Psalm 122 “Searching for Good”
As you all can see, this is a special day in the life of the church. This is the day when we remember and celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Hosanna in the highest! Yet, we did not read the traditional scripture. Instead we read from Psalms 122. If you wanted to, you could call this “Psalm Sunday” instead of “Palm Sunday.”
The interesting thing to note is that the psalm that was read is a “song of ascents” written in the time of King David. This term “song of ascent” means that it was sung by the people when they were coming up into the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of great festivals. So, the “ascent” is to the Temple Mount.
Why was it that for generations and generations the people of Israel would come to Jerusalem from all over the country to celebrate together? Why Jerusalem? What was so special about that city?
The easy answer is simply that it was the traditional capital of Israel since the time of David’s uniting the Twelve Tribes under his kingship. And, King David moved the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh (where it was basically in a tent called the “tabernacle”) to the Temple Mount and built a magnificent structure around it. The very center of that temple was called the “holiest of holies” where God was said to reside. There was a seat on top of the Ark which was called the “mercy seat” where God was supposed to sit.
I know that today we would never try to put God into a box, but back then religion was simply more tied to geography—to “holy places” then we think today. We would never say, for instance, “the holy city of Los Angeles” or “the holy city of Waimea.” Yet, to this day we hear folks say “the holy city of Jerusalem.” In America today we have “Sin City,” that being Vegas, but we do not have a “holy” city. I take that back, apparently there is a “Holy City” in the State of Florida. But, I did not know that until I wrote this sermon. It is just the name of the town. Nobody considers it actually holy.
Moving right along: the term “holy” just means that it is a good and godly place. So, people would want to come to this good and godly place that was Jerusalem of old. The psalm that we read this morning says that they would come in search of “goodness.” That is the last line.
What was happening there that was so good? When Jesus came up to Jerusalem, it was just before the time of the Passover. This is still today the grandest of all the Jewish festivals. It was very much like our American Thanksgiving festival when all would gather on the same night for sumptuous meal. Jesus and his disciples did this, what we call now “the Last Supper.”
People would come from all over the nation back then. The population of Jerusalem would triple in size. People would be sleeping in the streets and on the roof tops. In a way, this was more like Spring Break. Yes, Spring break and Thanksgiving put together!
Then, it was also like a family reunion. You see, back then they did not have phones and computers. Large extended families would only get news from one another when they came to Jerusalem for the festivals. Unlike Spring Break, where you would be horrified to meet your parents there, this was a “family friendly” time. It was a time for all goodness. Yes, people would come to Jerusalem searching for goodness. There was something GOOD happening in Jerusalem. Whatever else might be happening elsewhere in the personal lives of the masses, they could leave that behind and find some goodness worth living for in Jerusalem at the festival.
Are we not all just searching for some goodness? For goodness sake! I wonder in our world today where we find goodness anymore. Where do we go when we want to find what is good and godly—let us say “holy”? Do you remember once a long time ago that television was good? We would watch shows such as “Leave It to Beaver,” “Andy Griffeth,” and “Gunsmoke,” in which the good Marshall Dillon would always save the day.
Schools used to be good places. We used to not have to worry about drugs and weapons, foul language, promiscuity among the students, and the like. Yes, those things were always in our schools to a certain extent, but so were prayer, saying the pledge of allegiance, and remembering to thank the teacher at the end of the day with respect.
What is the last institution left in our society that is devoted to pure goodness? Where do we go today for that feeling great goodness? The doughnut shop! I bet you thought I was going to say “the church.” I am kidding you all.
This last Thursday morning the pastors of the Westside Ministers’ Association had their monthly prayer meeting. This is in fact a very special time—as was pointed out by Lt. James Combs of the Salvation Army church at the joint Lenten service that evening. He pointed out that nowhere else that he has ever served had he experienced the coming together of all the pastors of all the churches in order to pray over the community like we do here.
This last Thursday the pastors came together at Salt Pond Beach, under one of the pavilions, not just to pray. You see, when I put out the reminder by e-mail, I promised that we would also have buttermilk doughnuts from a certain bakery in Kaumakani. Wow, sooo much goodness in one place: Community Prayer, all of the Pastors, buttermilk doughnuts, and the beach! If you were searching for goodness, as the Psalm says, then you would have to look no further.
In the days of Jesus, people were coming to Jerusalem searching for goodness. They were tired and burned out from all of the oppressions of their regular daily existence under Roman occupation by Pontius Pilate and horrors of King Herod Antipas, their own supposed Jewish King. You will recall that Herod Antipas is the son of Herod the Great. His father slaughtered all of the innocent children at the time of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. So, he was “great.” It was a scary kind of “great,” not really a great kind of great at all.
Herod himself would have entered Jerusalem just prior to this Passover feast. He would have entered in a great fashion. Unfortunately we do not have the exact historical record of Herod’s entry into Jerusalem just before Jesus. History has decided that it was not worth noting—despite its greatness. Interesting, no?
The Roman historian Josephus describes Herod the Great’s entry into the city of Jerusalem as his “coming in great glory.” Herod Antipas also preferred the glorious parade when he traveled. We should think along the lines of a great military procession with soldiers, chariots, and decorated horses. It would have been a great spectacle; yet, we have no mention of it in our bibles or other historical documents. For all of his greatness, Herod Antipas was a BAD king. The people who came to Jerusalem for that time were not there for Herod’s greatness. They came to Jerusalem in search of goodness. That is what they needed in their lives.
Then, a humble Galilean from a small town called Nazareth came riding up on a donkey. The people saw in Jesus the goodness that they had sought in coming to Jerusalem. Jesus was not that GREAT BAD king like Herod Antipas; he is that HUMBLE GOOD king that God has sent for victory and to make Jerusalem a truly the holy city it was meant to be. The people shout “Hosanna.”
The authorities press Jesus to keep his crowd quiet. And, as we read in Luke 19:28 and on, Jesus responds that even if all the people were silenced, even the rocks would shout out! I love this!
You see, way back on the first page of the Bible we can read the story of God creating our world. Everyday of that Creation process, God stops, looks over the Creation, and proclaims “That’s pretty GOOD!” On the sixth and last day, humankind is created. God stops, looks back at us, and says, not just GOOD, but rather VERY GOOD. That is “tov tov”in Hebrew. So, maybe one could threaten and stop the shouting of one part of God’s creation, but all of the rest of the goodness that God has created will still cry out—for goodness sake.
Herod the Great, Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, Charles the Great, Catherine the Great, Peter the Great, and all of the other “Greats” of history actually were not that great at all. Do you know why? They were all no good! Jesus is good. All the “greats” are dead by the way. The humble good King that rode up on a donkey that day in Jerusalem--still lives!
In the Book of Revelation, chapter 21, when the Second Coming of Christ is heralded by the coming of the New Jerusalem, we sometimes get this image in our head of a city with walls and towers and the like plopping out of the sky and crushing all of the old buildings down here on earth. Isn’t that strange? But, the coming of the promise of the New Jerusalem is that the goodness, the coming together of all the people, the celebration that was happening when Jesus came that day to the old Jerusalem will be once more! We will not have to search for God’s goodness in the world anymore, it will be manifest before us—and so the rocks will cry out once more.
If you are searching for goodness again in your life, here he comes! Jesus is coming before us now. Welcome to Jerusalem, the temple of peace in our time.