The Message in the Mess
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
April 5, 2020
(COVID-19 Outbreak, Week 4)
Psalm 31: 9-16 (CEB)
Have mercy on me, Lord, because I’m depressed. My vision fails because of my grief, as do my spirit and my body. 10My life is consumed with sadness; my years are consumed with groaning. Strength fails me because of my suffering; my bones dry up. 11I’m a joke to all my enemies, still worse to my neighbors. I scare my friends, and whoever sees me in the street runs away! 12I am forgotten, like I’m dead, completely out of mind; I am like a piece of pottery, destroyed. 13Yes, I’ve heard all the gossiping, terror all around; so many gang up together against me, they plan to take my life!
14But me? I trust you, Lord! I affirm, “You are my God.” 15My future is in your hands. Don’t hand me over to my enemies, to all who are out to get me! 16Shine your face on your servant; save me by your faithful love!
Matthew 21: 6-11 (CEB)
The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. 7They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.
8Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. 11The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
One of the things that I have encountered as a pastor, and that is personally true for me as well, is there will be these times in our lives when we have certain experiences and we turn to the Bible for wisdom or guidance that applies to whatever experience we may be having. Or we may just want to read a word from the Bible that resonates with whatever is going on in our lives. What I know from my personal experience, and what I have heard from others, is that sometimes we strike out. We want a clear word from God that speaks right into our circumstance, but it’s just not there.
Today is the day known on the church calendar as Palm/Passion Sunday. This is the day we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of his final week of human life. The Psalm for today is the one I read a portion of a few moments ago, Psalm 31. As I read those words this week, I heard God speaking to us in this moment in history, in this situation; articulating the reality in which we now find ourselves. Listen again to some of David’s words, “Strength fails me because of my suffering…I scare my friends, and whoever sees me on the street runs away!…Yes, I’ve heard all the gossiping, terror all around….” This is our reality right now, isn’t it? We are fearful, we are suffering, we are running from one another – not because we want to, it’s what we have to do to keep one another healthy. But it is SO. DIFFICULT.
In this Psalm, King David, who lived 1,000 years or more before Christ, was able to articulate his own experience, while at the same time lending words to the experience of others throughout history; all these messy experiences in which we find ourselves. You know, when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time nearly 2,000 years ago, he was walking among a people experiencing particular challenges and sufferings as well. God’s chosen people, the Israelites, had had it rough for hundreds of years before Jesus arrived. They had essentially passed under the control of one conquering empire after another. Even as many of them sought to remain faithful to the one true God, the ruling empires tried to force their particular religion upon God’s people. No true prophet had brought a word of hope or promise to the people for many, many generations. When the New Testament begins and Jesus enters the world, Israel and Jerusalem are under Roman rule. They are supposed to worship the emperor. The religious elite are pawns of the government. Again, to use David’s words, the people are “depressed,” they are “suffering,” they are a “joke to [their] enemies.” God’s people feel forgotten, and they are terrified.
This is the reality of the world which Jesus enters. And as Jesus moves through his years of ministry, people get to know him; Jew and Gentile alike. They hear the promise in Jesus’ message. The people who have long been oppressed and suffering, see light and hope. These folks begin to understand that maybe, just maybe, all of this trouble and hardship won’t last forever. And so it’s really no wonder, I think, that when Jesus enters Jerusalem the people wave palm branches before him and sing hosanna and blessings in praise of the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
You know, on Palm Sunday a year ago, we were here together, celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Wesley Memorial. It was a really beautiful and amazing day of worship, and praise, and celebration. I’m really sad that we are not able to gather in worship today. I’m sad that we can’t watch the kids wave the palm branches. I’m sad that we can’t share communion together. Things are indeed quite messy in the world and in our lives, and we are certainly suffering in lots of different ways because of this coronavirus pandemic.
But Palm Sunday can remind us that there is still hope. Christ still marches into our lives every day. Christ still walks into our suffering and our hardship. And Christ still heals and restores. It doesn’t matter what the mess is or where it came from, God in Christ Jesus has the power to redeem and restore us.
Near the end of the passage I read earlier from the 31st Psalm, David says, “But me? I trust you, Lord! I affirm, ‘You are my God.’ My future is in your hands.” It’s the same message of all those people in Jerusalem on the day that Jesus made his triumphal entry. In the midst of occupation, in the midst of mess and suffering, the people ran out to the streets to wave palm branches and to declare in both action and word, “Me? I trust you, Lord! You are my God. My future is in your hands!”
I can’t imagine that any of those folks surrounding Jesus and waving palm branches knew what was to come. Even though Jesus had been telling the disciples throughout his ministry that he would suffer and die, no one really comprehended what he was saying. Many of those folks in Jerusalem were already suffering mightily, and they would have no idea that things would get much, much worse before they got better. But on that day 2,000 years ago as the people of Jerusalem waved their palm branches, they – like David a thousand years before – put their whole trust in the Lord.
We’ve been talking about messes through the duration of this season of Lent. We started out considering the mess that sin makes in our life. But the reality of a global pandemic has brought our focus around to the mess we can sometimes live in that is not of our own making. As we have progressed further into Lent, the Coronavirus has also progressed rapidly across the U.S. It seems very apparent now that things will get worse before they get better. And we are already suffering. We are already terrified. We are effectively forced to run from one another. At the moment, this invisible enemy is spreading faster than it can be contained. This week ahead may be the worst for us yet here in the U.S.
What choice do we have in the coming days and weeks but to walk this lonesome valley? What choice do we have but to descend into the dark depths that are before us? We’ve probably never thought of it in such stark terms, but the journey to restoration and redemption requires following the same path – whether we are trying to redeem ourselves from sin or restore our world and our communities in the midst of a global pandemic. Jesus had no choice about what lay before him, either. As triumphal as his entry into Jerusalem was, it did not stop the death that came at the end of the week. And yet, new life is not possible apart from death.
So, here we are. We are in a big mess. Things are going to get worse before they get better. But I know this, things will get better. There is light and there is life for everyone and in that there is hope for all. In the meantime, like David so long again, we must put our whole trust in God and God alone. Today and every day, we must wave our palm branches and sing praises to our God and our King; the one in whom new life and restoration is possible.
In Christ we indeed have hope and a future.