Palm Sunday • 9 April 2017

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 21:1-11

Rev. Chris Udy

So it looks like we’ve survived another election,
urged once again to cast our vote
for one person, or one party, against another.
As elections go it was quite tame –
perhaps because it was only a by-election
and therefore very local –
in fact, as Lorna reminded me during the week
those of us who live in Willoughby
didn’t have to worry.
Thankfully we here in Australia
don’t face elections and transitions of power
with the kind of apprehension and tension
other communities fear –
but, even so, we are often defined by our differences
and divided by our loyalties and allegiances.

We are also a divided body here;
we always have been -
congregations always are.

It wasn’t what happened in yesterday’s elections
that created our divisions –
they’ve been between and within us for a long time.
We see the world in different ways.
Some of us think time spent watching cricket
is both relaxing and exciting -
others among us would prefer to go to the dentist.
Some of us read the Australian
with interest and appreciation -
others among us opt to absorb the Herald.
Some of us find classical music moving -
others among us dance to a different rhythm.
We’re different.
And when we’re asked
to make decisions and choose options,
our differences lead us into division -
and that’s not an unhealthy thing.

Thankfully, God made all his children unique.
We might cluster along certain lines
and be grouped according to certain characteristics,
but no two of us -
even if we share the same DNA -
no two of us are exactly the same -
and most of the time,
most of us delight in our difference.
(The world would be a much less interesting place
- just for example -
if girls weren’t girls,
and boys weren’t appreciative.)
Difference is a gift of God.
It makes a garden beautiful,
and a meal enjoyable,
and a conversation fruitful and worthwhile.
We’re different, and difference is essential
to a marriage, and a family,
and a community.

Differences also lead us into division.
Sometimes we discover we do not agree
with the way someone else describes the world
or with an action someone else proposes.
The only direct experience we can have
is with our own senses -
and they are woefully limited and deceptive.
So we need to be careful
even with things we’ve experienced ourselves -
and for everything we haven’t seen with our own eyes,
or heard with our own ears,
or touched with our own hands,
we have to trust.
We have to trust that what people tell us
is both accurate and true -
that their senses haven’t let them down,
and that they are speaking with good will.

Sadly, sometimes people make mistakes
and in all honestly
sometimes we tell other people things
that we then find just aren’t true.
Tragically, we all stretch the truth.
Usually just about little things -
just to tell a story, or to be gentle
or to keep the peace -
but sometimes out of fear, or anger, or greed -
and sometimes with malice,
wanting to damage and hurt.

So we learn to test and weigh what we’re told,
and when we’re not sure
we look for things that might help us to trust:
signs that the person speaking
knows what they’re talking about
and is speaking with goodwill.
We look and listen for signs
that people see the world as we do,
that they understand
our hopes and needs and concerns.

And so we tend to fall
into sides and camps and parties;
we see other people as with us or opposed;
and, tragically again, we tend to stop talking
to people who see the world in a different way.
We listen to, and read, and spend our time
with people among whom
we feel comfortable and friendly -
and often we avoid anything or anyone
who makes us feel fearful,
or awkward and strange.

But sometimes,
even with people we love and trust,
issues are raised,
and we’re asked to make decisions
and choose options
about things that have potential for division.
Something new happens,
or a problem emerges,
or our regular routines and roles and habits
just stop working.
Very few of us welcome that kind of change.
Most of us prefer
to keep things as they are -
especially if the way things are
is comfortable and happy.

But the world is changing.
Our minds and bodies ...
I think the word is ‘mature’.
Our families grow up.
Our neighbours move away,
and new ones arrive.
New technologies and ideas
transform our culture and society -
and the earth itself is constantly in motion.
And in all these things,
God is present and active.
Although we may live
in a comfortable and happy place,
not many people do -
and until all God’s children
can live with justice and at peace,
God will be working in us and through us
for peaceful reconciliation.

Unfortunately, the road to peaceful reconciliation
often begins with conflict -
and it’s clear that Jesus understood
that peace is much, much more
than the absence of discord.

The Gospel reading for today
is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.
It’s the end of a long journey
from Galilee, on the neglected margins of Jewish life,
to Jerusalem - the City of the rulers,
and to the Temple - the heart of the faith.
He didn’t come as a conqueror;
he didn’t have an army;
he didn’t want King Herod’s crown
or to commandeer the Temple -
but he definitely wanted things to change.
What he wanted was peace -
and peace - the Hebrew word is ‘shalom’ -
is the word for wholeness, integrity,
essentially it means ‘health’.

Galilee and Judea had been quiet for some time.
Pilate made sure that any complaint
or public demonstration
was ruthlessly crushed and brutally disbanded.
Crosses and other forms of public execution
marked the roads and ridges
throughout the Roman Empire;
that was the way the Romans enforced their order.
King Herod’s friends and allies -
and the people who ran the Temple -
were profiting from the enforcement of ‘Pax Romana’ -
but people outside Jerusalem’s inner circles -
people from the margins -
like people from Galilee -
or people who’d lost their farms to Herod’s friends,
or people who were poor or sick or disabled
weren’t very peaceful at all.
They were being damaged.
They were being exploited and excluded
and if they asked for justice or assistance,
they were either ignored
or victimised and punished.

So Jesus gathered them up
and took them with him to Jerusalem;
not for violent revolution;
not for regime change -
but to let the rulers and the leaders of the Temple
see and hear the people -
the children of God -
who would need to be considered and included
if Jerusalem, and Israel, and the world
was to be at peace.

So he rode in on a donkey –
not a war-horse -
and he went through
the streets of the city to the Temple,
where he spilled the coins of the money-changers -
who were part of a corrupt system of exploitation.
Anyone who wanted to do what the Law required,
and offer a gift in sacrifice for worship
had buy it from the Temple
and they had to pay for the gift with Temple money.
So the Temple stung them twice.

Jesus then remained in the Temple courtyard,
and people who were blind and lame,
who’d come to the Temple for help -
but found nothing -
came crowding to Jesus for healing.
The children who were there -
still caught up in the excitement of the procession -
were shouting out -
“Hosanna to the Son of David” -
(‘the Son of David saves us’)
but the people who ran the Temple -
the Chief Priests and scribes -
were affronted and disturbed.
They didn’t like any threat to their control,
and they were afraid
that people calling Jesus ‘Son of David’
sounded like a call to revolution -
and they were right.
Jesus was beginning a revolution -
but it wasn’t a revolution of arms and blood:
it was a revolution
of sacrifice, and truth, and forgiving grace.

Jesus is our model in peace-making.
He will always ask us
to pay very close attention
especially to those with whom we disagree.
Jesus always brings with him
people that we’ve overlooked,
people whose way of seeing the world
is different from our own -
not because we need to be polite -
although that’s a very good start -
but because it’s those with whom we disagree
who have the most to teach us.

Peace is not the absence of conflict -
in fact conflict is often a sign
of confident health and strength.
It means that we’re seriously thinking,
and honestly responding,
to something in our world that doesn’t fit.
Peace-making begins with understanding
that although we may be comfortable and happy,
there are others who are not -
and that’s where we begin
to work out what we need to do.

Difference is a gift of God.
Division reveals differences
that need to be addressed,
and conflict is often the first step
on the way to justice and peace.
We, who follow Jesus,
need to live by his example in peace-making.
We can’t be looking
for victories or conquests -
nor can we run away
from honest disagreements.
We need to bring together
people from the margins and the centre -
every perspective needs to be seen and heard.
We need to treat everyone with patient respect;
avoiding the temptation
to fall into factions and parties and sides -
and we need to trust and hope
that God is bringing new life - resurrection -
even out of something that looks like death.

We are a divided body;
we are the broken body of Christ.
And it’s
because he’s broken,
when he’s broken
that Jesus feeds us.
Jesus leads us to Jerusalem,
and into the Temple,
and onto the cross,
and there he holds us together,
with forgiveness and with grace,
as we work to understand and appreciate
and honour our difference
and find our way to God’s wholeness -
to God’s peace.