Asbury First United
Text: Luke 19:28-40
Not So Long Ago
It is not so long ago that we greeted Jesus at his nativity, singing carols and lighting candles of hope. It is not so long ago that we witnessed his growth in wisdom and stature, in the knowledge and love of God, while as a teenager he taught in the temple. It is not so long ago that this mighty young man Jesus stooped, fully human, for baptism in the surging river Jordan, the river of death and life. It is not so long ago that we saw him take up his ministry among us, preaching and teaching and healing. It is not so long ago that with Peter and James and John we saw him ascend the Mountain of the Transfiguration. With him, up through the mountains we have climbed this Lent, step by step.
First, forgiveness. Second, salvation. Third, trust. Fourth, fasting. And now the passion. And now it is time to come down from the mountain, to take the full measure of this Man, and to have the courage to let Him take our full measure, too. The crisp air and vistas of the mountain pass have fed our souls. But now it is time to head home, and turn our face to Jerusalem.
The road down the Mount of Olives, or down any mountain, can tax the traveler. It reminds us all of earlier homecomings.
Odysseus walking the last few miles to Thebes. Socrates walking to the center of Athens and the cup of hemlock. Richard the Lionhearted sailing the English Channel, heading home. A prodigal son, scuffling up the last mile of country road toward a dreaded homecoming. You, returning at last to whatever you have long avoided, wandering as you have in Galilee for the rest of life. At last, there is the Emerald City, and the road home.
Today, I raise just one question. What was Jesus' state of mind? What was on his mind and heart, as he entered the Holy City?
There's No Place Like Home (Loneliness)
It is perilous, even arrogant, at this late date and from this great distance, to try to imagine Jesus' state of mind as he descends the Mountain and enters the City.
Albert Schweitzer, before he went off to heal the jungle sick, showed convincingly how inevitably errant are all such attempts. More recent attempts, even the best like that of Marcus Borg, only confirm Schweitzer's thesis. We paint our own inner lives into the life of Jesus, when we try to see what cannot be seen in Scripture. That is, against some more popular work of recent years, I still fully agree with Schweitzer. And yet, particularly at this point in his journey, at the entrance into the Holy City, and on the threshold of his own death, we are haunted - are we not? - by the desire to see what Jesus saw, feel what he felt and sense what he did sense, coming home.
Now Jesus is walking down into the city, down off the mountain, and down into the heart of his destiny. He is going to his grave.
Some of the Gospel today, as Jesus heads home, is too true to be good. He is not at home, not at home, in a world of injustice, abuse, violence, and death. For him, in such a benighted world, there is no place like home.
As are we all, though it seems sometimes to be a conspiratorially well kept secret. We all are walking down the Lenten mountain and into our lasting, our last future. Every one of us is going to die. We are going home.
Here are two possible sentiments in Jesus' heart and mind as he descends the Mount of Olives. One, he looks back upon his ministry and feels that there is no place like home. He has found no lasting nest on earth, no lasting crib, no lasting domicile. He has found opposition and rejection. He has encountered misunderstanding and criticism. To a harsh world he has brought a gentle manner. To a wolfish world he has brought the labor of love. To a selfish community he has brought the summons to service. To an inconsistent dozen disciples, he has brought the steady presence of peace. He has not found a home, not here. There is no place like home, for Jesus, descending the Mount of Olives. He has even said of himself, "foxes have their holes, and birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
Some of greatest sentences ever written in English are devoted to a similar ennui, a similar existential vagrancy.
And those of us who have been shot out of the saddle, riding for a righteous cause, as we dust ourselves off and bind our wounds, we do so in the best of company, in the company of the crucified, for whom, on this green earth, as yet, there is no place like home. Yes, we have lost a hospital in Rochester. In 1992 Rochester was praised in the national debates as the model city for health care - cooperative, high quality, moderate cost, comprehensively universal. Something happened, over eight years. And some - doctors, nurses, workers, volunteers, donors - who worked hard to save the Genesee, feel shot out of the saddle. But let me ask you something. What other saddle would they have rather ridden? Some losing causes are worth support even in defeat. I would rather be shot out of the right saddle than to canter comfortably all the live, long day in the wrong saddle. So dust off, bind the wound, and get ready to ride again.
For this city, the question is now sharply put. Are we going to hang together, over time, as a community, or are we going to hang separately? The definition of community in Rochester is hanging in the balance. Are we going to shuffle off to 15 little suburban pods, and live apart, or are we going to enjoy the full village green which life can offer us, if we will live together. The death of the Genesee is a stern warning to all urban regional nonprofit historic hundred year old Rochester institutions. Like AFUMC. Just because we were alive last year is no guarantee that we will be next year. We have not a person, dollar, idea or dream to spare. Not one. And it is, let us confess it, an uphill pull. But there is no other saddle I would ride in, for all the risk. This is the place to be!
Only, for this church to have a future we will have to tithe, worship, and invite with disciplined regularity. We are not doing so, yet. The condition of AFUMC in 2020, even its existence, is being worked out hourly this year and next year and the next. Give! Pray! Welcome! Or die.
There's No Place Like Home (Longing)
But there is something else alive in this homeless homecoming. Frederik Beuchner compares the feeling of faith to the feeling homesickness, that longing for the feeling of home. Faith is a heartfelt longing for the comforts of home.
Two, Jesus looks forward to his passion and feels that there is no place like home. He has come and now he must go. He tarries for a while, but he is going home. Only the greatest of the Gospels, that of John, fully and resoundingly displays this sentiment. But it is present, muted, in Luke as well. Jesus must endure the cross, just as we inevitably must endure tragedy, accident, betrayal, injustice, failure and death. We have the finest of company, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, when we endure life's damaging darkness. Some have lost loved ones to death this week. Some have lost beloved institutions to death this week. Some have lost beloved dreams to death this week. And Jesus walks beside you. In fact, this is his peculiarly chosen path, his way, his way of the cross. All of the passion, all of the passion music from a week ago, all of it, the cross itself, acclaim, in passion, the compassion of God in Christ our Lord. God has passion for compassion. So Jesus looks forward - does he not? - to the completion of his mission, to the last word in the soliloquy, to the transition to glory. Again, only John has fully held this diamond. Only he sees the cross as glory, without remainder. Only he has Jesus say, on the cross, "it is completed". But Luke too senses Jesus homesickness at his homeless homecoming. His longing for God. And we sense it too, because we feel it too: there is no place like home.
Some of the Gospel today, as Jesus heads home, is too good to be true. This greatest of passionate tragedies, the cross of Christ our Lord, is the passageway, strangely, wonderfully, to our heavenly home. He dies as we die. And we die with Him. We all die. We are not even temporarily immortal. Yet, attendant upon this road down the mountain and into the city, there resounds, softly at first, a carol of grace, a carol of love, a carol for all, like we, who are going home.
John sees it best. Only John places Jesus in Jerusalem thrice. Only in John does Jesus raise the dead at mid Gospel - "Lazarus, come out!" Only in John does Jesus preach for five chapters on the last evening, washing feet rather than celebrating mass. Only in John does Jesus make the Jerusalem road fully and only a road of glory, from Palm Sunday to Easter. Only in John does Jesus say, "In my Father's House there are many rooms…" He is going home, home. And somehow, again strangely, we know the way where he is going. For it is our way, too. Only in John does Jesus walk serenely to Golgotha. Only in John does Jesus walk to death like God striding upon the earth. Only in John does Jesus pronounce GLORY from the jaws of death. Remember his dying word. Not "eli, eli" as in Mark. Not "Father forgive them" as in Luke. Simply, serenely, powerful, triumphantly, yes, gloriously, he says, in John, "It is finished." It is done, completed, perfected - finished. He dies to rise, and go home, feeling and singing, "there's no place like home."
This homesickness, this spirited sense that home is over the next street, up the winding trail to the cross, this hunger for home, this is what Paul meant: this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison A Summons (5-6).
In Whittier's poem:
I know not what the future hath of marvel or surprise
Assured alone that life and death God's mercy underlies.
And so beside the silent sea
I wait the muffled oar
No harm from Him can come to me
On ocean or on shore.
I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.