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Palm Sunday - Matthew 21:1-17

600 years had passed, but the crowds on the road side remembered it still.

The Babylonians stormed up this mountain road and captured Jerusalem and its leaders,

then carted them off to exile far away.

They were trapped in a foreign land for about sixty years, home schooling their kids and unable to go to worship in their beautiful building, which was no longer standing.

The long exile fundamentally changed their faith.

As a professor of mine once said, Judaism changed from a people of the land to a people

of the book.

When God is confined to a certain location, and you can't there, you can't get to God.

That's why those dry bones said, Our hope is lost, we are cut off completely.

But of course, back then as right now, God's people adjusted.

They wrote things down, and began to disperse from a central temple in Jerusalem to

synagogues anywhere and everywhere in the world.

Out of necessity, the words of the scroll became the focus instead of the building on the hill.

God became portable, located in words that could be carried around instead of a massive

complex that could not.

But the building on the hill, the temple in Jerusalem, was planted in the people's hearts.

It's why I am filming this sermon from our sanctuary instead of my living room, because many of us have a natural emotional connection to the location where holiness happens.

It's why so many souls have died in so many fights over Jerusalem over the years; realtors like

James Helgager will tell you all three reasons why: location, location, location.

When the exile was over, rebuilding the temple was a top priority.

200 years had passed, but the crowds on the road side remembered it still.

A blowhard politician with a big ego inherited control of the Seleucid empire which

included Israel.

He had statues made of himself with an enlarged...feature..and ordered everyone to worship him.

When the Jews of course faithfully refused to do this, his soldiers seized the temple and

slaughtered a pig on the altar of the holy of holies to make the point clear.

This did not go over well.

It triggered the Maccabean revolt, and rather miraculously, the Jewish faithful recaptured

the temple.

There was only enough uncompromised oil to light the eternal candle for one night, but that oil somehow lasted eight days until more could be produced—the miracle of Hannukah.

When the temple was rededicated, the author of Second Maccabees reports,


We celebrated a joyful festival for eight days, and it was just like the Festival of Shelters. In fact, while our people celebrated, they kept remembering the recent Festival of Shelters, when they were forced to roam the hills and live in caves like wild animals.

But now they walked around carrying tree branches decorated with twisted ivy and holding up branches, including some from palm trees.

They sang hymns and thanked the Lord for making our holy temple clean again.

Afterwards, everyone decided to make this a yearly festival for our whole nation.


Normal life and temple had been restored; people could once again come and worship God.

These memories were in the hearts and minds of the crowd cheering Jesus up the hill.

The prophet from lowly Nazareth, the people's champion, was taking the city and would

restore the broken connection between God and God's people.

In a sadly ironic twist of history, the temple was now lost in Jewish hands.

Temple authorities made worship difficult or impossible for too many people.

If you couldn't afford an animal to sacrifice, you couldn't receive God's blessing.

If you were from the country and couldn't get too Jerusalem, you were second class.

If you were blind or lame, you were out of luck.

The temple had become at worst a money grabbing racket, at best a kind of cliquish

country club like far too many churches do.

Several years had passed, but the president of the congregation remembered it still.

Back in the days when worship happened in public, the presiding bishop walked up after

worship to get coffee and a donut.

He noticed the basket for donations and said, "Never mind."

When the president asked him about it, the bishop replied, "What if I don't have any

money?

This basket tells me I'm not welcome here unless I pay up.

If the poor aren't welcome here, then neither is Jesus, so neither am I."

That probably was not the message intended by whoever put the basket there, some good

steward mindful of the cost of doing business, but that's the message it sent.

Connection to God had subtly, imperceptibly spoiled into pay-to-play.

The animals for sale in the courtyard, including some for very low prices, were a

thoughtful convenience that spoiled into yet another slap in a poor person's face.

The purity rules designed to protect God's house turned into turning people away from God.

It is no accident that Jesus' first order of business in Jerusalem is to retake the temple.

He overturns the cash registers and heals those deemed unworthy to worship God right there on the sacred spot.

The proper prayers of the pious are shouted down by the voices of children interrupting

worship with their theologically suspect camp song.

The Bible printer summarizes it as "Jesus Cleanses the Temple," but this is more than that.

Jesus is fundamentally, foundationally shifting and redefining the religion.

God is relocating from a place to a face.

God is moving from a business address to a human being with eyes that burn and hands

that knock down profits and build up people, as if lives were more important than the

economy.

That kind of dangerous nonsense is why Jesus had to die.

This week, these many years later, we remember this eternally timely story still.

It turns quickly.

Jesus' triumphant ride uphill into Jerusalem begins his descent to a shameful death.

The common cries of Hosanna—save us!—turn to the mockery of authorities—save yourself!

The humble hero on the colt becomes the scapegoat on the cross.

The darling of the crowds dies alone.

He is betrayed, sold out, arrested, tortured, insulted, and abandoned, even by God.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? he cries into a silent sky.

God is exiled.

God is turned away.

God is alone.

God hurts and suffers and struggles and suffocates and despairs and dies.

Now we don't have to go anywhere to get to God because God has come all the way to us.

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