The Power of the Crowd, April 14

The Power of the Crowd

Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 19:28-40, 22:14-23:56

The Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Quarryville and Catskill United Methodist Churches; April 14, 2019

 

It’s Palm Sunday, and we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem.  We wave our palms, or our cloaks and jackets in Luke’s gospel, and we wish we had been there.  Like that wonderful old hymn declares,

        Into the city I’d follow the children’s band,

        waving a branch of the palm tree high in my hand

        One of his heralds, yes, I would sing

        Loudest hosannas, Jesus is King!! 

                (Tell Me the Stories of Jesus, UMH 277, v. 3)

I would have joined that crowd; we all would have.  It’s why there are churches today that will wave their palms high through the streets of their cities as they begin worship.  We want to be part of the excitement and the joy of singing praise to Jesus our King!  With the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, we realize they were right to sing Jesus’ praises as king.  He didn’t overthrow the Romans, as the crowd that day was hoping he’d do, but he conquered death itself in the resurrection we’ll celebrate next week.  Christ’s kingdom is eternal. The crowd we wish we could have been a part of those many years ago were not just being rowdy, they were staging a demonstration.  They were declaring loudly that the current administration of the Roman overlords was not their choice for the government they wanted to live under.  “Hosanna!  Praises to this guy who speaks with wisdom and teaches in love.  Praise to the son of David, our finest king ever.  We would follow this one, this man on a donkey, as our king.  Overthrow what we’ve got; we want Jesus!” 

 

It’s no wonder the religious leaders sought to quiet them down.  They’ve got a riot on their hands.  A happy riot, for the moment, but the mob is not under control.  And the Romans expect them to keep the people under control, especially when so many of them come together for the Passover celebration.  Authorities across the ages haven’t appreciated shouts of “a new king/president/emperor” thrown around the streets loudly. Jesus’ entry into the city is a powder keg of unrest capable of exploding at any time.  Jesus is not worried.  Nor is he surprised.  ‘It’s true, I am a king.  If these voices didn’t shout out this truth, the rocks themselves would.  The truth will out.’

 

Jesus keeps the people hoping for something new.  He comes to the temple daily; he stays in the spotlight; he talks continuously about the kingdom of God, clearly a different sort of kingdom from the Roman empire.  And the people flock to hear him, day after day.

 

To the authorities, he is dangerous.  By the end of the week, they’ve decided he’s got to go.  We’ll soon hear Luke’s telling of the last twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life – the last supper, the betrayal, Peter’s denial, the trial and the cross.  We will become the crowd, a different crowd from Sunday’s joy and excitement.  This crowd is gleaned from among the powerful faithful, those who recognize that Jesus is not going to overthrow the Romans, and that therefore the safety of the people lies in undermining his power.  He’s dangerous and they aren’t interested in living in the midst of that danger.  Are they the same people or different people entirely from Sunday’s crowd?  None of the gospels makes that clear.  There are an awful lot of people in Jerusalem for the holiday.  The crowds needn’t be made up of the same individuals. 

 

What I will call to your attention is the power the crowds hold.  The crowds that welcome Jesus on the donkey buoy him up and worry the authorities.  They speak truth about who Jesus is, truth that is threatening to the powers that be.  The words of their shouts are familiar because we echo them when we celebrate communion.  ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’  Each time we gather at the table, we declare that the kingdom of Jesus is our first loyalty, greater than the allegiance we have to any other institution that asks our allegiance.  ‘Hosanna to the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’  We long for that kingdom, and we gather together to name ourselves as those who belong to the kingdom of Christ.

Those crowds had power, and we claim that same power as followers of Jesus today.

 

Listen, too, to the power of the crowds at the trial.  Luke relates the story that Pilate does not make his decision on his own judgement.  He is powerfully swayed by the shouts of the people.  The Message, the translation we’ll hear today, says Pilate ‘caved in’ to the will of the crowd and ultimately told the soldiers to with Jesus what they would.  They crucified him. 

 

We hear this story, which is at the heart of our faith, at the core of this holiest week of the year, and we somehow forget that the people have power.  A lot of power.  Everything about this story of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem is about the people standing up for what they want and the authorities going along with the people.  It is utterly political, and it is at odds with the way we are as church today.  Today we want to claim our faith as a private thing.  A  Lutheran bishop once said, ‘the gospel is always personal, but it’s never private.’  Our faith is based on this story of people naming their trust and their hope in God publicly, on the streets of the biggest city they knew.  To follow Jesus, therefore, is to get out into the streets and affect the things that are happening.  It is to open our eyes to the suffering of children taken from their parents and say, ‘no, not on our watch!’  It is to name clearly and definitively that all people, including prisoners, especially prisoners, are valuable and precious humans, loved by God and made in God’s image. 

 

We cannot claim to follow the Son of God who was flogged and crucified publicly by staying quiet inside the walls of our churches.  The people still have power to speak to authority and to be heard. 

 

May our voices be loud, for justice, for love, for the kingdom of God.  Amen.

Philippians 2:5-11

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Luke 19:28-40

28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As 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, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

 

 

 

Luke 22:14-23:56, a dramatic reading

The Message, Eugene Peterson, translator

 

Narrator:  When it was time, Jesus sat down, all the apostles with him, and said,

Jesus:  “You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering. It’s the last one I’ll eat until we all eat it together in the kingdom of God.”

Narrator:  Taking the cup, he blessed it, then said,

Jesus:  “Take this and pass it among you. As for me, I’ll not drink wine again until the kingdom of God arrives.”

Narrator:  Taking bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying,

Jesus:  “This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory.”

Narrator:  He did the same with the cup after supper, saying,

Jesus:  “This cup is the new covenant written in my blood, blood poured out for you.

“Do you realize that the hand of the one who is betraying me is at this moment on this table? It’s true that the Son of Man is going down a path already marked out—no surprises there. But for the one who turns him in, turns traitor to the Son of Man, this is doomsday.”

Narrator:  They immediately became suspicious of each other and began quizzing one another, wondering who might be about to do this.

Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. But Jesus intervened:

Jesus:  “Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant.

“Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You’d rather eat and be served, right? But I’ve taken my place among you as the one who serves. And you’ve stuck with me through thick and thin. Now I confer on you the royal authority my Father conferred on me so you can eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and be strengthened as you take up responsibilities among the congregations of God’s people.

“Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.”

Narrator:  Peter said,

Peter:  “Master, I’m ready for anything with you. I’d go to jail for you. I’d die for you!”

Narrator:  Jesus said,

Jesus:  “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Peter, but before the rooster crows you will have three times denied that you know me.”

Narrator:  Then Jesus said,

Jesus:  “When I sent you out and told you to travel light, to take only the bare necessities, did you get along all right?”

Congregation:  “Certainly, we got along just fine.”

Narrator:  He said,

Jesus:  “This is different. Get ready for trouble. Look to what you’ll need; there are difficult times ahead. Pawn your coat and get a sword. What was written in Scripture, ‘He was lumped in with the criminals,’ gets its final meaning in me. Everything written about me is now coming to a conclusion.”

Narrator:  They said,

Congregation:  “Look, Master, two swords!”

Narrator:  But he said,

Jesus:  “Enough of that; no more sword talk!”

Narrator:  Leaving there, he went, as he so often did, to Mount Olives. The disciples followed him. When they arrived at the place, he said,

Jesus:  “Pray that you don’t give in to temptation.”

Narrator:  He pulled away from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed,

Jesus:  “Father, remove this cup from me. But please, not what I want. What do you want?”

Narrator:  At once an angel from heaven was at his side, strengthening him. He prayed on all the harder. Sweat, wrung from him like drops of blood, poured off his face.

He got up from prayer, went back to the disciples and found them asleep, drugged by grief. He said,

Jesus:  “What business do you have sleeping? Get up. Pray so you won’t give in to temptation.”

Narrator:  No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a crowd showed up, Judas, the one from the Twelve, in the lead. He came right up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said,

Jesus:  “Judas, you would betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

Narrator:  When those with him saw what was happening, they said,

Congregation:  “Master, shall we fight?”

Narrator:  One of them took a swing at the Chief Priest’s servant and cut off his right ear.  Jesus said,

Jesus:  “Let them be. Even in this.”

Narrator:  Then, touching the servant’s ear, he healed him.

Jesus spoke to those who had come—high priests, Temple police, religion leaders:

Jesus: “What is this, jumping me with swords and clubs as if I were a dangerous criminal? Day after day I’ve been with you in the Temple and you’ve not so much as lifted a hand against me. But do it your way—it’s a dark night, a dark hour.”

Narrator:  Arresting Jesus, they marched him off and took him into the house of the Chief Priest. Peter followed, but at a safe distance. In the middle of the courtyard some people had started a fire and were sitting around it, trying to keep warm. One of the serving maids sitting at the fire noticed him, then took a second look and said,

Congregation: “This man was with him!”

Narrator:  He denied it,

Peter:  “Woman, I don’t even know him.”

Narrator:  A short time later, someone else noticed him and said,

Congregation: “You’re one of them.”

But Peter denied it:

Peter:  “Man, I am not.”

Narrator:  About an hour later, someone else spoke up, really adamant:

Congregation:  “He’s got to have been with him! He’s got ‘Galilean’ written all over him.”

Narrator:  Peter said,

Peter: “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Narrator:  At that very moment, the last word hardly off his lips, a rooster crowed. Just then, the Master turned and looked at Peter. Peter remembered what the Master had said to him: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” He went out and cried and cried and cried.

The men in charge of Jesus began poking fun at him, slapping him around. They put a blindfold on him and taunted,

Congregation: “Who hit you that time?”

Narrator:  They were having a grand time with him. 

When it was morning, the religious leaders of the people and the high priests and scholars all got together and brought him before their High Council. They said,

Congregation:  “Are you the Messiah?”

Narrator:  He answered,

Jesus:  “If I said yes, you wouldn’t believe me. If I asked what you meant by your question, you wouldn’t answer me. So here’s what I have to say: From here on the Son of Man takes his place at God’s right hand, the place of power.”

Narrator:  They all said,

Congregation:  “So you admit your claim to be the Son of God?”

Jesus:  “You’re the ones who keep saying it,”

Narrator:  he said.

But they had made up their minds,

Congregation:  “Why do we need any more evidence? We’ve all heard him as good as say it himself.”

Narrator:  Then they all took Jesus to Pilate and began to bring up charges against him. They said,

Congregation:  “We found this man undermining our law and order, forbidding taxes to be paid to Caesar, setting himself up as Messiah-King.”

Narrator:  Pilate asked him,

Pilate:  “Is this true that you’re ‘King of the Jews’?”

Jesus:  “Those are your words, not mine,”

Narrator:  Jesus replied.

Pilate told the high priests and the accompanying crowd,

Pilate:  “I find nothing wrong here. He seems harmless enough to me.”

Narrator:  But they were vehement.

Congregation:  “He’s stirring up unrest among the people with his teaching, disturbing the peace everywhere, starting in Galilee and now all through Judea. He’s a dangerous man, endangering the peace.”

Narrator:  When Pilate heard that, he asked,

Pilate:  “So, he’s a Galilean?”

Narrator:  Realizing that he properly came under Herod’s jurisdiction, he passed the buck to Herod, who just happened to be in Jerusalem for a few days.

Herod was delighted when Jesus showed up. He had wanted for a long time to see him, he’d heard so much about him. He hoped to see him do something spectacular. He peppered him with questions. Jesus didn’t answer—not one word. But the high priests and religion scholars were right there, saying their piece, strident and shrill in their accusations.

Mightily offended, Herod turned on Jesus. His soldiers joined in, taunting and jeering. Then they dressed him up in an elaborate king costume and sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became thick as thieves. Always before they had kept their distance.

Then Pilate called in the high priests, rulers, and the others and said,

Pilate:  “You brought this man to me as a disturber of the peace. I examined him in front of all of you and found there was nothing to your charge. And neither did Herod, for he has sent him back here with a clean bill of health. It’s clear that he’s done nothing wrong, let alone anything deserving death. I’m going to warn him to watch his step and let him go.”

Narrator:  At that, the crowd went wild:

Congregation:  “Kill him! Give us Barabbas!”

Narrator:  (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder.) Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again.

But they kept shouting back,

Congregation:  “Crucify! Crucify him!”

He tried a third time.

Pilate:  “But for what crime? I’ve found nothing in him deserving death. I’m going to warn him to watch his step and let him go.”

Narrator:  But they kept at it, a shouting mob, demanding that he be crucified. And finally they shouted him down. Pilate caved in and gave them what they wanted. He released the man thrown in prison for rioting and murder, and gave them Jesus to do whatever they wanted.

As they led him off, they made Simon, a man from Cyrene who happened to be coming in from the countryside, carry the cross behind Jesus. A huge crowd of

people followed, along with women weeping and carrying on. At one point Jesus turned to the women and said,

Jesus:  “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t cry for me. Cry for yourselves and for your children. The time is coming when they’ll say, ‘Lucky the women who never conceived! Lucky the wombs that never gave birth! Lucky the breasts that never gave milk!’ Then they’ll start calling to the mountains, ‘Fall down on us!’ calling to the hills, ‘Cover us up!’ If people do these things to a live, green tree, can you imagine what they’ll do with deadwood?”

Narrator:  Two others, both criminals, were taken along with him for execution.

When they got to the place called Skull Hill, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right, the other on his left.

Jesus prayed,

Jesus:  “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Narrator:  Dividing up his clothes, they threw dice for them. The people stood there staring at Jesus, and the ringleaders made faces, taunting,

Congregation:  “He saved others. Let’s see him save himself! The Messiah of God—ha! The Chosen—ha!”

Narrator:  The soldiers also came up and poked fun at him, making a game of it. They toasted him with sour wine:

Congregation:  “So you’re King of the Jews! Save yourself!”

Narrator:  Printed over him was a sign: this is the king of the jews.

One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him:

Congregation:  “Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!”

Narrator:  But the other one made him shut up:

Congregation:  “Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him—he did nothing to deserve this.”

Narrator:  Then he said,

Congregation:  “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”

Narrator:  He said,

Jesus:  “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.”

Narrator:  By now it was noon. The whole earth became dark, the darkness lasting three hours—a total blackout. The Temple curtain split right down the middle. Jesus called loudly,

Jesus:  “Father, I place my life in your hands!”

Narrator:  Then he breathed his last.

When the captain there saw what happened, he honored God:

Congregation:  “This man was innocent! A good man, and innocent!”

Narrator:  All who had come around as spectators to watch the show, when they saw what actually happened, were overcome with grief and headed home. Those who knew Jesus well, along with the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a respectful distance and kept vigil.

There was a man by the name of Joseph, a member of the Jewish High Council, a man of good heart and good character. He had not gone along with the plans and actions of the council. His hometown was the Jewish village of Arimathea. He lived in alert expectation of the kingdom of God. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Taking him down, he wrapped him in a linen shroud and placed him in a tomb chiseled into the rock, a tomb never yet used. It was the day before Sabbath, the Sabbath just about to begin.

The women who had been companions of Jesus from Galilee followed along. They saw the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed. Then they went back to prepare burial spices and perfumes. They rested quietly on the Sabbath, as commanded.