View the Sermon Video
First Reading = Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
1O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever! 2Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 19Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. 20This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. 21I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success! 26Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. 27The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. 28You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. 29O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
We’re at the end of our Lenten sermon series where we have looked at the ways we are prone to wander away from God, and how Jesus points us back in the right direction. Last week we talked about how we are prone to want to change God’s timing. But Jesus wants us to use our time…at the right time…to show that someone else is worth our time. That’s holy.
This week is Palm Sunday – the beginning of Holy Week. This is a time of spiritual whiplash. Today, everything feels triumphant. On Thursday, Jesus will be betrayed. On Friday, as the Apostle’s Creed says, Jesus will be crucified, dead and buried. He will descend into hell.
But on the third day, Easter, he will rise again. So get your spiritual neck braces ready for a wild ride! And speaking of wild rides, how about the Messiah riding into town on a humble donkey?
Sermon Reading = Matthew 21:1-17
21When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
12Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” 14The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” 17He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
During the American Revolutionary War, General George Washington was reeling from a series of early defeats. So he decided to give his troops a Christmas present – “Hey boys, let’s cross that frozen river at 11pm on Christmas Day!” You’ve probably seen the famous painting – “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” where Washington is standing bravely on the boat as the men row across.
Now, what actually happened? Washington took his men and did a sneak attack on some German mercenaries on December 26, 1776. It wasn’t a huge strategic victory, but it was a big boost to morale.
But let’s imagine things going a little…differently. Washington leads his troops across the frozen Delaware River. He gathers those able to march, and comes into Trenton, New Jersey just as before. But instead of attacking the German mercenaries, he goes to the biggest church in town. He smashes all the pews. He tells the town that they’ve been worshiping God incorrectly. And he replaces the church with a field hospital for the community. And while all of this is happening, those German mercenaries are just standing there, watching, dumbfounded.
If you can picture that, then welcome to Palm Sunday! If Washington had really done that, do you think he would have still been in charge of the army? And since Jesus did do something like that, how much longer were the crowds on his side? Good Friday is just around the corner. It turns out they didn’t like it when their expectations weren’t met. But luckily that was just people back then, right? We would never get upset when our expectations aren’t met…right?
You see, the crowd knew that Jesus was powerful. Over the last two weeks, we’ve heard how Jesus opened the eyes of a man who was blind from birth – something no one had ever heard of! We heard how Jesus raised Lazarus after he was dead four days – not mostly dead…all dead – something no one had ever heard of! We heard how Jesus confronted the religious leaders – he was clearly unafraid of those in power, and he wanted things to change! Could this be the Messiah?
In their mind, they pictured the prophecies about a new King David. In their mind, they pictured the prophecies from Isaiah talking about restoring Jerusalem. In their mind, they pictured Jesus marching into Jerusalem with his army of branch-waving supporters, strolling down the boulevard to the palace of the Roman governor, and throwing the Romans out of Jerusalem for good! In their mind, they pictured their own Washington Crossing the Delaware moment!
But instead…Jesus turned into the Temple. He tossed out the merchants who were taking advantage of the faithful. The Temple had become a kind of bank, and he refused to let the commercial traffic go through. Instead, he invited the sick and the lame to come and be healed.
By the end of Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem, the parade crowd must have been thinking – “I saw that going differently in my mind.”
And isn’t that the problem with our expectations? They aren’t always true. They aren’t always in the right ballpark of true. Sometimes our expectations are downright misleading.
A man named Jack was driving on a dark country road one night when his tire blew out. He was kind of in the middle of nowhere, and the only place he could see was a cabin off in the woods. He started walking toward the cabin, looking for help. But as the darkness crept in around him, he started to wonder what kind of person would live so far out in the middle of nowhere. Surely such a recluse would be annoyed – even furious – that someone interrupted their sanctum! What kind of antisocial, vindictive, violent person would await him on the other side of that door?
As Jack worked his mind into a veritable frenzy of fear, he knocked on the door. And as the man opened the door, before he could even say hello, Jack punched him in the face and ran away.
Our expectations, the stories we tell ourselves about other people, they aren’t always true. They can be harmful. They can set us up for fear or anger or violence. Donald Miller, the Christian author, reminds us in one of his books, “When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.”
When we stop looking at people through the lens of our expectations, we can see who they really are and what they’re really doing. And when we stop looking at Jesus through the lens of our expectations, we can see who he truly is and what he is truly doing as well.
Sometimes our expectations of Jesus are actually smaller than what he’s actually doing. A.B. Simpson said, “Our God has boundless resources. The only limit is in us. Our asking, our thinking, our praying are too small. Our expectations are too limited.” That’s what was happening to the crowd on Palm Sunday. They expected God to do something about the nation of Israel. They expected God to dismiss the Romans and lift up the Israelites.
Instead, through Jesus, God lifted up all those who believed. Some came from Israel. Some came from Greece. Some came from Rome. Some came from Ethiopia. Some came from Samaria. Some came from Turkey. The crowds went from jubilant, expectant, on Sunday…to furious on Friday. All because they expected God to care only about their little slice of the world, and instead God started something in their little slice of the world that would reach every corner of the world. It’s not that they expected too much of God. Their expectations were too small.
So how about you? What are your expectations of God right now?
Like the crowd on Palm Sunday, do you expect Jesus to be doing things differently than he is? Are you expecting too much from Jesus, or like the Palm Sunday crowd are you expecting Jesus to be smaller than he really is?
Another way our expectations can go awry is when we expect someone or something to fulfill us completely. Only Jesus can do that. Tim Keller puts it quite succinctly. “The ultimate reason for our misery, however, is that we do not love God supremely. As Augustine so famously put it in prayer, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you”. That means, quite simply, if you love anything at all in this world more than God, you will crush that object under the weight of your expectations, and it will eventually break your heart.”
So as you’re spending lots and lots..and lots of “quality time” with your family, mostly stuck in your house, are you feeling completely loving and patient and kind and Jesus-like all the time? Probably not. But keep in mind the next time your partner or your children or someone else starts eating your brain – they aren’t supposed to be perfect. Only Jesus is perfect. They aren’t supposed to fulfill your heart fully. Only Jesus can do that. Give them grace.
And perhaps they’ll give you the grace you need as well. Because you aren’t supposed to be perfect. You aren’t supposed to fulfill their hearts fully. Only Jesus can do that. Hey, I realize this is easier said than done, but it should be said. I need to hear it sometimes, too.
How are your expectations right now? Do you have the right expectations of your family? Do you have the right expectations of Jesus? Do you have the right expectations of yourself? As the Palm Sunday crowd shows us in their rapid turn from shouting “Hosanna” on Sunday to shouting “Crucify him!” on Friday – it can be deadly to have the wrong expectations.
Expecting Jesus at Home
As we find the right expectations of Jesus, I want to highlight two ways that I believe we will see Jesus show up in ways that are broader than we might have expected a month or so ago.
First up – Maundy Thursday. Normally, we would gather this Thursday to remember Jesus’ Last Supper before he was betrayed. Maundy Thursday was the very first Communion, which we still celebrate to this day. We aren’t going to be able to gather together this Maundy Thursday.
But can we still…”Commune” with one another? Can we expect Jesus to be present with us in the same way through Communion…even though we aren’t in the same room? I believe we can expect that.
So this Thursday we are going to have a live video meeting for Maundy Thursday on Zoom. We’ll spend about fifteen minutes praying for the people in our church together. We’ll spend about fifteen minutes praying for our city and region. We’ll spend about fifteen minutes praying for our nation and our world. And then for the last fifteen minutes, grab whatever fluid you have at home. Grab whatever you have at home that can be like the bread. And Pastor Carol and I will lead all of us in live online Communion.
I often remind us in Communion that we are communing, not just with the fellow Christians who are in the same room with us, but we are Communing with Christians of every time and place. We can live that out this Thursday. And I expect Jesus to be present – to Commune with us – and to draw us together in Communion despite our physical distance.
We’ll send out a Zoom invitation this week. I’ll also send out my short video showing you how to install it and set it up. If you are already comfortable with Zoom and you know someone in our church who isn’t – if they want to Commune with us on Maundy Thursday, please help them get going. Maybe schedule a phone call and help them get over whatever hurdles they have using Zoom. I’ve helped quite a few people already, and I know many of our ministries are using it, but I know there are others who would want to participate but they need a little help for that first time. I encourage you to reach out and help before Thursday so that we can Commune together. And if you can’t join in by video, maybe just join us in spirit with whatever you have at home around 11:45am. The prayer time will start around 11, but Communion will be around 11:45.
Another way we can expect Jesus to show up in ways we would not have imagined a month or so ago: Easter Sunday. Again, we can’t gather together on Easter. I don’t know when or if that has happened before in our country. It’s a big deal.
So maybe this year is an opportunity for our church to show people – visually show people – that our faith isn’t contained within a building. Even as beautiful a building as this one. Maybe this year is an opportunity for our church to show the neighbors on our streets – visually show people – that Jesus is alive and well and moving in our midst.
In many neighborhoods, like my own, people have been putting stuffed bears in their windows, or we did shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day, or chalk art so that families can go on visual scavenger hunts as they walk the neighborhood. What if we made an Easter sign for our yards? Or an Easter chalk art on our driveways? Or an Easter message hanging from the front porch? I believe that would show our neighbors that Jesus isn’t contained in the church building. If Jesus can walk out of the tomb, he can walk out of this building and into our homes and neighborhoods! I hope we can show our neighbors – visually show them – that Jesus is walking in our midst.
We’re sending out some examples to help you along, but feel free to exercise your own creativity! And if you are already driving for some other necessary errand, feel free to place an Easter sign in the church’s front lawn as well. Our Columbarium is still going to receive its decorations and flowers. But if some of you bring some extra decorations for the lawn when you’re already out, perhaps we can be a witness to the to our church neighbors as well. Just keep it at least two feet away from any sidewalks so we don’t hit sprinkler lines! During this time, I believe people need to hear about the inextinguishable, inexhaustible, incredible love and hope that we have in Jesus Christ.
And we can expect Jesus to do something bigger than we can imagine through that. Amen.