Palm Sunday Sermon – Giving it up: Popularity
Giving Up Popularity
Palm Sunday 2016
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Throughout these days of lent, we have been considering that old Lenten discipline of “Giving something up” for Lent. Each of us as individuals has probably tried giving something we like as a matter of self-discipline. Something that we like: chocolate, beer, gin. Maybe we even tried to give up something about ourselves which we didn’t like.
Together, we have been considering those things which God is calling us to give up, not just for Lent, but for the whole of our lives: Control, Expectations, Superiority, Enemies, and even our Lives.
Today we consider giving up popularity, which Merriam-Webster says is the “state of being liked, enjoyed, accepted, or done by a large number of people.” The Oxford Dictionary adds “or by a specific group of people.”
Its very appropriate that we consider this theme today, Palm Sunday.
For it was on that day that Jesus was welcomed into the Holy City Jerusalem by the crowds who shouted “Hosannah to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” In a few moments, we will join with the crowds who welcomed Jesus into the Holy City of Jerusalem to the popular shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and we too will carry with us palm branches to spread in his path.
But what really happened that day?
We have heard the story, we know it by heart.
Jesus enters Jerusalem not on the valiant white steed of some great earthly King, but on a donkey, the foal of a beast of burden. I’m always reminded this day of G.K. Chesterton’s poem “the Donkey”.
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
The honor of carrying the Son of God into his Holy City was not given to the greatest specimen of horses the world could provide. But to that creature which would know the great honor given to it. And so it is, too, with you and me as we carry Jesus our into the world.
We know the story by heart. But what lies behind it?
The prophet Zechariah foretold this event. IT was an event that was part of the Restoration of Israel, when Isreal’s enemies would be defeated, and her King would triumphantly return to his City.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.
The crowds no doubt saw the donkey, knew the significance. The knew this was the one whom Zechariah had prophesied about. And seeing the great event they gave the festal shout “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
They quoted Psalm 118.
Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!
Where else would the King go but up to the Temple? They knew where he was going. They knew what was happening. It unfolded right before their eyes. Lift up your heads you mighty gates and the King of Glory will come in. And to the Temple he went.
And that’s where our Gospel lesson this morning ends.
Jesus, welcomed in popular acclaim by the crowds in Jerusalem. The Pharisees telling him to stop them and he replying if they do not cry out the very stones will shout for joy to proclaim the victory of the King.
Do you remember what happens next, according to Mark’s gospel?
What does he find?
He finds nothing. The temple was empty. The crowds that shouted with acclaim had left him. Popularity is a fleeting thing. Here one minute gone the next.
Did Jesus allow this event to happen because he wanted to feel popular? Did he do it to feel good about himself?
No, he didn’t. He allowed it to happen in order that the prophecy might be fulfilled.
But it also gives us pause to reflect on the crowd and it’s reaction to our Lord.
As we gather here this morning, will we too allow our Lord to find the temple in which he truly wishes to enter, the temple of the Holy Spirit, our selves, our souls and bodies, will we allow him to find that empty?
Jesus enters again into the Holy Temple today. Not seeking us to acclaim him with popular fervor.
Rather, he comes to us, yes, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but also as the one who said “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you”
As we make this procession today, we lead Jesus, not the popular prophet that the crowds saw that day into the city to find the temple empty.
Rather, we lead in our King and our friend, who paid that ultimate sacrifice for you and for me. Greater love hath no man, he said, then to lay down his life for his friends. That’s what he did for you and for me in that Holy Week so long ago. And for that we rejoice and give thanks to him, our friend, whose life now lives in us and through us, to the glory of his Father and our Father. Amen.