March 20, 2016 – Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday   March 20, 2016   Ps 118, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 19:28-40

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Jesus comes into Jerusalem – a triumphant king – riding a young colt. A humble way for a king to travel, compared with the customary war horse or chariot. But riding a lowly colt is how the Messiah King will come – according to the prophet Zechariah, who foretold this scenario long ago.

And swelling crowds of disciples walking with Jesus understand the symbolism – of Jesus riding over the crest of the hill of the Mount of Olives – the place Zechariah prophesied – where the Messiah will appear.  And now the crowds are naming Jesus king, spreading cloaks before him… Greeting him as royalty….

Finally they seem to be getting it. Understanding who Jesus is at last – as they shout for joy and sing praises – “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

Up to now even his closest disciples have had a hard time recognizing who Jesus is. Now maybe they’re beginning to understand what the angels proclaimed at his birth. Jesus is King of Israel and Son of God…

We heard angels shout for joy, announcing Jesus’s birth, remember – “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, good will among people...” Now the crowds walking with Jesus are crying “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!

Angels sang ‘peace on earth’ at the holy birth… Now crowds say “peace in heaven.” Instead of “peace on earth.”

As Jesus enters the capitol city it’s evident that as much as Jesus wants to bring peace on earth, he’s still meeting with massive resistance. Not from pagan culture yet (that will come later) but from God’s own people. Some members of the sect most zealous for the religious law tell Jesus “Teacher, order your disciples to be still!”

Probably they’re afraid the Roman Empire will come down hard on Jerusalem, maybe even destroy the city, if word gets out – a prophet’s come into town claiming to be king. But Jesus says “If my disciples were silent, the stones would have to shout.”

Of course according to conventional wisdom the Pharisees are right. In the Roman Empire that rules over the land there’s only one king, Caesar. Anyone else claiming to be king – anyone looking like followers of a rival king to Caesar – will be dealt with most severely. Yet Jesus says “If my disciples are silent the stones will have to shout aloud.”

And here we are watching, as King Jesus comes into town, announcing, quietly, yet dramatically, his identity as King. King over all.

And much as in Jerusalem long ago, so today. Jesus is welcomed with great joy by some. Greeted with disdain, dismay, and resistance by others. Even among those who welcome Jesus, some give lip-service, while actively resisting Jesus and his teachings in daily life. Causing stones to cry out…

Today is the day we call Palm Sunday. All four gospels tell this story of Jesus entering Jerusalem; only John’s gospel actually mentions palms. Matthew and Mark tell of disciples placing cut branches before Jesus. Luke’s gospel speaks of disciples spreading cloaks before him, a greeting associated with kings. There’s no palms mentioned in the story today. But Palm Sunday really isn’t about palms.

The royal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem – the revealing of Jesus as our only true King – is our real theme today. And as I’ve been preparing for this Sunday  I’ve been frequently reminded of conflicting views of what it means to be a king… What it means to preside and rule…

This has been (it almost goes without saying) one of the very strangest and most unpleasant election years many of can remember. The word politics can almost sound like a dirty word. And I don’t need to say any more than this about the current election cycle. Except to note again the extreme contrast in style and content… Between some of the campaigns of some of the candidates running for the highest political office in America this year. And King Jesus…

Now on one level, to be sure, we’re comparing apples and angels, so to speak – when we talk about the rule of Jesus and the rule of a President. We can’t expect any worldly or earthly king or president to measure up to Jesus.

Yet on another level the comparison is fair and appropriate. Because we are talking about the same kinds of competing loyalties the people of Jerusalem faced two thousand years ago. We too are making decisions – every day – about who we are going to serve. Whose rule we are to submit to, to what degree. We too are talking about when to keep silent… And when we must speak out – lest stones be compelled to shout.

When we take seriously the word of God in the letter to the Philippians today – where we hear that every knee shall bend, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord – when we take seriously the word of God telling us that we are to have the same mind within us that was in Christ – then we also see – the gospel is potentially on the line in every decision we make. Because if Jesus is Lord over all things in earth and heaven, then every decision should be made with Jesus in view. Because if we love Jesus we want to please him. And because how we behave always influences how others perceive Jesus… and the church.

As Christians professing faith in Christ we are judged by the world around us – sometimes unfairly, to be sure – but also sometimes quite fairly – judged according to the causes and lifestyles we’re seen embracing. Public scrutiny can be embarrassing – and can sometimes cause serious problems for the church – if, for example, Christians are implicated in adultery, sexual immorality, theft, embezzlement, etc.

From the point of view of Jesus, though, these sins, however awful, are not worse than the sin of being ashamed to name Jesus as Lord of all life. The sins of the flesh are not worse than giving allegiance to Jesus with our lips while serving the gods of money, power, and personal pleasure in practice… (and…)

I have to confess I’ve been guilty of caring more for my own well-being than for the name of Jesus at times. (This is actually scarily easy to do…without thinking much about it or being very aware of what one is doing.) But when I spend enough time in the word of God and in prayer and in spiritual reflection and conversation with other Christians, I am often reminded (usually rather gently)…of God’s call to have within us the mind of Christ.

Last Thursday morning for example, in our pastor’s prayer group, another pastor blessed and embarrassed me. Praying blessings for me and my ministries. Blessing me generously and genuinely. I was grateful. And embarrassed. Because one of the things my pastor friend prayed for me was that I’d be bolder in proclaiming Jesus… Something I think I want to do, and mean to do… But often fail to do… (Too often I’m a Timid Tim…when it comes to proclaiming Jesus boldly…Too often the rocks remind me – they are singing praises to God boldly…)

Today I can’t help noticing – all our scripture readings remind us of the sovereign Lordship of Jesus and his holy boldness. And all our readings also remind us – the politics of Jesus are not the politics of this world….Though (in the lives of Christians such as John and Charles Wesley, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero… Pope Francis) we find Christians who boldly proclaim the kingdom of God as the central organizing principle for all of life. And the more we observe the lives of those who have been faithful, the more we study the word of God, the more we come to understand…

The politics of Jesus and his kingdom… are always the politics of love. The politics of generosity, hospitality, grace, peace, inclusive welcome….

Jesus of course famously welcomes all who will come to him. He especially welcomes sinners and outcasts and anyone who knows their need of God. And Jesus expects all who claim the name of Jesus – to do likewise. To do as he’s taught us.

Jesus doesn’t ask or want us to be cookie-cutter-look-alike, sound-alike people. Diversity’s part of God’s design from the get-go. But Jesus does expect us to be united in the love of God and love of neighbor. United in acknowledging our sin, and turning to God daily. United in humble service to God and community.

Flannery O’Connor, the Christian author, said “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you odd.” Following Jesus will make us look odd at times. And it’s one thing to look a little strange parading up hill with Jesus and happy people shouting praises… It’s another thing altogether to look strange…. when the parade starts to descend… down the hill…

Now the grand parade surrounding Jesus has ascended to the top of the Mount of Olives…Where at the crest of the hill, a magnificent panoramic view of the city below unfolds…

Now Jesus pauses and looks out over the city… Before riding down into the valley below. Wondering maybe – who will follow me now, where I am going?

And just one short verse beyond where we’ve stopped reading today – Jesus looks out over the city. And Jesus weeps. Weeps for Jerusalem, lamenting our failure to recognize… his gospel of peace…. that makes for peace…

Now the parade starts to descend, winding down, down the road, into the city… Where Jesus has been telling his followers, all along – he’ll be arrested – tried – tortured – and crucified on the cross….

And knowing exactly where he is going…Still Jesus leads his parade of followers… Down, down into the city… Down from the heights of the Mount of Olives. Knowing what lies ahead. As we know, now, also.

Yet he leads us on… And we follow… For we also know…

The one we follow… who suffers death for us on the cross…

Is the One… to whom every knee shall bow… Every tongue confess…

Jesus Christ, Lord of heaven and earth. To him be all glory. Amen.