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The View From Here - Palm Sunday

The View from Here

Matthew 21:1-11

Palm Sunday - March 20, 2016

Epworth United Methodist Church

Linda Loessberg-Zahl

It looked promising from my view at the base of the mountains. I launched out

with enthusiasm following my husband and two friends from seminary on a fun hike over

30 years ago. I love hiking in the mountains, even steep trails are great, as long as you

can see the trail, that is. Now rock climbing is another thing entirely. We had a nice

hike, nothing too strenuous at first. Then we got to the steep portion of the trail. I was

taking it all in stride – no problem. Then the view changed, the trail disappeared. All

that was in front of us was a sea of huge, black, slippery boulders with sharp edges – just

waiting to taste my blood. I don’t do rocks. Did I mention they had sharp edges? Bob

and our friends, Carla and Dawn saw my face, heard my moans and said, “You can wait

here. We’ll come back and get you on the way down.” I wasn’t about to be left behind.

So I climbed slowly with terror in my heart and jitters in my knees, over rocks I never

saw from my vantage point below. I kept thinking, “One slip, one fall could end it all.” I

could see the headlines: “Seminary student meets her maker on the mountain.”

We’ve gotten one view from the news about how everyone gathered to caucus,

primed for a new leader. They were searching for someone who would make the Jews

great again. Their branches waved like banners as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. They

thought they had found him. They had heard about this guy, how he wasn’t part of the

establishment, how he was going to change things. As the week went on, when Jesus

didn’t deliver the platform they expected, the excited crowd turned into an incited crowd.

Their rally cries of “Glorify him!” changed to “Crucify him!” They soon realized that the

Kingdom he promoted wasn’t about their promotions. They soon realized that the future

he envisioned wasn’t the one they imagined. It’s easy for us to criticize them and their

self-centeredness from our vantage point these thousands of years later, but the sharp

rocks of their struggle were real.

They lived in a polarized world defined by an oppressive Roman government.

That struggle bred fear and rage not unlike our polarized world today. We too get caught

up in frustration in the fight against oppression. We too want change. Members of that

branch-waving Jerusalem crowd aren’t the only ones who are taken up short by the road

Jesus takes. We too are unsettled by Jesus’ message. Jesus talks about claiming our

power through serving others. He calls us to work against injustice – and love our

enemies. It’s not an easy path to hike. What would that look like in your life? What

would it look like to honor and serve your least favorite people? What would it look like

to work against oppression without dehumanizing the oppressors? This Reign of God

that Jesus describes involves bringing even the oppressors along. When have you like me

been reluctant to follow Jesus down that road?

In the end Jesus walked that road alone. Carl Rife knows how that feels. During

his senior year in high school he was chosen to be the drum major of a new marching

band. He says, “Most of us had absolutely no experience of marching in parades. I still

remember leading the band down West Market Street in York, Pennsylvania. My basic

job was to march in front of the band and every so often blow my whistle in a certain

cadence to strike up the band. As we were marching down West Market Street for a short

time, I heard someone from the crowd who had gathered to watch the parade (yell),

'Mister, you lost your band.' I sneaked a look back and sure enough, there was the Central

High School marching band about three-quarters of a block behind.”1

Like Carl, Jesus lost his band of followers, because following Jesus is a learning

experience for us as well. Jesus was committed to change – change more far-reaching

than anyone imagined. The change Jesus talked about includes changing us. Being part

of the Jesus movement means unlearning our simplistic understanding of the world.

This past week I visited with Dorothy Cook Coakley, a longtime member of

Epworth who is in Alta Bates Hospital. She was reflecting back, remembering how in

the 50’s figuring out what was right and wrong seemed so much simpler. She said she

was taught to leave the world a better place, but that it’s harder to know how to do that

these days.

The truth is, it has never been simple. As we live, learn and mature we begin to

realize the deep complexity of the world’s problems. An action that looks right from one

perspective can have an unforeseen negative impact. Makarand Sahasrabuddhe, from

Oxfam International describes the unexpected result of efforts to find water in the

developing world. Drilling bore-holes deeper and deeper has led to the draining of

ground water reserves that cannot be replenished.2

Another area of unintended consequences involves CEO salary regulation. A

Harvard study3 found that corporate boards responded to legislative reforms enacted in

2003 by increasing stock options for CEOs, leading to an explosive growth in their

overall compensation.”

Ethanol subsidies in the US also had an unforeseen effect. A 2008 review by the

Harvard International Relations Council found that the use and support of corn to

produce ethanol played a significant role in raising the price for food staples around the

There are surely other perspectives from other research in those areas, which of

course speaks to the complexity of the issues. Following this Jesus doesn’t just require

moving beyond a simplistic view of the world it also costs us our certainty that we are on

the “right side.” As we learn more about the root causes of poverty and injustice we

come to understand that we are all responsible. We all hold some privilege at the cost of

others. You’ve heard the statistics: “The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives

in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption

spending. As many as 2.8 billion people on the planet struggle to survive on less than $2

a day, and more than one billion people lack reasonable access to safe drinking water.”5

So, when Jesus says that God brings everyone along on this Kin-dom movement, even

the sinful, even the oppressors, that is good news for us, because we are all implicated in

some way.

So, how do we find the way forward through so much ambiguity? Jesus shows us

the way. This king who rode a donkey also ate with anybody. He called people to

humility and community. There’s no room for high horses or name calling as we work

for healing and social justice. Walking the path Jesus marked means wrapping our arms

around each other instead of around ourselves. It means helping each other up, when we

inevitably slip on the rock. It means calling the best out of each other. It’s the only way

we can move forward.

There were a couple of times I had to wrap my arms around my friend Carla on

that terrifying day on the rocks. She led me through the harrowing, very humbling

journey. She knew how scared I was. At one point she came back and said, “Linda, I

really admire your courage.” Can you imagine that kind of compassion? Instead of

seeing me as this fool who couldn’t take a step without my knees knocking (which is how

I felt), Carla saw my best and called it courage. She stayed with me and showed me the

best place to put my next step. Her presence made the journey possible, and the view

from the top was spectacular.

God also stays with us through this dangerous and unpredictable life journey,

calling our best out of us, calling us to humility and community, as we discover the next

shaky step together. What next step is God encouraging you to take on this journey to

life, this journey to Easter? Where are you called to see yourself differently? Where are

you called to see others differently? How can you reach out to someone you wouldn’t

normally see as a friend? What does the view from here show you?

So, let’s walk this path to fuller life together, linked by humility and community,

because the view from there can be spectacular! Amen.

1 Carl B. Rife, Milford Mill, Maryland, Palm Sunday 1994


3 The Growth of Executive Pay, Harvard John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business (Apr. 2005) , available at

4 Misplaced Priorities; Ethanol Promotion and its Unintended Consequences. Bhat, K1ran 03/22/2008

5 World Watch Institute

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