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Sermon for Palm Passion Sunday 29 March 2015


1 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. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! 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!”

FIRST LESSON Zechariah 9:9–12

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter 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. victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 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. 11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. 12 Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.

PSALM Psalm 31:9–16

9 Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble; my eye is consumed with sorrow, and also my throat | and my belly. 10 For my life is wasted with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails me because of affliction, and my bones are consumed. 11 I have become a reproach to all my enemies and even to my neighbors, a dismay to those of my acquaintance; when they see me in the street they avoid me. 12 I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am as useless as a broken pot. 13 For I have heard the whispering of the crowd; fear is all around; they put their heads together against me; they plot to take my life. 14 But as for me, I have trusted in you, O LORD. I have said, “You are my God. 15 My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.  16 Make your face to shine upon your servant, and in your loving kindness save me.”

SECOND LESSON Philippians 2:5–11

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

GOSPEL Mark 14:26—15:47

Chapter 14 26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’
28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same. 32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” 43 Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45 So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. 47 But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48 Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 All of them deserted him and fled. 51 A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked. 53 They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54 Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56 For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57 Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58 We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’ 59 But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 Jesus said,
“I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.'”
63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65 Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him. 66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. 69 And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” 72 At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Chapter 15 1 As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2 Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” 3 Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed. 6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7 Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8 So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9 Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12 Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14 Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. 16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18 And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. 21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22 Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. 25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him. 33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” 40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. 42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.



Growing up, it was common at recess for the boys to end up wrestling for nothing more than the fun of it. At times it might be over a bet or a dispute, but the idea was to overcome the opponent and pin them. In order to determine the winner, the loser had to say uncle. Not sure if that happens anymore, but another humorous way of indicating submission or the superiority of another is to answer the question, “who’s your daddy?” This also became a popular question in the maintenance shop when a technician figured out a particularly difficult problem in a piece of equipment. The technician would yell out “who’s yo daddy” as a way of announcing their success and their mastery of the equipment. Others in the area would then congratulate the technician and revel in their success. As sinful creatures, we don’t want to be obedient or subject to someone or something, instead we want to do our own thing or be in the position to dictate behavior.
Bradford Robinson tells about a minister in Texas who used a very creative visual aid to start his message. He brought a beautiful Golden Irish Setter on to the stage that belonged to his youth minister. The youth minister loved this dog so much that when the dog got sick and had to be in the vet kennel overnight, he stayed all night with the dog. Needless to say, this dog also loved his master; he also loved to play fetch.
The senior minister brought the dog on to the stage and he rolled a ball across the platform and said, “Fetch, Josh, fetch.” But the dog just sat there and wouldn’t fetch the ball. The minister then had one of his friends, a large body builder come up on the platform. This huge muscleman stood over the dog scowling and growled, “Fetch, Dog, Fetch!” But the dog wouldn’t fetch the ball for power.
The pastor then had a banker came on to the platform and take out his wallet and wave a handful of bills in front of the dog’s face and said, “Josh, if you get the ball I’ll reward you,” but the dog wouldn’t fetch for money. Then the preacher said, “Let’s try some peer pressure, and so he had all the people stand up and join in unison, “Fetch Josh, Fetch Josh!” But the dog wouldn’t yield to the peer pressure either. The pastor then had a beautiful young woman with auburn hair about the color of the dog’s hair, come on the platform. She patted Josh tenderly on the head and with a sultry voice she said, “Josh, please get the ball . . . for me.” The pastor said that the dog did flinch just a little . . . but he wouldn’t fetch for the wiles of a woman.
Finally, the pastor called the youth minister on to the platform, the young man who owned the dog. The youth minister said, “Josh go get the ball.” And the dog bolted from his stance and retrieved the ball and gave it to his owner. After everybody had settled down, the preacher began his sermon by saying, “Now, let me ask you . . . who are you fetching for?” It’s a pretty good question. Who are we fetching for? Who’s our master? Or if it’s the more common way of asking, who’s your daddy?
One of the great passages of Scripture is found in Philippians chapter 2. Speaking of Christ, St. Paul writes, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death even death on a cross! “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The key word I want to focus on in this passage for a few moments is the word “obedient.” Jesus was obedient to God.
Jesus was obedient in life and He was obedient in death, even death upon a cross. Obedience isn’t a trait that’s easy to learn. By nature we want to do our own thing, have our own way and do things the way we want. As a parent and now a grandparent, I can say that it’s certainly not an easy trait for children to learn; even when they become adults.
Marguerite Provost, in Today’s Christian Woman tells about her three-year-old granddaughter, Beverly, who was playing with her toys. Her mother, who was folding laundry across the room, noticed Beverly’s shirt was dirty and needed to be changed. After calling twice with no response, her mother gave her the full three-name call: “Beverly Elizabeth Provost, did you hear me?” Beverly answered, “Yes, Mama. My ears did, but my legs didn’t.” At least she was being honest. Anyone who is a parent can understand her answer. Obedience isn’t easy. And it doesn’t get much better as we get older.
Beverley’s answer reminds me of five-year-old Brian who one Sunday in church heard the pastor tell the story of St. Simeon the Stylite. St. Simeon was a Syrian monk in the 5th century who is mainly remembered because he lived more than 35 years on a platform atop a high pillar. For a 5 year-old boy this sounded like fun living on a high pillar! I guess us pastors need to remember that when telling stories like this we need to warn kids: Kids don’t try this at home. The reason the pastor should have issued that warning is that when Brian got home, the first thing he did was march into the kitchen and, in the spirit of St. Simeon, he put a stool on a table, and started his own perilous climb. Fortunately, his mother came in and shouted, “Brian! Get down before you break your neck!” As the boy obeyed, he muttered, “Gee whiz! You can’t even become a saint in your own home!”
One day I’m sure he’ll learn that it’s particularly difficult to be a saint in your own home. Obedience is a trait that’s not easily learned, for children or anyone else for that matter in our culture. The reason I say this, is that some radical changes have taken place in our culture concerning the role of obedience in the home.
Back in 1924, Helen and Robert Lynd conducted the famous “Middletown” research study. The name Middletown was chosen because the place selected was to represent an average American mid-size city. During the 1920s, the Lynds asked mothers in “Middletown” (later revealed to be Muncie, Indiana) which traits they most emphasized in rearing their children. These mothers from the 1920s reviewed a list of qualities and selected the following three as the most important for their children to learn: loyalty to the church, strict obedience, and good manners. The qualities they rated the lowest were: independence, tolerance, and social-mindedness.
In 1978, a number of sociologists returned to Muncie to survey a new generation of mothers. When they asked the same question, the more modern mothers selected the following three choices as the most positive traits: independence, tolerance, and social-mindedness. The qualities they rated lowest were: good manners, loyalty to the church and strict obedience. As you can see from the responses, the survey in 1978 completely reversed the 1924 survey. In the 1920s, mothers showed a strong preference for conformity. More than a half century later, a generation of baby boom mothers had diametrically different childrearing goals. They opted instead for traits that were linked to autonomy. This tells us a lot about today’s society; obedience is near the bottom, independence is at the top. It also tells us that our society is out-of-step with the example set by Jesus.
We live in a “Do your own thing” society. Jesus was a “Do God’s thing” personality. Our society says, “Look out for No. 1.” Jesus says, “Look out for the least and the lowest.” Our society heralds independence, “I did it my way.” Jesus says, “You were created for interdependence let’s do it God’s way.” Jesus was obedient to God. To whom are we obedient? There’s another thing we need to understand this morning, and that is that obedience grows out of having a vital mission.
When we’re driven by a mission, a great purpose, when we have a goal, obedience then comes more naturally. Oh we may not see ourselves as an obedient person. In fact, we might even view ourselves as a free spirit. And that’s all well and good. You were probably raised with an emphasis on independence, tolerance, and social-mindedness. However, if you’ve ever attempted anything great in the world, and seen it through to success, you’ve learned the art of obedience.
Some of you will remember with fondness a movie from the 1980s that still lives on thanks to numerous sequels, The Karate Kid. The Karate Kid is about a teenager who moves to a new community where he becomes the target of a savage bully and his gang who have training in the martial arts. The young man targeted is Daniel and Daniel feels alone and unprotected in his new home. Naturally he’s afraid.
Fortunately, Daniel makes the acquaintance of an old man, a humble Okinawan immigrant named Mr. Miyagi. Mr. Miyagi is the handyman in the apartment building where Daniel lives. Mr. Miyagi is an eccentric, but kindly, man who happens to be a master in Karate. He agrees to teach Daniel what he knows so that he can protect himself.
On the first day of his lessons the old man asks Daniel to wax and polish several old cars that he owns: wax on wax off. All day the lad labors to follow these instructions; wax on wax off wax on wax off. On the second day the old man asks the boy to paint his fence: up and down, up and down. Again it takes all day. On the third day the old man asks him to sand the wooden floor of his verandah in a circular fashion and again it takes all day. At the end of the third day Daniel is angry, “I’ve done all this work for you, he says, and you still haven’t taught me anything.”
At this point Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel to stand in front of him and do the motion for wax on wax off. As he does this, much to Daniel’s surprise, Mr. Miyagi makes a move to hit Daniel, but his blow is deflected by the boy’s arms. Daniel begins to see that his work for Mr. Miyagi, his obedience to his instructions, has prepared him for his first lesson in self-defense. The actions Mr. Miyagi have prescribed for him have helped him to develop what athletes call “muscle memory” which will allow him to become a champion in martial arts. His obedience helped him attain a lofty goal.
Anyone who sets out to achieve a lofty goal and sees it through to success learns obedience. There is no other path to success. You may have the goal of being a great Mom or Dad. You soon learn that you no longer live in a “Do your own thing” world. There are responsibilities you have, that make it necessary to defer your own desires. It may be starting a new business. If you’re successful, you find yourself being obedient to your customer’s expectations. Suddenly you discover a personal discipline that you never knew you had. It’s true for business or for attaining anything important in life. We might think of ourselves as “free spirits,” but to be successful at anything important, we must learn to be obedient. The same can be said about our relationship with God.
In the same way, Christ was obedient because He had a great mission. That mission was to reconcile the world to God. His mission was to make it possible for you and me to be adopted as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. His mission was to save us from the power of sin and death. So in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” In St. Paul’s words, He became “obedient to death even death on a cross!” Because of His great love for us and because of His great love for God, Christ was obedient. This now brings me to the question, are we obedient to God?
Some of you are great parents. You’ve learned to be obedient and to do the things that are necessary to successful parenting. Some of you are excellent in your profession or business or in school. You’ve learned to be obedient to the rules and regulations that govern success in the business world and in school. If so you’re to be commended. Obedience is never an easy trait to acquire. But the more important thing we need to be asking is, have we learned to be obedient to God?
Many of you will remember that in 1983, one of the great stories of sports history occurred when the late Jim Valvano took the supposedly undermanned NC State team and won the NCAA championship. Their foes, the Houston Cougars had become famous for their up-and-down style of play. They ran up and down the court and seemed to score at will. State was a more traditional team. They played a slower form of the game. They made great passes and took good shots. They hadn’t rushed anything all season. Before the championship game that ended a Cinderella season, Valvano was asked about his game plan against high-powered number one ranked Houston. He said, “We might not shoot the ball till Thursday.”
What he was saying was that his team would play a slow-down game against the high-octane offense of their opponents. But when the game started, the Wolfpack actually came out running up and down the court, which caught Houston off guard. Then in the second half, NC State slowed it down, which again caught Houston off-guard. They wound up winning because their coach had a great game plan, and the players bought into that plan.
The Wolfpack was considered overmatched because their talent was nowhere near the level of Houston. They were asked to play a style of basketball that wasn’t customary for them, but the players believed in Valvano’s game plan and they executed it magnificently and won. Their obedience to their coach’s plan yielded success. As Christians we know that the Bible tells us that God has a game plan for the world.
God’s plan and desire is that one day the kingdom of God will reign in every heart. His plan and desire is that one day every child on earth will know God’s love and God’s peace. His game plan is that one day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. For that to happen, it means that every person who says that he or she follows Jesus must buy wholeheartedly into His plan and will live life accordingly. It means living a life of love for all people. It means inviting friends and family to join you here in the worship of God. It means doing all you can to make this church the kind of place that’s inviting to strangers. It means doing all you can to make this community in some small measure a reflection of the kingdom of God.
Can we do that? Are we willing to buy into God’s game plan? When we have a great mission or purpose in life, we learn to obey the voice that tells us what needs to be done. At the beginning I shared with you the story about an obedient Irish setter named Josh who responded in obedience to his master’s voice and asked, “Who are you fetching for?” In other words, “Who is your Master? To whom are we obedient?” Jesus set the example for us; He was obedient to God’s game plan, even to death on the cross. So, who’s your daddy? If we believe and buy into God’s game plan, then the answer is easy.

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