Sermon for Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Texts: John 12:12-19 and Philippians 2:5-11
Sermon Theme: “Going Down to Go Up”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Brokhoff, Series C, Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Online Short Christian Jokes and Funny Stories; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 26, Part 2, Series C; Online “Straight from the Donkey’s Mouth”; Halley’s Bible Handbook)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Palm Sunday is like celebrating the victory before it happens, and Easter Sunday is celebrating it after it happens. In between the two, there lies the crucifixion, which lodges inside us today like tears ready to be poured out on Good Friday.
No doubt that’s why the Lectionary makers designate this Sunday as both “Palm Sunday” and “Passion Sunday,” and why some pastors read the Triumphal Entry Gospel text, others read the Gospel from the Passion History, and some read both.
It’s the same reason we began our service today by waving palm branches and singing loud Hosannas, and will close by singing “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” We realize there is no Resurrection without the Crucifixion. Palm Sunday is a taste of victory before THE victory!
During his sermon on Palm Sunday, one pastor left the pulpit and walked down the aisle, waving two or three palm branches, trying to get the people excited about the triumphal entry.
To further stir up some zestful Palm Sunday enthusiasm, he asked folks in the pews to shout out things like, “Praise the Lord!,” “Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord,” Hallelujah, the Lord comes,” “Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest.”
“Just shout it out loud!” he told the congregation.
Immediately, a small preschool child stood up and shouted, “I want to go home!”
That’s just the opposite of another kid on Palm Sunday. Five year old Craig had to stay home from church on Palm Sunday because of a stomach virus. His father stayed with him, but the rest of his family went to church. When his mom and his brother and sister got home carrying palm fronds, he wanted to know what they were for.
“People held them over Jesus’ head as He walked by,” his mother explained.
“Wouldn’t you know it!! The one Sunday I miss church, Jesus shows up!”
Because we have read the Passion History gospels on the past six Wednesday nights at our Lenten services, I chose to read the Palm Sunday gospel for today. Yet Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday are one and the same, and today’s readings all describe the same Messiah, and the same God who is defined by that Messiah: One who is self-giving to a fault.
The difference between the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the crucifixion is simply that the definition of Messiahship has been clarified; it is not to be manifested in the royal palace, but among the poor, the weak, and the neglected. Instead of a regally dressed King on a white stallion, we see a King wearing the clothes of a peasant and riding on a donkey. For the Jews, since ancient times, the horse was always a symbol of war, and the donkey was a symbol of peace and humility.
The Palm Sunday texts reveal an humble King who is honored by the enormous crowds welcoming Him into Jerusalem, whereas the Passion Sunday texts show a tortured and beaten man, though innocent, treated like a criminal and nailed to a cross. The crowds that shout “Hosanna, hosanna to the Son of David” in the one text, shout “Crucify, crucify Him” in the other.
Our Epistle text from Paul’s letter to the Philippians helps to further clarify the nature of our humble-Servant-King-Messiah, as well as to urge us to humble service. Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man.”
Clearly the Epistle moves in two directions, — first downward in humility, then upward to glory. In other words, going down to go up. In the Explanation to Luther’s Small Catechism, there is a section that talks about Christ’s Humiliation, followed by Christ’s Exaltation.
It was always obvious to my junior confirmation students which was which, except for one example. Obviously, being born a human, being arrested and tried as a criminal, beaten and crucified, are examples of Humiliation. The Resurrection was obviously an example of Exaltation. Kids in confirmation usually thought Christ’s descent into hell was an example of Humiliation, when actually it’s an example of Exaltation, — because the reason for His descent into hell was to declare His victory over the devil and his cohorts.
As far as we human beings are concerned, Paul wants us to know that no one can go up unless he first goes down. Holy week is the period of Christ’s going down even to the depth of physical death. Because of this, we are assured that He will sit at the right hand of the Father. Paul urges the Philippians and us to have this same mind of humility so that God may exalt us.
A mind of humility leads to three things, — self-emptying, that is, a denial of self, becoming a servant to others, and obeying God even to death.
The miracle of exaltation also leads to three things, — a new name, “Christian,” the promise of Eternal Life, and a joyfully busy tongue of witnessing to others.
If you visit the websites and facebook pages of the royal families of Europe, you will see them elegantly attired posing in front of the gilded arches of royal palaces, each King or Prince or Duke adorned with regal ribbons and ornate gold medals, and each Queen or Princess or Duchess attired in exquisite, fashionable gowns and ornamented with the most opulent jewels.
Even though in the 21st Century, few, if any, Kings or Queens have any national power or authority, they still present themselves and are accepted as glorious symbols of what Kingship means. In New Testament times, when Kings DID have absolute power and authority as well as the opulent trappings of the royal house, people obeyed them with utmost devotion . . . usually.
With all of that in mind, we get some idea of the traumatizing shock, the deep bewilderment, and the mind-boggling how-can-this-be-possible astonishment of Jews and Gentiles alike reacting to this “Beggar-King,” as Martin Luther called Jesus. The Beggar-King riding a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was not the normal concept of a King.
Jesus turned the whole world upside down. Though God, He was born a human on a bed of hay in a barn. Instead of displaying His wealth, He had none. Instead of hating His enemies, He loved everyone, even those who hated Him. Instead of expecting to be served, He was a servant. Instead of leading a nation that died in battle for Him, He died for all nations. “Many who are last will be first, and many who are first will be last,” He said, and He turned everything upside down.
Those of you who are Christians on the inside, and those of you who are Christians on the outside but in the process of becoming Christlike through and through, realize how difficult it was or is to comprehend this “going down to go up” stuff. Yet, at the same time, as you experience the scary, violent, malevolent, deadly world we live in today, you more and more want to live in the upside down world Christ offers you.
As Henry H. Halley wrote in the Introduction to his famous Bible Handbook, “It is a glorious thing to be a Christian, the most exalted privilege of mankind. To follow Christ means peace, peace of mind, contentment of heart, forgiveness, happiness, hope, life – life here and now, abundant, and life that shall never end. . . . In the last analysis, the dearest, sweetest thing in life is the consciousness, in the inner depths of our motives, that we live for Christ; and, though our efforts be ever so feeble, we toil at our daily tasks, in hope of, in the final roundup, having done something to lay, in humble gratitude and adoration, as an offering at His feet.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.