Our reading today is not one you normally hear in the middle of July. This is one of the traditional Palm Sunday readings. But we’ve been doing a sermon series looking at the life of Jesus, in as near to chronological order as we can, and this is where we are. Palm Sunday. The last Sunday before Jesus was killed.
Have you ever thought about what it would be like to know the future? Probably all of us have. In fact, I’m sure all of us have had times when we wished we did know the future. Countless books and TV shows and movies have been made on that subject, and they always seem to go the same way. At first it seems wonderful to be able to see the future, but eventually it seems more like a curse, and the person who can see the future wishes he could not.
I wonder if, on that Palm Sunday, Jesus wished he did not know the future. Because here he is, riding into town in triumph, to the cheering of the crowds. People are going nuts over him. They’re spreading cloaks and palm branches in front of him, laying out the red carpet. And yet, Jesus really cannot enjoy any of it. Because Jesus knows none of it means anything. He knows that some of these same people who are in the crowd shouting “Hosanna” today, will be in another crowd a few days later, shouting “crucify”.
So how do you think Jesus felt as he came into Jerusalem? We’re not told. As often happens in the Bible, all we’re told is what happened. We’re not told how people felt about it.
My guess is that Jesus did not feel much of anything, really. For one thing, Jesus knew that this was how things had to happen. He had told people this was how things had to happen. The fact is that, really, everyone was just doing what Jesus expected them to do.
But I think there’s another reason that Jesus might not have felt much of anything. Because he knew that it was not just the shouts of “hosanna” that did not mean anything. The shouts of “crucify” a few days later would not mean anything, either.
Jesus knew that most of the people in the crowd were not really in favor of him or opposed to him. Most of the people in the crowd did not particularly care about Jesus one way or another. Some of them did, certainly. His disciples and other close friends were there. And of course, the Pharisees and the other Jewish authorities cared. They were not on Jesus’ side, but at least they cared. But most people probably did not. They were just going along with the crowd.
But think about what that says. After all the things Jesus had said, after all the things Jesus had done, after all the miracles and everything else, the majority of people still did not care much about him one way or the other. I would think that would have been the most frustrating thing of all for Jesus. Here he’d been doing all this stuff for human beings, and most human beings really could not have cared less. They did not even care enough to actively oppose him. Again, they were just going along with the crowd.
It reminds me of the words in Revelation that the Apostle John was told to write to the church at Laodicea. “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” That pretty much sums up most of the people in Jerusalem. They were not fired up in favor of Jesus, and they were not fired up against him. They were lukewarm. Neither cold nor hot.
And it seems to me that that’s still the situation a lot of us have in our faith. We’re lukewarm. We’re neither cold nor hot. We’re not actively opposed to Jesus. In fact, we kind of like him. We say we believe in him as our Savior. But how many of us have let Jesus change our life? How many of us are really fired up to follow Jesus, no matter where the road leads?
The comedian George Carlin used to have a line about work. He said, “Most of us work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough not to quit.” Now that’s a good line, but think about what it says. It says that most of us really are not interested enough in our work to really do our jobs well. We’re going to do what we think is the bare minimum of work necessary to get by. We’ll do what we think is enough, but we’re not going to do any more.
I wonder if, without really thinking about it this way, we sometimes look at our faith that way. We’ll have just enough faith to get to heaven and repent just enough not to go to hell. We’re not really interested enough in our faith to really follow Jesus wherever he leads us. We’re going to have what we think is the bare minimum of faith necessary to get by. We’ll have what we think is enough faith, but we’re not going to have any more. Not enough to really change our lives in a significant way.
And please, do not think that I’m pointing a finger at anyone here. If I’m pointing a finger at anyone, it’s at me. I’m guilty of this all the time. And I try to justify it to myself all the time, too. I say, “But look at all the stuff I’m doing.” And Jesus says, “I did not tell you to do a bunch of stuff. I told you to go and make disciples.” I say, “But look at all the things I’m involved in.” And Jesus says, “I did not tell you to be involved in things. I told you to love your neighbor.” I say, “But I’m a good person, really.” And Jesus says, “I did not tell you to be a good person. I told you to follow me.”
That’s where I am, a lot of the time. Maybe it’s where you are, too. Maybe not--again, it’s not my purpose to point fingers here. It’s not my job to judge you. It’s for you to decide whether you think any of this describes you. I just know that, quite often, it describes me.
So for those of us who think it does describe us, at least part of the time, that brings up the question: What do we do about it? How do we go from being lukewarm to being hot? How do we go from “being a good person” to actually following Jesus wherever he leads us?
Well, I don’t have a nice, simple, easy answer. If I did I’d be doing it. I think it includes some of the things we’ve talked about in previous weeks. Trusting God. Opening our hearts to God. Asking God to lead us and asking God for the courage to follow where God leads us. It’s easy to say all that. It’s not so easy to do it. But we need to try. We also need to ask for God’s help, because we cannot do this by ourselves. But we need to do our part.
But here’s something that might help. A lot of us have talked about how concerned we are about some of the things that are happening in our country. We’ve talked about how Christianity seems to be declining. We’ve talked about how attendance at churches--not just ours, but a lot of churches all over the country--is going down. We’ve talked about how the number of people who list their religion as “none” is going up. And we wonder if anything can be done to change this, or if Christianity in the United States is on a permanent downward course and there’s nothing that can be done about it.
I don’t know the answer to that. But here’s what I do know. If these things are going to change, if we’re going to see Christianity grow in the United States again, it’s not going to be caused by people who are lukewarm. It’s not going to happen because of Christians who have the bare minimum faith necessary to get by. It’s not going to happen because of people who are neither cold nor hot.
If Christianity is going to grow in the United States, and in fact, if it’s going to grow in the Wheatland Parish, it’s going to grow because of people who trust in the Lord. It’s going to grow because of people who have complete faith. It’s going to grow because of people who are not willing to settle for just “doing stuff and being involved in things”, but who are willing to do whatever it takes to love their neighbor and to go and make disciples. It’s going to grow because of people who are not willing to settle for just “being a good person”, but who are willing to follow Jesus Christ wherever he leads us. Who are willing to follow Jesus Christ even when he takes us out of our comfort zone. Who are willing to follow Jesus Christ even when he calls us to do things we don’t want to do. Who are willing to follow Jesus Christ even when he leads us to places that scare us, places that we don’t want to go.
If Christianity is going to grow again in the United States, and if it’s going to grow again in the Wheatland Parish, those are the people who are going to make it happen. May God help all of us be those people.