Gifts of the Dark Wood: The Gift of Misfits
First United Methodist Church, March 25, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer
It was Palm Sunday and Jesus was coming into Jerusalem. He was riding on a blazing white stallion and kicking up a cloud of dust as he rode along. He was looking for trouble. The people that he passed on his way were in awe of such a beautiful animal but they were even more awestruck by the man who was riding it. As Jesus passed by you could hear people say, "Who was that masked man?"
There were bad guys on the loose and Jesus had a job to do. As he rode into Jerusalem he quickly sized up the situation and formed a plan to capture the ringleader of the troublemakers. His name was Diablo. Or Satan. There was a short scuffle and Jesus won handily over Diablo. He hog-tied the devil and threw him in jail.
As a large crowd gathered to see what all the commotion was about, Jesus mounted his horse and pulled on the reigns. The stallion stood on its hind legs, neighed loudly, and pawed the air with its front legs. When it stood as tall as it could, Jesus leaned forward in the saddle. Holding the reigns with one hand while lifting his white hat in the air with the other, he saluted the crowd, and road off into the sunset. You can almost hear the William Tell Overture in the background…
Now that's the kind of savior we can relate to. THAT makes sense. The guy who rides in all large and in charge. Flashing a handsome smile and saving the day. A knight in shining armor. A hero. You know what to do when that guy comes into town. If you're a good guy, you're happy, because you know the day has been saved. If you're a lady you swoon [I'm not sure exactly what that is, but I think it's something like this]. And if you're a bad guy, you know you're in trouble.
But, as you know, that's not what Jesus did. Yes, up until he rode into Jerusalem, he was saving the day right and left: casting out demons, calming storms, raising people from the dead, healing the sick, feeding the hungry. Those are all really good things. And he was a great story-teller. Told people about God, about how their lives could be better, fuller, more God-like.
In a lot of ways, Jesus was an overnight sensation—a hero—a knight in shining armor. But he didn't play the role very well. People would line the streets as he came into town, follow him wherever he went—but he didn't get into the fame and fortune thing. And that day when he rode into Jerusalem on a small colt or a donkey—well, it fit who Jesus was to a "T", but it wasn't exactly what the people were looking for, or what they were expecting. And yet they sang their hosannas, which basically means "save us now" and there was a sense of hope and promise and expectation in the air.
But things had already begun to unravel.
In just 5 days, the crowd would begin to turn away…the people wouldn't be cheering anymore…and the accusations would begin. Even those who had nothing to say—even those whom Jesus had blessed in some way—even those people—simply disappeared into the shadows, unable or unwilling to offer a word of grace to the one who had offered it to them so generously.
What caused them all to so quickly turn away?
Why did their songs of hosanna become shouts to crucify?
Why did the cheering stop?
We're drawing to the close of our journey through the Dark Wood. In this week's chapter, Elnes speaks of the Gift of Misfits, which certainly catches our attention. Misfits as Elnes describes them and as I interpret them for this time and place, are those individuals who intentionally embrace something different than what the world and our secular culture would offer or suggest. It's seeking to be authentic in our relationships with God and one another, it's thoughtfully and prayerfully considering God's calling and our role as disciples in every interaction and decision we make. And while the world might encourage us to evaluate our success by moving up the ladder or by what we have or what we have accumulated, a disciple looks at success in a different way: it's more about the way we love, the way we serve, the way we give. It can seem at times as though we're swimming against the current, going against the flow, being oppositional or counter-cultural; but it's the difference between Jesus entering Jerusalem on a colt instead of white stallion…it's the example of his putting a towel over his arm and kneeling down and washing the disciples' feet…it's telling Peter to put down his sword in the garden of Gethsemane and allowing himself to be led away, beaten, and then raised on a cross. It's not calling the angels to come release him in a grand display of power. It's dying.
Our Savior lived and died in a way that went against the grain. He was a mis-fit in the expectations and ways of the world. That's how he called his followers to live, then and now. To allow God to shape who we are, not the world. To be who God calls us to be, first and foremost.
I think of Jesus and his disciples moving toward Jerusalem on that day. He turned to two of his disciples. He had a mission for them. A mission! "This is going to be good," they think. "This is going to be important! Here we are on the verge of entering Jerusalem, the city is coming out to greet Jesus as a hero, and the Teacher has chosen the two of us for a special mission!"
The two disciples—Mark doesn't name them so we have no idea who they are—could have immediately thought he wanted them to make contact with the Sanhedrin: the Jewish ruling council.
They might of thought he wanted them to gather the leaders of the Pharisees together for a planning session on how to handle the Romans.
Maybe they thought Jesus would ask them to make contact with Pontius Pilate or King Herod. Set up an appointment for Jesus to speak to them sometime in the near future.
Or, maybe Jesus wanted them to go ahead of the group, enter the outer courtyard of the Temple and begin preaching to the crowds. The two disciples—like the rest of the group from Galilee—had a little experience in preaching…in telling the Good News. Maybe Jesus had chosen them because he saw them to be the best preachers of the bunch, could see they had a way with words, that they could hold a crowd in the palm of their hands, and he wanted them to go ahead and get the crowds ready for him! The other 10 disciples? Well, they would hang back with Jesus until the two chosen disciples went ahead to begin winning over the crowds, using their amazing preaching skills to soften up the skeptics and persuade the curious.
All kinds of ideas are running through the heads of those 2 disciples, and then Jesus explains what he wants them to do: "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie and bring it. If anyone says to you, '"Why are you doing this?' just say, "The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately."
Out of all those amazing possibilities, Jesus wants them to get a colt? To go get a donkey?
That's the mission? That's what Jesus wants us to do? Leave this parade, miss all this cool activity, and go find some colt? Really?
But they do it, and their actions are a part of the fulfillment of prophesy from the book of Zechariah: God is going to send you a messiah, the prophet says. God is not going to leave you forgotten, or worn down by a steady diet of despair. God is going to send you a deliverer, a king. But this king will be different from all other kings. Other kings come along as conquerors. Other kings will come along and demand your allegiance. Other kings bend your will to their control whether or not you want to follow. Other kings come riding into cities on war horses or in impressive, armored chariots, but this man will come as a humble king. Some kings grab the political levers of power and have their way whether or not we like it.
But not this king, Zechariah says.
This king will be different.
This king will call us to be different…to live in a way that goes against the expected, against the flow…
Living against the grain can be a challenge. Difficult. It can feel as though we're walking in a dark wood…the path uncertain…the road lonely. So here's the plan: Jesus calls us to be in community. Not to do it on our own. To do it together.
As the children and I were walking through our worship space this morning for our children's message, there were people in the congregation who had what we needed: bug spray and water and kindling. There was even someone out there who wanted to join us just because. (Okay, so I invited him ahead of time, but our invitation was to come—come and be a part of what we're doing. Share your story, and hear ours!)
Jesus wasn't alone in his ministry, but he gathered people to join him. They were regular people who shared meals together, who listened to one another's stories, who offered encouragement and support to one another. They weren't a perfect group of people. Their distinction in the community or among the people of faith wasn't what turned his head in their direction. But he invited them to join him and they did. They created a family that grew, and that continues to grow even today.
That's who we are. We're a part of God's family, called to go against the grain, to swim against the current, to not simply follow the ways of our culture, but to listen for the word of God, allowing that word to shape what we say and do. We are imperfect but beloved, we are sometimes a little impulsive and most definitely too often quiet, but we are Christ's Body, and together we are called to welcome the stranger, to love our neighbor, to offer grace, to live in a different way.
May we listen, and may we individually and as a community be faithful to the call.