“Singing as We Weep” Luke 19:28-40. Donald W. Dotterer, PhD, 4/14/19
Tomorrow, April 15, is the day that many people dread. Have you filed your taxes yet?
Economists believe that most people are rational calculating machines. However, many people don’t behave sensibly and rationally when it comes to filing their taxes.
Instead, most people wait until the very last minute. Figures from the end of March suggest that roughly 50 million, or one-third of all this year’s individual tax returns in the United States, are being filed in the final two weeks before Tax Day.
The experts say that this is not a good idea for most of us, mainly because most people get a refund or owe nothing. Furthermore, the facts show that nothing really bad is going to happen to us when it comes to our taxes. Few people get audited, and hardly anybody goes to jail for not paying their taxes. But people still have this irrational fear of the IRS.[i]
So why do people procrastinate? Dr. Fuschia Sirois is a professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield who has studied procrastination. She says that procrastination is irrational. We do it because doesn’t make sense to us to do something that we think is going to have negative consequences.
Dr. Siriois says that “People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.”[ii] That certainly applies to our getting taxes done and other things that we procrastinate about as well.
On the other hand, economist Jay Zagorsky says thisabout the tax code and procrastination: he thinks that the problem is that the tax code is so complex and complicated that people can’t understand it. Indeed, the United States Income Tax Code is a mere 73,954 pages long. That’s pretty scary. In truth, nobody really understands it. Dr. Zagorsky says that many people procrastinate when faced with the unknown because the unknown is scary. And it is very rational to anticipate the worst when facing the mysteries and complexities of the United States Income Tax Code.[iii]
Well, today is one of those days in the church calendar when we have to confront irrationality. Because what is happening to Jesus just doesn’t make a lot of sense to the human mind.
Today we need to deal with a contradiction. Those of you who have been taking my class on the Old Testament are learning that there are a lot of contradictions in the Bible. There are just some things that don’t make a lot of sense to the human mind. We can’t understand them because humans do not have the mind of God. They are mysteries to us. This is where faith and what Methodism knows as the “religion of the heart” comes in.
The Church of All Nations is a famous church in Jerusalem. It sits next to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed the night before he died. It was in that Garden that Jesus prayed that well-known prayer of faith, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39).
As you can imagine, this church gets a lot of visitors, serious-minded pilgrims as well as sight-seers. There is a sign that hangs in the entrance of the church that warns the visitors, “No Explanations Inside the Church.”
The message is intended to discourage loud and talkative tour guides from disturbing the church’s prayerful atmosphere. But its message reminds all of us that church is not the place where things are explained to us.[iv] Church should be the place where we hear the good news of Jesus Christ and accept it in faith and trust.
This Sunday we experience the greatest mystery of all. The Holy Week/Passion story is one we need to hear and to believe, not question.
There are two seemingly contradictory things going on today. On the one hand this day is Palm Sunday. Even people who don’t go to church know that. This is the day on which Jesus comes riding triumphantly into Jerusalem as savior and king.
Let’s begin with this: Jesus was no procrastinator. When he decided to do something, he did it.Earlier in Luke’s gospel Jesus begins his final journey to Jerusalem. We read that Jesus “set his face to go up to Jerusalem” (9:51). I read that to mean that Jesus was determined to do what he had to do, that is, what God wanted him to do.Now the time for that has come. There would be no putting off what Jesus needed to do. Everything that happened to Jesus this week was in the plan, that is, God’s plan of salvation for the world. Everything happens in God’s time, just when it is supposed to happen. And it’s not always when we think things should happen.
So there is a lesson in this for us. And that is that everything comes in God’s own time. That means that if we are going to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives, then we need to do what God wants us to do in the time that he has appointed us to do it.
God’s work should not be put off. Life is just too short. Remember, Jesus’ own ministry was just three short years. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, so we need to do what needs to be done today--not tomorrow, not next week, not next year. Carpe Diem as they say. Seize the day. Make the most of the present time. That’s what Jesus does.
The Palm Sunday and Holy Week events were in the plan, that is, God’s plan to save the world. That’s what we see when we study the Bible as a whole, from beginning to end.
People had witnessed Jesus do amazing signs and wonders that they had never seen before. Jesus had performed miracles that showed people that he embodied the power and spirit of God. He had healed the blind and the lame. He had cast out demons. He had fed multitudes and calmed violent storms. He had even raised people from the dead. People were calling this Jesus the messiah, the savior, the long awaited Son of God.
People knew that God was in heaven and we are on earth.The two had never, ever before come together in one person. But in this man Jesus, through the mercy of God, it happened, even if people didn’t recognize it or understand it.
Surely the incarnation is a mystery. It is an unfathomable act of a loving and merciful God that is incomprehensible to the human mind. There is no explanation other than it is God’s gift of love for you and me. Now it was time for the next and final chapter in the story of God’s plan of salvation for the world to be revealed. Jesus would not put this off, even though the outcome would be his death on a cross. Talk about managing negative moods around
a task that would have negative consequences. This was it.
So Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on a colt, a young donkey that had never been ridden before. This fulfilled a prophecy right out of the Old Testament book of Zechariah, which says, “lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9). You see, there are just so many connections of Jesus to the prophecies of the Old Testament. It all fits together. Why? Because this was God’s plan.
So Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem. He receives a grand welcome as people throw their coats on the ground in front of him, cheering. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.”
Seeing people this excited shakes up the Pharisees. They tell Jesus to make it stop. But it cannot be stopped. If Jesus made the people stop praising him, then the stones would have to do it! You see, this was all part of God’s unstoppable plan.This of course is what people remember about Palm Sunday. We celebrate the grand entrance of Jesus by passing out palms and singing. In some churches children march around the sanctuary praising Jesus, as we saw today. It’s a feel-good day.But as any serious Christian knows, it didn’t last. It couldn’t last. And it could not be put off. Things had come to a head. As they say, there had to be a resolution. And we know what happens next. But we need to hear that story anew every year.
There is that shocking incident in the temple in which Jesus overturns tables and drives out those who are selling things there, screaming, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers!” Not the way to make friends and influence people you would have to say.
Jesus continues to teach in the temple, but things get more tense with those who oppose him. A plot develops to kill Jesus. He is unjustly charged with treason against the Roman Empire. He is betrayed with a kiss and put on trial in a kangaroo court. He is mocked, beaten, blindfolded, humiliated. He is killed as a common criminal.This, friends, was nothing less than an attack on God. This was murder. It was like a lynching. People stood by and watched it happen. Some even made fun of it. All this happens within the span of less than a week. It reminds us how quickly our fortunes can change. Joy turns into doom. The singing turns into crying.
So today is a day for singing. It is a day to celebrate the fact that Jesus is Lord and King of the Universe, that he is our savior.
But this is at the same time a day for weeping, because in the church calendar this day is known not only as Palm Sunday but Passion Sunday. Because we know that our forgiveness and the gift of eternal life come at a great cost. That cost is the death of the very Son of God.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense to us why God chose to work this way. That is why we need faith and trust in God’s love and care for us.
As we reflect back upon what is happening, we can identify with it. Because so often in our lives the good and the bad happen to us at the same time. One day we can be on top of the world; the next day down in the dumps. There are times in our lives when we are singing even as we weep.
But the good news is this. It is always this. Despite the good and despite the bad that happens to us, in the end, it is, as they say, all good. It’s all good because after the singing and after the weeping comes resurrection and new life. That is our hope. It is our prayer.
There is a painting by Morits Retzch titled “The Chess Players” in which a young man is playing chess with the devil. The young man is playing for his life. At stake is the young man’s soul.
The two players are at a point in the game where it is apparently the young man’s move. The despair on his face shows that he thinks that he has lost the game and that the devil has won.At the same time the devil is gloating because he thinks that it’s all over. The young man’s position seems hopeless. It looks like the devil has won the game. The young man believes that his soul is lost.
A famous chess player by the name of Morphy once went with a friend to a museum and saw the painting. They stood there looking at it.
After a brief time the friend got bored and moved on to look at other paintings, but Morphy stayed there, carefully studying the chess board.
It wasn’t long before he ran to his friend and said excitedly, “It’s not over! It’s not over! The young man has one more move.
I could win the match for him.”
The two friends then returned to the painting. Morphy showed his companion how the young man could not only escape the situation, but also win the match.[v] On Good Friday it looked like the devil and death had won. It looked like it was the end for Jesus. It looked like it was over.
But of course it was not the end. It was not over. It was instead the beginning. It was not the end because God had one more move. Because on Easter Day God resurrected Jesus from the dead. And that move changed everything. In doing so God won the game for all of us.
So friends, the question is, what do we do with all of this? Specifically, what will you and I do with it? What God did in Jesus Christ cannot be explained. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to forgive our sins is something we need to believe, something we need to take it in faith because we trust God.
But it’s not just something we believe. It is something that we can prove by the way we live our lives.
Now I want you to take out your hymnals. One of the things I like to do is to read, not sing, the lyrics of great hymns. I think it gives us a different experience of the words.
So as we enter this Holy Week on this Passion Sunday, let’s say together the words of that great hymn of the church, “The Old Rugged Cross,” number 504 in the hymnal.
Thanks be to God, Amen.
[i] Jay L. Zagorsky, Inverse.com/article/30415-tax-day-procrastination.
[ii] New York Times, 3/25/19, B8.
[iii] Jay L. Zagorsky, Inverse.com/article/30415-tax-day-procrastination.
[iv] Jim Frieddrich, Christian Century, 4/10/19, p. 10.
[v] Kris Heap, “Playing Chess With the Devil,” Successify.net