Sermon – 04-05-20 – Palm Sunday – Cycle A
Scripture: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-11
Sermon Title: “And the World Was Turned Upside Down”
Makes you think of pineapple upside-down cake, doesn’t it? At our house, the oven is being used, the frying pan is being used, the roasting pan will soon be used. All because my son has more time now and I can’t use restaurants as my regular place of retreat. We have water and heat. There are towns in this country where there is no drinking water available and no water for keeping clean. We are very blessed. But did we check our neighbors? The possibilities are endless for what is good about this pandemic and what is truly disastrous.
If we think too hard our brains go upside-down. There is no way to plan. The only way to exist is to give it to God and be attentive for his answer and outright guidance. Isaiah 41:10 CEV says, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Don’t tremble with fear. I am your God. I will make you strong, as I protect you with my arm and give you victories.” The NRSV says it this way, “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
So there is no need for some of us to be afraid. We can prepare our gardens and lawns; gathering the sticks, the branches. Rolling the lawn with a very heavy drum of some sort. Spreading weed-and-feed from the local gardening store if it is open, of course. Raking the leftover leaves and the no-good walnuts and hickory nuts that even the squirrels won’t touch. These nuts are no longer useful, just waiting to damage the lawn mower. Twiddling our thumbs is not necessary. There is so much to do. Now that we are home we can’t help but see the dirt, the streaky mirrors and windows. Why did we ever think we could take the easy road and skimp on cleaning?
We can take time for rest to examine our souls. Think on the things we have said. Think on the things that should have been left undone. Think on the things that should have been done. It is self-examination time! It is time to discard things in our homes. It is time to discard things in our minds and hearts. What is still useful? What is sentimental? Isn’t it important to keep sentimental items? On sad days don’t they make us feel good?
Right about now, I cherish empty floor space, empty table tops, empty closet floors, and a heart cleared of clutter; a heart empty to receive the Lord Jesus Christ in all of his glory!
But, we are still walking with Christ when the glory is hidden. Oh, there is this parade on the donkey between the walls of people who lay coats and palm branches on the ground. Yes, hosanna it is! Hosanna in the highest! Glory to his name! But, why is this man not riding on a white stallion? We think he is supposed to be our king – the king to save us from Roman rule! Why are we not waving flags for this candidate for king instead of palm branches?
The truth is that humility is the word for Jesus, not glory. Jesus is taking on the servant attitude. He knows he is approaching an unpleasant time to say the least. He knows he will not be the earthly king for which these people long. We heard these words from Philippians. Being found in human form, Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
So to receive this humble king into our empty hearts, we need to wear a cloak of humility. The humble king is not going to filter through a proud heart, an arrogant heart, a self-serving heart.
I have been reading how people, in this time of the COVID-19 virus, are either being humble or arrogant. We are either helping our neighbors or we are arrogantly spreading the virus with indifference for our neighbors.
We heard the reading from Isaiah today. In this passage Isaiah is called the suffering servant. Isaiah is being a model, a type, for Jesus. Isaiah is saying that he turned his back to be hurt more and he offered his cheeks for his enemies to pull out his beard. But . . . Isaiah knows that God is near. God will vindicate Isaiah. “Let my enemies confront me,” Isaiah says, “It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?”
With this same servant attitude, Jesus rides into Jerusalem, the city of his crucifixion, the city where his enemies will confront him. But Jesus knows, he knows that what he is doing is part of the plan for the salvation of everyone who believes that he is the Son of God – that he truly is the Messiah, the Savior. This is not a fake pageant. This is real pain and shame. In the Garden of Eden and again on the Cross we hear Jesus asking God to “Take this cup from me” and “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
All through the fear and jealousy of the religious leaders, Jesus endures just as Isaiah and other prophets endured as the years moved along through the “before Christ” years in history. In this human form, Jesus humbles himself and becomes obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
The cruel people taunt Jesus to save himself. Even the robber on one of the three crosses cries to Jesus, “Save yourself and us if you really are the Son of God!” But . . . the other robber said, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” You know what Jesus replied, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
Just as when Jesus is being tempted by the devil in the wilderness in the beginning of his ministry, Jesus does not give in, he does not allow himself to be tempted, just so here on the cross, Jesus does not expect God to save him from death. That would be spectacular! Jesus is not about spectacular. He is about humility.
That is how, on Easter Sunday morning, on the third day, he is sneaky about his resurrection. He arises to an empty garden. So humble. But this is where the world turns upside down forever after. This is where the second part of our Philippians reading shines.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!
When we read and hear that our world will never be the same for the people who survive the virus of 2020, will it be anywhere as dramatic as the Easter Resurrection experience? Will our world be a good upside down or a not-good upside down? We could be fearful, yes we could. But we have the upside-down world of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord to keep us alive in Christ on earth or in our heavenly home.
Remember, in Isaiah 41:10 we have this assurance, “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” Amen