powderkeg of sick and tired clomps the man on his borrowed donkey, the anti-hero, the disruptor, Jesus – Joshua – the one who might, just might finish what Moses started.

And… the crowd goes wild.

"Hosanna!" "Hosanna!"

It means, "Save us! Save us now!"

"Save us, please! We beg you!"




That was then. This is Now.

We and churches around the country – around the world – hand our children palm branches today. "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna, the little children sing" as they march around the sanctuary. It's sweet. It's reassuring. If all goes well, it's exactly the same as last year. "Hallelujah nothing's changed!" But the truth is, in our comfort, we leave off the discomforting Now. We shorten it. "Hosann." It's incomplete. The "na", the Now is missing.

Do you really expect Jesus to save you? Of course you do. He's Our Lord and Savior. But do we who sing "Hosanna!" really expect Jesus to save us, Now? Now, in our slack-jawed confusion? Now, in our clenched-teeth anger? Now, in our divided divisions of divisions that we so euphemistically call, "Parties"? I thought parties were supposed to be fun. Like, Princess Parties. Political parties? Yuck.

We sing, we teach our kids to sing, Hosanna. But do we really expect Jesus to save us, Now? Or is salvation some philosophical future? Is salvation only in the afterlife? Or was it just something sweet that happened 2000 years ago?

I don't know about you, but I feel like I could use a little saving right now. Our nation could use a little saving. In this lifetime. Couldn't think of a better time. Could you?




Jesus entered Jerusalem in a parade that was a deliberate mockery of the government. The people loved it. But the people got it wrong. They thought Jesus was going to save them by seizing power. God's grand coup. The meek would not inherit the earth – they'd take it back. God would hand it to them. Their candidate would sit on the throne and they'd say, "Here he is, y'all. How you like us now?"

Instead, he ends up on a cross and in a tomb. And when the angels announce what's happened, it's not, "God has come down and he is here." It's, "He is not here; he has risen" (Matt 28:6). Not an office filled, but a tomb emptied. Power not seized, but sacrificed.

I have no word of the Lord on this, but I do wonder. I wonder if maybe we stopped shouting Hosanna at human heroes… Maybe if we stopped demanding that our guy or our gal is the only one who can save us now… Maybe, maybe then we could live in the shared hope and undying love of the Savior Who Wasn't There.

Singing Hosanna, shouting, "Save us now!" – there's nothing wrong with that. You've just gotta be sure you're singing and shouting at the right one. Not some human that would be savior, but the Christ who is.

You might not know this, but there's an election going on in your heart, right now. Which saver, which Savior, do you choose?



Shane Claiborne, Jesus For President, Kindle Edition, loc 535, 1158, 1080, 1026.