April 9 – “Fans or Followers?”

April 9, 2017
Sermon: “Fans or Followers?”, Rev. Steve Anderson
Matthew 21:1-11

Cardinal fan—want them to win, especially against the Cubs.  Don’t drive to Jupiter, Florida to watch the Cardinals spring training.  I can’t name any of their pitchers, but I want them to beat the Cubs.  I wear the hat and shirt.  I am a fan, not a follower.

For nearly 2,000 years, the Hebrew people had waited for the savior that God was going to send to bring our world back into a better relationship with God.  We have trouble waiting 20 seconds for our microwave to warm our coffee.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Zechariah, who spoke for God, told the people that the messiah would ride a donkey into Jerusalem.  Jesus knew that the religious leaders were out to get him and that Jerusalem was their turf.  He did not sneak into town.  He wanted it to be very clear that he was the savior of all people sent by God and he was not afraid of those who opposed him.  He was deliberate and purposeful as he came to face his accusers.

Most people love parades.  They give us chances to celebrate events and honor individuals.  As Jesus rode in, people did everything they could to welcome him and soften his journey.  They waved palm branches as a symbol of Jewish nationalism and shouted praises, “Hosanna, save us now!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

As Jesus and the donkey traveled through the narrow streets, the emotions continued to rise and the crowd became louder.  Sure, some came just to see what was going on.  There were probably many types of people along the parade route.  Some were Zealots known for their public protests and desire for political freedom.  There may have been some Essenes there who normally separated themselves from the rest of society and prayed for the day when God would save our world from the corruption of possessions.  Mostly, they were common folks seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

What they had in common was that everyone wanted something.  They may or may not have seen or heard the amazing things Jesus had said and done.  The problem was that most wanted something different than what Jesus was offering.  Every person along the streets that day waved their palm branches and wanted something.  You could tell as they called out for their particular style of messiah.  The cries were not so much “Hurrah for Jesus” as they were “down with Rome”.

It’s sad when people do the right thing for the wrong reason.  They remind me of the little boy shopping for a Mother’s day gift.  He was looking for a cookie jar for his mom.  He would lift and then lower one lid after another to listen to the sound that it made.  Finally, in frustration, he asked the sales clerk if they had any with quieter lids.  We might question his motivation.

Our scripture says that Jesus wept for the people in the crowd that did not understand who and what he was.  When we talk about things whether it is sports or politics or religion, some people are fans and some are followers.  Some of the people in Jerusalem were fans who wanted Jesus to save them from Roman occupation.  They might wave a palm branch, or buy a religious t shirt or buy a religious cd.  Others were followers who would do anything Jesus asked.  The word follower implies a soul wracking, gut wrenching, teeth grinding, sobbing person who knows what it is going to cost them to follow Jesus.

A few weeks ago, our Korean congregation had a revival.  This is something they do a couple of times a year.  They bring in a guest speaker for a few days of worship.  This year, their speaker was ___________, a missionary to North Korea.   Yes, I said North Korea.  ___________ has helped bring in ___________ Bible to Christians in Korea who meet underground out of fear of losing jobs, or ability to attend college.  Many are imprisoned, beaten, and even killed.

___________ has traveled into and out of North Korea many times suffering physical and mental abuse.  Last week, our Korean friends raised _____ dollars to support his continued work.  I’m not saying that we should all head for North Korea, but this is an example of what it means to follow Christ.

Jesus was receiving a hero’s welcome and yet he cried, because he knew that many of them didn’t get it.  They sought a warrior king who would defeat the Romans.  “Save us now” referred to political revolution.  They were looking for a king on a white horse.  Jesus offered to be their king of peace.  Better than political freedom, he offered them citizenship in heaven.  Yet, these every day peasants were willing to mix it up with soldiers from the greatest army of that time.  Years earlier Theodus received a similar greeting from the people.  He then led then in an armed revolt in which 400 were killed.

The religious leaders knew that they were free to practice their faith as long as things did not get out of hand.  But things were starting to get chaotic.  Shouts from the crowd stated that Jesus had been sent by God to save the Hebrews.  The crowd had to be silenced.  What they were saying was neither popular nor politically correct.  If Jesus and his friends stepped out of line too much, it could mean problems for everyone.  The religious leaders stood on the sidelines filled with jealousy and fear as they watched for an opportunity to bring charges against Jesus.

His fans were celebrating his arrival, but they did not understand what he had to offer.  They wanted a revolutionary, not a reconciler.  Sort of like the people who sing about following Jesus and then go home and forget about Jesus until next Sunday.  They want to be fans, but not really followers because that could be dangerous and risky and might cost them in terms of time and energy as they are forced out of their comfort zone.

Jesus looked into their eyes and wept.  He cared so much.  If only they could understand instead of rejecting him.  I think that Jesus weeps when people reject his love and make light of his sacrifice for us.  This event took place during the Passover festival when the Jews celebrated how God had freed them from captivity in Egypt.  The Roman soldiers knew this was a bad time to be in Jerusalem.

Thousands of people jammed the streets celebrating how God had freed them and wishing it would happen again.  The soldiers knew that emotions were high and anything could happen.  Jesus knew that he could have given in to the people and given them what they wanted.  But he was not there to cause problems. He taught them that in order to be considered to be great, we had to serve others, that the government deserved what was due it, and that God should receive what God deserved.

Some people are confused about why we follow Jesus and allow ourselves to become vulnerable to others, to care about the needs of people that we don’t know, to help the poor, the disenfranchised, and the marginalized.  Too many people don’t realize the joy in voluntary obedience.  They miss the opportunity of responding to his invitation to live life in dangerous ways, surrounded by love and power.

Along the road into Jerusalem were people who wanted a messiah who would justify their lifestyles, punish their enemies, vindicate selfishness, and confirm their prejudices.  They are willing to follow the Jesus way of living as long as he agrees to their plan, fulfills their needs, and makes no real demand on them.  Throughout the world, people are seeking peace which constantly escapes them.  They do not understand that real peace, actual salvation, genuine joy, authentic hope, and true love can’t be experienced outside of a relationship with God through Jesus.