The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - April 9, 2017
Scripture Reading: Matthew 27: 11-14, 24-44
Sermon Title ďThe Palms and the PassionĒ

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     So what?  We have all heard the story before.  Jesus, our King, our Lord, rides into Jerusalem on a donkey or a small colt that has never been ridden before.  No big stallion, no crown of Gold.  He knows what is going to happen, he knows that he is going to be killed. 

     And after the impromptu celebration, Jesus arrives at the upper room, to share a bit of time with his disciples.  Then Jesus asks for company as he goes off to pray.  This is followed by kind of a hard to follow story, the chief priest wants Jesus killed, but he cannot do that, he has no authority, so they bring him to Pilate.  But Pilate hears from his wife that she had a bad dream and not to have him killed, or at least have him to have anything to do with it.  Finally, he washes is hands of the issue, but those in authority know he has to be killed, so they make sure it happens. 

     Seems like in such a short time the world has turned against him.  Coming into the city he is in charge.  Certainly in a different way that we normally think, but the more you study about Jesus the more you realize that he saw and did things different.  Jesus knew that he didnít need to be riding into the city dressed up, on a big horse, showing everyone who is boss.  Jesus showed his power by not showing his power. 

     Shortly later, the crowds had turned against him, crucify him.  Hang him on a cross with other law breakers.  Hang him with the criminals.  Now they could have just killed him.  They had weapons, at that time there was no surgery, no antibiotics, so even if you hurt him he probably would die.  But the cross did two things, it tortured the person and then caused them to die.  It was a visual deterrent for those who might be considering a crime.  It takes a long time, you are bleeding from the nails through your hands, painful but might not kill you for a long time.  But in order to breath you have to pull yourself up, so each breath, you pulled, took a breath and then could relax until you needed your next breath.  After an hour, two hours, however long you could hold out you would pull breath and let yourself back down.  Eventually you just run out of strength, you cannot pull yourself up, you cannot take a breath and you die.  But just killing him could upset people, he needs to be tried and sentenced to death, and people need to know not to mess with the system, or this will happen to you. 

     Arkansas is planning 8 executions later this month.  Two a day for 4 days.  Is it more humane today?  I donít know, you get a needle in your vein, and then it is pumped full of chemicals that will put you to sleep, stop your breathing, stop your heart.  They say that there is no suffering, but nobody can report on what the victim actually feels.  It is a deterrent, or so they say.  Jesus was killed by the state 2,000 years ago, and people are still committing crimes so bad that the government still feels the need to kill people.  At least in the United States.

     We are really good at this ďviolence as a deterrent to violenceĒ idea.  This last week in Syria chemical weapons were probably used against Syrian people.  Horrible, painful deaths of about 100 people.  And so the United States on Thursday night sent 59 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles into Syria, aimed at an airfield.  58 of them hit their target and at least 6 people were killed.  Although we have worked with Russia to try to eliminate chemical weapons from Syria, they still have some.  The threat of violence did not deter the use, will actual violence deter future use?  Did those 6 killed have anything to do with the attacks, or were they just doing what they were told to do, or maybe not involved at all, we donít know.  They were killed by the United States without a trial.  

     Jesus was innocent, didnít have a fair trial, at least we hope that those who are going to be killed later this month really did what they were accused of doing. 

     But Jesus lost this battle.  Falsely accused, fake trial, and he is sentenced to death, carried out quickly, no sense in keeping him around any longer.  No appeals, no clemency. 

     Now I believe that Jesus was fully human and also fully divine, and this is where the rubber hits the road for me.  As fully divine, Jesus knew what was going to happen.  What he was going to experience was going to be humiliating, painful, and end in his death.  But as fully human, Jesus was going to also experience the emotions of being betrayed by his friends, he was going to see people turning against him, abandoning him, unable to stay with him when things got bad.  His friends were frightened, look what they are doing to him, I donít want that to happen to me.  And as fully human Jesus was going to experience more pain than any of us ever have.  As fully divine, Jesus could have avoided it.  Maybe some miracle to show that he is really God, maybe just let those falsely accusing him fall dead.

     When I was working at the hospital in West Virginia we had a man come in one night who had laid down his motorcycle at what was probably a high rate of speed.  He had lost his leg, there was nothing for them to reattach.  Of course they gave him what they could for the pain, but nothing they gave him did much.  I donít wish that on anyone, but the God that I pray to knows what pain is.  My God has experienced worse pain that that man.

     The God that I pray to also knows what it is like to be abandoned.  Surrounded by friends one moment, and the next not a friend to be found.  Real friends are the ones who stick around when the going gets hard.  But when things go wrong, even those who we thought were our real friends might not stick around.  My God knows what it is like to be alone in a time of need.  Knows what it is like when nobody stands up for you, and even when asked will lie to save their own skin. 

     So what.  Jesus questioned the social order, was taking the power away from the priests and scribes, had the nerve to raise someone from the dead, was more powerful than they were.  But they could still kill him.  And even Jesus death did not change the social order.  He fought the system, and in at least his own human life time, he failed.  Has anyone here been upset with something the government has done?  This does not have to be recent, maybe it was Vietnam.  Maybe it was one of the other wars or conflicts we have been involved in.  Maybe you are upset now.  Maybe you think that the EPA and some of those environmental laws are important.  Maybe you think that, even though school meals and meals on wheels are not showing results, you still feel it is important for people to eat.  Maybe you feel that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security should not be cut so that the super-rich can get a tax break and we can spend more of our tax money on the military and a wall.  Maybe you were upset with things that our last president did.  And maybe you have marched, or protested, or wrote letters or made phone calls.  And as much as you tried, the system didnít change.  Some of the things that people are upset about today are going to happen.  Of course it is important to talk, to write, to call, but some of these things will happen in spite of everything you do.  Nixon beat McGovern.  More recently Bush beat Gore, or at least Bush became president. 

     You will not change the world.  Letters you write will be thrown in the trash hopefully after being read, phone calls will be politely recorded and combined with all other calls in a summary report.  But after Jesus was killed some people started to think about what he said.  Now I will be first to admit that we donít always follow what he said.  Some of the lessons he taught are hard.  Turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, hard to do.  But we also read some of what he said and try.  We try to welcome the stranger, we try to help others.  And maybe, at least in some areas, we are doing better than we were 100, 500 or 2000 years ago.  Maybe Jesus did change the order.  But Jesus didnít see that change when he was on earth.  And some of those things that we say and do we will not see the results of before we die.  Some of the problems we face as a nation or as a world are long term issues.  We are not going to eliminate war.  We are not going to eliminate poverty.  We are not going to reverse climate change.  But we are going to try, hopefully it will be a little bit better for future generations. 

     This lesson teaches me probably more about who Jesus was than any other passage.  Jesus was fully human, Jesus knows what it feels like to be in pain, suffer, be abandoned, left alone, and even die an extremely painful death.  Jesus endured more than probably any of us have or ever will.  Jesus also didnít see the change he made in the social order.  He was killed for changes he tried to make.  He fought the system and failed, at least in his life on earth.

     Next week we will see the victory, but we are not there yet.  In our lives, we may never see the victory.  We walk with Jesus this week as Jesus was walking toward his death.  Still preaching, still teaching, knowing that there is more to life than his human life.  Even though we know the rest of the story, I invite you this week to spend time with the disciples, as they see their friend killed.  I invite you to spend time with the people in the town, celebrating one day and yelling crucify him the next, more following the rest of the crowd rather than asking what you believe is right.  I invite you to spend time with Jesus, knowing what lays ahead, but willing to endure pain and suffering, and everything else he will endure this week because he loves you.  What other friend do you have that would be willing to do all of this for you? 

     Spend time this week in those uneasy places, and ask youself, so what?  What does this all mean for you?