The Rollercoaster Ride- Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday 2019 Sermon

Here we are- at the beginning of Passiontide…starting with Palm Sunday and moving into Holy Week.  And if you’re like me, it’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions (just today)…starting with the joyful, adoring praises of the crowds with Hosannas shouted and sung to the highest heaven. Jesus makes his  triumphal entry and is hailed as the king, blessed because “he comes in the name of the Lord.”

And then, after we are seated and we sing the hymn “All Glory Laud and Honor” …our joyful hearts are thrown into Christ’s suffering and Passion.  We find ourselves turning our Hosannas into condemnations, our joy into sorrow, our life into… death.We raise our voices and cry crucify him! And we relive the results of that fateful cry with Jesus each, and every brutal step of the way.

Most of us find it hard, even shocking, to think of God allowing, let alone requiring suffering from his obedient chosen one(s).  In the back of our minds, we search for relief from the horror of it all…Because, well, we KNOW how this story ends…with Easter…we have the benefit of history to look back on…

And we are tempted to skip having to suffer with Christ today and the upcoming week…we would like to skip all this pain, suffering and dying, crucified.  Most of us want to get back on that “joyful happy, part of the roller coaster ride”…and just go straight to the  celebration of  the resurrection and the divine transformation of Jesus.                      But as tempting as that is, if we skip over the pain, we will totally miss the point.

The theme that runs deeply through all the readings we’ve heard today is obedience of the suffering servant, Jesus.

In Isaiah:   and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.

I gave my back to those who struck me,  and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;

I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

In the Psalm: I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors,  an object of dread to my acquaintances;  those who see me in the street flee from me.

I have passed out of mind like one who is deadI have become like a broken vessel.

For I hear the whispering of many-terror all around!—as they scheme together against meas they plot to take my life.

And Paul in Philippians writes: he humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross.

In the passion narrative, the very first thing Jesus says is, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer”. And later at the supper, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (The obedient suffering servant).

And, the sufferings of the Servant remain with us, difficult to ignore and powerfully resonating with us…The obedient, suffering servant is “part of the richest telling of the deepest stories”. Because for Redemption to happen at all, the depth of pain must be dealt with first.

Paul paints a portrait of God- in- Christ, revealed precisely as the obedient servant, and remains obedient in Gethsemane, accepting total humiliation, suffering and death.            It began with the self-emptying of God… (what we now call the Incarnation in Bethlehem), and as Paul says, “…being born in human form, emptying himself of his divinity, taking the form of a slave.  Jesus humbled himself and was obedient to the end, on the cross.  Here is our redeeming God in Jesus, not solving the problem at “arm’s length”, or delegating the problem to others down the line…or gazing from afar, unsusceptible to feeling the pain as someone else sorts out all the problems in the world. Instead, our redeeming God-in-Jesus is present, taking on the job in person, the job that was offered to Israel, (God’s Servant) -but Israel was unable and perhaps, even unwilling to fulfill.  Jesus is brought to humanity’s depths through his obedience, incurring suffering and pain, and finally death upon the cross. He came to the lowest point in human experience…to the concentration of the world’s pain, and when he takes the pain upon himself, he shatters it, defeats it.

But here’s the thing:

Jesus gave us the template. (as Richard Rohr says) “Jesus is set as the human blueprint, the standard in the sky, the of-so-hopeful pattern of divine transformation …”  Brothers and Sisters, The Obedient, Suffering Servant is all of us,  if we truly want to take up our own cross and follow Jesus. But, be aware of how dangerous that is!

Remember, Jesus  warned us! And he warned his disciples, many times…about picking up our cross and following him-and some turned away from following him, “this teaching is too hard for us to follow”.

If we choose to follow Jesus and be divinely transformed, we must, as Paul writes,   “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”  That means humbling ourselves, it means being obedient to the point of death on our own cross. It means forgetting about our own success story and creating failure stories for others, because  this is not a competition to be the leader or at the top of the ladder of some world-fabricated idea of success. As the Disciples argued at the Last Supper!  It means emptying ourselves- emptying ourselves of our identity to the world we cling so desperately to with our egos and our self- serving actions.

I believe this is God’s plan and meaning for our human journey…we, without hesitation, are to trust and follow God in Christ; by doing this we are in solidarity with all of our human brothers and sisters- and then, with every knee bowed, on every tongue, we proclaim like never before, “Jesus Christ is LORD!”   Remember, God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Many of you know, I listen to contemporary Christian music on KLOVE radio. I’d like to finish with the some of the lyrics of Sidewalk Prophets’ You Loved Me Anyway- it seems especially fitting for today’s service- and may give you something to ponder over the coming days of Holy Week:

“The question was raised

As my conscience fell

A silly little lie

It didn’t mean much

But it lingers still In the corners of my mind

…Still you call me to walk

On the edge of this world

To spread my dreams and fly.

But the future’s so far, My heart is so frail,

I think I’d rather stay inside

But You love me anyway

It’s like nothing in life

That I’ve ever known

Yes, You love me anyway

I am the thorn in your crown

But You love me anyway

I am the sweat from Your brow

But You love me anyway

I am the nail in Your wrist

But You love me anyway

I am Judas’ kiss

But You love me anyway

See now -I am the man who yelled out from the crowd

For Your blood to be spilled on this earth’s shaking ground

Yes then I turned away with a smile on my face

With this sin in my heart, tried to bury Your grace…

And then alone in the night I still call out for You

So ashamed of my life, my life, my life…

But You love me anyway

Oh God, how You love me.”

AMEN

 

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