Matthew 21:1-11

This past Thursday, Sherry and I were working in the church office at about 11:30 in the morning when all of a sudden, we heard a loud noise, and the entire building shook. Just about the time we got our bearings back from being rattled, it came again. My head was feeling dizzy as the whole earth seemed to be moving beneath my feet.  After three powerful shakes, I looked outside and saw these giant trucks out on Oakland Street with construction workers. Sherry popped up and said they were vibrator trucks doing some seismic graphing to search for oil. I ran out the door to see what was happening just as the powerful vibrations shook again. Outside of the constructs of the building, the shaking didn’t seem quite so disorienting, but it was still quite an odd feeling. As the powerful vibrator trucks slowly headed north on Oakland Street, the effects of their vibrations lessened, but it took me a few minutes to wrap my head around what was happening and to overcome the disorientation of having the earth shake beneath my feet!

For a city boy like me, I’d never seen such as thing as this. For those unfamiliar like me, seismic graphing involves using big trucks weighing up to 30 tons, that drop heavy, metal vibrator plates from their undercarriages to thump and shake the ground.  These trucks send acoustic energy or vibrations down into the ground which is then reflected back to the surface and recorded by geophones or very sensitive seismic microphones in other vehicles.  Once the data is collected, geoscientists use powerful computers to filter and analyze the data, and use that information to decide where to drill for oil or natural gas. Thursday, I got to see this process up close as the trucks creeped along Oakland Street, dropping their vibrator plates every few hundred feet and causing the ground to stir! I must say it was quite a disorienting experience! The loud boom and the harsh shaking that occurred each time the vibrator plate dropped was really quite unsettling. At first I wondered whether there had been explosion outside, or whether a helicopter was hovering close overhead, or perhaps a really loud tornado siren was rattling the building. And of course, I realized it was like a real-life earth quake. Have you ever been in an earthquake?

In the fall of 2010, I was down in Tulsa, Oklahoma for a seminary class. As my classmates and I were sitting in a lecture on the book of Revelation, the building suddenly shook! Almost a perfect illustration to go along with that book of the Bible! Since the campus is near the airport, the initial thought was that it was just a plane flying too-low to the ground that had caused the rumble. But a quick check on news outlets revealed it had indeed been an actual earthquake. Oddly enough, the professor was the only one in the room who didn’t really notice the shaking. Us students, sitting at desks and seeing the projector screen swing behind her, noticed immediately. If I remember correctly, the earthquake measured a 5 or 6 on the Richter scale, so it was a decent shake! Being that we were talking about the book of Revelation, an earthquake happening was a bit eerie. Anyone else have any earthquake stories?

In our reading from Matthew, the people of Jerusalem experienced a bit of an earthquake themselves. No, not a literal earthquake, but after Jesus’ dramatic entrance into Jerusalem, after all the cheering crowds, after the cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David,” which literally means “save us,” or “help us,” the people of Jerusalem where quite shook up, at least so writes Matthew in verse 10. “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘who is this?’” The word in the original language means to “shake, to agitate, to tremble, or to put in commotion.” It’s a form of Greek word “seismos,” from which we get the English word “seismic,” referring to the movement of the earth’s crust. Much like I was disoriented and confused from the loud boom and the dramatic shaking when the vibrator truck dropped its vibrator plate, so to were the residents of Jerusalem when Jesus came into the city.

Perhaps I should point out that there were two different groups of people in and around the city of Jerusalem that day, there were the normal residents, and then there were travelers, in town for the religious festival of Passover. By some estimates, a city of around 40,000 people had quadrupled in size due to out-of-town travelers in for the occasion.[1] In preparation of the crowds, the Roman authorities had brought in extra security to keep a handle on any rabble-rousers looking to make trouble. To the citizens of Jerusalem—with all these visitors and out-of-towners, it was the Roman authorities who they looked to for peace and security—therefore it would have been quite unsettling to their ears to hear the cries of all these visitors telling Jesus to save them.  So, there was a sharp contrast between the citizens of Jerusalem whose peaceful life was secured by the Roman Empire, and the visitors from out of town who seemingly wanted to be saved from these same Romans and their allies in Jerusalem. Is it a wonder why the people of Jerusalem felt like an earthquake was happening!?

In many ways, this “stir” Jesus created previews the earthquakes that would happen at his crucifixion and then again at the empty tomb the morning of his resurrection.[2] But, as one commentator said, “When the Messiah comes, it is an earthshaking event.”[3] I guess we could say that Jesus “shakes things up.” After all, he came to Jerusalem seeking to shake up the status quo in which the wealthy residents of Jerusalem were collaborating with the foreign Roman rulers to exploit the poor people outside of the city. He came to Jerusalem seeking to shake up the notion that the religious authorities had exclusive access to God. And he came to Jerusalem to shake up the idea that God cared more about outward appearances than what’s within a person’s heart. Just as those seismic trucks that rolled down the street last Thursday weren’t just rattling the earth just because, Jesus knew what he was doing and why he was doing it.

I think this is a core principle of who God is and what God does—God shakes things up. In the Bible, earthquakes were a sign of God’s presence.[4] Too often I think we see shake ups in life as unplanned problems rather than part of the process. Last Thursday, after a few disorienting shakes, I went outside and walked down the street looking for who was the cause of all that shaking. I talked to a guy who I assumed to be the project manager, or something of that sort. He pulled out a map he had of the entire area, it showed all the different parcels of land, who owned what, and in what areas they were looking. While all this shaking seemed quite discombobulating to me, to him it was just all part of the process. His company was looking for oil and this seismic shaking was just a necessary step to find it. I guess you could say, it’s all about perspective. To me, on the outside, this shaking was startling and abnormal—to him, knowing what was happening and trusting the process—it was completely normal. When things started shaking that day in Jerusalem, when things started getting stirred up, Jesus wasn’t alarmed. He trusted God in the process and he saw things from a different perspective—God’s perspective.

Trusting the process and having the right perspective, I think it really all boils down to that. Truthfully, if you’ve been at this church for some time it may at times feel like a 30-ton vibrator truck had rolled up, lowered its vibrator plates, and sent shockwaves into our ground.  Perhaps it’s been disorienting and unsettling as the ground seems to shake beneath your feet. If, like me last Thursday, you’ve felt like running out in order to escape and figure out what’s going on, let me, as your project manager, I might say, give two pieces of advice this morning. First, consider your perspective.  And second, trust the process.

 

I’m reminded of the story of “The Farmer’s Fortune” …

Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Perhaps,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “What great luck!” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Perhaps,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Perhaps,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Perhaps,” said the farmer…

There are always multiple perspectives to be had when things happen. When’s the last time we tried to see things from God’s perspective?

 

Secondly, we need to trust the process.

via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVLPS10UuWo

In the sports world, the Philadelphia 76’ers of the National Basketball Association has recently become known for their own version of “trust the process.” A few years back the 76’ers hired Sam Hinkie to be their General Manager. Recognizing the team didn’t have enough quality players on the roster to win, and recognizing the best way to acquire talented players was through the amateur draft each year, Hinkie decided to purposely make the team as bad as possible in an effort to lose games, knowing that the worst teams in the league had the best chance at getting the best players available in the amateur draft. Hinkie hopes that with enough losing, the team would be able to draft a good enough player to ultimately help them win. Unfortunately, Hinkie was never able to see his plan come to fruition as the team pushed him out, frustrated with the losing. But, oddly enough, this past year, one player who was a recent draft pick, began to excel and demonstrate his talent, helping the team win. Unexpectedly, as this player, Joel Embiid, was leading the team to a victory, the fans started chanting “trust the process.” After drafting another top player in the most recent draft, it appears that “process” of Sam Hinkie was right all along and team ownership should have done better to “trust the process.”

I’m reminded of the words of the apostle Paul to the Philippians, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.”[5]

This morning I would ask us to consider our perspectives and trust the process—what may feel like an earthquake is really just a sign of God working in our lives and working in our church.

 

[1] Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 2-4.

[2] Audrey West, “Exegetical Perspective: Matthew 21:1-11” in Feasting on the Word, ed. David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Year A Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 157.

[3] Audrey West, 157.

[4] Audrey West, 157.

[5] Philippians 1:6 ESV

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