We had no procession this year at our Palm Sunday service because of the Coronavirus restrictions but we tried to give a Palm Sunday atmosphere to our zoom service this morning. Thank you to Andrew who read the lesson, to John Bouldin for his prayers and to Ben and Tom Hart for skilfully managing zoom. Thank you also to Chris Ellis for rescuing us when something wasn’t working a few minutes before we started the service.
I gave the following talk – either hear on this recording or read below:
As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, the crowds are ecstatic ‘Hosannah, hosanna to the Son of David’ they call!
This Jewish rabbi who had healed the lepers, opened the eyes of the blind and brought men back from the dead coming into Jerusalem at the Passover! Amazing! We would all want to cry out with joy…
But within a few days, the same crowds who had been shouting ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ were shouting ‘crucify him, crucify him’.
The Crowd, we, can be very fickle. We can be easily led by popular opinion to enthusiasm one moment, and to anger and hostility, the next. But the Jesus that the crowd had an hand in crucifying was the same Jesus that they had worshipped on the road to Jerusalem.
So I want to make two points:
Firstly, if we are Christians, we are followers of Christ seeking to follow him in all things, acting in the way that he acted, and reacting in the way that he reacted.
In one of the lectures at my theological college, one of the lecturers handed us a cartoon of Christians being led into the arena in Rome… and a couple of lions padding towards them with their tongues hanging out…..The caption underneath the cartoon was ‘God has a wonderful plan for your life’
The life of a Christ follower is not necessarily easy, and God’s wonderful plan for our lives includes our life in eternity; but, may here on Earth, result in unpopularity or ridicule, at the easiest end of things, and actual suffering even death at the worst…
Whilst it must have been fantastic for Jesus, receiving the praise of the crowds on Palm Sunday, it must have been crushing, hearing everyone calling for His crucifixion, a few days later.
But although Jesus was doing everything deliberately in front of everyone, so that they might learn, He was only trying to please an audience of One – God the Father.
If we are following the path that Jesus has set for us, there will be moments of great excitement, encouragement and joy, when we will really feel that God is with us, prayers are being answered, incredible things are happening, and everyone thinks we are wonderful…
But there will also be moments of discouragement and depression when we feel abandoned by God, and where we feel that everyone hates us and we wonder what on earth we have done starting down this path of Christian discipleship!
But we cannot make our decisions, on the basis of what makes us popular…on the basis of what gives us glory in the world’s terms…
We must read the Bible, pray and ask for the Holy Spirit to guide us on what is God’s will in any situation; to reflect carefully and then act accordingly; not hastily take to heart too much criticism or too much praise.
Sometimes the crowd will glorify us, sometimes the crowd will crucify us.
But our decisions must be made regardless of whether they are going to make us popular or not, because we have an audience of One.
So, firstly, as Christians we must act on the basis that we have an audience of One – Jesus Christ
Secondly, we must be careful, not to be swayed like the crowd, by social media perhaps, by the opinions of other people this way, then the next.
This is so important in connection with whoever you choose to follow me as narcissists can easily be drawn to Christian ministry….
Its wonderful as a minister to be praised and just easier to avoid criticism…
If I hear that someone, who is publicly a disciple of Christ, a Christian, perhaps a minister, perhaps a politician, or someone at work, or in our community, if I hear that that person is very popular with everyone,
I want to ask ‘so what don’t you like about them?’
If the answer is ‘we like everything about them’, then I wonder whether the Christian is really following in Jesus’ footsteps. Because, if we are really following Jesus, sometimes we will do and say things which make us unpopular as Jesus did – he was crucified after all!
If, on the other hand, I hear that a publicly acknowledged disciple of Christ, a Christian if I hear that that person, is ‘dreadful’, I want to ask the opposite question: ‘so what do you like about them?’
And equally, if the answer is, ‘we don’t like anything about them’ then I wonder whether the Christian is really following in Jesus’ footsteps because, like Jesus, sometimes we should doing things which will inevitably make us popular, because everyone loved Jesus’ inspired preaching, praying and care for the people, that they called out ‘Hosannah’ as he travelled into Jerusalem.
But in both cases I will also question whether the person I am speaking to understands what it is to be a follower of Christ.
Because from the perspective of the crowd, those who observe, a Christian should be doing or saying things in our communities which will make many of those who observe them, want to cry ‘Hosannah’: Great works of love and kindness, we all love people who do that.
But a Christian will also do or say things which will make many of those who observe them want to cry ‘Crucify’ perhaps saying or doing things which are unpopular, unfashionable, but follow Jesus…
But our reaction to the Christian who does and says these things says probably as much about us as it says about them.
And if we in the crowd, those who are observing the Christian, trying to be Jesus’ disciple in the world, if we are also followers of Christ, we should have the humility to evaluate the Christian’s efforts to be a follower of Christ, not on our own ideas, not on what is fashionable or popular in society; but, reflectively, on the basis of what God the Father, whose true character is revealed to us, exclusively in the Bible, on the basis of what God the Father would say, is important.
And, let’s face it, we have all been in the crowd shouting ‘crucify’
You will recall the story I told a couple of weeks ago when, before Lucy and I became Christians in Tokyo, that I was publicly furious with my boss’ PA, Rita, who is a Christian, because she would not lie to a client for my boss, about his availability. I thought it was absurd that she put her loyalty to Christ ahead of her loyalty to the firm which employed her…..
But I was wrong, she had an audience of One and that one was not my boss…So we have all been there….
But we need not despair, because we have in the Bible evidence of how God dealt with the Jerusalem crowd who cried hosanna on Palm Sunday and who shouted ‘crucify’ on Good Friday and drove his son to his death, and how God deals with us.
St Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2:23, says to the Jerusalem crowd ‘you, (that’s us) with the help of wicked men put [Jesus] to death by nailing him to the cross’….
St Luke continues in the passage in Acts: Acts 2: 37 ‘when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers what shall we do?’ Peter replied: ‘repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit….’
And then Luke continues: ‘and those who accepted his message were baptised and about three thousand were added to their number that day’
There is nothing that we can do or which can happen to us which prevents us from obtaining the forgiveness of sins that Jesus Christ offers if we choose to seek it, even having shouted ‘crucify’…
It is just a matter of repentance and understanding that our lives are not about popularity, not about our glory but our lives are lived only to please that eternal audience of One.
11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and 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. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11 Then 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.
John Bouldin read the following prayers:
In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.
First let’s pray for people far away
For those in the global south who are oppressed. For all those people who are hungry and who may have to wait more than a year for a vaccination against the coronavirus. On this Palm Sunday, Jesus we remember that you died for all those who believe and trust in you.
We pray for the sick
We remember those who are sick and suffering both near and far from us. We pray for families who have lost loved ones and we pray for those who care and those who heal.
Lord in Your mercy …… hear our prayer.
Let’s pray for our own community
Can we reflect on our recent Annual Meeting and some of the issues we discussed?
Thank you, Lord, for the achievements of Alex and Lucy in our parish. We give you thanks for the teamwork, the teaching and the learning which occurred under their leadership.
Lord in Your mercy …… hear our prayer.
Thank you, Lord, for the diversity of our services. For the sharing of worship by young and old …. for the tolerance of those who value a modern approach and those who like traditional worship. Thank you for the good humour which Alex has inspired. We pray that we may hold onto these values in the future.
Lord in Your mercy …… hear our prayer.
We look ahead to the selection of a new Rector. We pray for your guidance for those who make this choice on our behalf.
Will they achieve the goals which Alex suggested?
Will our new Rector bring us a warm and welcoming approach?
Will he or she challenge us and bring us spiritual guidance?
Will they bring out the best from our community?
Lord we pray that they will!
Lord in your mercy …. Hear our prayer.
We know Lord that somewhere our new Rector is waiting to take on the challenge. We pray for them and for us.
And for your guidance.
In Alex’s words: Come Holy Spirit. Come Holy Spirit.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mk 11:1–12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.