Someone to follow

Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 14 April 2019 (Palm Sunday)

Readings were Isaiah 50:4-9a and Luke 19: 28-40

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A common aspect of being human is to look for someone to follow.

Many of us find a need to express trust and loyalty to someone worthy of this – this is true now and across history.

Politicians rely on this! People have looked to the Prime Minister Jacinda Adern following the mosque attacks in Christchurch, and have admired her response. She is someone people feel they can trust and follow her example.

We can feel drawn to trust and follow different people for different reasons. How do you think Donald Trump got elected? (Actually, let’s not go into that!)We can trust those who offer us a sense of purpose and identity; those to whom we are drawn to align the best of ourselves with.

People are drawn to those who stand out for some reason – artists, musicians, charismatic personalities, …the Royal Family.

When I was a boy – do you know who my hero was? Prince Charles. When I grew up I soooo wanted to be Prince Charles!

Jesus came into the city of Jerusalem – a week before he would die – and there was a crowd who cheered him as their hero. Have a look at this video clip from the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical – which depicts this event, with Jesus Christ as a SUPERSTAR!

If you know how the story of Jesus proceeds, you’ll know that the crowds in Jerusalem turn from hailing Jesus as a hero, to crying out ‘Crucify him!’ There is bitter irony of the Easter story: that people cry out for Jesus with expressions of trust and loyalty; then with equal obsession people turn against him, crying out for his destruction. Therefore, we can guess that for many in that city crowd their understanding of Jesus was a superficial acquaintance.

The same can be true now. We are those who gather to worship Jesus.

Why? Well, as we prayed earlier, we come with different backgrounds and different experiences. Some of us gather to worship Jesus, full of enthusiasm. Some of us gather wearied by what life has thrown at us. Some of us have come out of curiosity. Some of us out of habit. Many of us have glimpsed something beautiful and compelling in Jesus that draws us to him. Many have a deep and profound relationship with Jesus – tested by time and experience; temptation and trust.

Worship is our response recognising what Jesus has done and is doing – it’s the best response we have. We bring our best, to echo the best of God. Worship is an expression of our trust and our loyalty.

We’re not trying to impress God, or earn God’s love by worshipping. We raise our voices in worship because God is awesome, and to worship is to prioritise our relationship with God, and all that it means. Worship is about facing toward Jesus in recognition of who he is, and who we want him to be for us.

Our worship is good… and it’s good for us – for our faith; for our relationship with Jesus.

But what happens if our worship is limited to the prayers and offerings and four songs we sing together here on a Sunday morning? What if worship doesn’t make any difference in how we live?

To be fully meaningful and important, our worship of Jesus, should mean that our trust in Jesus and our loyalty for him affects the way we live – the decisions we make, our priorities, what we think most important in the world.

In other words, trust and loyalty is something we express in our raised voices of worship AND in daily expressions of faithfulness. Every moment of our lives can be a lived moment of faithfulness about who Jesus is for us. Moments that express our willingness to trust Jesus; to follow him where he leads (before all others), …and sometimes against our own instincts.

Let’s consider our instincts for a moment. The major part that preachers focus on in this Gospel story is Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. However, there’s another part in the story we’ve heard in this passage today: the ‘logistics’ of getting Jesus some transportation. Jesus sends two of his disciples to fetch a colt (which is a young horse).

And I want us to see in this another expression of a desire to trust and follow Jesus. It’s a more subtle expression than spreading cloaks and waving palm branches, but in some ways it’s more genuine – it’s not going along with the crowd, but doing something …pretty..well,.. weird.

Imagine the conversation…

“Why does Jesus want us to commit a crime?”

Why does he want us to steal a donkey? …Perhaps we could just borrow it?

What are we supposed to do? What did Jesus say? Just go untie the donkey and say what exactly…?

…“The Lord needs it.”

Can we get away with that? …How about we also leave some money?

Isn’t that the sort of conversation we’d have if you and I were those two disciples? We default to our instincts of what seems right, instead of trusting Jesus.

There’s an old hymn that goes:

Trust & Obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey

No other way‘ doesn’t mean we have to trust and obey as the way to salvation – as though we somehow earn God’s love by impressing God with our trust and obedience. But that expressing trust and obedience is to do what we can in response to God’s great love in Jesus.

To trust and obey is the best we can do to be faithful and express our love in return, every day – in lots of ways. Small acts of faithfulness toward Jesus can break many of the instincts we often live with; those instincts built up over time, taken from our experiences, which influence more of our decisions than we know.

If we’re honest, some of our instincts are not aligned with our deepest beliefs and values. We all have instincts derived from the surrounding culture – which is saturated with self-interest, individualism and consumerism. And so we instinctively act with a ‘transactional’ assumption: I give to get. And if I get, I ought to give something for it. (just like the imagined conversation of the two disciples)

When hurt or wronged, we instinctively act with retribution. We dismiss other sources of wisdom, and rely on ourselves as the greatest authority there is. I wonder what other instincts we act on as Wellingtonians, in 2019?

If we think to ‘trust and obey’ is not very sophisticated.  If we think this is a bit beneath us… let’s recognise that Jesus was willing to trust and obey. This was why he rode into the city – the city where he would be killed. Jesus knew God’s plan for rescuing humanity, and the glorious salvation that he would achieve in fulfilling the purposes of God the Father.

Jesus also knew what that involved for him. With that knowledge, with his determination to trust and obey, what would we see if we look deeply into Jesus’ eyes as he rode into Jerusalem?

Would he look like a SUPERSTAR…?

Would he look like this figure in the illustration by Barry Moser? Here Jesus has a darkness about his eyes and his face. His body language is grave and solemn. (Even the donkey looks gloomy!)

In addition to the triumphant Jesus adored by the crowd, we can recognise this face of Jesus as an expression of his determination to trust and obey. And to recognise this about Jesus is to recognise how profoundly he identifies with us.

As a minister of this congregation I know how for many worship is not always easy. Our experiences test our trust and loyalty. Some Sundays it’s all some of us can do to get the words out, and hope that our hearts and minds will follow in due course. Believe me, it’s the same some Sundays for ministers too!

Yesterday we had the funeral for dear Denzil Brown: a member of our St John’s church whanau, and role model of ministry and Christian discipleship. Losing our dear brother is a reminder of the sadness and deathliness that sometimes feels like it will engulf us completely.

Jesus understands this – from first-hand experience! The Lord we trust and obey knows our pain, our misery, our loss, our death. And he has overcome it all – in resurrection power. And this resurrection life, he shares with us!

We worship Jesus as our triumphant Lord, and we worship Jesus for all that it cost him. On this Palm Sunday we worship with a mixture of triumphant glory and defeat, of joy and sorrow. Our Lord understands us and all we experience, and also leads us toward the day when God’s promise will be our greater reality: where every tear will be wiped from every eye.

In exactly a week we will celebrate the resurrection victory of Easter. Before then, we will rightly acknowledge the cross as the means of our salvation. Jesus hung on the cross to rescue us and bring us into relationship with God. Christian faith proclaims a paradox: in the cross we see the glorification of Jesus as Lord of all. Jesus is glorified on a cross, which, as Neal Plantinga has said, is about as odd as being honoured by a firing squad or getting enthroned on an electric chair.

Against all human instinct, we trust that by dying on the cross Jesus accomplishes something wonderful and everlasting. It is the resurrection that tells us Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t a horrible misfortune, but that God was doing something through it.

That is the hope of Easter.

Today, knowing the hope of Easter we can see the entry into Jerusalem as Jesus’ own funeral procession. We can see in this triumphant parade, his march toward the gospel paradox: the death that brings life, the sacrifice that solves all that has ever been wrong with this world.

Jesus must walk this path and we must go with him. As one scholar has said:

In one sense it is awfully surprising that when the Son of God came to this earth, he died so hideous a death in order to save us. At the same time, however, given the bloody state of affairs we so routinely encounter in this world, it seems also inevitable that God would save us in precisely the way he did.

So, here is a Palm Sunday summary:

Jesus is our Lord whom we worship.

Jesus is the one we trust and obey, every day in many small ways that counter-act many of our instincts.

Jesus is the one we recognise knows us better than we know ourselves and has accomplished all that is necessary to bring us into the fullness of God’s glorious life – now and forever.

Let’s follow him toward Easter, and find that we have a Lord who is indeed worthy of our trust and our loyalty.

A Lord who is ready and waiting to help us every day, if we ask him to be OUR Lord.

Let’s pray…

Loving Lord Jesus, Thank you that you know us better than we know ourselves.
That you are worthy of the craving we have to live for a greater purpose and give our loyalty to that which is greater than ourselves.
If we’ve never made you Lord of our lives, show us that you are indeed trustworthy.
That you are trustworthy to the point where we will want to respond in worship of you,
putting you at the centre of every meaningful decision,
and where we are willing to obey you – just as you obeyed God the Father to accomplish the greatest rescue ever and fulfil the purposes of Easter hope.

Lead us forward to Good Friday and Easter, as we journey with you through the experiences of humanity and into the glory of your divine abundant life.

In your precious name we pray, AMEN.

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