Sermon ~ Sunday, April 9th, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson
Procession to Passion and Beyond: Are You In?
Matthew 21:1-11 Philippians 2: 5-11
Palm Sunday shares the worship stage and calendar with Passion Sunday, which in my personal opinion is a shame. My sense is that we (the Church) has done this because if we had not the vast majority of church goers would hear of Palms and the joyful procession one Sunday and then the next time in worship they would hear the story of the amazing discovery of an empty tomb and the sightings of the resurrected Jesus. What’s missing in this scenario is all that took place in between! And again, in my opinion, without what took place in between Easter loses much, if not most, its significance! So in order to remind the church of the painful account of how people treat one Isaiah prophesied as the “Wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” has been more and more included in the readings for Palm Sunday.
But I know all of you will be here for our Maundy Thursday service and the community Good Friday service so I only included the Palm Sunday gospel and the reading from Philippians! (Okay I’ll get off my soapbox!)
Being true to our legitimate human condition is one of the most difficult tasks. On Palm Sunday Jesus rides into Jerusalem as a sovereign. By the end of the week, however, Jesus is crucified as if he were nothing but an ordinary common criminal. The Romans, the religious authorities, the disciples, and the crowds each participate either actively of passively in Jesus’ death. Throughout the story, however, Jesus remains the person God destined, chose him to be. Our reading from Philippians reflects Paul’s understanding of who Jesus Christ is, and was, and will be.
Part of being true to the human condition is to be able to see and deal with life honestly and openly, to be willing to see life as it really is, warts and all. There is a great story from history that illustrates to what extents we will go to in order to hide reality from us.
In 1787 Russian Czarina Catherine the Great left the Winter Palace with her elegant and colorful entourage for the Summer Palace, which was a 1000 mile journey. As much as the monarch knew the poverty, suffering, and hardship of her people, she knew far less than she could or should have known. Her then favorite statesman, General Potemkin, took great pains to see that Catherine never saw on her journey her country as it really was. It is said that beautiful fake towns and villages were thrown up along the route which she traveled. Brightly dressed and well-fed peasants were moved down the route from one fake village to the next to make her beloved Russia appear, happy, content, and well-fed. But behind these “Potemkin villages” constructed for her benefit was untold misery, deprivation, and distress. Surely she was not completely deceived by Potemkin’s efforts, but it was much more comfortable (and comforting) to think of her country as it appeared, than it really was behind what we might describe as a Hollywood movie set.
And don’t think we are any better. Back in the winter of 2012 I was doing a ride along with our son-in-law Dennis, the Indianapolis police officer. He worked in a part of the city known as “the swamp.” A great deal of poverty and the unfortunately the crime that often accompanies poverty plagued the area. The area was just to the east of down town Indianapolis. I noticed several places where there was some exterior improvement work being done in the “housing projects” especially on the downtown side of his beat. Facades and entries were being replaced, upgraded etc. Dennis explained that a certain organization had given quite a substantial amount of money to the city in order to make more presentable some the areas around the downtown because they were bringing a big event to town. The event planners wanted it to look nice for all the visitors they were bringing in. Apparently this is something they do wherever they hold this event. Indianapolis was not special.
Sadly, by-in-large it was all pretty much a cover-up. Nothing was really improved behind the facades, new entries, the parking lot landscaping. And after the organization and event left town all the interest in the improvements left with as well.
The event: Superbowl XLVI The organization: NFL
We have these kind of choices in life: Do we want to see things as they really are, or do we want to avert our eyes from the truth that surrounds us? These are the questions a Lenten faith asks of us, especially the during the events of Holy Week.
One of the fundamental of all human and Christian questions is:
How do we, how do I, how do you, see yourself as a child of God?
Jesus summed up his philosophy toward material things in his Sermon on the Mount; where he teaches, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither rust nor moth consume and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Mt. 6:19-20)
Let’s be honest, many of us, myself chief among you, rely on things that do not last. Whether or not it be our health, wealth, position, influence, possessions, titles, or anything else, these can all disappear. Not to lay a big bummer on you but there is nothing created by us or for us that we cannot lose at some point in our lives.
The ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) Report for Charlevoix and Emmet counties points out something we hear about all too often; too many of our neighbors live only one or two paychecks away from poverty and homelessness. While most of us may not be that close to financial disaster how about our health, any one of us could get a dreaded diagnosis and then as God said to the man who built all the barns “Then who will get all you’ve prepared for yourself?”
Perhaps this is why Jesus suggested that when the people of God build a life, they should built it on a solid foundation. For Jesus this foundation was a relationship with God.
Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, shows what Jesus’ relationship with God looked like, so that we might model our relationship to Christ upon Jesus’ with God. Listen again as Paul illustrates the incarnation of God in human form and why the incarnation makes Jesus a model to emulate, “ In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be 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.
It has been said that appearance follows substance; the message subordinates the medium. A believer gets good results by discipleship, not by only appearing to be a disciple.
What does all this have to do with procession to passion and beyond? If we are to be followers of Christ we cannot pick and choose when we are going to follow! We cannot jump up and down in a Mardi Gras like hype on Palm Sunday and leave our comfortable pews for the week and return to the lily scented safety of our sanctuaries a week later.
For those of us who want to be more Christ-like, our best and most viable option to be a Christian is to actually be a follower of the example of Christ. And sometimes this will lead us into what is for some uncomfortableness of a Maundy Thursday-like intimacy and at other times a Good Friday like place of vulnerability, ridicule, persecution and even pain. For this is where Jesus went and it very well could be where Jesus just might lead you and me.
The week began with palms and a joyous procession. It led to a mockery of a trial, ridicule and crucifixion. Not to get too far ahead in the story, for we know what was instore for Jesus, but there was no other route for him to Easter morning other than through the gauntlet of Holy Week.
The question we have to ask ourselves for Jesus is asking it of all his disciples:
For Jesus’ sake and ours . . . Are we in?
Want to listen to the Audio version?… click “download file” below…enjoy.