Friends, this time around, the Word for this Palm Sunday has got me thinking that it is easy to welcome Jesus but hard to follow him.
See, it is easy to welcome a winner. You may have done that a few times? Last Saturday, our second son, Mitch, and his team of under 12 cricketers won the grand final in their league. It was great! The boys played so well and the coach and the parents were stoked. There was lots of slaps on backs and encouraging words from proud Mum’s and Dad’s as the boys came off the hallowed turf. It was easy and fun to welcome these winners. It is a good thing to experience now and again!
If it is easy to welcome a winner, like they did on Palm Sunday, as Jesus the great new king entered the royal city of Jerusalem, it is probably quite easy to follow a winner too. If the leader is loved and has good skills and a good plan and the right intentions, then following can be done with relative ease. We are happy to jump on a winning train and see where it leads.
It may be easy to welcome a winner, and even follow a winner, but it is a lot harder to welcome and follow a loser. So many times I have been on the boundary line of our kid’s sports and had to welcome them off the ground when they have suffered a crushing loss. That is not so easy.
If welcoming a loser is hard, then following one is harder still. Remember that teacher you once had who you just could not follow but had to in order to do your best? Remember that boss you worked under who sometimes seemed to not really know what was going on or understand the issues, but you worked away anyway. What about that colleague whom you just find it hard to trust and work with, but you have to anyway; that kid at school who was the class “loser” whom you found it hard to stick up for. It is hard to follow a person or a religion that you or others sometimes judge to be a “loser”.
But, even with all that, what would inspire you to do this difficult thing of following a so called, “loser”?
I guess you might follow if you knew that the person was not actually a loser. That would take some attention and working through though, to find out. It would take some application, patience, personal time and reflection to discover that your and others’ judgements about the person were actually not quite big enough or full enough.
I guess you would follow a loser if you trusted that it was all for a great and noble purpose – a purpose of hope, of life, or renewal, of learning, of growing, of truly living and understanding…
You could follow if you trusted that his loss was so that good things come to you, – personally, come to a world in need, come to an environment damaged, come to a universe out of sync.
If the loser was actually no loser, but another kind of winner who operates on a completely different scale of who is a winner and who is a loser, and if you could understand his way of winning and what it meant for the good of you and the world, then you might follow him.
Of course, how everyone judges this Jesus on a donkey, and then on a cross, and in a tomb is different. In our time and place, many people would regard him and those who follow him as not too much of a winner.
Even those who profess to follow this seeming “loser” (as others view him) probably wonder if they have backed a winner, because following Jesus is not held in any great esteem, just as he is no longer held in any high esteem.
We may even get to the point of only following parts of Jesus – the parts that are easy and don’t confront us much.
An example….. We hear a lot about God’s grace. “It’s all about grace” we say. Our life is based on simply receiving the free gift of God’s grace and learning to be gracious, and so it goes… This is true but it is also incomplete.
Jesus doesn’t really allow anyone to leave it there. Yes he is magnificent in his lavish grace as he takes a beating from evil itself in my place. Yes he is grace personified as he is lifted up in pain and blood to lose it all so that I can gain all.
Yes, we are connected with the maker of all things in a relationship of compassion and love by the compassion and passion and love of this divine man, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God.
But then he lays a call on us. He said to those 12 people entering the city with him that first Palm Sunday, “Follow”. In his grace – grace enough to overlook their many ignorance’s and offensive ideals and actions, “Follow”. His call to us is a call of underserved love and confidence in us, and yet it is still a call to follow him somewhere into something.
“Follow what or whom?” we might ask. Follow a lifestyle goal? Follow a code of ethics? Follow a set of values. Follow the great thinkers and theologians? Follow the church and all it’s teaching religiously? Follow the family tradition of Christianity?
No, not in the most basic and first instance anyway. “Follow ME”, the donkey riding Servant King calls. “Follow me into the city; into an unknown future”.
So, we are called by this grace-filled God to follow him somewhere in the journey of life he has given us. Today he calls us to follow him into the city and the suffering and the crucifixion and death and then that life at the end of the tunnel.
So how about it? As you welcome the winner, Jesus, will you follow him into an unknown future? Will you welcome this divine crucified man who will win the greatest victory of all – the ability and the power and authority to even forgiven human sin and heal human blindness?
Will you welcome him as he reveals the wise and divine to the foolish and impatient? Will you follow him into Easter and its seeming foolishness and weakness and see where he leads you this time around? Will you follow him?
The opposite response is to settle for a theoretical brand of Christianity. Peter, with all his promises to practice his faith and stay with Jesus even to death, found that the practice of faith and following is more confronting and scary that the theory of it. Actually following in faith is confronting.
But imagine his life after it was all over and he was restored by Jesus to full belonging and love – the practice of following the resurrected Jesus was a joy and a light burden and a great love and fulfilment to his being!
So, how about it? Will you lose the theory and let Jesus lead into the practice of being Christian, and so find that world-shaping and fulfilling life which the Saviour promises?
The time for entertaining Christianity is over. The call of Jesus to a generation is upon us. He still calls to all of us – “Follow ME”.
Follow him to the cross and stay there with him in your spirit these holy days. Stay in the tomb with the seeming “loser”.
Wait for the light to crack the stone around the heart and turn and face the Son in all his glory on Easter Day.
He is calling all of us to let him love us, let him surround us with his underserved kindness. He is gifting us with a call around here – to follow him in our place with our skills, our relationships, our hopes, our plans, our whole selves.
So, we welcome the king. We ask with all our soul for this winner to lead us into his suffering and into his glorious power and light for our calling here in this place at this time.
Welcome the winner. Follow the winner even if it means losing something.