Sunday Sermon -17th April 2011

Reader - Peter KaneTo access all past sermons CLICK HERE

Sermon for Sunday 17th April 2011:

Given by Reader  - Peter Kane

Crowds....  They're sometimes scary, sometimes supportive.  There are cheering crowds, and there are jeering crowds, and there is a "crowd mentality".  You've heard of "mob rule", that's the mentality of a crowd.  There is no space for individual thoughtfulness.  No time for reflection, just an immediate and mass response. One thing that's been true, from the very moment the first crowd gathered, is - There are usually two sides in a crowd.  Whether it’s a packed football stadium, or a political rally, there are those for, and those against. There are the cheerers and the jeerers, and sometimes one side or the other takes over. Sometimes, you get a crowd that becomes either supportive or hostile and often - the balance is delicate and fragile...... A crowd can easily and quickly turn!

The crowd that Jesus faced in these days at Jerusalem was both.     

It started off as a cheering and supportive crowd, and that's the crowd we meet today on Palm Sunday. But watch out, because in a very few days - these same people are going to be a very different sort of a crowd. These cheering ones - are going to turn into jeering ones!

Jesus enters Jerusalem

Jesus attracted crowds. He was a most charismatic person, this One who called himself the "Son of Man".People came from far and away to hear him, to see him, to witness the amazing things he was doing. The inclusive and loving addresses he gave. The miracles he was known to perform.

But in any crowd - then and now - you get two kinds of people - the believers, and the doubters. And we see this quite often in the Bible - when we are told of the reaction of the crowds, the behaviour of the onlookers. For example: When Jesus healed the man born blind by making mud with dirt and spit and anointing his eyes with it some of the Pharisees believed it to be a great miracle.  Some believed that indeed Jesus was the Messiah. 

But many more did not believe, they kept questioning the healed man, his parents and his neighbours. Then they accused both him and Jesus of being an agent of the Devil.

Some for, some against...... The cheerers - and the jeerers.

Later - when we look past Good Friday, past Easter, to the events of Pentecost - to the time when the Spirit descended on the disciples like tongues of flame and they began to praise God and speak in other languages, we discover that some of the onlookers saw it miraculous event.  To others it was just a big drinking party!  "They are filled with new wine" they said.

But - you know - as a crowd takes shape, as "mob rule" comes into effect the sentiment of the crowd solidifies.  The mind of the crowd moves to one side - or the other - of an issue.  It can be very frightening.  And if you're in such a crowd - there's only a couple of "safe" ways to behave. Either go along with the crowd, or keep quiet. If you don't agree, better stay silent, or leave - inconspicuously.

Some interesting experiments have been conducted by an American psychologist to understand crowds.  And these experiments show how readily people will change their opinion to match the crowd.  And I don't mean pretend to change their opinion, to fake it.  I mean - really change their mind.

One of the experiments was simple.  A bunch of people were seated in a dimly lit room.  Onto a screen at the front of the room two straight lines were projected.  One was obviously longer than the other. The task was simple.  State which line was longer?  However unknown to the one subject of this experiment (let us say unknown to you) all of the other people in the room were involved in trickery.  They had been told to lie.  So - you had twenty or so other people around you saying that line A was the longer one. Everybody was in agreement except you, as you can see clearly that line B is longer.

What happens?  Well, the experiment resulted in you changing your opinion, that's what!  Pure and simple.  Even after the experiment is finished, and you were told what was going on you still held to your changedopinion..... Line "A" was longer! That's how persuasive the effect of a crowd is.  It will even sway you to an obviously wrong opinion - and keep you there.

It was at Passover time so there was a big crowd in Jerusalem that day, when many Jews who had travelled from faraway places to celebrate this special feast didn't even know who Jesus was - even though he'd been the talk of the city in recent weeks.  This crowd, this day, was in a happy mood.  They were ready for a parade, they were ready to celebrate.

Jesus, knowing the mood of the city just before Passover, knowing the prophecies concerning how the Messiah would enter Jerusalem and knowing what would come later, rides into the city on a donkey with his disciples beside him.

It is significant, this choice of animals, as conquering heroes - generals and kings ride into town on horses, on stallions whereas the Messiah comes in a more humble fashion - on a donkey..... Just as predicted by the prophets - and the crowd shouted "Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest Heaven. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord".

The disciples must have thought they had it made.  Success - at last! Where are those arrogant Pharisees now?  We've got it made - with Jesus! The people are all for him.  They recognize that he is the promised one - the Son of David - it won't be long now - everything is going to go our way.

But Jesus knew what was to come. He knew even as the people shouted on Sunday “Hosanna in the highest, hosanna to the Son of David,   Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”What was to come on Friday. He knew what the same crowd would shout out when Pilate asked them "What should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?"

He knew that they shout out "Let him be crucified!" And that when Pilate asked, "Why, what evil has he done?"  they would shout all the more, "Let him be crucified!"  

Jesus before Pilate

How quickly things can change. One week a hero, the next just another victim: a person, an object, to be spat upon and scorned - to be beaten and killed.

And yet here we are today, the Sunday before the Friday, with our palm leaves and branches, singing praises to Jesus. But we, also knowing what was to come…are praising him with a heavy heart. In that we are closer to Christ and his knowledge of the real situation than the disciples were.  

Jesus knew who he was dying for, he knew that Judas would betray him, yet he ate and drank with Judas. He knew that Peter would deny him, and yet he prayed with Peter. He knew that the disciples would abandon him and yet he called all the disciples his friends and he knew that crowd would call for his death, yet he taught in the marketplace and healed those who came to him. Jesus knew - and we know.

We know his part and we know our part and knowing - we have celebrated and we must celebrate. We must cheer for life, knowing that death follows. We must praise Jesus and call him Lord even knowing that we, like all the others have failed him, and may yet fail him.

We must cheer, and we must remember that Jesus knows who we were and what we have done and will yet do and he still lays down his life for us.

Today we have palm leaves so that we might have a token memory of the cheering crowd on Palm Sunday when they lovingly spread palms and cloaks and branches into the roadway ahead of our Saviour.  You each have been given a palm leaf shaped into a cross. Take a look at it.... it represents the palms of "hosanna"!   The palms of this "day of acceptance" of our Lord. Yet it is woven into the cross of rejection. It is an empty cross - this cross you hold, a cross which speaks of resurrection, a cross which speaks of forgiveness. It is a very holy mystery - this cross upon which Jesus died.

It is a mystery which the crowd can never quite accept.  A mystery which you and I cannot truly understand. But which, when we accept it in faith, in our heart of hearts, turns earthly despair into heavenly triumph.

Amen

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