Monday, April 02, 2012

April 1, 2012 - Ancient Stories and Timeless Truths: Be Careful What You Wish For

Some years ago, in another community, we had a group of churches that would gather occasionally for community services.  On one occasion our church was hosting, but another minister was responsible for the message.  He called me during a few days before the service and said, there’s a guy running for statewide office and I asked him to come and speak.  He’s promised not to give us a campaign speech.  Is that okay with you?  I asked, are you sure it’s not going to be a campaign speech?  Oh no, the other minister said, he’s promised me.  Against my better judgment, I said, okay.  Guess what we got that night – a campaign speech.  The people who agreed with his politics liked it and those who disagreed with his politics didn’t like it.  And I wondered how I walked right into that mess.

Political power and spiritual power have always been like oil and water – they just don’t mix very well.  We are citizens of two kingdoms – we are citizens of an earthly kingdom and a spiritual kingdom, and they do not always mix in our own lives very well. 

Today, on Palm Sunday, we remember the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, but I want us to examine Palm Sunday in light of an Old Testament text, since we have been traveling through the Old Testament in recent weeks.

Our text today comes from I Samuel.  It’s a passage that is, I think, a parallel passage to the Triumphal Entry found in the gospels.  It is a text that reminds us that the two kingdoms – earthly and spiritual – have very different goals and agendas.

In this passage, and the passages that tell us of the Triumphal Entry, we see the same desire by the people – the desire for a political savior.  Just as the crowd cheered Jesus in large part because they were hoping he would be a political savior, the people of Israel wanted a king – a political savior.
Jesus was not interested in picking up the mantel of political messiah, and Samuel was not interested in anointing a king for the nation of Israel.  Both were well aware of the dangers in what the people were seeking, and they are dangers we would do well to avoid as well.

Power is intoxicating, and corrupting. 
I vividly remember the first trip my family took to Washington, DC.  One of the reasons I remember it so well is because I didn’t want to go.  I had always heard that Washington is one of those places everyone should visit at least once during their lifetime, but my feeling was, why can’t we go to the beach?  Why Washington? Unfortunately, I did my best to make my displeasure known about the trip.  Driving to Washington we traveled through West Virginia, and I couldn’t help but say, all I wanted to do was get out of these mountains and here we are driving through them – and on our way to Washington.  We were going to stay with my brother-in-law and his family and thankfully, I resisted the temptation to complain about that arrangement.  After arriving at my brother-in-laws house and settling in for the evening, we set out the next morning for the train station and our journey into the city.  We couldn’t find a parking place at the train station and once again I suggested we should go to the beach.  Finally, after finding a parking spot, we started our walk to the station and it started raining on us.  After riding the train into the city we arrived at the station by Capitol Hill.  We walked up the steps and right at the top of the steps were two senators talking.  Then we went into the Capitol, and into the galleries, and all of a sudden, I was hooked like a fish who never saw the hook coming.  I was so caught up in what I saw in Washington and thought, so this is how it happens.  You get around power and get caught up in it.  It really is intoxicating and addicting.

And that’s one of the dangers of power.  It leads us to believe that it has an answer to every issue and a solution to every problem and if we can just get our hands on some of that power we can fix everything that’s wrong with the world.

But it never seems to work out that way.

Jesus saw the corrupting nature of power.  After his entrance into Jerusalem he entered the Temple and began knocking over tables and driving out the merchants and the moneychangers and he was not a bit gentle in doing so.  John’s gospel tells us that Jesus fashioned a whip out of some cords (John 2:15), and as he did I can imagine what was going through his heart and mind – heartbreak at seeing the Temple reduced to a place of dishonest and exploitive commerce and a place where the religious leaders were in league with the Romans to exploit people for their own selfish gain. 

Earthly and spiritual kingdoms do not mix very well.
Lora finds a lot of great pictures for my messages, and I appreciate the great amount of time and effort she offers.  This is one of my favorites of all the pictures she has sent to me.  What a contrast in this picture – a crown of gold and jewels with a crown of thorns.

It is a very stark reminder of the opposing goals of an earthly kingdom and a spiritual kingdom.  An earthly kingdom is about ownership and power to enforce an agenda; a spiritual kingdom is about humility and the giving up of power in sacrificial service; an earthly kingdom will use force when necessary; a spiritual kingdom turns the other cheek; an earthly kingdom is often based on self-interest; a spiritual kingdom is about the giving up of self-interest for the interest of others.  In fact, the words of Paul in Philippians 2:1-11 is the best way of defining the contrast of the two kingdoms – Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,
then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 

rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

That is the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill or Rights, and the Constitution of a spiritual kingdom.

The power of love is the greatest power.
The Triumphal Entry of Jesus was not the only entrance into Jerusalem that drew a large crowd.  Probably just days before, Pilate would have entered Jerusalem, but not on a humble donkey.  Pilate entered Jerusalem on a war horse, surrounded by all the trappings of Roman power.  But most people have no idea about that entry, and it’s because of the primary difference between Pilate and Jesus – Pilate was about a temporal power, a power of this earth that could compel people to do what Pilate wanted done, but Jesus had the power of love, and there is no greater power.

Some years ago, a friend of mine traveled to a part of the world where followers of Jesus face a great deal of persecution.  He was part of a group of businessmen who went to give business advice, but also in hopes of strengthening members of the underground church.  He met a man who owned a small business and was also a Christian.  Because of his faith, his business was burglarized and vandalized and he was beaten and arrested on several occasions.  In spite of the persecution he faced, he continued in his faith.  How was he able to persevere?  Because the power of love is the greatest power.  The power of love was greater than the might of the Roman Empire that crucified Jesus.  The power of love is mightier than the hatred and the violence that is in our world.  Earthly kingdoms came and go, but the power of love demonstrated by God’s kingdom lasts forever.

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