Sermon from Rev. KJ Norris for Kerr Presbyterian Church–Palm Sunday April 5, 2020.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
“I spy with my little eye”
Have you ever played that game? The eye spy game?
We use to play it when I was a kid. It was my dad who most often started the game. We would be driving in the car, perhaps down to the South Hills to visit my mother’s family and dad would start: “I spy with my little eye….something yellow!”
My sister and I would look around frantically trying to be the first to name it. Was it the yellow gum wrapper in the front seat? No. Is it the McDonald’s bill-board we are passing? No. Oh! The Yellow School bus right in front. Kimberly wins.
This game is getting a make-over this year. Since people can’t visit one another in person, people are playing online. One friend says: I spy something yellow and another friend shares a picture of her kitchen wall. Making them both remember the cookies baked loving at Christmas. And other finds on their camera roll a picture of a beach they all visited as kids. A third friend takes a selfie of a yellow tie he wore for his zoom meeting—dressing up for Fancy Friday though he had no place to go.
We are finding ways to play games and to laugh together. The games have changed, a little, but the Spirit is alive and well calling us into community.
And today that’s what is happening in our Scripture as well. The Gospel writer Matthew is inviting us to play Eye Spy.
So, if you have a Bible handy, let’s keep them open today and walk bit by bit through Matthew 21 to see what we can see. Matthew wants us to see not just with regular eyes but with Spiritual eyes—with eyes that go deep into the Scriptures of the past and help us to see who Jesus is and how he is at work. So put on your eye spy eyes and let’s go.
Matthew 21 begins with Jesus asking the disciples to play eye spy—what are they to search for? Did you catch it? I hope maybe some of you kids at home who are listening to this are shouting out the answer from Elder Scott’s Junior Sermon.
The disciples are asked to go and find a donkey and a colt. And then bring them back to Jesus. So they do. Now, hopefully this seemed as odd to you as it does to me. Jesus is just one person, right? But he asks the disciples to go and get two animals to ride. This is really funny! Can you imagine Jesus riding two animals at once. How is that even possible! He must have had one foot on each. It’s really silly.
Now, some people say, Matthew just made a big goof here. Jesus was just trying to explain what to look for—finding two different animals next to each other might have been easier to see than just one even though Jesus only needed one. He was just making the game eye spy easier.
Or others say, well, Matthew was trying to get us to think back to an Old Testament passage—perhaps if you have your Bible open, you saw this Old Testament passage. If I just read it, it is hard to notice, but if you look at verse 5, do you see that it is in quotes? It’s actually taken from Zechariah 9 where the prophet used a kind of beautiful poetry called parallelism to emphasize the animals. Maybe Matthew got really excited about showing how Jesus was the fulfillment of all Zechariah had hoped for and he went to quote this passage and some how ended up making it look like Jesus was riding two animals when there was only one.
Personally, I think it is much bigger than this. I think that Matthew is inviting us to eye spy with our little eyes something that is Spiritual. In the Bible, donkeys were coronation animals—a person coming in riding one would be seen as a great king coming in to take his throne in Jerusalem. And Jesus is this! He is the king of all kings.
If a person road in on a humble colt, though, they would be seen as a lowly servant. Jesus is also a servant—he is the one who will wash the disciples feet as we remember coming up on Maundy Thursday. He is the one who will call us to humbly serve one another by showing us an example of servanthood. (See Long, Matthew, p 234-235, Westminster John Knox Press).
Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem is both king and servant. When we eye spy the donkey and the colt together we have spiritual eyes to see who Jesus really was and is—the humble king.
But Matthew doesn’t stop there.
Next the whole crowd gets involved in the game of eye spy. They look up and they see Jesus coming in to the city and they begin to shout (and you can read this along with me if you want; it is from verse 9). They shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
And verse 8 tells us that they cut branches from their trees and lay them on road in front of them.
You know that things are different this year. Usually at Kerr, we get these thin little palm branches and Liz and some of our kids hand them out at the front door and then during the Junior Sermon we walk around the church shouting, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!”
And usually everyone shouts really loudly because we have our Easter Egg hunt on Palm Sunday and everyone has so much sugar in them by this time they are really excited to shout in church. And we all laugh at the parade.
I know some of us are missing these traditions this year and it’s okay to mourn the loss of them. To feel sad that our world looks different. To long for normality. To miss our friends and loved ones.
But I’m also looking at some of the things we were able to do this year that we have never done before. Because we always order palms, we never have a chance to live out the Bible story and this year we did that at Kerr.
This year we couldn’t get our regular palm branches, though Josie tried really hard. But instead, Bob Norris went out onto his farm and cut down some arborvitae branches, some branches off of an evergreen tree so that we would have palms to wave this morning. Pennsylvania Palms, I’m calling them. They are what we might have used if the climate in Jerusalem was more similar to Pennsylvania. It was a way we could use our own resources to worship the Lord, just like the crowd did faithfully on that day.
And if you couldn’t pick up a palm on Saturday, maybe you can find a way to participate in this new tradition. Maybe you can color your own palm or cut one out of green construction paper. Or maybe you can take a branch from your own tree or bush which needs a little punning. When
you find a creative way to celebrate, please share it with me and I’ll put your picture on our website so we can encourage one another.
And maybe we couldn’t parade around the sanctuary, but some of us paraded around our houses yelling: Hosanna in the Highest! Maybe our neighbors heard us and came out to see what all of the fuss is about. Maybe we can tell them about the humble king who loves them so much and gives hope in these crazy times.
Our traditions have changed, but if we have Spiritual eyes to see, if we eye-spy what is happening in our world, there are glimpses of hope all around. There is joy in new ways.
There is at least one more place where Matthew invites us to eye-spy in this passage so let us return to our Bibles for a third look.
After riding up the hill into Jerusalem, Jesus comes to the Temple and does a whole bunch of things. He heals people and listens to children—we often talk about Jesus doing those things. They don’t surprise us. We often speak of Jesus’ love and compassion for those who are ill or on the margins—for those who have no voice or no choice.
But Jesus also does something that might surprise us. He turns over the tables and shouts at those who are gathered there.
Why does he do that?
Well, there are some who believe that the money changes were exploiting people. Perhaps for instance, they were price gouging. We have seen some of that recently. I heard about a person who went to every dollar store he could find and bought hand-sanitizer for a dollar. Then, when people most needed it, he tried to sell it on Amazon for $70 a bottle.
That is cruel. There are people who are ill and in need of health care products and while we all need to make money and many of us are out of work, charging 70Xs for something, getting rich off of people who are vulnerable in a difficult time is simply wrong.
Jesus cares not just about our spiritual lives but our economic lives as well. God is in the business of bringing full healing—economic, spiritual, physical, emotional. When God is at work in our lives, we are changed completely. We see more fully. We care more deeply. We serve more authentically. We love more patiently.
Our lives are new. Paul says it this way: You are a new creation! The old is gone. The new has come! (2 Cor 5:17, Pastoral Emphasis).
Perhaps Jesus is teaching us here that what we do with our money matters. Our businesses matter. Our pricing matters. Yes, we need good economic healthy but that needs to be found in such a way that our communities prosper as well as us an individuals. If the money changers were prospering at the expense of the poor, Jesus was righting a wrong.
I do think that is part of what is happening here, part of why Jesus turns over the tables. God shows us throughout Scripture that economics matter. God gave us the law of Jubilee. God sent prophets to speak against unjust economic systems. God calls us to be cheerful givers.
But when we eye-spy with Spiritual eyes we may also see Jesus at work in another way.
We are at the beginning of Holy Week. Thursday we will all come together on Zoom to have dinner together and worship together and then celebrate communion together as we remember Jesus’ final supper in the upper room with his disciples.
On Friday you can go to the website on your own any time to hear the Scriptures and beautiful music recorded to help you pray and meditate on Jesus who willingly went to the cross.
You see, Jesus didn’t just come to show us what true love is through his actions of healing and taking care of kids and settling injustice.
Jesus also willingly went to the cross to break the system of sin and death. There was once a sacrificial system—a system of the law wherein if we sinned against God or others, we would have to sacrifice an animal as a way of showing our repentance, as a way of expressing tangibly that we were willing to turn our lives around to serve God.
But Jesus changed all that. Jesus didn’t just make a point about economic injustice by over turning the tables. Jesus overturned the entire sacrificial system. Jesus called the Temple’s very reason for existence into question (see Wright, Matthew for Everyone, p 72). Jesus made it clear that he was coming into Jerusalem not just to live as an example for us to follow, but to die so that sin and death no longer have power over us—so that we will have eternal life.
As we walk into Holy week, may the Lord give us eyes to spy with our little eye God at work in the world.