Sunday, March 20th, 2016 – A Palm Sunday Sermon on Luke 19 and Philippians 2

You can listen to this sermon here.

Luke 19:28-40
28 And when he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.29 When he drew near to Beth’phage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village opposite, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat; untie it and bring it here. 31 If any one asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this, ‘The Lord has need of it.'” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it as he had told them. 33 And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” 35 And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their garments on the colt they set Jesus upon it. 36 And as he rode along, they spread their garments on the road. 37 As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

 Philippians 2:5-11
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

If you were hoping for an escape from all the political posturing and chaos that we’ve been living through week after week, that lingers like a looming storm cloud ready to rain down on all of us, then I have bad news.

There is no rest for the politically weary. Not today. Not this week.

Most of us know this story of Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, with palms waving and shouts of “Hosanna!” (even though neither are present in Luke’s telling, if you notice). And what most of us have been taught is that this is “humble” Jesus coming into Jerusalem in a humble, meager way. Which we get – we understand the humble, meagerness of riding on a donkey. I mean, if you’re the right height, you can do the same thing at just about any petting zoo.

But if it is just about that, then we will miss the deeper meaning to this. A politlca meaning. A meaning that the people at the time would have immediately grabbed on to.

Listen to the words of Old Testament prophet Zechariah, written 500 years before Jesus: Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey (9.9). This was written 500 years earlier than Jesus and Jesus’ audience would’ve known this scripture. They could’ve quoted it by heart. They knew the image of a king riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. And so Jesus uses this image to make his point. To ride in on a donkey would be to be declared as royalty. As the king.

Which is all fine and well until you realize that there is already a king in town. On the opposite side of town, in fact, riding in his own procession. The governor, Pontius Pilate.

You see, this was the week of Passover – the most sacred week of the Jewish year. It was a time when Jews traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish people’s liberation from the empire of Egypt. Remember the story of when Moses says to the Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” They would celebrate that story – their freedom from slavery – in Jerusalem that week.

But what we often don’t hear is that during this festival of freedom from slavery, the government would always show up. On one of the side of the city, the governor, Pontius Pilate, would have a procession into town. It was the empire’s procession. Alongside Pilate would be soldiers and drums, weapons and armor. This was the Roman military marching into town. Their one goal was to intimidate. They were there to make sure nothing gets out of control, because when a community of people within your empire has a celebration about being freed from an earlier empire, you have to remind the people that you are still the one in charge.

When you know this, you realize that Jesus’ royal entry into Jerusalem was an alternate process. A risky, political demonstration mocking the Roman Empire. It was confrontation with the powerful. This is like the bottom-rung employee parking in the CEO’s parking space. This would be like one of you walking in with one of these funny clergy collars on and saying, “I’m the pastor here now.” This is walking into the Oval Office and sitting in the President’s chair. This is a Jesus for President campaign rally in the face of an already ruling Roman Empire.

And the question becomes, what kind of campaign will Jesus run? What kind of royal king is Jesus?

And then before we hear the story itself unfold, we got the Apostle Paul’s spoiler ending in Philippians. Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God… emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

 That is the kind of kings Jesus is. And it is that Jesus, Paul says, that God exalts and gives a name above every name. It is to that Jesus that every knee should bend. It is to that Jesus that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

 So often we hear that word “Lord”, “King”, and we think that it means powerful and controlling. And that “Lord” is the final word on Jesus’ identity. Implying that to say “Jesus is Lord” means the world is under Jesus’ control and at his disposal.[1] But Theologian David Frederickson says what if Lord isn’t the final word on Jesus, but rather that Jesus is the final word on what it means to be a lord. Or a king.

He says that even a mighty word like “Lord” is vulnerable to invasion by “Jesus Christ”. That the story of Jesus’ life and the story of Jesus’ death invades and infects this word “Lord” such that Jesus Christ becomes the very definition of it. That such a self-emptying, self-sacrificing way of service to the world could be the very image of divine lordship.

Jesus is the self-emptying, servant lord, or king. And then Paul has the audacity to say…”Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

In a few moments, the political posturing will continue. We will get to see Jesus’ story after that triumphal, royal, political entry unfold. And it will look scarcely like what we see in our politics. We will get to see Jesus invade, and infect, and enflesh what it means to be lord in the face of Empire.

Listen for the glimpses of it that Luke leaves in the story like a trail of breadcrumbs along the way. Listen as Jesus sits down at a table with those saints and sinners. Those doubters and deniers; those betrayers and abandoners he’s calls his disciples. Listen as he hands them bread and wine and says this is my body, my blood…for you. Listen as he heals the ear of the wounded slave and tells his disciples to put down their swords. Listen as Jesus, for the first time in Luke’s Gospel, forgives the people in power – the very people who put him to death. Listen, as he welcomes into paradise the criminal who was crucified beside him.

And then in our listening to and living out of this story, may the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] David Fredrickson, Eros and the Christ, pg. 11.

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