Isaiah 50:4-9a;Psalms 118:1-2, 19-29; Philippians 2:5-11;Mark 21:1-11 March 28, 2021 – Palm Sunday
Isaiah speaks 500 years before Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the foal of a colt. He proclaims boldly three great things: I have set my face like flint. I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near.
Jesus knew the scriptures. By the time he rode into Jerusalem, it was clear to those who would see that he was the scriptures.
As he rode into the City of David on Palm Sunday morning, he knew that a big change was about to happen. He also knew that he was the big change: the manifestation of God in the flesh.
While this was going to produce pain, it was also going to produce greater understanding. People might not understand him at all today. They might misunderstand why he is doing what he is doing.
But there will come a day when all will be clearer and brighter. Maybe then…we will be able to understand more fully and live more completely. Maybe then, the lion will lie down with the lamb and all shall live in peace.
What is about to happen next always catches us by surprise. This age of covid has changed everything for us, but we are still caught by surprise each day…we still do not see changes that were certain to happen until they reveal themselves to us.
Perhaps covid’s greatest weapon is the great quantity of the unknown that surrounds it. How it acts in one setting but not in others. What it does to one person but not to others. How it will change…has changed…our lives as far as we can see.
I do not have any answers to these questions…not even after a year of living with them…and trying to minister through them.
I just believe that we have the native ability to reinvent ourselves…even in the context of a global pandemic…once again…and to move forward in a new way…to show once again that faith and hope… obedience and love…are the harbor lights…or landing lights…or the light on a hill…that helps us move onward and upward…no matter what has changed or is about to change.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem to announce that the time had come for a new understanding of the scriptures. He rides on the back of a colt, harkening back…calling us forward.
He casts the vision forward even as he draws our vision to all that has happened before.
While some of it is bad and some is good, his courageous proclamation of God’s love…here and now…gives assurance to all that the course of Israel’s history…and human history… is ever upward as it moves onward.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
That was the kind of faith that has transformed America in the 1950’s …and the early 1900s…and the 1860s…and 1776…because America transformed the world…from a place of kingships and colonies and empires…to a place where all people are created equal.
Abraham Lincoln gave us a dramatic example of that transformation on April 4, 1865. That morning he was on a riverboat in the James River, just below Richmond, Virginia.
He had been waiting there for reliable confirmation that the South’s capital had been abandoned by both the Confederate government and its troops.
He knew exactly what he was going to do, and I believe…I contend…it was taken right out of Jesus’ example on Palm Sunday.
Here we had the Roman proconsul being pushed back against by the King of the Jews…these leaders of this world and the next… the representatives of Caesar and the Son of God…were on a collision course… or maybe…just maybe…they were dancing together.
It is fairly clear that Pilate didn’t know about what Jesus had done, or stern measures would have been implemented to prevent it from ever taking place.
But it is hard to believe that Jesus was unaware of the act of confrontation he was engaging in. It is just too much of a coincidence. He is the one…those without power are always the ones… who got to choose his time and place.
Lincoln got to choose his time and place as well, and his goal was to walk the mile up from the landing at Richmond, the Confederate capital, to the Confederate White House, where Jefferson Davis had conducted the business of the Confederacy.
Lincoln was making a bold and unequivocal statement that the United States once again had authority over this important place. Jesus was making a bold statement that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was still the supreme authority over Jerusalem.
Lincoln sat in Davis’ chair…that was all anyone had to say to draw a picture that was worth a thousand words to every person who heard about it. The crowds surrounding Jesus gave testimony undermining the supremacy of Pilate’s army.
Pilate came in the name of Caesar.
Lincoln arrived with the authority of the United States behind him. Jesus came simply in the name of the Lord. Even today, even in the circumstances we find ourselves in our nation and in the world…he is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Lincoln and Jesus were extremely vulnerable at this moment. Neither of them had a crowd around them to protect them. Jesus didn’t have an army to protect him and Lincoln walked beyond the perimeter of his army…the forward edge of the battle area…to say something with who he was and where he was.
Lincoln didn’t wait for his troops to catch up with him before he started up the hill. The few sailors who had rowed the little boat that got him to shore were given carbines and surrounded him.
An officer in the small bodyguard recalled that all the doors and windows along the way were open and people were looking out to see in the flesh the man they had seen in so many photographs.
One woman said, “With all due respect for the President of the United States, I do believe he is the ugliest man I have ever seen.” A hundred different people could have shot him along the way.
But the fact of the matter, from that moment forward, was that everyone in Richmond knew that Jeff Davis was gone and Abe Lincoln had arrived. There was a new sheriff in town and no one could doubt who was in charge of the city going forward.
That is a fair description of the message Jesus delivered to the people of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is significant that both Jesus and Lincoln came with a message of freedom, offering us all a way to be saved from our sins...not just the Jews, but the Romans, too…not just the slaves, but the slave masters, too.
Something unexpected happened as Lincoln walked up to the Southern White House. Some African American men and women saw him. One of them called out that he was the Messiah, Father Abraham, their deliverer. They kneeled down in front of him.
This is the moment we get to see deep into the heart of Lincoln. He was not pleased at this display of respect for him. In fact, it embarrassed him.
“Don’t kneel to me,” he told them. “It is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank him for the liberty you enjoy hereafter.”
Again, this sounds like the message Jesus was bringing…the message Jesus was…as he rode into the city.
Both of these lives are studies in humility…the lives of people who were so good that they did not claim any special privilege because of it. They were so good that they gave up everything to serve their people in their day.
This lack of boasting…their willingness to give all for a greater good…only proves one more time…one more way…God’s goodness.
The parallels and coincidences continue. Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth on Friday, April 14, 1865. It was Good Friday.
People started thinking about that coincidence and then about other resonances of Christ in Lincoln’s life. They came to wonder if something special might be about to happen on that Sunday morning.
It certainly appeared he, too, had come in the name of the Lord. You don’t have to be Jesus to make the world a better place, and you don’t have to get it all right every time to do a lot of good.
Jesus and Lincoln lived lives here on earth that show us how we can reveal with our lives the gift God wants to send into the world.
It is your church’s mission to provoke you and your community to think about the gift your life can become and how we can help each other to give it as freely and as fully as Jesus did it.
I am grateful for the new ways you have shown me to do this…and the new ways we have discovered to do this together.
I don’t think there is another church in our Conference that has grown more together than we have. There are very few congregations that have found a way in these challenging months to continue to pay our full apportionments to the conference.
I am so proud of you.
You have retrofitted your church to be a link to worship for anyone online who can’t be physically present with us.
You have called each other faithfully during a lonely time. You have created a first-class meeting facility for church members, service groups like Rotary.
You have opened your hearts, your minds and your doors to community builders like Threads, community events like the Eagle Scout Court of Honor we will be hosting here April 5th and community groups like your Rowdy Bunch the Bigfork Bridge Club.
As a result, each Eagle Scout can have a recording of the event, celebrating their achievements. Their entire family, whether they are here or in Germany, in Florida or Singapore, Saudi Arabia or Texas or California or Arizona, can celebrate their great accomplishment with them, and anticipate with joy the brighter future that is now in store for them.
You have grown a reputation for positive community engagement, and for offering a hand up to many people you have never met. They are people who will remember you all of their lives.
But this is not the end or even the beginning of the end. We still have much to do in the transition period… and beyond. I know we will do it… and you will do it…as well as anyone ever has.
I know the work of this powerful little church…this David in an age of Goliaths…will go on, just as faithfully and completely as it has been doing it for many years now.
This is one of those moments when the saying can be heard as if for the first time, “That leader is best who, when all the work is done, the people say, ‘We did this ourselves.’”
Life is a great wheel, lifting us up at one moment and bringing us down the next. But it always raises us up again.
Lincoln had a life like that. Jesus is about to have a week like that.
So let us set our face like a flint toward Jerusalem. Let us give our backs to those who would strike us, in the sure knowledge that God will help us.
O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us… and through me…this day? We beg you, make of us the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.