PALM SUNDAY COMMITMENT.
The last time I led a public march through the streets of Sydney, there were several other marches on at the same time. There was a march near Central Railway Station, protesting against the treatment of asylum seekers. Crowds waved to the protesters as they walked along chanting anti-government slogans.
Because it was St Patrick’s Day, one of Sydney’s biggest marches also wound through the streets. Crowds cheered and waved flags. But I guess none of the spectators later became Roman Catholics or declared they wanted to be Irish.
Just prior to that day, a large crowd watched the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The crowd cheered and waved and ogled at the spectacle, but I doubt many were moved to come out and enter into homosexual relationships. A few weeks before that, our bushfire fighters marched through the streets and the people waved and cheered. I wonder how many afterwards rang the various local and rural brigades and State Emergency Services to find how they could join?
Street Marches for Anzac Day, Volunteers, successful athletes, and football and netball teams are designed to encourage people to acknowledge success and accomplishment, not to engender the commitment of those waving. Every city is used the crowds who wave to marchers. But they do not expect the crowd to match the marchers’ commitment.
Following these earlier marches the members of Wesley Mission marched through the city streets into Hyde Park led by people in costume representing the disciples and Jesus on a donkey. The procession sang hymns of praise and waved palm branches. Hundreds of people were involved witnessing to the events of Palm Sunday. Many on the footpaths and in cars patiently waiting at the traffic lights waved and called out messages of encouragement. I did not notice anyone park his or her car and join us. Waving is not the same as joining. Waving is not commitment.
1. THE CAPTURE OF THE CITY.
I cannot walk by Hyde Park, particularly near the Grove of Palms, without thinking of Jesus confronting the city. For over a quarter of the century I have stood in that great public park, every Palm Sunday by the large illuminated Cross erected each Holy Week. There, supported by our church members and the Wesley Institute Choir gathered on the lawns, I shared in open air preaching the good news of Jesus for our city. The Cross shines day and night reminding people that Christ is in the heart of our city. Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. He loved that city. He wept for that city.
The greatest movement in the world today is into the cities of every inhabited continent. One hundred years ago in 1900, only 8% of the people of the world lived in large cities. Most people lived in villages in rural areas. In spite of the growth of industries, 92% of people were still engaged in agriculture. But two world wars, transportation, and a growing population able to be sustained in a city, saw, within one hundred years, more than half the people on earth living in cities. Over four billion people now live in large cities.
Urbanization was been the greatest story of the twentieth century. Yet most church denominational leaders still behave as if nothing has changed. They still organise the life of the church based upon state lines and a village parish system. The denominations have not learned how to use the media to penetrate the city and possess no strategy to penetrate the high-rise apartment blocks. They give token support to developing multicultural congregations and have no policy for influencing the social, political and economic systems of our modern community.
Yet the city is the most important factor impinging upon the future of the church. In the next ten years we will add another billion people to the planet and most will live in our cities. Christianity will be successful only if it learns to capture the cities of the world. That is why thirty five years ago, before coming to Wesley Mission, I wrote what I intended to do in a book called, “Transforming The City Church.” Urban Mission, the subject I taught in the United States to Master of Divinity students every year or so is one of the most important subjects young ministers can study. It is yet to be taught in Australia. Most denominational training colleges are still in nineteenth century mode training ministers for parishes.
Nations are altered by people who capture the streets of the city. The ideology of globalisation is today being fought in the streets of large cities. The Arab Spring has seen millions of Arab people protesting against their rulers and has resulted in the overthrow of the Governments of Libya, Egypt and currently in half a dozen Arab states.
The people of Manilla overthrew the Marcos regime from the streets. The people of Cambodia and Burma have successfully won changes from their governments. The people of Selma, Jackson and Washington marched behind Martin Luther King Jr.. The people of India filled the streets of Calcutta behind Mahatma Gandhi. The people of Paris overran the Bastille. The people of Beijing crowded Tiananmen Square. So on throughout history. You can change history by changing the minds of people in the streets. Yet the city streets can also resound to the cries of children making their way to school, or chasing after each other in some game, or waving palm leaves in our march to Hyde Park.
Joan Ramsay, wrote of such a scene: “Today I saw a group of children running along the road with branches in their hands that they were waving – green branches and they were shouting as children have shouted and run in many lands, and at many times; so it was strange that I kept thinking – watching these children, and listening to them – of those others who ran and shouted and waved green branches one day, on the road into Jerusalem.”
Along the road with branches in their hands they were waving – green branches – waving! Nations are never changed by merely waving the hand. You cannot build God’s Kingdom just with a wave!
2. THE CONFRONTATION WITH THE CROWD.
Jesus was more used to the urban environment than we have supposed. Many people think of him as a Good Shepherd in a rural setting. But Jesus also knew the towns and cities of his land. Josephus, the historian at the time, tells us there were more than 200 cities in the time of Jesus in the area He travelled. But the people of the city rejected Him, cast him outside the city walls and crucified Him. Jesus still confronts the cities of the world with good news, and still the cities of the world reject Him and crucify Him afresh.
Many people have wondered why on the first Palm Sunday as Jesus entered Jerusalem on the donkey, that the crowd who waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna” were not there to support him later in the week as men trapped Him, judged Him, condemned Him and eventually crucified Him. Some, supposing the two crowds consisted of the same people, have wondered how attitudes could change so quickly from shouting “Hosanna” to shouting “Crucify Him”? Over the years the crowd who welcomed Jesus has been given short shrift by preachers. Thousands of preachers speak of the fickle crowd.
But I want to say a word concerning the commitment of the crowd. Matthew 21:8-9 “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 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!”” The people of Jerusalem that Palm Sunday knew the scriptures. They saw in His humble riding of a donkey into Jerusalem, the prophecy of 300 years earlier by Zechariah 9:9 coming to pass.
Only after His death and resurrection did they fully realize that Jesus was the Messiah of God, an ideal King, a victorious conqueror, a humble hero, and a suffering servant. He had come, not to bring political victory, but a reign of peace and righteousness with justice for the poor and humble. How they wished they had greeted Him with more commitment! They have made the mistake of believing shouting and waving is commitment. Commitment is much more than just waving! Nations are never changed by merely waving the hand. You cannot build God’s Kingdom just with a wave!
I have always been captured by a line in the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The Palm Sunday crowd is singing and waving to Jesus and as Jesus passed by they called out: “Christ, you know I loved you. Did you see I waved?” Many in the crowded city that day waved, but Jesus wanted devotion not greetings, commitment of the heart not waving of the hand. Even those who wept for Him later that Holy Week were told not to weep for Him but for themselves. Jesus did not want tears of sorrow, but the toil of discipleship of those who would follow Him. The crowd needs to be confronted with the accurate picture of Who Jesus is, if their waving is to be turned to commitment.
3. THE CHALLENGE OF COMMITMENT.
His entry into Jerusalem was a direct challenge to all of the authorities – religious and secular, political and legal. His presence would lead to direct confrontation in the Temple, to unifying the opposition forces into a powerful clique that decided that Jesus would have to die. Matthew 21:10 “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” That is the challenge: to present Christ to the city so crowds can answer that they know Him. If they know who He really is, the wave will turn to following! Acknowledgement becomes discipleship.
In my ministry I have endeavoured to enter our city at every available point through the secret accesses of radio as people listen in their bath or bed, their car or campervan to my daily broadcasts. Every day. Every week. Through television I have sought to enter every city and town in this nation, into lounge rooms and kitchens, bedrooms and classrooms. Every week. Through the magazine articles I have written I have sought to enter the waiting rooms of doctors, dentists and lawyers and in my books to enter the libraries and school bookshelves. Through Wesley Mission’s videos we stay by the video machines in the schools and homes. Through church services I have challenged the people of our cities by lifting high Jesus Christ and saying: “Who is this?”
I am never proud of the fact that across our land for quarter of a century I have been listened to by more people than any other preacher in our nation. That is not a matter for pride: Jesus has entered many cities on the back of a donkey! But even a donkey can be used to take the Master into the city! We spend ourselves to bring Christ to the city so that people will say: “Who is this?” Then seek the answer.
Many will respond saying “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” Hundreds of thousands are yet to acknowledge Jesus Christ. Many in our cities have only luke-warm commitment. They know Jesus but do not follow Him. Jesus Christ asks that if you love Him to remember Him round the communion table and to share the bread and wine.
They never attend worship. They simply call out “Christ, you know I loved you. Did you see I waved?” Jesus Christ asks if you love Him to take up your Cross and follow Him. Many are willing to wave but few are ready to join the procession and march behind Him. Jesus Christ asks if you love Him to care for the poor and make a financial sacrifice. Many will wave but few want to make a financial commitment. They call out “Christ, you know I loved you. Did you see I waved?”
Modern people in our city accept Christianity, but they do not become members of the church. We have to convert believers into belongers! But some people who belong to the church are not really committed. We have to convert these belongers to believers! Jesus Christ does not ask for your admiration. He wants your commitment! Jesus does not ask for acknowledgment. He wants your commitment. Do not say: “Christ, you know I loved you. Did you see I waved?” Say instead: “Jesus Christ, my Master, I’ll take up my Cross and follow wherever you lead me.” And join the crowd that follow Him. A wave changes nothing. Jesus wants to make disciples who will be committed to turning the world upside down. He wants our city confronted, changed, turned around, converted! That means you! Turn to Him now! Stop waving. Start following!