“There Is Another Way”

By the Rev. Eric O. Ledermann April 17, 2011 – Palm Sunday First Presbyterian Church, San Bernardino, CA

Matthew 21.1-11 (NRSV)
1

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken

through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The

crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

We have a large poster of Martin Luther King, Jr. on our family room wall with a quote from him that says: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” In the same vein, next to Martin Luther King, Jr., is a similar sized poster of Mahatma Gandhi with this quote: “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” As I read this text about Jesus riding a donkey, I can’t help but see how Jesus always did the unexpected, the opposite it would seem. He poked holes at our social armor by turning our standards upside down.

Jesus rode on a donkey to show there is another way. Jesus rode on a donkey to show God’s hope for a peaceful humanity, that we can learn to be humble, learn to be gracious, learn God’s non-violent ways. God has given us free-will—the freedom to care, the freedom to love, the freedom to believe. But with free-will also comes the freedom to hoard wealth, the freedom to kill, and the freedom to choose how we will live our lives.

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© 2011 The Rev. Eric O. Ledermann, San Bernardino, CA. All rights reserved.

We all individually have the freedom to shape our individual lives, and thereby influence the lives of those around us. When we choose greed over grace, others will tend toward protecting themselves and their families, making sure what they have does not get taken. I’ve heard it said: “The more one has, the more one has to protect.” Our homes become more than places where we live and sleep, but fortresses to protect us from the outside and others who want to take what we have. As resources become scarce in a society based on “The person with the most toys wins!”, taking and getting become the watchwords—taking what I deserve, getting what is owed to me. We are living in a socket that increasingly sees kindness as a sign of weakness. We are hearing rally cries everywhere from the city streets all the way up to our nation’s congressional chambers— let the poor help themselves, lets end these handouts and welfare systems that are draining our economy (an economy in which the disparity between rich and poor has more than doubled in the last 40 years, in which 49% of the income generated is being received by only 20% of the population, and those living under the poverty line receive less than 3.5%, a ratio of 14.5 to 1, compared to less than 8 to 1 in 1968, and in recent years seems to be widening at a faster and faster rate).1

The problem with this self-perpetuating system is there will never be a time when everyone will feel they have what they deserve. It’s a terrible race to a finish line that does not exist. Have you ever pulled a dangling piece of yarn from a sock or a sweater? You keep pulling, and eventually the yarn comes out faster and faster, and the integrity of the garment erodes at an almost exponential rate. Greed breeds more greed; violence breeds more violence; standards become eroded and the fabric of society unravels faster and faster and eventually loses its integrity altogether.

1

Income ratio of 14.5-to-1 according to 2010 census nearly doubles 1968's low of 7.69 [http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2010/09/28/us_census_recession_s_impact_1].

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© 2011 The Rev. Eric O. Ledermann, San Bernardino, CA. All rights reserved.

There have been momentary lapses in our natural human inclinations for wealth, power, and violence. There have been moments in history when war and violence did not reign—when our selfish greed and obsession with self-preservation did not consume our every thought. These are the moments when the prophets fell silent. These are the moments when the social connection of God’s children was lived out in relative harmony, and the community had the will and ability to harness its collective integrity to hold one another accountable in love and grace. These are the standards upon which the Christian community was founded…look them up in the Book of Acts: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

We are called to a higher standard, aren’t we? Our Lord came to serve, not be served, and in so doing set a standard of serving others, not being served; a standard of giving, not taking. Our Lord came to heal the suffering, give hope to the hopeless, and give strength to the weak. Jesus came to, once again, show another way, and every Sunday we gather to share in that vision, to learn how to live by his example, to welcome the overpowering love of God into our souls, and leave this space transformed by God’s grace—we are called to leave here blessed by a loving God in order to be a blessing to the world.

There is another way. In the first century, adherents to this way called it “THE WAY”; the way of Jesus of Nazareth, the son of God, the savior, the Messiah. Jesus came to save us from ourselves! How? By teaching us about how our tendencies toward self-preservation are actually destroying us. By reaching out to the poor who are so often used as an example for everything that is wrong in our world, upon who’s backs the wealthy become wealthier, who, when it is convenient, are used by some to help them feel better about themselves because they put a quarter in someone’s cup. And to show this “way,” Jesus the healer, Jesus the lover, Jesus the hope-giver, Jesus the revolutionary, Jesus the all powerful, made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. To show his commitment
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© 2011 The Rev. Eric O. Ledermann, San Bernardino, CA. All rights reserved.

to the power he had received from God, later in the weak he sheds his outer garments, wraps himself in a towel, lowers himself to the ground, and washes his disciples’ feet. This is our king, our leader, our teacher, our example: loving the poor and the outcast, riding on a donkey, and serving those he loves. This is our savior who came to save us from the destructive power of greed, to save us from our insecurities, and to give us hope with a new vision. This is our rabbi, our Lord, our savior, or example, showing us an alternative vision that relieves us of the necessity to build, collect, and hoard wealth and power. Jesus came to save us from our own, fragile egos, and help us to recognize God’s love, and learn to live into it and discover the real freedom God offers.

When we are filled with God’s love, the money and the wealth are no longer important— keeping up with the Jones’ is no longer our life’s work. We are set free from greed, we are set free from selfishness, we are set free to love God’s children, we are set free to care for God’s creation. Jesus rode on a donkey because that is the kind of King he was…and is. A leader who engages our deepest desires, the desire to be loved, the desire to be cared for, the desire to be a part of something larger than ourselves—because not only are these things truly our deepest desires, we know they are possible. We have seen God’s vision embodied in Jesus of Nazareth. We have seen God’s vision come alive in pockets of history. And these things give us the hope to keep going, to keep trying, to keep forgiving, to keep giving, to keep risking so that we can keep being formed, reformed and transformed in to the people God is calling us to be.

In Jesus God flipped the power structures upside-down: the first shall be last and the last shall be first; the meek shall inherit the kingdom of heaven; the peacemakers will be called children of God. And in so doing, God has set us free from the need to always be the best, the first, the biggest or the baddest. God has set us free from the need to worry about what will happen, and instead respond faithfully and honestly to what is happening. When our church budget is upside down, God has set us free to find creative ways to
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© 2011 The Rev. Eric O. Ledermann, San Bernardino, CA. All rights reserved.

bring it into balance that usually involves doing things differently, but it’s ok…everything is going to be ok. When the energy for a particular tradition or event has begun to wane, when it has lived its life and served its purpose of joining our community of faith together, it is ok because we know we can lift that tradition or event up, give thanks to God for the ways we were changed and transformed by it, and lay it down with grace and mercy in order to make space for whatever new and exciting thing from God is coming. When we are set free, change is no longer a thing to be feared, but something to be engaged thoughtfully and faithfully. When we are set free by God’s grace, love is something we have too much of and almost have to share with others. When we are set free by God’s revelation in Jesus, the possibilities are endless and the fear subsides. When we are set free, our ears and eyes are opened and we begin to hear and see in a new way as we begin to see the world as God sees it—brimming with potential. For this reason, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

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© 2011 The Rev. Eric O. Ledermann, San Bernardino, CA. All rights reserved.

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