Sermon text put together from audio transcription software, so please read generously and with a grain of salt.
I speak to you in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy spirit. Amen.
Years ago, I was sitting in a restaurant and I overheard a father and his young son sharing a meal together. And the son was expressing that he didn’t want to eat some vegetable on his dish. And the father said to his son, can you imagine what kind of a world it would be if everybody only did what they wanted? And I remember sharing this story with my own father later, when we, we both agreed that a world where only where everybody only did what they wanted might actually be a really good thing. And in the years, since in an effort to raise my own children and to become a grownup myself, I look back on that story sometimes. And I think I understand what the father was trying to say to his son. He just didn’t quite say it right.
But he meant to say was not people shouldn’t do what they want or get what they want. What he meant to say was you don’t always get what you want. That’s a little bit better, better than you shouldn’t have what you want. It can help a person grow up and live in the world and deal with the world’s imperfections to understand that we don’t always get what we want. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for what we want. We shouldn’t strive for what we want. We shouldn’t be in touch with our desires and try to make them a real presence in our lives. Half of our theological tradition invites us to do exactly that. Imagine heaven don’t you want to go, but it’s also not quite complete just to say, you don’t always get what you want. It might be argued that our entire religious tradition is a way of responding to the plain fact of us not getting what we want and having to deal with the way that we respond to those circumstances. And that could be everything from, I wanted this live stream to work more easily this morning. And it didn’t all the way to, I wanted to live. And I had to die.
The story of Holy week tells the story of Jesus entering into the final contest of his life, by which he shows the victory of love over fear and all along that spectrum of human conflict, contest, desire, and fear. Jesus continually shows us what God can do when God doesn’t get what God wants. So our religious life is an effort to absorb and understand the lesson revealed to us in Jesus, which is not. You don’t get what you want, but what are you going to do? Or what good can come from the situation in which you didn’t get what you wanted or things didn’t go your way. You have life. And the world we lived were one series of victory. After another. We wouldn’t really need to work on ourselves or figure out what kind of people we can be. We wouldn’t need to develop ideas and systems of reconciliation and forgiveness and seeking to mend the things that were broken or repair. The things that got harmed.
The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is characterized as a story of triumph and victory. We might imagine athletes entering an arena like Olympians entering the arena at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games before the contests begin. And we know in those contests, there will be winners and there will be losers. We might imagine an army marching out to meet an adversary cheered on by the people back at home, sending them off with their power and their blessing so that they may be victorious in battle and defeat the foe and preserve the security of the nation. We may imagine all kinds of contests, one and another in which victory is assured by the conquering conquest or defeat of the enemy.
But we know that Jesus comes into Jerusalem to show God’s love, and that he actually achieves his victory, not by conquest or conquering or defeat, but by mercy and forgiveness in the end, Jesus fulfills. God’s faithful commandment to human beings to walk in a way of love. And he loves those who deny him. He loves those who betray him. He loves those who arrest him and tell lies about him. He loves those who spit in his face and torture him. He loves those who condemn him to death and carry out the sentence of execution in no single instance, does God achieve God’s victory by the worldly means of overpowering the adversary through mite or force or violence. In every instance, Jesus achieves the victory of God through mercy and forgiveness, which is a way of saying he achieved victory by having a powerfully creative tool to respond to the face of disappointment, of not getting what he might’ve wanted.
He might’ve wanted his last meal with the disciples to just go uninterrupted. But instead he was betrayed and arrested and handed over to the authorities. He might’ve wanted the authorities to listen to him and turn away from violence and the accumulation of power by the means of subjugation of other people. But they didn’t. They put him on the cross. He might’ve wanted all people to walk in the way that he had walked obviating the need for him to demonstrate for us how to love one another, but he had to do these things and he did so demonstrating. God’s constant love for us, always seeking to find a way creatively mercifully and with joy to respond to what must’ve been a mounting series of increasingly demanding disappointments. Now, as we ourselves enter into this Holy week, I wonder if any of us are feeling disappointments in our own life about not having gotten what we wanted in life and maybe particularly in this past year, and maybe even particularly this week.
I know for myself, I want there to be more people than one sitting in the pews this morning, but there’s just one, what good can come of this circumstance? In what way can God’s love shine through my disappointment. I want the baptisms that we conducted this year to have taken place in the midst of the congregation at the great vigil of Easter, lighting our candles and singing our Aaliyah’s and welcoming the light of the risen Christ back to life. But we’re going to be at home watching on our screens. One more time. What good can come of that? What creative outcome can transform our disappointment into a new understanding of how and where, and in what way God continues to seek and find us for the sake of love and mercy. We tell the story of Jesus, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and we described him as victorious on the cross.
And we hail him as King of Kings. And we shout Hosanna all indicators that some sort of victory is at hand, but as the story unfolds, I hope it’s clear to us that the victory of God is not a victory that looks like those. We see in the world. And it’s deeply rooted in the transformation of our sorrow, our grief, our pain, and our fear into something good that God can make with it. But it’s not only Jesus who does these things. And we are not called and invited to just sit back and observe while he works. His miracles, we are actually called to follow and to follow means to go in the same way to go in the same places, to undertake the same endeavors, to experience the same challenges, the degree to which we ourselves will show ourselves faithful is the degree to which we like Jesus encounter an increasingly mounting series of challenges, maybe even disappointments and meet them with the possibility that even through them, even through grief, even through loss, even through despair, denial, betrayal, abandonment, even, even through death, God can sing joyfully to make new life. Amen.