Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Same Old Story"

Luke 19: 29-40, 45-48

Matthew 27: 15-18, 20-23

Psalm 119: 19-29

(Read Luke 19:29-40, 45-48)

      How many of us remember the major drama of the 1994 Winter Olympics? 

The place was Lillehammer, Norway.  The principals were two American figure skaters: Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya

Harding. The drama was a physical attack on Kerrigan – a club to the knee – allegedly orchestrated by

Harding’s ex-husband in an attempt to take Kerrigan out of competition, opening the way to a gold

medal for Harding.  As it turned out, Kerrigan recovered and proceeded to win the silver medal

behind Ukranian Oksana Baiul.  Harding finished eighth.  Later that year, Harding was banned by the

U.S. Figure Skating Association.  She went on to become a professional boxer, and later, a contestant

on Dancing with the Stars.  Kerrigan performed with several ice skating troupes, and was a contestant

herself on Dancing with the Stars just a few years ago.

      But the clubbing was not where the drama ended.  Due in part to the incident, Nancy Kerrigan

instantly became America’s sweetheart.  In the eyes of the press and public alike, she embodied dignity,

courage, purity, and the ideal of the Olympic spirit.  Larry King once remarked that she had

become “everyone’s daughter.”  As Kerrigan skated to the silver medal in what appeared to be a

flawless performance, most of us who watched her had goosebumps as we held our breath.  Each

triple Axel and triple toe ended in perfect landings.  We couldn’t have been prouder!  She was everything

we expected, and more.  Nancy Kerrigan in the eyes of America could do no wrong.

      There was a part of the story we may not remember. Just a short week after the close of the 17th

Winter Olympiad, one major newspaper – followed by many others – dubbed Kerrigan “Antsy

Nancy.”  Bill O’Reilly, who at that time hosted Inside Edition, opened up a lead story by asking, “Have

we now gotten a glimpse of the real Nancy Kerrigan?”  Her sin?  Kerrigan appeared a little restless

and fidgety during the awards ceremony waiting for Baiul to take her place on the rostrum.  Kerrigan

was conspicuously absent from the closing ceremony of the games.  Kerrigan said publicly that she

didn’t care for the hype of Disney on Parade, adding that she felt self-conscious about displaying her

silver medal from atop a float.  America learned that Kerrigan didn’t smile all the time.

     Now wait just a minute!  This isn’t what we expect from a national hero.  So word went as viral as

it could a quarter century ago:  Kerrigan’s impatient!  Kerrigan’s a poor sport!  Kerrigan’s stuck up! 

Kerrigan’s rude!  Kerrigan thinks Mickey Mouse is dumb!  Who does she think she is anyway?!  She’s

not our sweetheart anymore! 

      I suppose this is just one of a gazillion examples of how quickly hearts turn; how fast folk change

their tune; how fickle and picayune people tend to be.  One day, a celebrated figure skater is on top. 

The next day, she’s a snot.  One day, a politician is a hero.  The next day, she’s a heel.  One day, an

actor is box office magic.  The next day, he’s box office poison.  One day, our employer is the most

wonderful in the world.  The next day, the most terrible.  This flip-flop, changeable, fickle behavior is

such a human thing.  Is.  Always will be.  Always has been, even back to the time of that first Palm

Sunday. 

      1,986 years ago – give or take – there was a processional in Jerusalem; “Disciples on Parade” we

might call it.  But it was more than simply a parade.  It was the triumphal entry of a national hero.

Hundreds, maybe thousands, lined the streets of the city; spreading their garments on the road and

waving leafy palm branches.  “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in

heaven and glory in the highest heaven!”  The crowds could not contain themselves.  The One at

the center of this parade observed that “if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”  Finally,

 here was the One who was so long awaited; the One who would surely usher in a new Passover; a

new liberation from oppression.  Under this Jesus of Nazareth, the Roman armies would be trampled. 

arrogant and unscrupulous religious leaders would bow to the one true King of the Jews.  “Hosanna! 

Hosanna!”  Save us now! the people cried.

      Well, the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees were not about to bow to anyone; especially

this upstart, itinerant preacher.  After Jesus cleansed the temple and began teaching daily, the Scripture

tells us that the religious leaders “kept looking for a way to kill him.” But they dared not.  Jesus was

too popular.  He was figuratively Jerusalem’s sweetheart. Larry King may have called Him “everyone’s son.” 

On that first Palm Sunday, any move against Jesus would have resulted in a riot.  So the principal men bided

their time, “for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.” 

      Now let’s fast forward to a place called the “praetorium,” which was the courtyard of the Roman

Governor’s palace.  It’s a mere five days later.

          (Read Matthew 27:15-18, 20-23)

      You’ll remember that last Sunday, we talked about anger, and one of its most insidious features.

Anger is contagious.  Looking around that praetorium, we would see an angry mob.  Yet we’d notice

that among that angry mob were many of the same faces which lined the streets of Jerusalem just

five days earlier shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”  What gives?!

Those same voices are no longer shouting “Hosanna!” but instead, “Let him be crucified!” 

      Yes, Jesus Himself became angry when He saw the holy temple being exploited by dishonest

moneychangers and merchants of high-priced blessing, and drove the perpetrators out.  Yes, Jesus

outsmarted the religious leaders who were constantly trying to entrap Him in His words.  Yes, Jesus

refused to endorse the violent overthrow of the Roman guard.  Now wait just a minute!  This wasn’t

what they expected of a national hero.  So word went as viral as it could over nineteen centuries ago:

Jesus is temperamental!  Jesus is abrasive!  Jesus is stubborn! Jesus is a trouble maker!  Jesus thinks

the way we do our religion is dumb!  Who does He think He is!  He’s not our sweetheart anymore!  

      It’s the same old story, isn’t it?  How quickly hearts change.  How fast folk change their tune. 

How fickle and picayune people tend to be.  How about us?  We’re as human as any of those folks  

along the parade route on that first Palm Sunday.  How often do we find that our minds and hearts

are as changeable as the weather, and as easily changed as our shoes.  Today we commend.  Tomorrow we condemn. 

Today we pledge devotion.  Tomorrow we deny.  Today we cry out praises. 

Tomorrow we cry for punishment.   Today we shout “Hosanna!”  Tomorrow we shout “Let him be

crucified!”  “Yep, that was the multitude’s story way back then.”  I have to wonder; how much has

changed in the human heart and mind over these 1986 years, give or take.  Perhaps we can give this

a think over this Holy Week.

      Aren’t we mighty fortunate, though, that God’s love for us through Jesus Christ is totally unchangeable?

  We have a God who is by no means fickle and picayune.  And the wonder of God’s love in Christ is this: 

despite our changeability; despite the vacillation and easy persuasion of our hearts and minds; despite our

quickness to follow the crowd and change our tune, God loves us anyway.  And that is not subject to variation or change. 

So much so that only five days after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, God in the person of Jesus Christ – God’s very self –

went to the cross for us.  Let’s think on that as well as we move from Lenten journey to Holy Week finale.  Amen.