Blessed

Psalm 118:1-2; 19-29, Matthew 21:1-11, Philippians 2:5-11 – April 5, 2020

INTRODUCTION TO PSALM 118:1-2; 19-29

This morning’s reading from the Psalm 118 was the Psalm that was on people’s minds when Jesus chose to enter into Jerusalem.  The chant that went up from the people was a direct quote from that Psalm.  When we read the story later in the service you will hear them echo what I read now.  Hear the Word of the Lord.

INTRODUCTION TO MATTHEW 21:1-11

What happened on that Sunday long ago was not totally spontaneous.  It was a deliberate act on the part of Jesus, demonstrated by the fact that Jesus sends two disciples into the city to make this entrance different from every other time he has entered that city. It is a fulfillment of what I read earlier from Psalm 118. 

PRAYER OF PRAISE

God of our salvation, we give you thanks for Jesus Christ our Lord, who came in your name and turned the lonely way of rejection and death into triumph.  Grant us the steadfast faith to enter the gates of righteousness that we may receive grace to become worthy servants and citizens of your holy realm.  Hear our cries asking you to Save Us and receive our Praise for doing so.

***

Thank you for joining me for this 4th sermon from my living room.  I discovered that the recording of my last sermon on Wednesday ended before I did. For some reason it stopped at 15 minutes and 13 seconds.  Those of you who made it to the end of the sermon were left hanging on what Albert Schweitzer said.  So for those who were left hanging and for those who didn’t get to that part to be left hanging I’m going to open this sermon with that illustration.  My message was on being humble.  It still is a fitting opening illustration for today’s message which is Jesus’ entering Jerusalem on a humble donkey.

Albert Schweitzer was laboring one day, under the hot African sun, building his hospital at Lambarene. A large timber had to be raised into place, and try as he might, Schweitzer couldn’t manage it alone.  He looked up and saw a well-dressed African man standing in the shade of a building, and asked him to lend a hand.   “O, no,” the man said, “I don’t do that kind of work. I am an intellectual.” Albert Schweitzer, with five earned doctor’s degrees, said, “I used to be an intellectual, but I couldn’t live up to it.”   

Speaking of humble, a pastor was once asked to speak at a banquet for a charitable organization. After the meeting, the program chairman handed the pastor a check. “Oh, I don’t want this,” the pastor said. “I appreciate the honor of being asked to speak. Keep the check and apply it to something special.”

The program chairman asked, “Well, do you mind if we put it in our special fund?”

“Of course not,” the pastor replied. “What is the special fund for?”

The chairman answered, “It’s so we can get a better speaker for next year.”

Life is full of humbling experiences. But, when we look at Jesus’ parade through the Holy City, we sense that it was an act of humility. He did not choose to ride into the city on a white horse named Silver, but on a donkey. He was not coming in the might and power of a conquering king, but as a humble servant.

Jesus was using his parade through the Holy City to teach that humility is the key to greatness. The idea of greatness is directly related to being a servant. The one issue which Jesus made abundantly clear is that he came not to be served, but to serve. If we are ever to attain the humility of Jesus, then we must realize that we, too, are called to be servants.  If we do that we will be blessed, because of our service, our world will be blessed.

Jesus blessed people’s lives. He blessed and transformed the life of Nicodemus.  He blessed and transformed the life of the Samaritan woman at the well.  He blessed and transformed the life of the man born blind.  He most certainly blessed and transformed the life of Lazarus. He has blessed and transformed my life and I trust yours too.

This morning’s text tells how Jesus blessed and transformed the most significant religious event in the life of Israel–Passover.  He blessed the bread and the cup of Passover and transformed Passover from a week of remembering the children of Israel’s deliverance from bondage to Egypt to a week of celebrating the whole world’s deliverance from bondage to sin through his life, death and resurrection

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is in stark contrast to Solomon’s reception of the Queen of Sheba, 1 Kings 10:1‑13 and the acclamation of Jehu as king of Israel, 2 Kings 9:13.  The garments and palm branches strewn in Jesus’ path by the people, as well as their cry of “Hosanna!” reinforce Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as the Savior of the common, ordinary people. Jesus didn’t get the red carpet treatment.  He got to green garment treatment. There were no vast display of riches, no dignitaries and no loud trumpets to greet the arrival of this king.

The cry of “Hosanna!” which greets Jesus (v.9) was originally a plea meaning “Help (or save) Traditionally it was addressed to the king or to God but, by the time of its use here, it may have become a ritualistic liturgical formula of blessing or acclamation for a distinguished figure–like Hail to the Chief or the song “Pomp and Circumstance” which is used for graduations.  As the representative of this God, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in the gospel of Matthew is a triumph of peace and humility over the forces of pride and hostility.

Can you imagine if Jesus had been treated like a 21st‑century celebrity as he rode into Jerusalem?  Wolf Blitzer would have reported on rumors that Jesus planned to disrupt temple business.  Pundits would have argued about who he “really” was.  Someone would undoubtedly have written a psychological profile for Psychology Today.  Some tabloid would investigate Jesus’ relationship with “the woman at the well or the woman who anointed his feet with oil and dried them with her hair.  There would be in‑depth analysis by cult specialists and modern‑day Pharisees and Sadducees on the 24 hour news channels. A council of church officials would be in place to verify the veracity and authenticity of Jesus’ feeding the multitudes and walking on water.  As he entered the dusty city, hundreds if not thousands would have taken selfies with him or photo- bombed him while Lester Holt would stand by to offer color commentary.

While the celebrities of today are famous because they have hired promoters and agents, Jesus was celebrated by a relatively small number of followers who were not quite sure why they were there, except for the fact that something drew them to this teacher, this holy man. He could heal them. He spoke in mysterious parables. He was very different from anything they had seen before. And he loved them in a way they had never experienced before. There was something about him.

In a cruel and violent world, where most people were interested in basic survival, Jesus regularly stirred up enough trouble to risk his safety. In a culture where people shamelessly promoted themselves, many times Jesus told those he healed to “tell no one.”  He was not swayed by current trends. He was not concerned with money. He had no problem with challenging those in power. His ministry was guided, nourished and planned NOT by the powers that be but by the only Power that really matters.

Considering the life expectancy of a man of his time he was not particularly young.  He was most definitely not rich.  His disciples were limited to 12 men of limited resources and a few women of some of whom had uncertain reputations.

The one detail we know for certain is that his story never ends.  It did not end in a procession in Jerusalem.  It did not end on a cross. It did not end in a cave on the property of Joseph of Arimathea.  It did not end because the calling was passed on from generation to generation.  It was and is a relay.

The story continues. It continues in the lives of people like you and me in whom the living Christ continues to work wonders.  The story continues in us who are called to keep it alive.  For those of us who have, by grace, found ourselves following Jesus it is an irresistible story, a life‑changing story.  We are as transformed as Nicodemus and the woman at the well and the man born blind and even as Lazarus was.

The procession that began on Palm Sunday continues. It continues not because a finish line was never crossed.  It continues because there is NO finish line.  It is an eternal relay.  It continues because the baton has been passed to us and will be passed to those who follow us when our leg is finished.  The question before us as a church is, who is coming behind us?  Who are we training to take our place when we finish our leg? 

When I was serving as pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Baytown I joined in a procession-the Relay For Life.  Like so many other events it has been postponed this year.  I was in the 16-20 year group at the end of the procession.  My friend Mike Wilson was in the 1-5 year beginning of the procession.  In between us was a long line of people who have survived cancer, and friends and family of folks who walked with them and friends and family of those who finished their race and had passed on their batons.

What impressed me in The Relay For Life was the diversity of the procession.  There were people from all walks of LIFE, taking part in this relay.  Cancer does not discriminate.  It’s an equal opportunity afflicter. It’s the same with Covid-19. 

As followers of Jesus we believe that dying is not the end of life. While we walk and raise money for research to find a cure for disease that takes away life in this world, we believe that even when our lives in this world end, it is not the end.  It is not a battle lost; it is passing a baton to those behind us to continue as we drop out having run our leg.  Life is a Relay—a Relay OF Life. 

Even though I’m no longer in Baytown I hope to keep participating in the Relay For Life until I make my last lap and hand off in my Relay OF Life so that, like Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy, I will have “fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

Until then, my calling and I think our calling is described the way someone put it so simply long ago when he said:  Find a hurt and heal it; Find a need and meet it. When we do this, we are on the road to being humble servants of Jesus Christ.

When we do this, we will be on the road to discovering greatness as one of the followers of Jesus Christ.  When we do this we will be echo of the cries that he heard that morning when Jesus entered Jerusalem.  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Wherever we go, when we come in the name of the Lord we too will be Blessed.!

Let’s pray. God of glory, God of grace, we rejoice with humble hearts as we celebrate the condescension of the One who was your equal but left such glory for a while, to become human, in the lowliness of servanthood, the pain of suffering, and the indignity of death.  We raise our voices in exultation that you exalt Christ again in raising him to the heights and bestowing on him the supreme name in the whole universe, announcing that Jesus the anointed is Lord.  All glory be given to you, in praise of your vulnerability and your victory, one God, great in grace and great in glory. 

For a video recording of this sermon, click here: https://youtu.be/p8qo3Yp7xvc

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