The One Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

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This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.

Scripture: Mark 11:1-11

Sermon prepared by Nick Overduin, Toronto, Ontario

Dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is the conviction of this sermon that there is a bizarre disconnect on Palm Sunday. Have you ever sensed that? We could wonder, literally,… didn’t they see the donkey? Isn’t there something wrong with this picture? Who would go riding into town on a donkey?

Well, we know the official line of course, that he was trying to show he was humble. But it could be argued that it would not have looked humble, so much as it would have looked ridiculous. After all, who would go riding into town on a donkey? Most people would take a camel or a horse. Or even an elephant, like Alexander the Great. In order to give the impression that you are humble, you would have already had to establish the fact that you are actually a great king, who is now stooping down to a lesser mode of transportation. But had Jesus made it all that clear that he was actually the Lord of the universe? Would this humility message have resonated?

Perhaps you have watched some of the pomp and ceremony surrounding the G20 meetings or other great gatherings of world leaders and politicians. And when the President of the United States visits a foreign country, he is often driven from the airport to that region’s political center in that special black car they have built just for the presidency, which the security agents will fly in from Washington DC ahead of time in a big cargo jet. That car cost 600,000 dollars to make, has all kinds of extra special features and so forth. Well, imagine if the president were to ride into that foreign town on a little scooter. Would people think the President was trying to demonstrate humility? Or would they think that this was perhaps a critique of every other politician on the face of the planet? Kind of a mockery show, a comedy farce. Perhaps poking fun at the pretentiousness of those who think they need security?

Or would we somehow not really notice the president’s mode of transportation? His noisy scooter! It seems these people in the days of Jesus must hardly have seen the donkey. There is a disconnect here. There is something absurd about this whole story in Mark chapter 11. It is like all the joyful people are there, but they are not really there, like they have made up something about this day in their own minds and they are projecting it on to their hero. They think something is going on that isn’t going on. Something about the establishment of an earthly Davidic kingdom. They are projecting.

And this is something we need to worry about. We are likely to make the same mistake. Projecting our own ideas and thoughts. Palm Sunday was a crazy day. Do we know what we are doing when we worship a king who rides on a donkey? Have we actually looked at ourselves in the mirror while we worship this bizarre figure? Are we projecting something today on to Jesus? Do we assume he is into a certain kind of successfulness, perhaps?

The answer is almost certainly yes. We live in a world where people sort of lurch from Sunday to Sunday, and so they experience Palm Sunday one day and then Easter Sunday the next week, and it might not even occur to them that Jesus came into town on a donkey five days before he was treated like a donkey. We often pass over Good Friday. Good Friday services are not nearly as important in our culture as the Easter Sunday services.

What do we think this day is, actually, Palm Sunday? What are we projecting?

The Roman Emperors would be on a big horse at the front of a parade of chariots, and at the conclusion of a long and successful military campaign. That is when they would ride into town in a triumphal procession. That makes some sense to spread some palm branches in front of those victorious generals. These triumphal entries of the Roman emperors were the greatest political spectacles of that day and age. More impressive than those May Day parades in Moscow that the communist dictators used to launch. Books have been written about these huge Roman spectacles. Caesar, Augustus, Nero, Vespasian, arches have been built to signify the spot under which they and their armies finally passed through the city gates in their triumphal march. The arch of Titus still exists in Rome to this day.

But this authority figure, Jesus, the Son of David, seems rather pathetic, really. Really, it looks ridiculous.

He is jabbing at us somehow. He is provoking us. He is being provocative in this action of choosing a donkey.

What happens to us if we stop projecting? What happens is that we would feel more criticized than celebrative. More exposed, than exuberant. More disturbed, than delighted.

Jesus has only himself to blame for this day, by the way. It is not like Good Friday, when people crucified him, or like Easter Sunday, when God the Father raised him from the dead. You could argue that on those two days, something actually happened to him that was beyond his control. But today, Palm Sunday, was totally his own doing. He planned this whole cartoon. He set the whole thing up. The whole charade is entirely his fault.

It is very worthwhile to read once again what it actually says in the book of the prophet Zechariah about this donkey business—the prophecy that Jesus fulfills here. Let us remind ourselves of what is actually written there: The whole passage, not just the few words we usually hear….

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem. Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

Wow.

Palm Sunday is clearly a threat to the established order. It is frankly a threat to our established order. This bizarre triumphal entry undermines all our arrogant entries. It drives a hole into all our sinful hearts. It shakes us up. So much so that we soon react, five days later. It is understandable that Herod and Pilate and the Emperors were feeling jittery. It is understandable if you would feel jittery. Where is Jesus really headed with this mount?

Well, the crowds were cheering. They were excited. Hosanna, they shouted. But this sermon is about the disconnect. They didn’t actually see the donkey. They were projecting. Like we are always projecting too. Not sensing that our old way of life has ended, or is ending, or shall end soon, and in fact must end soon…. Or else…..because HIS dominion shall be from sea to sea. The dominion of the man who can’t even pick the right steed.

“The battle bow shall be cut off……and he shall command peace to the nations,” said Zechariah.

Command. He shall command peace to the nations. Not suggest. Not hope for. Not get some buy in or achieve some consensus. No, he shall COMMAND peace to the nations. And he doesn’t even know how to find the right horse.

This whole Palm Sunday story is very unsettling. We become anxious when we really sit down and think about it. It is like it is incredibly funny, but you are not allowed to laugh. That’s sort of how it feels. Like it is all wrong, and yet it is all perfectly right. It is like it turns everything upside down, but therefore everything is exactly as it should be, or at least could be, or at least might be, or at least as we might hope it could become some day. There is hope, there is hope.

If the Lord of the universe can act so inappropriately, maybe we can have some fun sometimes too. Maybe everything doesn’t need to make sense. Maybe the only thing that needs to make sense is that there is a God who is willing to act in a nonsensical fashion, in order to uproot the mighty, and to convict the wayward, and to give comfort to the distressed, and to scare the devil all the way to hell and back.

This isn’t right, people, this isn’t right. Jesus on a donkey. This isn’t right. And yet, now you and I can be right with God. Crazy, isn’t it? Isn’t this crazy? Did you think Christianity was logical?

Dear friends, Jesus is a very attractive Savior, for sure. He does have a way of behaving that gets under your skin. He does unforgettable things. Who could ever forget that he picked a donkey when he wanted to make a really big point about his amazing universal ability to institute peace?

There is one thing that is definitely quite tiresome, the boring old cliché about how Jesus has a kingdom but it is not of this world, and his impact is not meant to have any political ramifications. Don’t you think that Palm Sunday actually has a thousand political ramifications? Don’t you think that rogue dictators, for example, should tremble a little bit about the international court in The Hague after they read Mark chapter 11? {“Nobody can intimidate me into not traveling” said one tyrant recently, after making a triumphant tour of countries he had been forbidden to visit} Don’t you think the G20 should be concerned about the G180, or whatever that number is – all the poor nations of the world? Don’t you think the warlords in the mountains of Afghanistan should wonder how they are able to combine the sacred name of Mohammed with the same sorts of crude violence that is used by the leading figures of the Mexican drug cartels? Would anyone who reads Mark 11 still draft the kind of anti-woman marriage legislation that was recently drafted in some war-torn countries?

It can be said plainly that Palm Sunday is the worst Sunday each year for trying to preach a sermon. Because everyone knows exactly what the sermon is going to say…..yes, yes, yes, of course Jesus was a king, but he wasn’t that kind of a king……How many ways are there to say that? How can that old, old story be new again?

The solution to the whole situation is to actually see Jesus on the donkey. You have to end the disconnect. You have to see how banal this looks. How preposterous. How downright insulting to our own sense of what is right and proper. How threatening it feels when you actually contemplate the sight. How unnerving, not just that God could stoop so low, but that he could even seem to feel at home with such a barn yard animal? As if it wasn’t even a big deal for him to pick that beast. The same kind of domesticated animals that were already there at his birth, of course. Indeed, the Lord of heaven and earth even began his mission in a stable. What good can come out of Nazareth? “What’s the matter with you? Were you born in a barn?” “Yes, I was actually.”

Sometimes a minister will wear a clerical garment or a clerical collar, or at least an appropriate good suit while preaching. If a minister were to wear plain shorts or dirty barn clothes, it might make a congregation a bit uneasy. As if the minister is trying too hard to show he is just a regular guy, an ordinary person. But if the fact that your minister was not quite dressed in the appropriate manner would make you just a teensy bit nervous, multiply that effect by a hundred thousand times, by a million trillion times, and try to imagine Jesus on a donkey. His Kingdom is indeed not of this world. His kingdom is radically against this world. His kingdom is asking all of us to change who we are and how we are and what we think and how we act. His kingdom is upside down. His kingdom is absurd. And yet it is so beautiful, all at the same time.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty, (PH #382)
as all the crowds hosanna cry,
through waving branches slowly ride,
o Saviour to be crucified.

– Let’s sing that song, but first let me lead you in a prayer.

Prayer of Response after the Sermon:
Dear God of heaven and earth, we give thanks to you that you came riding into Jerusalem in such a humble manner, riding on a donkey. We did not notice then, and we often do not notice today. We think other thoughts, thoughts of grandeur and success, not thoughts of the foolishness of the cross, the weakness of God which is stronger than human strength, the foolishness of God which is wiser than human wisdom. Make us humble, so we can listen. Help us to notice the donkey which Jesus chose to ride upon. In his name we pray, Amen.

 

 

 

Order of Worship

PROCESSION:
During the singing of the opening hymn [PH#378], a procession of children and adults moves to the front to lay down palm branches remembering Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem while people cheered for him shouting ‘Hosanna!’ and waving palm branches.

Legend: PH=Psalter Hymnal; L=Leader; P=People; SNC=Sing! a new creation

LIGHTING OF THE CHRIST CANDLE
(Flame, brightness and warmth representing God’s presence and gracious invitation)

GATHERING

+ PH #378, vs 1 "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna”
+ SNC #41 "He Is Exalted"

CALL TO WORSHIP
L: God calls us to worship during this season of Lent.
P: We worship Jesus Christ, the one who comes in the name of the Lord,
L: who rides in humility to do the saving work of the Lord.
P: God gives us a victorious king through Christ.
L: Let us praise God for his great gifts to us in Christ.

God’s Greeting

+ PH#118 Give Thanks to God for all His Goodness

PRAYER OF CONFESSION
L: King of Glory, we confess that while we want to celebrate your victory, we often turn on you as quickly as those who worshiped you as you approached Jerusalem. Forgive us for offering you empty praise, for not remembering where the road to Jerusalem will take you. We are sorry for losing sight of your humility, your sacrifice, your true strength and power. Help us to proclaim your praises wholeheartedly as the One who is victorious over sin and death. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON
L: Hear these words of salvation from Psalm 118:
“I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.
Christ, the one who comes in the name of the Lord, has saved us from our sins.”

P: Thanks be to God!

+ PH #472 "O Jesus, We Adore You”

CHILDREN’S BLESSING
L: In the Lent Season of this year, we are thinking about who Jesus really was. One thing we know:he was once a little child. Some of the love we have for Christ, is similar to the love we have for our beloved children.

P: Who are we, Lord? We too are children, your children. Thank you for the Season of Lent. Our children are a gift from you.

(At this time, the children of Children’s Worship and Sunday School Classes, up to Grade 4come forward with designated leader(s) to gather at the front of the church; visiting children are welcome to join them.)

+ Children’s Song: PH#571 Jesus Loves Me this I Know

L: Let us pray: Lord, thank you that during this Lent Season, you are teaching us more about your special child, the Lord Jesus Christ. May we all learn from him, and learn from you, and love you more each day. In his suffering, may we find encouragement and strength. A reason to hope. A reason to trust. Amen.

Children and Leader(s): Thank you, God.

P: May the Lord bless you with the courage of the Crucified Saviour.

(The children leave to attend Children’s Worship and Sunday School classes downstairs. Visiting children are welcome to join them.)

PROCLAMATION OF THE WORD
Reader: Prayer of Illumination

Scripture Reading: Mark 11:1-11 (NRSV Bible, page 823)

Reader: This is the word of the Lord

P: Thanks be to God.

Sermon: "THE ONE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD."

+ Response: PH #382 “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty”

Those who are able please stand

Congregational Prayer: Please be seated

Lectionary - Psalm 31:9-16

A: Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.
My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
and my bones grow weak. (vv. 9-10)

B: We follow you into Jerusalem, and we watch you weep.
We are just beginning to acknowledge
the depths of our trouble and need.
And so we pray for all who are in trouble
and need this day . . .
for those whose bodies or minds fail them . . .
for those who waste away from grief and loss . . .

Silence

+ SNC #54 “Kyrie Eleison” or PH#258

A: I am the utter contempt of my neighbors;
I am a dread to my friends—
those who see me on the street flee from me.                  I am forgotten as though I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery. (vv. 11-12)

B: We follow you into Jerusalem,
and eventually to Pilate’s court.
We know that we live in a world of fear,
a world of enemies and terror.

B: And so we pray for all the peoples of our world,
especially those in danger this day . . .
for those who give their lives to make their neighbors safe . . .
for those who lead this world’s nations, cities, and towns . . .

Silence

+ SNC #54 “Kyrie Eleison” or PH#258

A: For I hear many whispering,
“Terror on every side!”
They conspire against me
and plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, “You are my God.” (vv. 13-14)

B: We follow you into Jerusalem, to protest, to teach,                  to feed, and to pray.
We know that, in a dangerous world,
your Church can be a place of safety.
We know that, in a dangerous world,
your Church must stand up to all the dangers.
And so we pray for your holy Church . . .

Silence

+ SNC #54 “Kyrie Eleison” or PH#258

B: We follow you into Jerusalem; we follow you to the cross.                  My times are in your hands;
We follow, because we trust in you, our God.
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love. (vv. 15-16)

B: Hear our prayers, and give us the strength to follow.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Gifts given in service to God

The Offerings

Offertory Music: “Traveling the Road to Freedom” (John Bell, WGRG Iona Community)

Deacon of Service: Prayer of Thanksgiving

DISMISSAL

+SNC#129 “Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights

L: Go forth now
in the faith which overcomes the world
in the hope which will not disappoint you
in the love which never fails.

P: We are ambassadors of Christ and He is with us always.

L: The Blessing

P: Amen

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