Who Is That Man?

Who Is That Man?

Palm Sunday (NL2) John B Valentine
Mark 11:1-11 March 24, 2024


I know that I’ve told some of you something of this story before ... but you know how it is that there are certain events from your past that you can recall with startling clarity??

For instance ... I don’t quite know why ... but I have this crystal-clear remembrance of a time ... in the late summer or early fall of 1964 ... back when I had just turned five ... in my then-hometown of Akron, Ohio.

I wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about ... but my Mom packed my brother and sister and I up in the car and hauled us off to stand at the side of some road.

“Mom, what are we doing?”

“We’re going to stand here by the side of the road and wave when the car goes by.”

“How come, Mom? Why would we do that? Who’s in the car?”

“There’s going to be this big black car that goes by. And in it is going to be a famous man. He’s running for president.”

“What’s his name?”

“His name is Mister Goldwater.”

Beyond that point ... my memory recedes back into the fog ... except that I remember seeing a big black car drive by ... and not noticing anyone inside of it ...

And thinking to myself “Big deal!”

+ + + + +

Now ... fast forward with me one generation.

• I’m not in Ohio anymore ... I’m in the Camelback neighborhood on the eastern edge of Phoenix, Arizona.

• It’s not 1964 anymore .... it’s like 1993.

• I’m not a child anymore ... no ... I’m a parent ... walking across the parking lot into the grocery store ... with a couple of our then-young kids in tow.

“Look at that” ... I say ... spying a little grey Buick with personalized license plates and a handicapped sticker ... “I think there’s a famous person here in the grocery store today.”

“How do you know?” ... one of the kids asks.

“Because I can see his car! It’s right over there.”

“Who is it? A pro basketball player?” ... “Is it somebody from a TV show?” ... “Is it New Kids on the Block?”

“No” ... I reply ... “he used to be in politics. In fact” ... pointing at him as we enter the store ... “he’s right over there.”

“Where?” ... the kids ask.

“Right over there ... at the end of that aisle.”

“Who ... that OLD guy over there?”

“Yeah ... he’s famous. Once he actually ran for President. His name is Mister Goldwater.”

Bless their little hearts ... though the kids didn’t say anything more as we wandered the aisles of the grocery store ... written all over their faces were the same words I’d spoken a generation earlier during my encounter with Barry Goldwater ... “Big deal!”

+ + + + +

“Who is it?” ... “Is she famous?” ... “What’s the big deal?”

Those questions... those same questions we ask of sports stars and pop stars and has-been politicians ...

I can’t but imagine that those are the questions that ... on that Palm Sunday morning ... those were the questions that people were asking of Jesus.

In fact ... in Saint Matthew’s account of this same event ... the evangelist notes that:

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. And a very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

And the crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The locals see those palm branches and cloaks being waved ...

They hear the crowds hollering “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” ...

They spy that little donkey that serves as a curious conveyance ...

And they can’t help but wonder ...

• “Who is this fellow?” ...
• “What is his IDENTITY?” ...
• “What is going on???”

+ + + + +

But ... you know ... the story doesn’t end there.

Come Thursday ... Maundy Thursday we’re going to gather again to hear of the night in which this same Jesus was betrayed ... the night that he took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples.

And again we’ll wonder ... “Who is this fellow?” ... “What’s is he doing?” ... “What is going on?”

• Who are you to take a piece of bread and break it and declare “This is my Body”?

• Who are you to grasp a cup of wine and declare that it to be the new Covenant?

• How can you say that your blood is somehow connected to the forgiveness of sins?

Who is this guy? What is he doing? What’s going on here?

+ + + + +

But the story didn’t ... and it doesn’t ... end there either.

Come Friday ... GOOD Friday ... even in his dying woes ... everything seems to hang on just what HIS identity is:

• Pontius Pilate’s gonna want to label his cross Jesus of Nazareth ... King of the Jews. The lesser authorities want it to read “This one SAYS he’s the King of the Jews.”

• The bystanders get all confused about whether he’s calling on Elijah ... if he’s calling himself Elijah ... or if he’s calling out to God.

• The soldiers aren’t quite certain whether Jesus is a buffoon to be tormented ... or if ... as one of them confesses when the dirty deed is said and done “Truly, this man was God’s Son!”

+ + + + +

Who IS that guy who ends up up there? [Pointing to the cross.]

That really IS the question.

• Is he the upstart political rebel of Palm Sunday?

• Is he the self-sacrificing prophet of Maundy Thursday?

• Is he just Good Friday’s “fool on the hill”?

Or is he something else? Something beyond all that? Something beyond our wildest imaginings?

+ + + + +

Truth be told ... we human beings .. right from the get-go .. have been unending in our efforts to “cut Jesus down to size.”

The problem with what happens on that fateful week called “Holy Week” isn’t that the people didn’t want God ...

No ... the problem was that they wanted God on their terms ... and if they couldn’t have God on THEIR terms then they didn’t really want God at all.

• The Pharisees want him to look like a Pharisee ... and act like a Pharisee ... and affirm their agenda.

• The Sadducees want him to look like a Sadducee ... and act like a Sadducee ... and affirm their agenda.

• The crowd wants him to look like one of them ... and act like one of them ... and affirm their agenda.

• The disciples want him to look like one of them .. and act like one of them ... and affirm their agendas.

But is it really any different for any of us??

Don’t we ... for the most part ... want Jesus to look like one of us ... and act like one of us ... and spend his time affirming OUR agendas?

I mean ... let’s be honest about it ... folks ... .

• Liberals want Jesus to conform to the Liberal agenda ...
• Conservatives want Jesus to conform to the Conservative agenda ...
• Populists want Jesus to conform to the Populist agenda ... and
• The so-called Christian Nationalists presume that Jesus will conform to their Christian Nationalist agenda.

Who do we say that he is?

Are WE the model that we expect HIM to conform to ... or is HE the MODEL FOR US??

+ + + + +

Think about it this way.

• Back in 1964 ... the first time I saw Barry Goldwater ... my mom said “BIG DEAL!” ... and I said to myself “big deal.”

• The next time I saw him ... in 1993 ... it was I who said “BIG DEAL!” ... and our kids said “big deal.”

But what changed in those twenty-nine years between 1964 and 1993?

Did Barry Goldwater change?

Oh sure ... he gotten quite a bit older ... and he’d lost his race for the presidency .. and he was riding around in a little grey Buick rather than a big black limo. But really ... he hadn’t changed all that much.

No ... what changed was me.

What changed was how I answered the question “Who did I say Barry Goldwater is?”

What changed was that ... though I didn’t always agree with his politics ... I’d come to realize that Barry Goldwater was a man who’d lived most of his life in service to his country ... and that THAT was something that was worthy of my respect and my gratitude and my admiration.

+ + + + +

You know ... this week ahead ... this “Holy Week” ... is a week for us to take another look at Jesus.

And to ask ourselves whether what Jesus did during the course of that week ... and what was done to Jesus during the course of that week ...

Was a “BIG DEAL!!” ...... or just a “big deal .... “

It’s a week for us to walk in the truth of who we are and who God is.

It’s a week for us walk the way with Jesus into real life ...

As he listens and learns ... as he laughs and cries ... as he lives and dies.

It’s a week for us to ponder whether Jesus has is fact done something that is worthy of our respect and our gratitude and our admiration and our thanks and our praise

But ... at the end of it all ... Holy Week begs of us ... each of us ... this singular question ...“WHO DO YOU SAY THAT HE IS?”

“Who Is That Man?” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on Palm Sunday 2024 — the beginning of Holy Week.  The text upon which it was / is based is the story of the Palm Sunday parade as recorded in Mark 11:1-11.  To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20240324