Palm Sunday 2010

Sermon Date: 
28 Mar 2010
Bible Base: 
Phil 2:5-11 and Luke 19:28-44

David Jeans

A week is a long time in politics. I think it was Harold Wilson that I first heard trotting out that cliché. It’s also true in sport. If you are sad like me and listen to Football Heaven on Radio Sheffield you will know that a week can be a long time in the mood of football supporters too. World beaters one week, total donkeys the next.
On Palm Sunday we begin one of the longest weeks in the history of the world. In Matthew’s Gospel it occupies 8 chapters out of 28; in Mark 6 out of 16; in Luke 6 out of 24; in John 9 out of 21. A week which took less than 0.1 % of Jesus’ life makes up for around 30 % of the Gospel record.
In that week Jesus went from hero to zero and back again. At its beginning the crowd with the disciples cried ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, and gave him a rapturous welcome. By Friday the crowd were crying ‘crucify him’. Bu the end of Friday he was dead, abandoned by all but a handful of disciples, mainly women, who made sure that his dead body was properly buried. By Sunday he had risen.
So what was going on in that week? Far more than we can cover in one sermon or even in a week of sermons.  It was actually a week of revolutions. After that week the world would never be the same again. The first revolution was that it would never be the same again for those who thought they were the people of God. They began that week thinking that God’s main priority was sorting out their problems. They welcomed Jesus, who they were sure was coming in the name of the Lord to bring in a new age where they would no longer be oppressed by the Romans and they would be seen to be God’s favourites again. They probably were not too sure about this riding on a donkey bit. A bit too humble, not quite splendid enough for their king, but if it were fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah that their king would come riding on a donkey they probably thought it was fair enough. As long as he didn’t stay humble and gentle, because that wouldn’t help get rid of the Romans, and after all that must be God’s agenda because it was their agenda, and God thought like them, didn’t he?
But Jesus was a great disappointment to them. Instead of telling off the Romans, he was telling off the leaders of the people of God. He seemed to be more worried about things wrong with the temple than with things wrong with their enemies. He even seemed to be talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, rather than its glorification. He just wouldn’t do what they wanted him to do. So they turned on him.
In one of his books Bishop Tom Wright talks about how the ideas of Copernicus revolutionised people’s view of the universe. Before Copernicus everyone though that the Sun and the stars went round the earth which was at the centre of the universe. After Copernicus we had to get used to the idea that in fact the earth goes around the Sun. Tom Wright thinks that there has to be the same revolution in our thinking when we seek to follow Christ. The essence of sin is to think that the universe revolves around us, that our interests are the most important ones, that we will trample others down if we have to, to get our own way. Even as we come to faith in Christ it’s easy for us, often without realising it, to continue to act as though the universe revolves around us, and in particular that God revolves around us. God is here to look after our needs, to ensure our health, well-being and happiness, and of course to make our church successful and growing. God is now part of our lives, but basically to do what we want God to do. When we think like this we have not realised the full extent of the revolution that God wants to happen in us. God wants our lives to revolve around His purposes, and not the other way around. Of course God’s purposes include our being blessed by God, but God’s purposes are bigger than simply blessing us. He wants to transform the whole world, and He wants to use us to help bring that about.
The other day we were watching a programme called Tropic of Cancer, following the journeys of the presenter along that imaginary line on the surface of the earth. The particular episode was in Mexico; it showed several examples of people only concerned about their own well-being and not thinking about others. Luxury holiday resorts being built for rich Westerners by Mexican people living in one room shacks made out of plywood. A Canadian gold mining company blasting away a whole hillside closer to a village than Green Moor is to us. And most shocking of all, a Mexican city whose main industry was drug trafficking to the US, where there was a shrine to the patron saint of drug dealing, and they offered prayers for the success of their latest attempts to export addiction, misery and death to the young people of another country.
The God of the universe is no-one’s private chaplain, there just to do our will and sort our lives out. Yes, he loves us and longs to shower us with blessings, but not just us, and not to the harm of others.
Last Palm Sunday I quoted Lesslie Newbigin, and I am going to do so again! He wrote that ‘conversion is not a transference from one self-centred community to another; it is not a private peace with God while the whole world goes to rot. It is being caught up into God’s action of kingdom. It is being changed so that we can be agents of change.’
The greatest temptation for the people of God is to be selfish with the blessings of God, and to keep them for ourselves. God wants those blessings to be for all people.
The crowds in Jerusalem wanted God to be part of their lives – but on their terms, rather than on God’s terms. When Jesus showed them that God’s agenda was different from theirs, they rejected him. How about us this Palm Sunday? Are we just following God for what we want to get out of God? Or are we prepared to follow God anywhere and serve his kingdom and not our own?
Near the end of this week we find Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, where he wrestles with his Father in prayer. If his Father had been Jesus’ private chaplain he might have said to Jesus ‘It’s OK, you don’t have to go through with it’. But because God loved the whole world, he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. And because Jesus loves his Father and loves us, he said not my will, but yours be done.
Palm crosses are very special things to us; they are reminders to us of all that God has done for us in Christ. They are reminders that if God went to the cross for us, there is nothing that can separate us from that love. But they are also reminders that God calls us to take up our crosses, deny ourselves, and follow him. Do we expect God to be in orbit about us and our purposes? Or are we in orbit about God and His purposes to change the whole world?