Among the charges against 13 Russians leveled about six weeks ago by Special Counsel Robert Mueller are that somehow Russians encouraged demonstrations and rallies by both supporters and opponents of President Trump, demonstrations and counter demonstrations. We all know President Trump does like to talk about the numbers who come to his events, but perhaps we should presume that the Russians paid some who attended these demonstrations and counter demonstrations.
This raised the question to me, especially since John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg suggest that Jesus’ entry was in some sense a counter demonstration to Pontius Pilate’s entry into the city at about the same time so that the Romans could maintain law and order during the Jewish Passover, this raised the question to me: “Were the Russians involved in bringing out the people who cheered Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem that day almost 2000 years ago?” “Did the Russians pay people to wave palm branches and shout ‘hosanna’?”
I suppose I could also ask whether Donald Trump was publicity agent for Jesus, because when we talk about the “crowds,” we are probably picturing more people than were actually likely to be there. But the reason I think the Russians might have been behind and paying for the crowds that were there on what we call “Palm Sunday” is because, five days later, most of those people were nowhere to be found, or were heckling the man who had ridden in to their praise five days earlier.
The Russians might well have paid those people, I suggest, because they did not bother to show up to support Jesus as he went to the cross. They could only have been half-hearted backers of Jesus at best; their absence on Friday shows that these people were not risk-takers for Jesus. Their shouts of “Hosanna,” as I have said on other Palm Sundays, were not, “You’re Number 1, Jesus!” but rather pointed toward themselves and their own needs, “Save us.” Since their concerns were for themselves and not Jesus, I say that they might have been paid by the Russians.
They might have been paid by the Russians. Come to think of it, how many here today, or a week from today, have been or will have been paid by the Russians? Putting it bluntly, fond as I am of your company, as energizing as it is to see seats in the seats, how many of you are going to be there Friday — I don’t mean for the unusual and I think very moving Good Friday program I have planned, — not how many of you, how many of us, are going to be there this Friday, not any literal Friday, but the day when it is not so convenient and festive to be a backer of Jesus, when it costs time or money or effort or risk to one’s reputation, will you be there?
Or how many of us will dare to criticize or differ from one’s political bedfellows when being a Christian might suggest to our consciences that we should do so?
Will you be there like that Simon of Cyrene who helped to carry the cross on that Friday? Will you help carry the cross?
Or have all of you, okay, most of you, at least some of you, been paid by the Russians to be here!
“John’s lost it; Jesus already went to the cross. What in heaven’s name is he talking about? Russians?”
Well, let me put it back into the quasi-political context, not of Russia or Donald Trump, but a context I had to Google, because I had forgotten who coined the term, “sunshine patriot.” It was Thomas Paine in December 1776, a rough time when independence did not look possible, and military defeat for the colonialists seemed only a matter of time.
“These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
Substitute “Palm Sunday Christian” for “sunshine patriot,” and I think you will get my intent, which is to ask, “How many of us will continue to pursue carrying the good news of Jesus Christ, when it is not so easy to do so?” Fellowship hours and, frankly, Sunday worship do not require much of us other than getting out of bed perhaps a few minutes early once a week or missing the opening kickoff of a few pro-football games in the fall, particularly for Packers’ fans. But really being followers of Christ, really carrying the cross into the world, that is another and possibly more costly matter. It requires more than waving a palm leaf, it means more than taking money from the Russians, it means giving our time and health and wealth on behalf of His mission, on behalf of His church, for the benefit of His children, both those who already know Him and those who do not yet know Him — those whom we are called upon to make His followers and to baptize in His name.
And the Russians won’t pay us for that. In fact, while not to the extent that the Chinese do so, even though there has been some moderation in religious freedom for those who follow the Russian Orthodox Church, Christianity as Christianity is not really welcome in Russia; religion, Christianity especially, is considered a threat. Christianity is a threat to tyrants and oppressors precisely because it values all individuals as God’s children, seeks to treat everyone as one has himself or herself been treated — been and are loved — by God.
And we are not paid to be that threat; that is something we do because of our faith and gratitude for what God has done for us in Christ. Doing so can be at the cost of our time and health and wealth. And that means being there on those figurative Fridays, not just on the day someone gives us a palm to wave.
“Hosanna, loud Hosanna,” we sing; “Follow me!” Jesus says. “Follow me to the cross and see there the extent of what I am willing to do on your behalf. The Russians might give you money, but I give you life such that no longer do you need yell, ‘Hosanna, save me,”’ but can yell instead, ‘To God be the glory.’”
To God be the glory, indeed, who has given us life, though his Son, in whose name we pray.