Reasons to Hope; Matthew 21:1-11; Delivered on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017

I have a Frank Sinatra CD and I’ve been listening to the Cole Porter song recorded on that album, I’ve got you under my Skin. Do you know that one?  I’ve been listening to it over and over again. Or you might say that I’ve been listening to it Night and Day.  Which in fact is another Cole Porter Tune that I have been listening to, also on the Frank Sinatra CD.   What great songs, right?   And maybe you don’t know this, I didn’t until recently, Cole Porter is one of the few musical show tune composers of that era—we’re talking 50’s and 60’s,  who wrote without collaboration.  In other words he wrote both the tunes and the lyrics--unlike Lerner and Loewes, and Rodgers and Hammerstein.  So, he was both the lyricist and musical composer for the movie High Society—starring Grace Kelley, Bing Crosby and you got it, Frank Sinatra.

 I’m thinking that Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra must have been great friends.  

This week, immersed as I’ve been in old songs, after I read through the Psalm Sunday reading, I started humming to myself, no, not Hosanna Loud Hosanna, which you’ve got to admit is a great hymn and sadly one we only get to sing once a year, if that.  No, I didn’t hum Hosanna, Loud Hosanna.  I started humminganother oldie but goodie—Smile.  You know the words:  Smile though your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking, and then later, hide every trace of sadness, although a tear may be ever so near.  I got so caught up in the song, in fact, that I actually google- searched it to find out more about it. You know who wrote the tune?  The comic actor, Charlie Chaplin—isn’t that something? 

Two people collaborated to write the lyrics for Smile—John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons.  Maybe like me you are able to guess the first person to record the song.  Nat King Cole.  He did that in 1954.

 Lots of other famous singers have recorded Smile—Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson and Judy Garland.  Two of those singers, Judy Garland and Michael Jackson, as we know, led very unhappy lives, and their lives ended tragically.  Choosing that song to record might have been an act of self-revelation because of course, it’s not really a happy song—it’s a sad song.  Someone’s heart is breaking—Still, the overall message is, keep smiling and eventually you’ll have a reason to smile.  So I guess you would say that it’s a song about hope. “Smile, and maybe tomorrow, you’ll see the sun come shining through for you.”  Maybe that’s what Judy Garland and Michael Jackson were yearning for--hope.      

Anyway, I think what made me think of  the song Smile in relation to our text today is that I imagine that Jesus was smiling broadly as he entered Jerusalem astride a donkey—isn’t that the way you imagine him, too?   We don’t often see pictures of a smiling Jesus, but since he was human, he probably laughed, frowned, and smiled, too.  Smiling is contagious. With so many joyful people surrounding him on the road on his way to Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday--people singing and dancing and waving palm branches Jesus got caught up in their happiness.   If his donkey were travelling slowly enough, and donkeys are slow creatures after all, Jeus may have shook peoples’ hands and patted children on their heads as his donkey lumbered past.  Jesus was maybe smiling so much and so broadly that his face actually hurt.

But of course, Jesus probably wasn’t smiling on the inside.

Up until this point in his ministry, Jesus had been doing most of his teaching in provincial areas. He knew that although he was very popular with the masses, his ministry threatened the Romans and the high priests at the temple.  For that reason he kept under the radar screen of his opponents.  He kept away from big cities preferring to teach, preach and heal in small, out of the way villages and towns.  He wanted his healings to be kept secret.   How often did he tell people he healed: “Shh.  Don’t say anything to anyone.”

Jerusalem was dangerous territory for Jesus and yet coming into Jerusalem was something Jesus felt compelled to do.   He was going to try to win over the Jewish temple officials and the Roman elite. Maybe he hoped that the masses would help convince the elite few that Jesus was in fact, a man sent from God.   And that’s the key word isn’t it?  Jesus hoped.  Jesus was a man of hope. He came into Jerusalem smiling on the outside, crying on the inside hoping that the sun would eventually come shining through and on his Jesus movement.           

 Did you ever consider what makes for a hopeful person?  Why do some people always look for the silver lining when most of us would be crying into our soup? You see somehorrible devastation on the news—a couple’s house has been destroyed in a tornado—they have nothing left at all; They’re standing on what used to be their front lawn—now it’s littered with car parts, wet pillows and a mattress, and they say to a reporter “Well, we’ve lost a lot but God will get us through this.”  I mean really, did they feel that they had to say that for the camera, or is that what they were really thinking and feeling? 

 If they were speaking honestly, then we have to count them as extremely hopeful people.  Is hopefulness an unconscious thing—maybe something some lucky few are born with-- or do people have to be taught to be that way?  I can’t answer that.  But I do know that as people of faith we are called to have hope.

 Martin Seligman is a psychologist who has studied hope.  He says that hopeful people have two common traits.  One, hopeful people believe that the cause or causes for the pain and anxiety in their lives are temporary.  The reverse is also true—people who are hopeless give up easily or don’t try at all because they believe the cause or causes for the pain and anxiety in their lives are permanent.

So for example--  a hopeless person will say, “Diets never work.” 

A hopeful person will say, “I didn’t lose weight this week because I ate too many carbs and sugary desserts. Next week I’ll do better.”

A hopeless will say, “It always rains when I plan to do some gardening.”

A hopeful will say, “It’s raining today.  Guess I’ll have to work on my garden tomorrow.”

 Hopeless people use words like always and never. Think about that next time you find yourself using one of those words in a sentence.  

Jesus held on to a fantastical hope that his world was temporary.  He had a vision of God’s kingdom—a time when everyone would get along, and everyone would look out for one another—we would all be brothers and sisters. Never and always were not part of his vocabulary. 

Hope in the Kingdom of God really is the biggest hope any of us could ever hope, don’t you think?  It’s something that has never yet happened.  And yet Jesus held onto that and we, who are Christians are still holding onto that.  The present circumstances of dog eat dog, of greed writ large, of war and vicious politics will one day be gone, vanished, wiped off the face of this earth. There will come a time when God’s kingdom will be a reality on this Earth. 

So again, Psychologist Seligman says that 1) people who are hopeful believe that their negative circumstance is temporary.  But there’s something else about hopeful people.  2)  Hopeful people believe that their negative circumstance is limited.  It is restricted to one area of their lives.  On the other hand, people who feel hopeless let the negative permeate every facet of their lives.  

So, say for instance, a man loses his job, maybe because he couldn’t get along with his boss.  A man who is hopeful will say, “I am so glad to be out from under that boss.  He was a real so-and-so.  I’ll get started working on my resume right away.  And, maybe I’ll contact my friends and let them know that I am job-hunting.  They may be able to help.” 

BUT a man who feels hopeless, will assume that the reason for the job loss is that he is a failure at life.; He will immediately assume that he will never find another job;  that all his friends will think he is lazy or stupid.   That his wife will stop loving him.  That he is doomed to a life of poverty.  Yes, he might as well pack his bags, sell his house, or move out of his apartment, and leave town immediately.  This person just bleeds all over the place.   

Jesus would not let the rejection of a few, color his entire ministry.  He saw hope in the pockets of the kingdom already starting to take a foothold.  People were being kind to one another—sharing the little they had with each other—like bread and dried fish.  They were looking out for each other in small ways.  And of course, They were spreading Jesus’ word.  That, too gave him reason to hope.    

There’s a third characteristic of people of hope, though,  that psychologist Seligman neglects to mention.   Not only do hopeful people believe that their negative circumstance is temporary and that it’s limited.  They also have faith.  We who are Christianhave faith that God is good, compassionate and merciful.  We have faith that God is able to turn anything around.  ANYTHING.  Jesus knew that as he rode into Jerusalem.  And because of Easter, we know that, too, don’t we? 

   As someone has said, when you say a situation is hopeless, you are slamming the door in the face of God. We who are Christians know better than to slam the door in God’s face.  

Jesus rode into Jerusalem.  He was smiling on the outside but crying on the inside, yet he had hope.  And so do we.  And that is the reason that we are here today and that is why we too, can smile.  May it be so for you and for me.  Amen


Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.