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Mar 29 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Palm Sunday 2021



I am sure that you are familiar with Jesus’ celebrated arrival in Jerusalem. If not, you can read the story in Luke’s Gospel in chapter 19, verses 28-40 (in fact, this event is reported in all four Gospels). Luke adds a detail not found anywhere else.
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children with you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44

Intro: Reading this passage,

It occurs to me how little preparation went into this parade
– Jesus did not send two months in advance an event team,
• to pull permits, gather resources, and begin advertising
◦ he simply arrived–and from there it was all spontaneous
• so how did it turn into such a big deal?
◦ it was Jesus himself–his person and mighty works he had done
– from another point of view, this event had been 1000 years in the making
• the script was written and choreographed in Psalm 118:19-28

For Israel, Jerusalem was the center of the world
– in the Hebrew Scriptures, it was also called Zion
• unlike Jerusalem, Zion was more than a place on a map
◦ Zion is God’s promise fulfilled – God’s covenant ratified
◦ poets and prophets were the ones who most often spoke of Zion
Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of the all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
the city of the great King.
Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress (Ps. 48:1-3)
Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain (Is. 4:5-6)
• Zion tells the erratic history of God and his people
◦ and the unfolding of God’s salvation for every nation and all people
◦ Zion had a spectacular destiny, which made its failure equally spectacular
– looking at Jerusalem, Jesus saw its high walls beautiful gates
• and behind them the Emperor’s fortress and God’s temple
◦ Jesus saw busy streets crowded with merchants and buyers
◦ and crowning upper level of the city, he saw the priests’ luxurious homes
• he saw all of this, and something in his heart broke
◦ he saw the city as it was then, unaware and unsuspecting
◦ he saw what Jerusalem could have been
◦ he saw its future and the rubble that it would become–a vacant mound, haunted by its past

Jerusalem did not have to fall – Zion did not have to disappear
– its residents did not have to be killed or enslaved
• if only . . . if only they had known on this day the things that make for peace
• many centuries before, the poet had written,
This is the day that the LORD has made; / let us rejoice and be glad in it (Ps. 118:24)
◦ that day came, and the crowd of disciples were rejoicing
◦ but Jesus wept

What are we going to do with the Palm Sunday story this year?

My thought, is that we can find in it an instrument panel
– we’re all familiar with the gauges on our cars’ dashboards
• they provide vital information,
◦ which we depend on for safe and successful travel
• let’s imagine that we have a discipleship instrument panel
◦ what gauges are on it, and what do they tell us?
– the Palm Sunday story provides several concerns for us to consider
• if we want to check the status of our discipleship,
◦ I suggest we examine three specific indicators

We will begin with vision

Do you have a vision? If so, are you making progress in it?
– Jesus saw the city – and obviously, he saw more than buildings and traffic
• the sadness he felt was over what his people could not see
◦ it was hidden from their eyes
◦ we are told in the Proverbs,
Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law (Pr. 29:18)

To cast off restraint means to “let loose.” In this context, it means that when people lose focus on the meaning and purpose of their lives, they go off in every which way. The law sets boundaries for our lives and provides clear direction. The same word for cast off restraint occurs when Israel lost sight of Moses for forty days. Losing the vision of their leader, when he finally returned he saw that they had broken loose (Ex. 32:25)

• a vision reveals a purpose for our lives and gives us a game-plan
◦ it enables us to focus for our resources, time, and energy
Kathleen McAlpin, “The search for meaning in ministry is ultimately the search for God, the vision of God. I believe that taking time to theologically reflect on experience and praying to seek the presence of God in the complexities of life in church and society is an urgent call for all in ministry today.”
◦ she does not limit “ministry” to paid, professional staff

A vision comes to us through our mind and imagination
– first, we take a hard look at the reality of our world
• we must remove our blinders, so nothing is hidden from our eyes
◦ the prophet Habakkuk provides a good example for this:
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you, “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted (Hab. 1:2-4)
– next, we look for God’s answer
I will take my stand at my watch post
and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint (Hab. 2:1)
– then, God’s vision comes to us

I said we use our mind and imagination, but I want to qualify my statement
– we use, what Walter Brueggemann famously calls prophetic imagination
• basically it’s waking up to the realization “things could be different”
• a vision gives us a concrete idea of how things could be
◦ it is seeing specific tasks that need to be done
◦ and it is seeing how we can participate in the work
– prophetic imagination is a hope-inspired, hope-filled imagination
• our vision does not have to be grandiose
◦ I can be willing to play a small part in a huge project
• also, a vision is not necessarily a goal we are to reach
◦ we have our work, but we’re not responsible for the outcome
Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. . . . And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them (Eze. 2:3 and 5)
◦ a vision is the gift of seeing what God sees and our role in it

The next indicator to check is passion

Jesus wept – and when he entered Jerusalem,
– he chased the business entrepreneurs out of the temple
• it is not enough to know our vision–we must also feel it
passion is what goes on in our hearts and spirits
• passion is what gets us off the couch and into the world
◦ we must care – and care passionately (2 Sam. 15:21)

Passion has two meanings: first, it is an intense and driving emotion
– for a long time I was confused about the second meaning
• it came from my reading in the King James Version of Bible
[Jesus] shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs (Acts 1:3)
◦ I wondered whether Jesus’ passion referred to his agony in Gethsemane
◦ but the other meaning of passion is to feel pain, to suffer
Walter Brueggemann, “. . . the real criticism [of society’s wrongdoing] begins in the capacity to grieve because that is the most visceral announcement that things are not right.” “If we are to understand prophetic criticism we must see that its characteristic idiom is anguish and not anger.”
He says that the effect of living in our consumer culture is to create numbness, but “Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate the numbness to face the body of death in which we are caught. Clearly, the numbness sometimes evokes from us rage and anger, but the numbness is more likely to be penetrated by grief and lament.”
Kathleen McAlpin, “Focus on an experience that has the potential to reveal to you a depth of value in your ministry or work. It would be well to consider an experience that holds some clear or deep emotion for you.”
• this is so true of Jesus, who several times expressed his feelings to his disciples
◦ and moving through passion, Jesus came to compassion

The third indicator is mission

There are several places in Luke where we learn Jesus’ mission
– for instance:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
(Lk. 4:16-21)
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Lk. 13:34)

Mission is what we do with our bodies and souls
What is your role in God’s vision?
– whatever it is, do not think of it as small or inconsequential
Henri Nouwen, “To pray means to stop expecting from God the same small-mindedness which you discover in yourself. To pray is to walk in the full light of God and to say simply, without holding back, ‘I am human and you are God.’”

Conclusion: This year, Palm Sunday will be like an annual check up

We’ll take our temperature and check our heart rate and blood pressure
If we have a vision that generates passion,
then we know our mission
Vision will harness our passion and focus our mission
Passion will refresh our vision and motivate our mission
Mission will pursue our mission and renew our passion

So let’s get to it!
Because when we bless one life,
we have made an important change in the world

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