March 28, 2021 Palm Sunday

Mark 11:1-11

1When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, [Jesus] sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, 
  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
 Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Prayer of the Day

Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Isaiah 50:4-9a

4The Lord God has given me
  the tongue of a teacher,
 that I may know how to sustain
  the weary with a word.
 Morning by morning he wakens—
  wakens my ear
  to listen as those who are taught.
5The Lord God has opened my ear,
  and I was not rebellious,
  I did not turn backward.
6I gave my back to those who struck me,
  and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
 I did not hide my face
  from insult and spitting.

7The Lord God helps me;
  therefore I have not been disgraced;
 therefore I have set my face like flint,
  and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
8he who vindicates me is near.
 Who will contend with me?
  Let us stand up together.
 Who are my adversaries?
  Let them confront me.
9aIt is the Lord God who helps me;
  who will declare me guilty?

Psalm 31:9-16

9Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I | am in trouble;
  my eye is consumed with sorrow, and also my throat | and my belly.
10For my life is wasted with grief, and my | years with sighing;
my strength fails me because of affliction, and my bones | are consumed.
11I am the scorn of all my enemies, a disgrace to my neighbors, a dismay to | my acquaintances;
  when they see me in the street | they avoid me.
12Like the dead I am forgotten, | out of mind;
I am as useless as a | broken pot. 
13For I have heard the whispering of the crowd; fear is | all around;
  they put their heads together against me; they plot to | take my life.
14But as for me, I have trusted in | you, O Lord.
I have said, “You | are my God.
15My times are | in your hand;
  rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who | persecute me.
16Let your face shine up- | on your servant;
save me in your | steadfast love.” 

Philippians 2:5-11

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
  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.
 And being found in human form,
8he humbled himself
  and became obedient to the point of death—
  even death on a cross.

9Therefore God also highly exalted him
  and gave him the name
  that is above every name,
10so that at the name of Jesus
  every knee should bend,
  in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue should confess
  that Jesus Christ is Lord,
  to the glory of God the Father.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Today we celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. What are we to make of this event?  Let’s start with the way the story is told.  Notice how only a few verses actually recount Jesus’ entry into the city. Most of the story relates the care with which Jesus has made the arrangements for this event. This could be evidence that Jesus has planned the entire occasion in advance. He has arranged for the colt. He’s even provided signals for the disciples to use with the people watching the colt.

Jesus knows exactly what he is doing. He is carefully orchestrating a piece of what one scholar describes as “street theater.” Jesus enacts a carnivalesque parody of kingship. He is ridiculing kingship as the world has always known it. He begins at the Mount of Olives. This is no accident.  This mountain was the traditional location from which people expected the final battle for Jerusalem’s liberation would begin.  

According to Zechariah 14, it is from this place that God will fight the nations and restore Jerusalem. Simon Maccabaeus entered Jerusalem this way in the second century BC. So did the leader Menahem. Jesus has what neither those men had: divine character, unanimity with God. But he does not use those traits as the crowd might have expected. 

From the Mount of Olives Jesus begins his “final campaign.”  When he sends out for provisions, however, the situation becomes rather strange.  The provisions he seeks are not the weapons of war, but simply a colt.  

The crowd spreads branches and cloaks before Jesus as a symbol of honor. They praise him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”  “God saves.”  “Long live the King!” And Jesus rides through the midst of the adoring crowds.

But Jesus comes not as one who lords his authority over others. He humbly rejects domination. He comes not with pomp and wealth. Instead, he is identified with the poor. He does not come as a mighty warrior. He is vulnerable and refuses to rely on violence.

Jesus portrays a totally different understanding of “rule.” He invites people to see and live in the world in a new way. Jesus confronted the powers with disarming love. He rode to certain death with no attempt to intimidate, destroy or surprise his enemies. In this moment Jesus does many things. He fulfills one prophecy while subverting others. He changes the notion of kingship, as he has from the beginning of his ministry. 

What are we to make of these events and this Jesus? What is our response to look like? We might start by exploring Jesus’ words and actions before he entered Jerusalem. What has his life’s work been? To announce again and again with words and actions that the reign of God has come near.

The reign of God looks like casting out demons, feeding people, healing people. Jesus has also been in conflict with the powers that be. The reign of God is in conflict with the status quo. Jesus has been in conflict with religious authorities who seem to favor rules over mercy and the abundant life. Jesus is also in conflict with the powers of empire, specifically Rome. It is these conflicts that lead to his death on the cross, which we as a congregation will mark with our self-guided Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.

For me, the passage from Philippians this morning gives us a preview of Good Friday, but also some clues about how we might follow Jesus. Paul writes, 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, 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. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”

I will confess that emptying oneself is not something I am particularly drawn to right now, especially because I feel somewhat drained. I know many of you feel the same way. All I want to do is fill us all up again. Further, this passage has been used by Christian communities to encourage a self-emptying that leads to complete depletion, no value of the self. Nothing could be further from the truth of the Jesus we encounter in the gospels, the Jesus who truly sees and values each person’s full humanity and belovedness. So, we do well to read the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2 with deep humility and a little trepidation.

Yet, as we look around the world, we know that servanthood and authentic humility are what are community and the world needs. It is precisely what the reign of God coming in would look like. At the center of the Philippians text is the image of self-emptying.

Perhaps the image of a pitcher of water being poured into a glass is instructive. Though we often focus on the pitcher and understand the act of emptying as a loss, we should concomitantly focus on the glass or the act of filling up. The water shifts and takes the shape of its object, ultimately changing it. When Jesus pours himself into the form of an enslaved person, he dignifies, indeed, deifies this likeness. Jesus lowers himself to uplift. Jesus emptied himself into humanity in order to change it. In the ultimate act of empathy, Jesus becomes who and what we are, so we, in turn, can become who and what he is. 

One commentator used the helpful metaphor gained from traveling on trains, when we are often reminded to mind the gap. It is a cautionary statement; to be careful of the distance between spaces, the holes and cracks where one might fall, trip, or be injured. I think this warning is implicit in Philippians. Growing to be more like Jesus can be filled with pitfalls. When we do not have the mind of Jesus, we are likely to behave in ways that do not glorify God. When we do not have the mind of Jesus, there is discord, confusion, and destruction. How, then, do we keep our minds stayed on Jesus?

Christians have many tools: prayer, worship, community, relationships and scripture. We must refresh ourselves by studying the life, words, and actions of Jesus. We must practice kindness, love, forgiveness, and humility. To avoid the gaps, we must be focused and intentional. We must exercise our empathy, not just in words, but by becoming what God needs for us to be. As one of our guiding principles at Trinity says: share the good news with our words and actions. 

It is quite natural to limit a reading of Philippians to our individual selves. But on a day when we final are able to be together in-person in real time, I invite us to consider what it looks like for us to be a self-emptying community of faith? Where are the empty glasses within our congregation and the larger community of Nampa? Where we might we be invited into deeper humility and servanthood together? What are the gaps in our life together that need minding? I do not have answers today, only what I hope are questions that are faithful to Jesus’ gospel message. 

I acknowledge, finally, that each of us comes to worship today having experienced the last year in our own way. You might have come so exhausted and weary and just needing to be filled up. Know that Jesus has done everything. You are more than enough child of God and you are loved so much. 

Maybe you came here well past your second vaccination. After a year of lots of isolation, you are rearing to go, looking to somehow heal the world’s brokenness, to be part of the reign of God breaking in. Jesus has set an example in his humility today and in his foot washing on Maundy Thursday. Turning the world upside down will end up costing him his life on Friday. Discipleship comes with costs. But death, as we Easter people know, will not have the final word. Jesus has called us to follow him, to be servants. Thanks be to God; Jesus was the ultimate servant himself. 

Prayers of Intercession

Relying on the promises of God, we pray boldly for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.In Jesus you came among us as a suffering servant. Give your church humility. Redeem your people from pride and the certainty that we always know your will. Heal us and empower us to confess Christ crucified. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

In creation, life springs from death. Redeem your creation awaiting resurrection: restore lost habitats and endangered species. Create new possibilities for areas affected by climate change (especially), grant relief from natural disasters (especially), and nurture new growth. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Jesus was handed over to the powers of this world. In all nations, instruct the powerful, that they would not exploit their power but maintain justice. Sustain soldiers, and guide those who command them, that they serve those in greatest need. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

On the cross Jesus joined all who feel forsaken. Abide with those who are condemned to death. Defend those who are falsely accused. Console and strengthen those who are mocked or bullied. Accompany all who suffer (especially); grant respite and renewal. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

You called followers to tend Jesus’ body in death. Sustain hospice workers and funeral directors. Bless this congregation’s ministries at times of death: those who plan and lead funerals, those who prepare meals, all who offer support in grief. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God, our healer and our refuge, we pray for all who suffer from gun violence. This week we lift up all those impacted by the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder. With your mercy, bind up wounds, restore bodies, and heal hearts. Comfort the mourners and embrace the lonely. With your might, empower us to change this broken world. Make us advocates for a stable society, alive with hope in you. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

You inspired the centurion to confess Jesus as your Son. We praise you for the faith you have given to people of all places and times. Give us also such faith to trust the promises of baptism and, with them, to look for the resurrection of the dead. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

We entrust ourselves and all our prayers to you, O faithful God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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