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Sermon for Palm Sunday

Note:  So this sermon started out on paper earlier in the week and changed very radically even in the preaching of it.  In all, it wasn’t a very eloquent critique of what passes for Christianity today.  But it was accurate.  The written sermon and the preached sermon only match up through the first third or so of this text.   I think the preached version is far superior to what was written here but there’s some good stuff about Jesus as King in the text.  

The point I was trying to make, as I think back on it, was very simply that what typically passes for Christianity via The Bible show on the History Channel or as probably experienced Christianity in our American context growing up is radically different (different in the root of the two things) the faith of the Scriptures as heard and practiced by believers throughout Holy Week.  The Veggie Tales have a song called “God is bigger than the Boogie Man.”  The point I was trying to make is “The heart of God which we see most clearly in Holy Week in the Passion of Jesus is bigger than American Christianity as I’ve experienced it, mostly.”  Which doesn’t have quite the same ring and would probably make a terrible song.  Oh, and be a real Christian and come to Holy Week services!

Anyway, the audio is here as usual:  27 Sermon for Palm Sunday.mp3


Augustana, 2013

On Palm Sunday it might be good to stop and consider for a bit just what it is that Jesus did for us, entering Jerusalem that day knowing full well how and where it would end for Him and for His mission.  And to do so I want to set up two different views of Jesus.  Because I think there’s a view that’s out there, that’s prevalent, even in the minds of many churchgoers, even maybe some of us.  It’s certainly a view I’ve seen in the church and it’s a view I’ve held for a time too.   See if this sounds at all familiar to you.

God is in heaven.  We are here on earth.  This world in which we live is an unspiritual place, we might even say, an evil place and nothing good can come of it.  Our bodies in the end are not much, just shells really and what God really wants is our souls.  When we pray, God, way up in heaven, hears our prayers because our souls are talking.  Faith consists in understanding something about God, even if it’s only a little bit, it’s enough and when we believe, we’re saved.  Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are nice things that we do in the church and we have powerful doctrines about them but in the end their power, their effect comes because we have faith in them.   If we have enough faith, even if it’s only a little bit we’re saved, our souls will go to heaven when we die because, in general, the good in us, outweighed the bad.  And there’s probably more than one way to heaven.  That’s about the gist of it.  Oh, and I suppose we could add one more, the chief goal of the Christian life is to be nice to people.  Okay, that’s about it.  Does that sound more or less familiar to you?  Yes?  I think that’s pretty much what a lot of people, what even many Christians believe Christianity to be.  I want to make one thing abundantly clear this morning.  Whatever that is I just described, it’s not Christianity.  Palm Sunday and the rest of the events of Holy Week, which we will recount in the services this week, which I do hope you’re planning to attend, Palm Sunday and the events of Holy Week just don’t match up with the outlines of what I just sketched here.   Palm Sunday and the events of Holy Week are far too big, far too colorful for the bland and tasteless pabulum that passes for Christianity, even among us today, because this week is all about Jesus and His passion, His suffering and death for sinners, for you.

Palm Sunday clearly shows us who Jesus is and why He came to Jerusalem on that Sunday before His arrest and execution.  When we talk about who Jesus is and what He has was sent into the world to do, we typically use the shorthand, Jesus’ person and work.  Jesus’s person is of course that He is both true God, for whom there was never a time when He was not, and true man, that is, born into human flesh through the womb of the Virgin Mary.  Peter’s sermon on Pentecost is not that Jesus was an amazingly ethical man who healed people; it was “Jesus is Lord,” Kyrios, what Greek speaking Jews knew to take as saying Jesus is Yahweh, the God of Israel.  And Peter said, “Jesus is Christ,” that is anointed Messiah of God sent to redeem Israel.  Now already we are starting to see a blurring of the lines between person and work, who Jesus is blurring into what Jesus was sent to do in this world but that is as it should be.  Palm Sunday clearly shows us who Jesus is and why He came to Jerusalem on that Sunday before His arrest and execution.

Jesus is Yahweh, King of Israel and He came to restore His kingdom and reassert His will on earth even as it is in heaven.  Three years of teaching and healing culminates in Jesus, God of Israel and Messiah of God, entering Jerusalem on a donkey like king David of old once did.  So again, we have another identification.  Jesus is now somehow king of Israel.  What did the Israel of Jesus’ day want?  They wanted a king, a messianic king, with enough power to throw out the Romans and restore the nation.  And so into Jerusalem, the city of Israel’s kings, He rode on a kingly mount.  With the people shouting greetings to Israel’s messianic king, “Hosanna, Lord save us!”  Blessed is He who comes in Yahweh’s name.  Even the king of Israel.”  Jesus’ person, king, is bound up together with his work, restoration of the kingdom of heaven on earth.  Make no mistake about it, Jesus is Israel’s true king, that is, Jesus is Yahweh, King of Israel and He came to restore His kingdom and reassert His will on earth even as it is in heaven.

What does any of this have to do with the picture of Christianity I sketched out at the beginning here?  I don’t know, and that’s the reason why it’s so inadequate.  First of all, none of what I sketched out earlier has anything to do with Jesus being king.  Lord maybe, but not king here on earth.  With Jesus come to earth into human flesh, God is not king far away up in heaven, unconcerned with the events going on down here.  Jesus’ ministry shows us God is not just concerned with our souls, He healed bodies of birth defects and drove away the sinful corruption of what God had created to be not just good, but very good.  Faith consists in far more than letting Jesus into your heart.  Ugh, why would he want to go in there?  Baptism is more than a symbolic washing, but in fact a death and burial into Christ’s cross and grave and a resurrection with Him.  If we wanted to continue the line of thought about kingship, Baptism is more akin to a ceremony to bestow a knighthood, a citizenship ceremony for the kingdom of God.  The Lord’s Supper is far more than just a remembrance of Jesus last meal with His disciples before He was arrested; it is rather the way in which Jesus intended to be with His people until the end of time.  We dine at the king’s table until that day when we dine together in the New Jerusalem.  And both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are in fact real, tangible ways that Jesus interacts with us, ways that are able to be seen by everyone around.  Even someone with no faith, even the devil must admit, you were washed here in the water and the Word of God.  God cares about your body to take such pains to wash it and feed it the way He does.  But what do we do?  We turn away from the things everyone can see and admit have happened and are turn inward toward things no one can be sure happen, not even ourselves, because, truthfully, we are not convinced of our own faithfulness.  If we are, we are merely deceiving ourselves.  Faith is far more than what is going on in your heart.  Faith is about looking forward to that day when Jesus is the undisputed king on earth reigning from the New Jerusalem.  And until that day, faith in Christ, our God and Messianic king, is always active in love which is different than just being nice.  The true Faith is about confessing that you are who God says you are and doing what God says for you to do.  In other words, the Christian Faith is about your person and work.

Quite frankly, we have allowed an inferior version, a thin ghost of the true Faith, pass for Christianity for far too long.  And it hasn’t worked and it is dying.  The best way to live is not to be nice to others but rather to live in the kingdom of God.  And in rides Jesus on a donkey, God’s own king, absolute monarch of the created universe.  And He came to dispute with the religious leaders in Jerusalem for three days, celebrate Passover and turn it into a meal of His abiding presence with His people, be arrested and suffer and die, rest in the tomb, and be raised on Easter morning.  This is so much bigger than God in your heart; this is Jesus King of all mighty and active come to rescue you from sin, the curse of death, and the power of the devil.  It is in Holy Week that all this is made plain and we gather to hear it again because we need to hear it again.  We need to be turned away from our inward selves and back to the mighty work of Christ our king, accomplished for us in the mercy of God.  I do hope you’ll come.

Hosanna!  Amen.

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