22 Oct 2017
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

15 Oct 2017
This Too Shall Pass

8 Oct 2017
The Simple Truth: Head, Heart and Hands

1 Oct 2017
Humility – Staying close to the ground

2 Jul 2017
Welcoming the Silence

25 Jun 2017
Always Uniting…

18 Jun 2017
Are you ready for harvest?

11 Jun 2017
Don’t Blame it on the Snake

4 Jun 2017
Words Beyond Words: Breath Beyond Breath

28 May 2017
Seeing with new eyes

14 May 2017
Grace, Gracious and Graceful

30 Apr 2017
A Time for war and a time for peace

23 Apr 2017
Faithful Doubting

16 Apr 2017
God became human so that we could become divine!

12 Mar 2017
Wind of the Spirit

12 Feb 2017
From the Mountainside: The Impossible Dream?

22 Jan 2017
Grounding our Life and Faith

25 Dec 2016
That Humanity should become Divine

11 Dec 2016
Joy is for Everyone

4 Dec 2016
The Mingling of Water and Spirit

27 Nov 2016
Living Fully in the Present Moment

16 Oct 2016
Persistence and Justice

9 Oct 2016
Gratitude and Thankfulness

2 Oct 2016
Standing in the Tragic Gap

25 Sep 2016
Rich Man, Poor Man

4 Sep 2016
The Gift of Freedom

21 Aug 2016
A Hidden Wholeness

14 Aug 2016
We all need wise words to live by

31 Jul 2016
When Less is More

24 Jul 2016
Developing Healthy Relationships

17 Jul 2016
Died Wise

10 Jul 2016
Meeting Strangers on the Road

3 Jul 2016
On the Road Again

29 May 2016
Faith is the Answer

22 May 2016
The Way of Wisdom

15 May 2016
Icons and Stained Glass Windows – Inner light

8 May 2016
Unity and Oneness

1 May 2016
A Hidden Wholeness

24 Apr 2016
Lest we forget: What?

17 Apr 2016
God became human so that we could become divine!

3 Apr 2016
Thank God for St Thomas!

27 Mar 2016
Living life’s great contradictions

20 Mar 2016
Message of Peace

13 Mar 2016
Living Fully, Loving Wastefully

6 Mar 2016
Come Home, all is forgiven

28 Feb 2016
Simply, leave it alone

21 Feb 2016
Why do we “kill” our prophets?

7 Feb 2016
Keeping your Head in the Clouds

Sermons

Message of Peace

20 March, 2016 Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Luke 19:28-40 Palm Sunday By Rev Dr Christopher Page


…For I also had my hour; one far fierce hour and sweet.

There was a shout about my ears and palms before my feet.
~from The Donkey by G. K. Chesterton

Introduction:
There is a psychiatric condition called the Jerusalem Syndrome that can affect normally psychologically healthy people when they visit Jerusalem.  It seems to be related to the encounter with a place that has an overabundance of religious significance.  Interestingly it is not specific to one particular religion.  It can affect Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The Jerusalem syndrome is the phenomenon whereby a person who seems previously balanced and devoid of any signs of psychopathology becomes psychotic after arriving in Jerusalem. The psychosis is characterised by intense religious obsessions and delusions and typically resolves to full recovery after a few weeks or after being removed from the area. (from Wikipedia)

It has something to do with the stories, myths, mysteries, messiahs and symbols associated with this city that overwhelm some people.  And to visit the Old City of Jerusalem with its sacred sites, churches, mosques, traders, pilgrims and tourists is an overwhelming experience for anyone.  It is a remarkable place to be and there is almost an anxious energy, as one walks through the narrow streets and lanes, that pervades this maze-like walled city.

Peace in Jerusalem
It’s commonly said that when a person arrives in Jerusalem and after they have spent a day there they feel as if they could write a book explaining what this place means.  But after a week they have difficulty writing a chapter.  By a month they are struggling to find a sentence that could sum up the experience of being in Jerusalem.  And after a few months they discover that there is but one word that must be pursued in this ancient and modern city and that is the word Shalom in Hebrew, Salaam in Islam, Pax in Latin and of course Peace in English.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure. Ps 122:6 And prayer for peace in Jerusalem, because when the faiths who claim Abraham as their father are at peace – Jews, Christians and Muslims – then peace can flow more freely throughout our world.  What a strange thing that a tiny population in a country one tenth the size of the state of Victoria has such an influence on peace and conflict in the rest of the world.

In the 1st century AD, Jerusalem was a religious and spiritual crossroads in the ancient world and since then it has been a place that the religiously and politically powerful have sought to possess.  And even now in the 21st century it remains a place not so different from how it was in the time of Jesus.

Our story from Luke’s gospel could in fact almost be re-enacted and wouldn’t be out of place in the old walled city of Jerusalem today.  The narrow streets, the ethnic and religious diversity, the traders and swarming pilgrims, all crowd into this city in the 21st century, as they did in the 1st century.  So the sight of a band of followers leading a procession honouring a man mounted on a donkey declaring a message of peace could even be a part of the activity in Old Jerusalem in this modern world, as it was in the ancient world.

Bringing the New Way of Peace
Luke’s, like Mark’s, story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem really represents the heart of the message the followers of Jesus wanted to share with the world around them.  The story and the actions of the characters in the narrative draw together the radical message that Jesus had lived and taught to his followers.  In one sense it is a very simple message of love, hope, faith, joy and peace and yet at the same time, one of the most difficult and life-challenging pathways that anyone could follow through life.  

In this Palm Sunday story, Jesus comes to the centre of religious power mounted on a donkey; a domestic animal and not the war-horse or the white steed of the conqueror.  Now, whenever I would mention that fact in my previous congregation, Derek, a faithful member of the church, would always remind me that donkeys have had a bit of a bad press in our modern world and that they were used in the ancient world in both religious and military processions.  True, but here we have the “King” and “Commander-in-Chief”, on a borrowed animal, arriving to claim victory and sitting at the same height as his followers – this is a new way to talk about victory.

The Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan sees great significance in this scene.  He suggests that in the Roman Empire - and remember in Jesus’ time Israel was a vassal state, it was under the authority of Rome - the Romans had a strong, a definite way in which peace came to a nation or the Empire, and that was war, victory, peace.  In fact the motto of the Roman Empire was Pax Romana, “Rome brings Peace.” But Crossan argues that the way of Jesus was very different.  Instead of “peace through victory” for Jesus it was “peace through justice and non-violence.”

That fits with this entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem.  He comes as a conqueror, but not with military might, but to conquer the human heart through love and justice. So the followers of Jesus appropriated the messianic prophecy of King David’s returning to bring freedom and peace to Jerusalem.  But they turned the message on its head.

Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!

There’s a sign on a church on the corner of Doncaster Rd and Blackburn Rd that I pass on the way to TUC in the mornings.  The messages on the signboard are sometimes cute, other times preachy and occasionally profound.  The one that’s on the sign at the moment probably fits into all categories.  It says, “Jesus is coming again, so don’t miss it for the world.”  I thought about it as I turned on to the Eastern freeway and put it into my own words. It would be something like this:

“The life and message of Jesus can transform us and our world to the point where the Spirit of Jesus soon will be alive in all of life, in all humanity.  Don’t let the things that are trivial and of little value in this world blind you to the coming of the real thing – life in all its fullness.”

They may need a bigger sign and a longer interval at the traffic lights for people to read it.  But what I want to illustrate here is that the words of the Biblical message 2,000 years ago, relevant to the people of their day, that is, “Jesus will come again”, needs the kind of re-interpretation that the early followers of Jesus brought to the coming of Jesus as the anointed one into the Jerusalem of their day.  The people of Jesus’ day looked for a war-horse and they saw a donkey; they expected a war-lord who would expel the Romans through war and violence and they got a preacher of peace and non-violence; they thought that peace would be imposed on their neighbour and they discovered that peace begins in their own hearts, that they are the bringers of peace and hope and justice.

Peace is Coming
Sometimes one of the most effective ways to get the message across is through parody or satire or even mockery. And there does seem to be a good dose of that in this story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Was Jesus mocking the religious authorities? Were those early followers of Jesus taking the sacred traditions and the belief that King David, the saviour of Israel, would return and lead the people to a military victory and turning it all on its head?  I think the simple answer is yes!  The message of Jesus was so radical that it demanded new ways to capture the attention of society.  As far as these early believers were concerned, it was not business as usual, it was business as it had never been before.

Those who have power always long for continuity, but we all know that there are times when the world has shifted and we need a wake-up call, we need, even if we don’t like it, to have a tree shaken so we can experience reality and look at things in a different way.  What is that at the back of the church…? I have never seen anything like that before…?  So strange…what do you think it is…? Happy April Fools’ Day!!

You know, there was a festival in the Christian Church in the 13th and 14th centuries called the “Feast of Fools”, also called the “Feast of Asses”. The festival celebrated the reversal of privilege.  So the choirboy would be a bishop for a day; the village fool would be the King for a day; the refuse collector would be the mayor of the town and so on. If you have read Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, you will know that the character Quasimodo the bell ringer is elevated to King for a day during the celebration of the Feast of Fools. However, the annual celebration of The Feast of Fools was finally forbidden under the very severest penalties by the Council of Basel in 1431.  Why was such a popular celebration banned by the medieval church? I suspect it was because, then as now, those with privilege and status do not like to be parodied; I think they want to control the story of Jesus……

Controlling the story of Jesus
I had a great experience talking with the four-year-olds at our kindergarten a couple of years ago.  I was asked to bring the Easter story to them – not an easy thing to do.  I made sure I had plenty of props and wanted to put the story in context.  So I began to tell them about the message that Jesus told to his followers; the meal he shared with his friends and followers; the donkey he rode into the city of Jerusalem; the palms the people waved; his death at the hands of those who did not like his message and the new life that he spread throughout the world.  To be honest I played down the death of Jesus. I was aware of their tender age and the pain and suffering of death.  In this case the death of Jesus.  We got to the end and the hands shot up: “Why did he die? How did he die? When did he die? My cat is named Bernie - why did he die? Did he die? What did he die from? Last year my grandpa died!

Maybe part of our problem is that we don’t feel we can ask the questions that are on our minds and so we settle for the easy answers that are given to us by those who seem to have the power.  We don’t have peace because those who have the vision that only war will bring peace hold the power.  

But I don’t think so. I think that the one who has shown peace through his life and teaching is the one who can shape and reshape us to live our lives in peace and be the ones who bring peace to our world.

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