This Week's Sermon
“Human Chain Reactions”
Sermon on Palm Sunday, April 2, 2023
Have you ever been in the same room with someone who yawned? Chances are you caught on and yawned as well. It’s a phenomenon called “contagious yawning” and has been observed in wild species, such as chimpanzees, wolves, and baboons, as well as in dogs and humans. You’ve probably observed it. Let’s stretch this contagious yawning phenomenon a bit. Think about the last time a person with a happy, bubbly personality walked into the room. Did the energy in the room shift? Did the air feel lighter? How did that energy vibration rub off on you? Now think about a time when a disgruntled person who was noticeably upset walked into the room. How did the energy shift then? All humans are connected, we feed off each other’s energy. It’s like a human chain reaction!
Palm Sunday always reminds me of the danger of human chain reactions, when people are influenced by trends, shifts of norms and values, rumors… mostly because, they say, everybody is doing it, everybody is thinking it, everybody is saying it. Conformity. The danger of crowd chain reactions is so clear to me, both in the story of Jesus entry into Jerusalem and in the small passage that we just heard – his interrogation by the governor of Judea, Pilate. Note that in both stories the crowd plays a crucial role, literally crucial as Jesus will be crucified before long - and not only because of Pilate, not only because of High Priest Caiaphas, not only because of poor soul Judas Iscariot but because of people. Ordinary people, having been manipulated, call for his head.” Crucify him!” Average Joe, (I apologize to everyone named Joseph for using this expression!), … average Joe is calling for Jesus’ head! Conformity.
I can’t think of a time in recent history when this story and this message was more important in America than right now, in our time when the art of crowd manipulation reaches new unheard-of levels every year. Photoshopping, artificial intelligence, foreign infiltrators feeding people what they want to hear to steer them in their direction, it’s all out there. Messages framing people pop up on our individual homepages and Facebook feeds, waiting for us to click, to react, to get angry and vengeful, it’s all out there like never before. Can we resist those negative human chain reactions? Can we keep our blood pressure down? That’s our Palm Sunday question for 2023.
So, in a very real way we are part of the crowd assembled before Pilate and Jesus in this story. We are being fed the message that that this guy is bad for us, or the more contemporary version - that religion is bad for you or doesn’t matter anymore, or that it is bigotry, antiquated, used up, spent… And since most everybody seems to agree and since we hardly hear a protest from the younger generation that has been fed the gospel of individualism, people easily become part of the crowd, even the individualists!!! Conformity. Some may even shout “Crucify him.” The most important factor in this story and in the current struggles of the church in America is passiveness. See, maybe only 20 % of the crowd before Jesus and Pilate were shouting “Crucify Him.” That’s what I picture. They are just very loud, and the rest are becoming bystanders, guilty by association, watching injustice happening, tolerating bullies, allowing them to rule the day and effectively kill someone. “Crucify him!” Conformity.
Paul wrote in Romans 12: 2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Can we find the strength to follow this call, to be salt of the earth and light of the world instead of just trend followers, part of the human chain reaction, part of this recent movement that worships gods in cleats? Can we instill that sense of freedom of a true Christian in our children and grandchildren?
How does Jesus react to the changing shift of the public mood around him, the new Gallup poll that said 70 % of people in Judea were now disapproving of his conduct or the Twitter Chatter that called him a fraud or the photoshopped pictures that show him in the company of traitors… (Oh no, this wasn’t photoshopped, this was real…) His reaction in all accounts of the Passion Story is measured and understated. He kept his blood pressure down. He was not part of the human chain reaction. For the second time in Matthew’s Passion, he answers an authority figure accusing him by saying, “You say so.” Can he not be more assertive, more combative, defending himself and his cause? “Are you the King of the Jews?” he is asked. “You say so…” “Are you the Sony of God,” the High priest Caiaphas had asked in the previous chapter. And he said, “You say it.” What is that about?
Here is what I believe. Jesus wasn’t interested in trends and human chain reactions. He also didn’t care about those titles he was asked about. He knew that his own identity was a mystery which no title on earth could adequately describe. The same is true for us. Forget Pastor Wagner, forget Reverend Wagner, forget whatever Wagner (when I go to Alice’s Bakery, Dennis will say, ‘Hey Wagner’). The titles aren’t important. They are a form of respect, but they can never describe someone’s deepest identity. Respect for every human being and refraining from human chain reactions, that’s what Jesus was about. Following Jesus means you don’t get too easily affected by the shifting mood in a culture, the horizontal energy. You get more importantly affected by God’s will for your life, by what’s noble and perfect and pleasing to the Lord. We, as we sit here, could cause positive, faith-inspiring chain reactions if we allowed God to work through us. It’s possible. It’s described in the Book of Acts after Easter. It’s all there. Let us take heart! Amen.
Pastor Andreas Wagner