Palm Sunday – The Humble King – Sermon – 5 April 2020

Welcome and Introduction

Holy week is here. With all that is going on around us it has somehow crept up on us, even though we have been fully engaged in perhaps the most meaningful season of Lent of our lives. All of us have had to give up much more than just one token luxury, and most have had the opportunity and incentive to reach out to God in a way that is honest and new.

In some ways our season of Lent will continue on even after we celebrate Easter this year. Restrictions and deliberate distancing will still be in place; by all accounts we may be just beginning. And yet, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus is something we definitely need in our lives today. We will endure whatever is ahead, because we have a hope that was displayed to us in dramatic fashion through the cruelty of the cross and the empty tomb.

During the week there will be two additional services of the same form as this one, made available to help us observe the events of this week. On Thursday evening (7 pm) we will reflect on the Last Supper and the Garden of Gethsemane. The service will include a time of Communion in our own homes. Please plan ahead and have bread and grape juice available so that you can participate with us. (If you don’t have those particular elements, feel free to substitute anything that makes sense to you – the point isn’t the form of the ritual but the meaning)

Then on Good Friday morning (11 am) we will reflect on the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The focus of this service will be a slow reflection on the biblical story found in Matthew’s gospel, and a more extended time of confession. For both of these services, you are encouraged to participate at the assigned times, however you can take part at any time that works for you.

Prayer of Approach and Confession

In order to prepare our hearts for worship, let’s once again use this poem by the Methodist pastor and poet Ted Loder:

Empty Me

by Ted Loder (from Guerrillas of Grace)

Gracious and Holy One,
  Creator of all things
    and of emptiness,
I come to you
  full of much that clutters and distracts,
    stifles and burdens me,
      and makes me a burden to others.
Empty me now
  of gnawing dissatisfactions,
    of anxious imaginings,
      of fretful preoccupations,
  of nagging prejudices,
    of old scores to settle,
      and of the arrogance of being right.
Empty me
  of the ways I unthinkingly think of myself as powerless,
    as a victim,
      as determined by sex, age, race,
        as being less than I am,
          or as other than Yours.
Empty me
  of the disguises and lies
    in which I hide myself from other people
      and from my responsibility
        for my neighbours and for the world.
Hollow out in me a space
  in which I will find myself,
    find peace and a whole heart,
      a forgiving spirit and holiness,
        the spring of laughter,
    and the will to reach boldly
      for abundant life for myself
        and the whole human family.

Jesus Approaches the City of Jerusalem

As you are read this passage the first time, pay attention to all the different characters in the story. Characters like Jesus, the disciples, the owner of the donkey, the people waving palm branches, and those who might be observing from afar. Consider which of these (or any others) you identify with the most and consider what it is about the character that draws you to them. (If you are participating with others, feel free to share your reflections with them)

When you are ready, read the passage again, using your imagination to place yourself into the story as it unfolds. What are you observing? How are you feeling?

Matthew 21:1-11

New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Comes to Jerusalem as King

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.

3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.

7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Consider

Did you find it helpful to read the Bible using your imagination like that? Consider trying this whenever you are reading a passage that involves telling a story about people.

Living with Contradiction

The Palm Sunday passage has always been a confusing one to me, as it reveals a number of contradictions we need to acknowledge:

  1. Jesus arrives as a King and Deliverer (“Hosanna” literally translates as “One who saves”), yet before the end of the week He is executed as a traitor.
  2. The crowds showered Jesus with adoration, yet when Pontius Pilot put His fate in their hands, they called for Him to be crucified, and with just as much enthusiasm.
  3. The disciples were bold enough to follow Jesus’ strange instructions with the donkey, and confidently accompanied Him in this procession, yet when Jesus was in His hour of greatest need, all but one deserted Him – and Peter even denied knowing Him.

I am not going to address these contradictions individually this morning – I just want to point them out. I want us to see them and even experience some discomfort over them. 

We are not uncomfortable because these contradictions somehow cast shadow on the truthfulness of these events – quite the opposite. We are uncomfortable because we know that we can experience any and all of these contradictions in our own lives every day – and we even know how this story ends!

  • We can declare that we have given our lives to God, and then refuse to actually follow Him in our lives.
  • We too are able to sing worship songs about God, and then go home or to our place of work and use His name as a curse word, or even ignore Him completely.
  • We too can perform great works in God’s name, and then go and sin greatly.

Reflection

Consider the 3 contradictions above. Which of these do you struggle with the most? Don’t be afraid to bring this struggle before God – He wants you to be honest with Him. That is how He rescues us!

Humility

We certainly need a deliverer today! This truth may be more obvious this spring of 2020 than it has ever been. No longer can we pretend we have life in control. The truth is very obvious – we don’t.

5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

The humility of Jesus comes through so clearly here. The King, riding on a young donkey. I’m not sure, but I get the impression that this may have appeared a little ridiculous to some of the bystanders that day. A grown man who was probably an oversized load for the young donkey who was still not weaned from its mother. I can almost see the strain in the poor animal as he takes one step after another. I am certain Jesus would have been able to make this short journey much faster on His own two feet.

And yet, it was humility that Jesus was putting on display that Palm Sunday. The way of this Deliverer; this Saviour; was always the humble way. If people 2,000 years ago are anything like the people of today, the idea of a humble King was not what most would have in mind. Kings were powerful, rich, political, self-serving. It is true that when we see humility in our leaders we are impressed, even taken aback, because it is so rare. Jesus was the Son of God, the Eternal One who was “The Word from the beginning,” as John would later write – the very one through whom the universe was created! And yet, here he was, riding into God’s Holy city of Jerusalem, on the foal of a donkey.

Humility personified. For us.

Reflection

How are you at humility? This can look different for all of us. For some our struggle appears as outright arrogance. Others struggle with it by withdrawing so no one will see that they might make a mistake; so worried they will make a fool of themselves they choose to hide. Some of us flow back and forth between these two extremes. Arrogance is not the same thing as confidence, and withdrawing is not the same thing as humility. Spend some time in prayer before God asking Him to show you how you struggle with humility and ask Him to deliver you.

Closing Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

You are our Lord. You are our King. You are the One who has humbly come to us and rescued us.

We confess that we are not always faithful to you. We seek our own way; we ignore your presence; we fail to love You and each other without restraint. Forgive us Lord and transform us.

May we have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to by used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

May it be so with us.
Amen

Reflecting on “Hope in Exile”

As we conclude our time together, hear the words of one of my favorite musicians, Ellie Holcomb. This song reminds us that no matter what we do or where we go, and no matter what we may have done – God is here and waiting for us. And He is our King!

Benediction

May God, whose arms were spread on the cross to embrace the whole world, help us this week to take up the cross and follow Him.

 

Pastor Jim Bagley – 5 April 2020