The Sunday Sermon: Palm Sunday – March 20, 2016
Scripture: Luke 19:28-40
This is it! The last Sunday in Lent – so different from the other Sunday’s, or the rest of the days of Lent, because we have a party of sorts, a parade, a procession, some pageantry in an otherwise somber season draped in purple with a looming cross in front of us. Oh, the party will stop pretty quickly, we know. As this week progresses, each day gets darker and darker. By the end of the week there is total darkness. And if we are really mindful of the faith we profess, we keep the lights off in that darkness and recognize how bleak and barren our world is without our “Light” in it.
But first … we have today … Palm Sunday: “All Glory, Laud, and Honor, to our Redeemer King!” We all sing! As our children lead the way this morning, we make a profession this morning unlike any the rest of the year. It’s not as provocative as next week’s “Christ has risen! God is alive!” or as Christmas’ “Christ is born!” perhaps, but it is as profound and pragmatic a declaration as we will ever make. The profession we make this morning is … Jesus is Lord! And this morning, for the first in along time in consecutive years, we will hear that profession spoken publicly for the first time on the lips of five baptized followers seeking full membership in our church, our Confirmation Class of 2016.
Let us pray … And let us read … Read Luke 19:28-40
What a fascinating Sunday this always is. We begin with palms and we end with the Passion. We start with songs and end with the beginning of suffering. Even as the palm branches fall and the loud “Hosannas” ring out, the Way of Jesus, the sacrificial love of God incarnated in Jesus, is already being rejected in our Gospel stories. Most notably by the Roman Empire but also (and increasingly) by the Jewish religious authorities of the day. But at least for these morning hours this morning, we are not ready to reject God’s Love. Not yet. We proclaim Jesus’ radical trust in God’s Love as our cornerstone, too.
What a fascinating Sunday this always is … and what a provocative day again this year. Seated in front are four young men and one young woman who embarked on a course of study six weeks ago to discover and integrate the mysteries of our Christian faith into their personal lives and into their lives with each other and all the rest of us in this congregation in deeper and more powerful ways. Six weeks is hardly enough time to learn two thousand years of church history, let alone master a world religion, of course. And they haven’t … mastered it. But they’re in good company, because I haven’t either. And neither has Jenna or Austin, or any of their other teaches, or any of you, believe it or not. The symbol we’ve used for our Confirmation study here at PVPC has always been an Ichthus with a dotted line for the bottom half. We are still learning. God is not through with us yet! What these Confrimands have done is identify deep within themselves, with the help of this mystifying community we call the church and the more mysterious presence of God’s Spirit within them, a trust in something that they can’t see and don’t fully understand – a “more” to their lives and ours that we most commonly call God.
And this morning we all shout “Hosanna!” (Literally, “Save us” but for this occasion perhaps a bit more declarative: “We are saved!”) Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! The early Christian community connected “the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” connected the Messiah, God’s anointed, to the Christ experience they had in Jesus of Nazareth. This morning, today, even two thousand years later, we too proclaim, perhaps before we’ve really thought it through – or perhaps even after we’ve thought through, that Jesus is Lord! And as we shout out our devotion to him and his way, we forsake all others …
We forsake other ways, Oscar, Alex, Emma, Gabe, and Lucas. Jesus’ way is our Way, and our Truth, and our Life.
Now I feel your hearts beating a bit faster, along with my own, and many others in this room. And it’s not just because I’ve said your names out loud. It’s because, in smaller or greater degrees, we still hear the Christian proclamation, our common profession in Jesus as Lord, as exclusionary and condemning. You hear, and I too often hear, and many others here this morning too often hear “Jesus is Lord” used to criticize and attack others who don’t make that profession. You hear, and I too often hear, and many others here this morning too often hear “Jesus is Lord” used to reject others and keep them out – out of love, out of grace, our of “heaven” … as if we have any choice in that decision to begin with.
Your hearts are beating a bit faster because we have taught you well: The radical love of God we know, we teach, and we follow in Jesus should not tear down. It should build up. The profound presence of God we experience, express, and exclaim in Jesus should not exclude anyone. God so loves … the world.
Oscar, Alex, Emma, Gabe, and Lucas: You have never heard me condemn or exclude anyone when you have heard me profess my faith. You have not heard condemnation or exclusion from the other men and women, young and old, who profess their faith in this community. As we speak the words of any Creed or Confession, including the oldest and simplest one – that “Jesus is Lord” – you hear us identifying and committing ourselves. Our professions of faith are not about others! They’re about us … When we say, together or alone that “We believe …,” we do not say “So, you should believe the same, too…” When we respond with “We will …” we do not mean “So, you need to, as well …” We make our profession to commit ourselves to God in Jesus Christ, to a love that will save us and a path that will guide us through life. We allow God to be God in other ways to other people of faith and those of no faith who are still seeking the Love we experience in God through Christ.
As we mark Jesus’ “entry” into Jerusalem on this Palm Sunday, we celebrate your entry into the church as adult members on this Confirmation Sunday.
Oscar, Alex, Emma, Gabe, and Lucas: Will you stand and come forward, facing me this time? (Jenna and Austin, will you stand with them?)
Blessed are the ones who come in the name of the Lord! Everyone of us this morning, including you … Oscar, Alex, Emma, Gabe, and Lucas. Come, make your own triumphal entry on this fascinating day …
We have talked over and over again in our class and in our lives together this past two months, that what is happening this morning is not the end of anything. Confirmands, your public profession of faith should remind you that you are not alone, we are all with you on this common journey. And gathered church, the words these three speak should remind us all that we are called together to be Christ for one another.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / March 20, 2016 (Palm Sunday)