It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way (Sermon for April 14, 2019)

When I was in middle school, I competed in the Optimist Club Oratorical Contest. I don’t remember what any of the official topics were, but I remember that my very first speech for that contest was about how people don’t listen to kids or respect the rights of kids… and about how people really should listen to kids and really should respect the rights of kids.

And, of course, when I gave the speech at some ungodly morning hour—because Optimists meet for breakfast—the adults who were listening and judging… laughed. Because the idea of listening to kids and respecting the rights of kids is funny.

Now, I’m forty. I know, to some of you, that means I’m still a kid. And, to some of you, that means I’m positively ancient. But the truth is that I’m neither of those things. Statistically, I’m just a little more than halfway on my journey through this world.

And I get it. I really do. I get how easy it is to hear young people crying out for stronger gun control laws, or universal healthcare, or student debt forgiveness, or radical action against climate change, or a thousand other things… I get how easy it is to hear young people crying out for revolution, and laugh, and say, “They just don’t know how the world works.”

And I know how easy it is to look at the world, and how it is, and how it works, and say, “This is the world, and this is how it is, and this is how it works, and the best I can do is find a comfortable place for me and mine in this imperfect world… because we’re never going to make it perfect.”

I get it.

But I also remember. I remember what it was like to listen to someone who looked a lot like I look now, and hear them say, “You just don’t know how the world works.” And I remember what it was like to think, “You just don’t see how broken the world is; you just don’t see how the world could be.”

And I think there’s a little bit of that in our reading today. You see…

After Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey… 

After the crowds spread palm branches and cloaks on the road…

After they shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven…”

After all of the pomp and circumstance of the triumphal entry…

Jesus goes to the temple, the house of God, the center of everything.

And he destroys it.

This is a weird moment. Jesus enters the outer courts of the temple and sees the people buying and selling, and the people changing money from the coins of one land to the currency of another… and he wigs out. 

He chases out the people who are buying and selling. He flips the tables of the money-changers. He hurls the seats of the people selling sacrificial doves. He throws a tantrum.

And it’s disturbing, because those people aren’t breaking the rules.

It is the week before Passover. You know the story. Once upon a time, the people of Israel lived in slavery in Egypt. God saw their suffering and sent a prophet to free them, and to lead them out of Egypt and into the land that was promised to their ancestor Abraham.

And every year since, the people of Israel gathered to remember the story and make a sacrifice. Every year since, the people of Israel gathered to say, “You are our God, who led us out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; and we shall have no other gods before you.”

And, while they were together at the temple, they paid the temple tax.

It can be hard for us to understand, but Passover at the temple was a logistical nightmare. People flooded into Jerusalem from all over. And it was hard to travel with an animal that was going to be sacrificed—a lamb or a goat, one year old, without blemish—so there were people there to sell sacrificial animals.

And not everyone had local currency that they could use to pay the temple tax. So there were people there who could exchange it.

Now, of course, there were people who were taking advantage of the situation. There were merchants who preyed on their customers. There were money-changers who charged exorbitant rates. There were problems, sure. But, probably, most of the people in the outer court of the temple were trying to make a living by providing a necessary service.

And here comes this guy… who had just ridden into town on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey… to chase them out and flip their tables and hurl their seats and throw a tantrum.

And I need to be clear about this. Jesus walks into the outer court of the temple and, basically, throws out the offering plates and tears up the direct debit forms and destroys the economic engine of the temple, the house of God, the center of everything. The temple isn’t a business, but it is a business… and Jesus is tearing it down.

And in this moment, he breaks the economic status quo, and the political normal, and the religious status quo. Maybe only for a little bit… maybe only for a few hours or a few days… but still.

Hosanna?

After Jesus destroys the temple…

After Jesus chases out the people who are buying and selling…

After he flips the tables and hurls the seats…

After the din and chaos of a holy tantrum…

The blind and the lame come to the temple, and to Jesus… and he heals them.

The chief priests and the scribes see what is happening… and they hear the children—the children—cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

And they—the chief priests and the scribes—get angry.

“Do you hear what those kids are saying? Do you, Jesus, mister rides in on a donkey and overthrows the temple, hear those kids praising you?”

“Yeah. You didn’t see that coming?”

You see, Jesus keeps committing these prophetic acts. 

Zechariah once said, “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.” So Jesus did. He said to the people of Jerusalem, “Here is your king.”

And Isaiah once said, “Thus says the LORD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples, and I shall gather more to them, besides.’” So Jesus enforces the rule. He says to the people of Jerusalem, “This temple will be a house of prayer for everyone, or it will be nothing.”

And the people in power—the chief priests and the scribes—find that threatening enough. And I get that. He is disrupting the nice comfortable way things are. But what really gets them—what really makes them mad—is that the kids saw him and that they liked it. 

He is corrupting the youth. He is showing them that the way the world is isn’t the way that the world has to be. He is demonstrating that the way the world works isn’t set in stone. He is teaching them that things could be different than the way they are now.

He is dangerous.

After Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey… 

After Jesus destroys the temple…

After he performs signs and wonders…

After he preaches and tells parables…

After he shares dinner with his friends and says prayers in a garden…

After a friend kisses him; after a traitor kisses him…

He will be hung on a cross and laid in a tomb.

Because that’s the way the world works. Because that’s the way the chief priests and the scribes and the Roman authorities make it work.

But now, those children know better. They know that the world doesn’t have to work this way. They know that things could be different. And they know when to cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

And that matters. It mattered then. It matters today.

It matters because those kids who are crying out for stronger gun control laws are the ones who are living with gun violence in their schools.

It matters because the young people who are crying out for universal healthcare are the ones who wonder whether they will ever be able to afford even the most basic medical care.

It matters because the people my age who are crying out for student debt forgiveness are the ones who expect to be paying off student loans until we retire or beyond.

It matters because the teenagers crying out for radical action against climate change are the one who will have to figure out how to live with higher sea levels and less predictable weather and worse snowfalls and more dangerous hurricanes, and more consistent droughts, and more polluted air and water.

It matters because the kids who are crying out for revolution are the ones who have to live with the results of not having a revolution.

And I’m forty. I’m just a little more than halfway on my journey through this world.

And I get it. I understand how easy it is to hear young people crying out for revolution, and to laugh, and to say, “They just don’t know how the world works.”

But is possible that those young people—and all of the oppressed and marginalized people who get told, again and again, that they don’t know how the world works—know the secret that we should all know: the world doesn’t have to work that way.

We are Christians.

We are a people who wait breathlessly for Palm Sunday, when a new king will ride into the world on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

We are a people who wait anxiously for Palm Sunday, when a new high priest will destroy the dirty and dangerous engine of this world.

We are a people who wait hopefully for a cosmic Palm Sunday, when Christ himself will make a new heaven and a new earth, free from the sins that plague this one.

We are a people who offer ourselves lovingly to Christ, so that he might use us to start building that new world.

And part of that work it listening to those who call for the world to work differently, who call for more love and more generosity and more grace. 

Part of that work is catching ourselves when we think, “But the world doesn’t work that way,” and asking, “How could the world work differently?” 

Part of that work is standing shoulder to shoulder with the revolutionaries, looking at the one who is riding in on a donkey and overturning tables in the temple, and shouting, “Hosanna!”

You see, we are Christians. We are not about what the world is. We are about what God calls the world to be. We are about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Amen.

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