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Sermon for Sunday 14 April 2019

First Reading                                   Genesis 3:7-21

7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. 8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her Offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” 16 To the woman He said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” 17 And to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

Psalm                                                    Psalm 118:19-29

19Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them; I will offer thanks to the Lord. 20“This is the gate of the Lord; he who is righteous may enter.” 21I will give thanks to you, for you answered me and have become my salvation. 22The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. 24On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it. 25Hosannah, Lord, hosannah! Lord, send us now success. 26Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; we bless you from the house of the Lord. 27God is the Lord; he has shined upon us; form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar. 28“You are my God, and I will thank you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.” 29Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever.

Second Reading                           Philippians 2:5-11

5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel                                                        John 12:12-19

12The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15“Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”


I’m sure by now you’ve realized something is different about todays’ service.  The lack of a Kyrie, the absence of a favorite hymn and the kid’s wonderful music aside, I changed three other aspects of our service.  For the past 9 years I’ve read the Johannian passage in the narthex as part of our procession.  Second, in place of the Deuteronomy passage we normally read for out 1st lesson, I had Wanda read from Genesis chapter 3, and third, instead of hearing the passion story in its entirety, all 112 verses, our gospel lesson came from the gospel of John.  I made all these changes to try something different. 

This year, I wanted to focus first on the Triumphal Entry and then bring this event into context with the bigger picture.  You see, far too many people go straight from Jesus’ kingly ride straight to the resurrection; from high point to high point, as it were, without fully contemplating God’s salvation story, or the fact that Jesus went to Jerusalem fully aware of what He faced.  Jesus knew full-well beforehand what He would endure, and yet, He still rode a donkey into the very place where He would be betrayed, abandoned, suffer and die.  By riding a donkey through the gate of kings, Jesus was announcing He was the future ruler of Israel and set into motion the events we will explore this coming week.

For the majority of His ministry, Jesus tried to hide His true identity.  He often referred to himself as the Son of Man, and when others tried to worship Him or spread the news of His miracles, He told them to keep silent.  Jesus would even command the demons to be silent when driving them out in an attempt to keep His true identity muted until it was the right time.  You see, He didn’t want people to fully comprehend who He was, nor did He seek their praise or publicity:  at least not at that time.  Like He tried to explain to His mother at the wedding, (John 2:1-12) His time had not yet come.  But as He predicted a couple of weeks ago, the time had now come (Luke 13:35).  Now, as Jesus makes His way to Jerusalem, the time is at hand for Him to reveal himself and His mission; the mission the Father has sent Him to accomplish.  

Jesus knew what all this meant, and He knew what was waiting for Him in Jerusalem.  He knew full-well that He would be betrayed, crucified and then buried in a borrowed tomb.  The time had now come, and He accepted the fact that there was no turning back.  As Kenny Rogers sang in his hit ballad, “you got to know when to hold um, you got to know when to fold um.”  I chose that phrase because of an appreciation I have for the intricacies and strategy of the game of Poker. 

If you’ve ever watched the World Series of Poker on television, you’ve no doubt seen the intense concentration and the clever strategies of the professional poker players.  Now, I’m in no way indorsing gambling, what I’m saying is that I appreciate the nuances that can mean the difference between winning and losing.  One of those interesting nuances is the highlight of a series. 

It seems that in every game of high-stakes poker, there comes a defining moment that separates the winners from the losers . . . There’s that moment when a player says two words–‘All in.’  That means they think they’ve got the best hand, so they take their chips and push them to the middle of the table.  Upon being called, the player will then flip the cards over so everyone can see them, and then they oftentimes will stand up to celebrate.  

Going ‘all in’ means that you’re risking everything you’ve got on a single hand.  If you win, you win it all.  If you lose, you lose it all . . . You’ve got to pick the right moment, you’ve got to believe that your cards will beat the other cards, and then you’ve got to risk everything in order to win.  And you don’t know whether you’ve won or lost until you’ve gone ‘all in.  A player knows full-well what’s at stake, and so did Jesus.

At the moment of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as Jesus descended the Mount of Olives, He announced to all the world that He is “All in.”  On Thursday, we’ll hear His prayer as Jesus will kneel and pray the most heart-breaking prayer of His short life, perhaps the most heart-breaking prayer in history: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  Jesus knew full-well what lay ahead; the pain and suffering, the betrayal and rejection, yet He remained steadfast to His mission.  He knew it was His Father’s assignment; a mission paramount to redeeming a fallen world.  The question I’m asking you this morning, the question I really want you to deeply consider is, have you ever really thought about the whole salvation story?  Have you ever stopped to think about how long or how many ways God worked with us, His creation, to return us to our original relationship?

In order to fully appreciate all that God has done in our behalf, we must go back to the beginning; back to God’s original design and intension.  In our Old Testament reading for today we’re reminded of the sin of Adam and Eve and of original sin.  In the garden, Eve was tempted; satan as the serpent, comes, appeals to Eve’s pride and Eve eats.  In reality two sins were committed.  Original sin, that is Eve’s desire to be like God, to be like Him, and the sin of disobedience.  She then grabs Adam and he too succumbs to temptation and eats, disobeying God’s command.  Eyes now opened, they try to cover their nakedness, which is another way of saying they realized they had sinned and they try to hide from God.  But God knows something is wrong and comes to confront Adam and Eve.

Of course, when God asks about the sin, the blame game begins; it’s something we sinful humans try to do all the time.  It’s her fault, it’s the snake’s fault and on we go, trying to cover our nakedness by pushing the blame onto someone else.  The problem is, it never works, and punishment comes.  When will we ever learn that we are responsible for our actions?  It’s not our parents’ fault, it’s not the fault of society, it’s not the manufacturer of the products fault.  We took the fruit of sin and ate.  We committed the act.  And like Adam and Eve, we not only stand accused, we must accept the consequences of our actions.  The problem is, the result of sin is death, a debt we cannot pay.  So, God had to provide a way to atone for our sin.

Adam and Eve were naked; they had willingly committed the act and now their sin had to be covered; so the first sacrifice was made by God.  God took the life of an animal to provide the covering for their sin.  We don’t know what animal God used, but theologically it makes sense, that it was a perfect lamb of either the sheep or goats since that’s what God commanded later and it’s the sacrifice Able presented to God.  In chapter 4 of Genesis we read that Able “brought of the firstborn of the flock and the fat portions.  And the Lord had regard for Able and his offering” (v. 4).  This is also the animal required for the Passover sacrifice in Exodus 12 and later at Jesus’ last supper.  From the beginning, God chose a spotless lamb to pay the penalty for our sin.  And since all things were made through Him, (John 1:3a) Jesus was there to witness these events.

Jesus, from the beginning, knew the cost of sin and that He would become the final Lamb of God to pay for sin once for all (Rom. 6:10).  But knowing that death must come and knowing the full story is something all together different.  We could argue that just because Jesus knew He must die, that doesn’t mean He knew all the details surrounding His death.  We could rationalize that Jesus rode into Jerusalem knowing He would be killed, but He didn’t understand the full extent of what was to come.  In other words, we could try to explain away the magnitude of Jesus’ suffering by saying He simply didn’t know how cruelly He would be treated.  But to do this, we would need to ignore scripture.  We would have to turn a blind eye to all the passages and parables where Jesus foretells His passion and death. 

Scripture bears out that Jesus knew, from the beginning of His ministry, exactly what was to come.  Now, imagine if you will, the stress and the amount of willpower it would take to for Him to continue His journey, knowing exactly how He was to be treated during those last few hours.  I’m not sure I could have gone through with it.  I’m not sure I could have remained silent while being insulted, mocked, getting hit in the face with a fist, the humiliation, being struck repeatedly with a reed and a whip and having a crown of thorns rammed down on my head.  It’s one thing to endure suffering when you don’t know what’s next.  But to willingly walk into the arms of the abusers knowing full-well what was about to happen to you, in all the gory details?  I’m not sure I could have done that; thankfully Jesus did.

Jesus knew from the beginning of His ministry what it would cost.  He also knew He could escape all this at any time, but chose instead to fulfill the will of the Father.  In Mark chapter 8 Jesus tried to tell the disciples “that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected the scribes, the elders and the chief priests and be killed and after 3 days rise again” (v. 31).  In total, the gospels record that three times Jesus explained what was to come to the disciples, but they couldn’t accept the information. 

Then two chapters later when James and John wanted to call dibs on the seats at Jesus’ left and right hands in His coming kingdom, Jesus asked them if they are “able to drink the cup or be baptized with baptism with which I am baptized?” (v. 38).  Jesus knew what was to come.  And we see this again in last week’s gospel lesson from the parable Jesus told about the wicked tenants (Luke 20:9-20).

In this story Jesus told how God had sent His servants, the prophets, to call the people back to a right relationship with God.  God had given His chosen people control over His vineyard and like Adam and Eve before them, they focused on taking control, so they rejected and abused the prophets and drove them out.  But God wouldn’t give up and in the foretelling of His future, Jesus said God sent His Son.  And the result?  They killed the Son still expecting that they would have it all.  In other words, the same two sins committed by Adam and Eve were repeated; it seems we always want to be in control and we’re disobedient.

Then in His final prediction of His death, Jesus gave the disciples the full picture.  In Matthew chapter 20 we read, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn Him to death and will deliver Him to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified (vs. 18-91a).  How could He do it?  How could He remain mentally stable for at least 3 years and able to fulfill His call to atone for you and I, knowing full-well how He was to be treated?  I doubt I would have been able to do that.  And knowing all He knew of what was to come, He still sends the disciples after the donkey and rides to His ultimate death.

If all that wasn’t enough, He knew that the religious leaders have been plotting His death for some time.  They sent spies to try and trap Him, hoping to catch Him in something for which He can be convicted.  The religious authorities had it in for Jesus and they wanted to be rid of this Rabbi.  But that day, in the streets of Jerusalem, it’s was an altogether different story.  The crowd was getting excited.  They threw their cloaks on the ground to make a path for the one who was entering their city.  They waved palm branches in honor of His arrival.  

As Jesus rides through the city’s streets, there are shouts of praises for the Man whom many of them believe had come to redeem Israel.  And their hopes seemed to be confirmed of the coming Messiah, since Jesus’ actions were in keeping with the prophecy of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!  Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!  See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey . . .” (9:9).

The crowd begins singing and shouting and joyfully praising God in loud voices, Luke tells us, for all the miracles they had seen.  “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” they cry.  “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  (Luke 19:38).  But, of course, not everyone is happy.  Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”  Obviously, the Pharisees find yet one more thing to be offended by in this celebration.  And in response to their complaints, Jesus says, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”  That’s quite the mental image, stones crying out.  If those stones could have cried out that day, I wonder what they would have said? 

What would be the message of those stones on that first Palm Sunday if they had cried out words of praise?  My guess is that their first message would be “Take notice, Jerusalem: your King is here.”  The people of Jerusalem were longing for a king, praying for a king, a descendant of their greatest king, the great warrior king David.  And this anticipated king was also called the messiah.  In their minds the anticipated messiah would lead them to victory over their enemies.  

Even the disciples were longing for this messiah, and they were beginning to believe that Jesus just might be the one.  One thing I find interesting is, that as Jesus and His disciples were nearing Jerusalem, He told them a parable about an earthly king who left his followers in charge of some money (Matt. 25:14-30).  In this parable the king told each of his workers, “Put this money to work until I come back.”  The king was taking a big risk, leaving his wealth in the hands of his workers, and he expected a return on his investment.  When the king finally returned to his kingdom, Jesus continued, he rewarded those who increased his money and punished those who did not.

As usual, the disciples weren’t sure what Jesus was trying to say to them, but they began getting excited because they thought Jesus was speaking about His own kingdom.  Imagine their thoughts: “This is it!  Jesus is finally going to announce that He is the King–the Messiah.  He’s going to set up His kingdom and defeat the Romans and restore the glory of Israel.”

Of course, they were particularly correct, Jesus is the Messiah, but not the kind of messiah they were expecting.  For one thing, He didn’t say anything about overthrowing the oppressive Roman army.  Neither did He speak about re-establishing the house and reign of David in all its glory.  “My kingdom is not of this world . . .” (John 18:36) is what he actually said, but they weren’t listening.

Even today, we, who try to be His followers, don’t really understand the kingdom to which we’ve been called.  That’s the first thing the stones might have cried out on that first Palm Sunday, “Take notice, Jerusalem, your King is here!”  The second message the stones might have tried to communicate is, Your Savior has arrived.  This of course is more good news for today.  Jesus didn’t come into our world to rule over us, but to redeem us.

Yes, Jesus is our King, but more importantly, He’s also our Savior.  Some people think that when Jesus returns, He’ll force us to do to His will; the truth is, sin and satan will forever be defeated which will enable us to be like He is.  We will no longer be plagued by the penalties of sin and we’ll no long be troubled by the temptations of this life.  That’ll make all the difference in the world.  Author Arianna Huffington tells of viewing the Ober-ammer-gau Passion Play in Germany a few years ago.  Every ten years, the citizens of Oberammergau stage the story of Jesus’ life and crucifixion.  People come from all over the world to view the play.

As Huffington watched this intense drama, she also observed the irony going on around her.  As Jesus drove the money-changers out of the temple, vendors wandered among the crowd and sold over-priced religious trinkets.  As the soldiers attempted to quench Jesus’ thirst on the cross, the audience gulped down their sodas and crunched on the ice.  In spite of the distractions, Huffington reports that the message of the play still came through.  She wrote, “Even amid the clamor and commercialism, I had felt the power of His inexplicable peace.”    

What peace is that?  It’s the peace of knowing that because Christ came into the world our sins are forgiven.  It’s the comfort of coming to terms with the fact that Jesus, even though He knew full-well what was to come, stayed the course, and set us free from the powers of sin and death.  And because He willingly submitted to His Father’s will and plan, He accomplished for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.

We may not realize it, but you and I are helpless when it comes to dealing with the forces of sin and death.  The one thing in this world that we cannot do is save ourselves.  But we can listen to the message of the stones.  We have a Savior who has come into our world to set us free.  “Take notice,” the stones would cry, “your King is here.”  Even more importantly, they would cry, “Take notice, your Savior has arrived.”

As we enter into this Holy Week, it would be good for us to contemplate deeply, the entire salvation story starting in Genesis.  From the beginning, God has been at work in our behalf to return us to His original, perfect creation; a perfection that we marred by our sinful acts.  Then, looking at all the passages where Jesus tries to inform us of how He was fully aware of what He was getting himself in to, and considering the magnitude of the sacrifice Jesus made when He set aside His heavenly place and took on our flesh, we can fully comprehend the salvation story.  If we do this, then I believe we will then be able to fully appreciate the victory Jesus won, not only in His death on the cross, but also in His resurrection Sunday morning. 


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