Faces in the Crowd

A homily, based on Mark 11.1-11, preached with the gathered assembly at the Lenten Wednesday Noonday Luncheon at First Presbyterian Church, Laurens, SC, March 21, 2018.

On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus, in grand parade, rode into Jerusalem.

Jesus enters Jerusalem, James Tissot (1836-1902)

I wonder. Who was in the crowd?

There were the clamorous. Those who shouted, “Hosanna!” meaning less “Hurrah!” and more, “Help!” They, including his closest disciples, knew about Jesus. They had heard his preaching and teaching. They knew of his power over the realms of nature and spirit; calming the storm, healing the sick, raising the dead. They wanted, expected Jesus to drive the Roman Empire from the land and restore Israel to her prominence during the reign of King David.

There were the curious. Whether they had heard about Jesus or not, they, drawn by the sound and size of the parade, came out to see.

There were the callous. They couldn’t have cared less. Whether they had heard about Jesus or not, they took one glance at the passing parade and, untouched, unmoved, shrugged, turned their backs, and returned to their personal business. Perhaps they, a week later, joined another crowd, taking part in another spectacle, crying, “Crucify him!”

There were the censorious. They numbered themselves among Jesus’ enemies. Deeply disturbed by Jesus’ ministry, by Jesus himself, they considered him dangerous. His teaching, heretical, foreign to their interpretations of sacred text. His actions, especially on the sabbath, violations of obedience to the Law of God. His testimony of his Messiahship, an abomination, for all knew that no Messiah or prophet had been foretold to come from Galilee.(1) They plotted to kill Jesus.

In that crowd, there was, of course, Jesus. Who, then and now, always, every day, every moment of the day calls to us, “Follow me.” So, I ask you and me: Who in that Palm Sunday crowd are we?

Speaking always and only for myself, I, from time to time, am all four.

Sometimes, I’m clamorous. “Jesus, I need you to do what I want.” When most serious, I pray for others beset by difficulties of natural calamity or by the ill will of human hands: “Fix it, Jesus!” When most selfish, it’s all about me, what I desire: “Give it to me, Jesus!” Yet, when like this, I must confess, I have failed the test of faith. For Jesus never promised me a life without worry and woe, but rather love unconditional, forgiveness unbounded, grace unlimited to persevere with gratitude, and life everlasting.

Sometimes, I’m curious. “Jesus, I’m amazed at the vast crowds who still gather around you, calling your name, especially in Africa and South America where the harvest is far more plentiful than in America and Europe, lands long-cultivated with the seed of your gospel. I observe it, saying, “Isn’t that interesting?” Yet, when like this, I must confess, I am like Revelation’s church of Laodicea, neither hot for Jesus nor cold against him, but only lukewarm, subject to his judgment to be spit out of his mouth.(2)

Sometimes, I’m callous. “Jesus, you are the Savior, I am not! And, by my God-given free will, I have things other than laboring for your kingdom that I want to do today to care for myself.” Yet, when like this, I must confess, I might as well cry, “Crucify him!”

Sometimes, I’m censorious. “Jesus, your gospel of unconditional love and justice call, demand that I be benevolent and fair toward people I don’t know, who are unlike me, who don’t think and feel as I do, who I don’t like. In a word, Jesus, you challenge my preferences, confront my prejudices and I don’t like it…I don’t like you.” Yet, when like this, I must confess, I kill Jesus anew.

Again, I ask: Who in the crowd are we? Wherever we stand, let us know this. Until God’s kingdom come, Jesus always, every day, every moment of the day enters the city of our lives in a parade that always, every day, every moment of the day wends its way to the cross, calling, “Follow me in my self-denying, cross-bearing, life-losing way.”

Will we? The words of a hymn come to mind and heart:

Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea;
day by day His sweet voice soundeth, saying, “Christian, follow me.”

Jesus calls us from the worship of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us, saying, “Christian, love me more.”

In our joys and in our sorrows, days of toil and hours of ease,
still He calls, in cares and pleasures, “Christian, love me more than these.”

Jesus calls us, by Thy mercies, Savior, may we hear Thy call;
give our hearts to Thine obedience, serve and love Thee best of all.(3)

 

Footnotes:
(1) See John 7.52
(2) Revelation 3.14-16
(3) Words (1852) by Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander (1818-1895)

Illustration: Jesus enters Jerusalem, James Tissot (1836-1902)

2 thoughts on “Faces in the Crowd

  1. This is so awesome Paul!!! So many roles applied to one Man right????? Like you, I’ve filled EVERY single role!! I always feel bad afterwards too, especially when I’m in selfish mode… I have always known that no matter what role I was filling, I’d be forgiven by God if necessary. I wish there was a formula for us to follow to ensure we don’t fall into the roles that can label us as selfish and lacking in faith. What I think is helpful for me is that we can review these sermons that are so authentic which hopefully give us pause and snap us back to reality and to the level of faith we should have no matter the circumstances. Lately I’ve been reflecting on my faith, partly because of Lent and partly because of questions I get from my audiences about how I can be so faithful in the loss of my husband. I share the story as honestly as I can. I remember when Tim died, I was so thankful that my prayer was answered by God. What do I mean by that?? I didn’t want Tim to die of course, BUT if there was no way for him to live, I asked God to just allow him to go to sleep WITHOUT knowing what was actually wrong with him… the type of cancer he had. He was anxious to know, BUT I knew that depending on what the findings were it could be too much for him to handle and the rest of his life would have been sad, and sorrowful and filled with horrible pain. After the autopsy and we learned exactly what it was, I remember thanking God for giving me what I had prayed for… that Tim died thinking we were back at our campground and he wasn’t in pain even for one minute. They assured me that the stroke he had on the Friday night before he died had essentially killed him immediately and that likely the last thing he would remember was he and I watching a movie together. That is very comforting to me.

    I will absolutely continue to love God and I don’t know if I feel worthy enough to ask that I be loved BEST of all, but I’m happy as long as I’m loved.

    Much love!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So passionate and poignant a remembrance is yours of Tim’s dying. So compassionate your care for him knowing him as well as you did…as you do, thus, knowing what he could countenance and accept and embrace about his condition and, thus, what he could not.

    And I love your closing word: “I will absolutely continue to love God and I don’t know if I feel worthy enough to ask that I be loved BEST of all, but I’m happy as long as I’m loved.” Amen for being loved by God and amen for being happy about it!

    Love

    Like

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