Sunday, March 20, 2016

As he came near

Sermon for 3/20/16 – Palm Sunday Scripture Lessons: Luke 19: 28-40 and 41-44, NT page 83 Title: As he came near I’ve been enjoying poetry lately, which I haven’t always done, but for the past couple months I’ve really gotten a lot out of the poetry of Jeff Hardin, a local guy who teaches at Columbia State. In a poem I read last week I think he captured something about life these days. It’s titled “Reliable Citizen of the Times”: I wrote this poem while talking on my cell. And did I mention I was driving too while leafing pages of a magazine and scarfing down a clutch of curly fries? Authorities are watching me on screens that track my round-the-city whereabouts, reliable citizen of the times, preoccupied and fleet, an Orpheus regaling my pursuits through GPS. And somewhere databases keeping dibs have stored my mocha latte purchases. I’m dazzled, truly, that so much is known of me – I’m texting my acceptance speech here in the turning lane now turning green. I like this poem for a lot of reasons, but mostly I like the poem because it says something concisely that I know to be true – that these are strange times we are living in. The 21st Century so far has been a place where we are often too busy to really pay attention to much of anything, even the fellow motorists who are driving around us, and it seems like everyone is suffering from some degree of attention deficit disorder as we try to drive while also talking on our cell phones, leafing through pages of a magazine, and eating the curly fries we picked up in the drive-through because we don’t have time enough to sit down and eat at a table. And not only that, our lives, regardless of how boring or exciting, are documented to a new degree so much so that we no longer think twice upon realizing that we are on camera, we don’t hesitate to plug our coordinates into a GPS that tracks our location through satellites, and aren’t surprised that some file somewhere has accounted for and is keeping track of our recent debit or credit card purchases. This might strike you as strange if you compare life today to how things were just 25 or 50 years ago, but it doesn’t always strike me as strange. These days it mostly strikes me as normal, and so I laughed when Ron Swanson, fictional character portrayed on the NBC show “Parks and Recreation,” threw his computer into the dumpster and started using only a typewriter when he learned that the internet was tracking his on-line purchases. We are either complacent in the changes of our society or we resist them, and there have always been those who resist. Back in 2007 there was a man in Sydney, Australia who got in his own armored tank and with it tore down six cell phone towers in protest before being arrested while on his way to the seventh. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they don’t use computers because they don’t know how to use them, or they aren’t on Facebook because it’s too confusing, but maybe there is a better reason to second guess recent advances in technology. My favorite line of Jeff Hardin’s poem is this: I’m dazzled, truly, that so much is known of me – I’m texting my acceptance speech here in the turning lane now turning green. Journalist Leonard Pitts made the case years ago that social media gives us a false sense of celebrity, making us feel like people are paying attention to what we are saying, that we are being paid attention to by people who we don’t even know, that hundreds of people like our pictures and hundreds more on Facebook are really our friends, so why not begin working on our acceptance speeches if we are so important? I imagine that we don’t because we know that those who are on social media are as fickle as people are in real life, and that our friends on Facebook, our followers on Instagram, are not really either, because popularity on the internet is a lot like popularity in High School – it’s there one minute but it could be gone the next. I think you can imagine from this morning’s scripture lessons, that Jesus would not have bought into any of this, that he would have seen through it, just as he could see right though the crowds’ cries of Hosanna the closer he got to Jerusalem. From the Gospel of Luke, we read: “As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” But, “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it” saying “you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” There’s no acceptance speech given. There’s no triumph in his voice. In fact, there are tears in his eyes for just the second time in the Gospel of Luke, because he’s not excited by all this celebration and attention but knows the human heart well enough to say to himself, “Just because they are celebrating me today, they will be shouting for my crucifixion in just a matter of time.” Here’s the thing that hasn’t changed. The advances of 21st century technology, advanced techniques for political polling, news reported at a moment’s notice, social media that enables people to connect in new and varied ways – these things also illustrate clearly that people haven’t really changed in the last 2,000 years. We are as fickle now as we have always been – popularity comes and goes – as does the human heart so one day we are like Mary, pouring out $10,000 worth of perfume onto the Lord’s feet, but the very next we may well be like Judas, orchestrating the betrayal that leads to his death. It’s true that on Palm Sunday they all shouted and they were all by his side, but during his trial they hid and in the end, even Peter betrayed him three times. Where is loyalty? we ask. Or, if the human heart is prone to be so fickle, why is Jesus so faithful? And – if Jesus, knew the human heart, knew that this crowd who is with him today will be against him later, remains true to us despite our swaying loyalty, why would we be loyal to anyone or anything else? Considering the issues of today, it’s important to see that the politician who pleases you one day is likely to disappoint you the next. The sports team will change course and lose not just the game but also the moral high ground. And while the 21st Century has made heroes out of humans. Celebrities out of housewives. And saviors out of the fallible, why would you put your faith in anyone or anything besides this holy man, this Son of God, who knows the human heart, the depravity of human kind, the prodigal son and the woman caught in adultery, but still he rides on. With tears in his eyes he rides toward that cross and towards his death because he is more for you than anyone else will ever be. He did not ride on because he was misguided or confused. He did not ride towards his death because he was prone to tragedy. He rode on for love, because even the fickle heart that beats within our chest is beloved by God. For me and for you, he rode onward towards the cross. Amen.

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