Here in Florida — the land of palm branches a-plenty — one can actually find them scattered about to wave for Palm Sunday. Even if it’s only one palm frond you find in your backyard and you wave it as a personal worship celebration, and incidentally, for the amusement of your two young pups.
It is so much fun to watch their delight as you wave it to and fro. “Hosanna,” you say. “Hosanna.” You say this quietly, hoping the neighbors are not bothered by your odd behavior. But wave it you do and wave it some more as you see how delighted your pups are to play with it. Like kittens with a ball of string, Brittany Buddy and Retriever Lily, jump and frolic and lunge for the fronds. Finally, you give in and toss it in the air for them to catch. They each grab an end and tug and tussle, happily pulling it from each other. What fun! A new toy!
Ah, but then Lily gets a strong grip; she grabs and runs. Buddy gives chase. Lily spins, Buddy misses. Buddy grabs, Lily latches on and tugs it away again. Buddy gets frustrated and growls at Lily. She romps away to sit with her acquisition and rip, rip, rip the fronds. Buddy snarls and bites at her back. Not so playful anymore. Lily protects and defends what’s left. The palm branch is now in shreds.
On any other day, these two are inseparable. Where one goes the other follows. If one leaves, the other whines in protest. They share a common water bowl. They will eat from the same food bowl without complaint. They take turns when snacks are offered, never denying the other his due. And yet… when there is one treasured prize, the mild manner is left behind.
This is mine. Not yours. Because this is mine, it cannot be yours.
Somehow, this seems an apt and unfortunate metaphor for what can be divisive and ugly interactions between Christians in our day. As if there weren’t enough palm fronds to go around. As if Jesus were a limited or scarce commodity. As if my claim on Him meant you couldn’t have Him.
Nope. Today’s palm branches signify the welcome of a humble king and invite a willingness to follow. Wherever He leads us. No one said that Christ-following would be easy, not the least of all Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, knowing for certain what lay ahead. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9)
So soon they would ring out, “Crucify him!” (John 19:15)
As we enter into this Holiest of weeks and follow Christ through the most harrowing of circumstances, let us give grateful thanks for His life, His ministry, and the way He made for us to follow. A way that promises abundant life with plenty to share.
Let’s not fight over who gets to wave the palm branch.
“You don’t actually believe all that crap, do you?”
There is a good bit of historical record from the time of Jesus. Archaeological. Temples. Cities. Edifices. But unlike the way those today would proclaim their King-dem, the life Jesus led would not be signaled in artifact or chiseled into stone. The life Jesus lived is etched in all of time and for all time. It lasts as we last to tell it. It's reborn in us each Christmas. Rediscovered with each birth of new life -- in us -- And renewed with each loving act. Holy crap! What was that? I didn't know I had it in me.
Sheep and goats. Goats and sheep. That’s all we are. All we’ve ever been. All we’ll ever be. But here’s the rub, which are we?
Recently, I have been hearing a lot folks say they are tiring of the battle. Tired of the in-fighting. Tired of the online fighting. Tired of the rock-throwing, vitriol spewing free-for-all they are witnessing among their friends and family and in their community. They say with a sigh, “I just want to be part of Matthew 25 community.”
The Matthew 25 society they seek refers to the parable of the sheep and the goats — the one where Jesus does his sorting.
To the sheep on his right, he says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.“
To the goats on his left, he says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
What’s a bit unnerving is that both sheep and goats respond to Jesus’ proclamation the same way. “When?… When did we see you?” Apparently, we don’t get to keep our own score. We aren’t privy to our sheep or goat status. What separates sheep from goats is the did or did not.
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Jesus is in each of these interactions, and counting it for or against us.
We don’t get to record our own righteousness. Jesus does that. If we want a Matthew 25 community, we can build it, attending to one need at a time. Beginning with our own need of a Savior, who will help us with our deepest longings and strengthen us in our weakness. In our gratitude, we’ll begin feeling sheepish.
I have a sneaking suspicion that when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with him, and he sits on his throne, if he looked out upon all the nations gathered before him it would be to his utter delight to say, “Y’all come.”
Perhaps he knows though, that very likely there then would be a mad dash to the Kingdom door, with pushing and shoving and trampling. He would have to appear in the rear of His glory and remind us, The last shall be first… You goats in the back need not bother. Perhaps the separation of right and left is just his way of keeping things orderly so no one gets hurt.
The church is funny that way. Sometimes, it seems, that we think the ordering is up to us. Then in our trying to keep things orderly people end up getting hurt. I remember my hurt when I was a new Christian and, while I sat in the coffee shop reading my NIV version of the Bible, a total stranger approached in order to share that I was reading the wrong version of the Bible. The King James version was the only right one. What a goat, right?
Not necessarily; not my call. But certainly anyone witnessing this moment left with a sour taste in their mouth. Surely, at the very least, we should be living as good pasture grass so no ewe sheep will be driven to the goats.
What if, instead of aspiring to be sheep and not goats, we considered this sincere and honest admission from Abraham Lincoln. When asked why, with his obvious interest in religious matters and his familiarity with the Bible, he did not join a church, Lincoln replied:
When any church will inscribe over its altars, as its sole qualification for membership, the Savior’s condensed statement for the substance of both Law and gospel, “Though shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and thy neighbor as thyself,” that church I will join with all my heart and soul.”Henry C Deming, Congressman from Connecticut, as quoted by Carl Sandburg in the introduction to Lincoln’s Daily Devotional
I want to be part of THAT community. Don’t you?