Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Palm Sunday Sermon: Throw your cloak on the ground!

Sermon Texts:

Sermon Notes
Jesus came into the world after being carried in his mother’s pregnant belly being jostled around on the back of a donkey bound for some place to stay in Bethlehem.  He was placed in a feeding trough while his mother rested after giving birth.  And here, at the end of his life, we see another donkey, carrying a 33 year old man in a parade where the excitement of the crowd was bubbling with hope and fascination.  Here is our hero!  Here is our Messiah!  He is the one we’ve been waiting for! 

Jesus enter Jerusalem as the prophets had foretold—on a donkey.  This is strange to us, it doesn’t seem like a very kingly type ride.  It is as if a newly elected president made a special request to be driven to the inauguration speech in Washington DC in a farm truck.  

But, though the choice of a donkey may seem odd, it certainly is consistent.  This man riding the donkey is the embodiment of the Holy of Holies.  He is the living, breathing incarnation of God.  And yet, as Paul writes to the Philippians in the words of an ancient hymn known to the church, “he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. 

This riding in on a donkey thing isn’t just to put on airs, it’s not part of the story merely to fulfill a prophecy, though a close look at some of the Gospel writers details surrounding this story may lead one to believe that “fulfilling a prophecy” is the main objective.  Matthew, confounded with the repetition found Zecheriah’s poetic description,  See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey,” actually describes Jesus riding into Jerusalem simultaneously on a donkey and on a colt. 

It is what the prophecy means that Jesus is interested in.  Zechariah continues in his prophecy,
“I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

A donkey symbolizes peace and a horse symbolizes war.  Jesus comes into this city knowing full well what will happen here over the next few days.  The writing is on the wall!  He doesn’t have to be omniscient to see that those in power want to do away with him.  And he comes in peace.  He will never show hostility toward those who arrest him, accuse him, whip and beat him, or even nail his hands and feet into a cross.  On the night he is arrested, in fact, he must re-iterate this aspect of his mission to one of his disciples who draws a sword and tries to defend him. 

“You live by the sword and you die by it,” he says.  And so he shows us another way.  “You live by peace, and you die at peace.”  Paul goes on to say in that hymn, that this God made flesh “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.  He is humble as he stands there before the Sanhedrin, and they try to find blame in him.  He is gentle with Pontius Pilate, who callously plays politics with his life.  He is obedient as he is stripped, beaten, and dressed up like a bloody thorn-crowned king: mocked and ridiculed before being forced to carry the beam he would hang on to the trash heap of Golgotha.  And he is righteous on that cross, as he finds a moment, even in his own agony to impart grace and confidence to a common thief being crucified with him who sees him for what he is. 

 Humble and obedient, gentle and righteous—that’s how Jesus shows us to confront the madness of the world that seeks to blame, dominate, and crucify.  That’s a lot.  That’s a lot more than those 12 men who walked with for three years could handle.  They ran for their lives.  It is asking a lot of us to “carry our own cross” and follow Jesus.  He endures all of this punishment, and he does it by coming in peace. 

The disciples, we are told, throw their cloaks on the donkey for Jesus to sit on.  They want to serve their master by making him more comfortable on this humble ride.  Then, as Luke tells the story, people take off their own cloaks as Jesus makes his way into the city, spreading the cloaks before the feet of the donkey to keep the dust from getting stirred up. 

That’s how this story is different than the other Gospel writers.  The others tell of palms, or palms and cloaks, but only Luke is devoid of palms.  We’ll call it Palm Sunday anyway.  Perhaps Luke wants us to think of cloaks.

What is a cloak worn for?  It’s worn to shield us from the elements.  And throwing them on the ground in front of someone used to be a gesture of honor and good-will.  Imagine all the waste and animal by-products in the road in those days.  We don’t really do that anymore, do we?  That gesture has gone out of our culture.  Has anyone ever thrown their coat on the ground so that someone didn’t have to step on something?

We also use the word “cloak” figuratively, a cloak may be anything that disguises or conceals something.  Magicians wear cloaks, don’t they?  This week is the most important in your spiritual year.  It is a week where we will hear about our savior being laid bare for the world.  We will hear about his fearful night in the garden, when he prays to be relieved of this task.  Jesus will be laid bare in the hands of the Romans, where he is stripped and beaten.  He’ll be laid bare on the cross, and nailed there and raised up into the air to hang.  And while he’s hanging on that cross, Jesus will lay bare his soul in the words of the Psalmist in the face of what seems to be utter abandonment, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” 

He will leave nothing concealed or disguised in his own walk with the Father.  This is his example to all of us.  In this week, don’t cloak your relationship with the Father.  His only son has made that unnecessary.  Join the crowd who sees Jesus and throws their cloaks on the ground as he comes.   Lay your soul bare to God’s love.  Don’t hold anything back. 

I find that this week, with it’s two special days when we recognize the events of the last days of Christ for what they are, God uncloaking His own love for us.  

How can you take your coat off for Jesus

So, the Messiah’s entry into Jerusalem upon an animal of peace is made ready with Palm branches yanked off the trees, and people’s cloaks from their backs.  They are impromptu displays of preparing the way for peace.  

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