Sunday, April 5, 2020

Year A, Palm Sunday, Matthew 21.1-11, Phillipians 2.5-11

Sermon:  The King they wanted, and the King we got
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
 “Hosanna to the Son of David!
  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
 Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
With these words on the lips of the crowds, Jesus entered into Jerusalem.
And make no mistake about it, to proclaim Jesus “the Son of David” was to praise him as the Messiah, God’s anointed, who would establish his Kingdom in Israel and reign from the palace in Jerusalem.
 “Hosanna to the Son of David!
  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
 Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
That the nation of Israel would be free from the Roman occupation—
That the nation of Israel would be at peace—
That the nation of Israel would once again experience the glory of David and Solomon’s Kingdom—
That the nation of Israel would prosper—
These were the hopes of those people welcoming Jesus as the Son of David.
A victorious King and a land flowing with milk and honey. 
And then Jesus came, humble and riding on a donkey.
A servant King.

There is an incredible irony in this story, and that parade welcoming Jesus as the Messiah.
And that is that the King they wanted was the king they actually had, not the one mounted on a donkey.
Rome ruled.
And during this time, the whole Mediterranean world was united under the rule of Rome, and enjoying what historians would later call the Pax Romana.  The peace of Rome.
It was a time of prosperity and peace almost unknown in the ancient world.
The Romans built a glorious empire.
Remnants of that Empire remain to this day.
There were palaces and ampitheaters.  And of course, the Coliseum. 
But actually two of the most impressive accomplishments of the Roman builders were the roads which united the Empire and paved the way for commerce, and the aqueducts that provided fresh water in abundance and made modern cities possible.
The Glory of Rome.
That’s what the people wanted. . .only they wanted it to be their own Kingdom.  Israel.  They longed for the glory of Rome, but the freedom of Israel.
 “Hosanna to the Son of David!
  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
 Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
And there was Jesus.
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.
What we know now, that those crowds did not know then, is that Jesus did not come so that the people might prosper, but that they might be saved.
Fast forward two thousand years to today.
It was in 1992 that James Carvelle, Bill Clinton’s political strategist coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid.”
What Carvelle and every politician since recognized is that what the people want is prosperity.
The people welcoming Jesus as the Son of David wanted prosperity.
The people who elected President Roosevelt during the Great Depression wanted prosperity.
The people who followed Hitler wanted prosperity.
The people who voted for Bill Clinton wanted prosperity.
And so it is in our day that every president is judged on the relative health of the economy.
We elect that person we believe will prosper the economy, and their re-election is dependent on whether the economy is thriving or not.
But what is more important?
                That we prosper?
                Or that we are saved?
That is one of the most important questions facing, not only us, but the whole world today.
The economy was great.
Just a few short weeks ago, the economy was great.
Our president, Donald Trump, like all the presidents before him was banking his hopes for re-election on the thriving economy, because, after all, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
And then COVID 19 transformed the world we lived in to a world we could never have imagined.
It is now illegal to gather.
Were I to hold worship services in public today I could be fined $5,000 and sent to prison for up to 364 days.
You could be as well.
We are taking precautions to stem the spread of this virus, and the cost is high.
Two fears dominate our world today:
·         The fear for our  health, and the health of our neighbors;
·         And the fear of an economic collapse.

What a choice.
What a choice we are faced with.
This dilemma is not playing out in Washington alone.
Every congregation across the nation faces this choice as the people of God.
We cannot gather together for worship.  We are trying our best to find other ways of being the Body of Christ, but it is not easy.
We are isolated, not only from each other, but from our families and friends.
And we long for better times.  We want to gather around the Lord’s Table for communion.  We want to sing the hymns of faith.  We want to pray together.  And we are worried about the future of the Church.  Can we weather this storm?  How will our finances fair? 
Our hearts yearn for life to return to normal.
How long will this last?  You’ve asked that question.  I’ve asked that question.  Everyone is asking that question.
The most soul searching question of all at this time is how many lives are we willing to risk for the sake of the economy? 
The second question is like it.  How much suffering are we willing to endure to save lives?
Jesus 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.
The people longed for a King that would bring glory and prosperity to Israel.
What they got in Jesus was a savior.
One who was willing to suffer and die so that we might live. 
And it is this one who we call Lord.
Jesus said that we should take up our cross and follow him.
What does that mean?  For us?   Today?
It means that we be willing to love one another and to make sacrifices so that lives might be saved.
It means that we stay home and stay healthy.
It means for us as a church that for the present time we will not gather together to worship God, so that in time, all of us, might gather again.
That’s the bottom line.  If we rush back to worship some of you might die.  If we care for one another and accept this time of being apart hopefully all of you will live.
Tough times.  Tough choices.
There are two things that give me hope in the midst of my fears.
First, that healing was such a major part of Jesus ministry.  He cares about our health.  He touched people and made them well.  We need that now.
And second, that throughout history God has led his people through one ordeal after another.  Economies have collapsed.  Empires have fallen.  And lives have been forever changed.
But through it all, God remained faithful to his word, that nothing in all of creation can separate us from his love.
May this peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen

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