April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday

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Click here for the Service Booklet


2020 April5_FrIan


Palm Sunday

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger


Palm Sunday, also known as the Sunday of the Passion, is kind of odd. It starts with the Blessing of the Palms and the procession around the church building to remind us of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Gospel reading we just heard. Then, after everyone gets into their pews, and the regular service starts, and the Gospel is the entire Passion Narrative, or the arrest, trial, Crucifixion and death of Jesus. It’s like having all of Holy Week in a single Sunday Service.


This year we are focusing solely on the Triumphal Entry part of the service. This is an opportunity for us to focus on Jesus’ ministry between His arrival to Jerusalem and before His arrest. What did He do, and what implications does that have for us today?


Jesus’ ministry changed society
and the world.


His ministry didn’t have a significant impact on a large number of people, but He made an enormous impact on a few people who then went on to change the world. Some of what has been done in Jesus’ name was and is bad, horrific, dangerous. But most of what has been done and is being done in the name of Jesus is very good. Jesus has changed society and the world.


The small number of people in Jerusalem whose lives Jesus transformed were those who greeted them as He rode the donkey. These people, who were throwing their cloaks and branches, like laying out the red carpet, and declaring Him king were not the elite of Jerusalem. These were everyday common folk who had heard of Jesus’ teaching, His healing, His caring for the region’s most oppressed and marginalized people. The people He helped and healed were not the elite. They were the downtrodden.

Let’s have a look at what Jesus did between His entry into Jerusalem here in ch21 up to His arrest in ch26. What happens between the triumphal entry and the arrest is like Jesus’ own soap opera. In that soap opera, there are 3 broad themes that Jesus addresses:


  • a call to care for the marginalized and vulnerable
  • the uncovering of hypocrisy and corruption
  • a warning to be ready for Christ’s coming


I have rearranged a handful of stories in those 4½ chapters to fit within those themes.


•    a call to care for the marginalized and vulnerable

  • The Parable of the Wedding Banquet: A king hosted a wedding banquet, and his guests were not polite enough to show up. “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
  • In ch25: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’


•    the uncovering of hypocrisy and corruption

  • Jesus Cleanses the Temple: After rebuking market sellers for turning the house of prayer into a commercial marketplace: The blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read, “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself”?’
  • The Parable of the Two Sons: The vineyard owner tells one son to work the vineyard, and he refuses. The second son agrees to work the vineyard. But, the first son changes his mind and goes to work in the vineyard while the second son does not live up to his promise to do likewise. Jesus asks the Chief Priests a rhetorical question, ‘Which of the two did the will of his father?’

•    a warning to be ready for Christ’s coming

  • Ch24 gets pretty dark, with some predictions that feel like we are living them now – both ch23 and ch24 feel very real. And then Jesus turns to the topic of The Necessity for Watchfulness with the Faithful or the Unfaithful Slave. One slave is ready for whenever the master arrives; the other slave knows that the master will be late, so he eats and drinks with his pals, and he is drunk when the master arrives. Similarly, the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, The Parable of the Talents are warnings to be ready for whatever God has in store.


Within all of that, in ch22, Jesus is tested by the Pharisees to see if Jesus actually adheres to the Law of Moses by asking Him which is the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus replies,


“You shall love the Lord your
God with all your heart, and
with all your soul, and with all
your mind.” This is the greatest
and first commandment. And a
second is like it: “You shall love
your neighbor as yourself.”


Jesus recites the Shema, the Great Commandment, which was given to Moses by God in the Book of Deuteronomy. Jesus does indeed know Mosaic Law, but He takes it one step further. Jesus adds that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.


So, how does Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and His ministry there, relate to our present day? Well, we are collectively in a situation that will change society, it will change the world. There may not be a significant shift in behavior once this is all over, but it will change us in some way. We who listen for and listen to Jesus will have the opportunity to:


  • care for the marginalized and vulnerable
  • uncover hypocrisy and corruption
  • be ready for Christ’s coming


The situation we are in now is hurting the marginalized and the vulnerable the most. A crisis always does. Those of us who will be fine after all this is over, who will have homes, incomes, plenty of food and basic supplies, access to education, are called by Jesus, by our faith, to care for the marginalized and vulnerable.


  • This national crisis has shown how the lack of a cohesive healthcare system exacerbates a health-related crisis that goes beyond a small local area, and how differently the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ are treated.
  • This national crisis has shown how the grossly unequitable distribution of wealth will mean that a small percentage of kids will continue to have access to a quality education while tens of millions of children and teenagers will fall behind academically, which will lead to lower-paying jobs when they are adults, which will lead to a reliance on aid agencies like food banks, which will lead to lower qualities of general health, and so on.
  • This national crisis has shown that the lack of a social safety net will result in even more people living on the margins than we knew before this crisis, because this national crisis has also shown that we have prioritized corporate profits and dividends over the standard of living of the workers on whom those profits rely.


Does that sound overly political? Jesus’ entire ministry in Jerusalem, from the second half of Matthew 21 to the Crucifixion in Matthew 26 was a fabric woven of the political landscape of the day, the social fabric of Judea, and the misguided faith of the religious elite. For us as Christians to care for the marginalized and vulnerable, uncover hypocrisy and corruption and be ready for Christ’s coming, it will require us to work within our spheres of influence in our political, social and religious circles, and beyond. This national and global crisis will change society, and society has political, social and religious components to it which are all interconnected.


The biblical account of Palm Sunday has the trappings of a king returning from a military battle, echoes of military battles of the OT kings. But Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was not a military victory. He had not conquered anything. He does not make the traditional victory sacrifice in the temple. Instead, He plants the seeds of societal change by issuing a call to care for the marginalized and vulnerable, uncovering hypocrisy and corruption and warning the faithful to be ready for God’s arrival.


The event of Palm Sunday and the example of Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem could – it could if we had the will – change society and turn us into a nation that heeds the call of Jesus to care for the marginalized and vulnerable, uncover hypocrisy and corruption and be ready for Christ’s return.


What will become clear when we emerge from this pandemic, what has already become clear, is that the marginalized and vulnerable have become even more marginalized and vulnerable, the hypocrisy and corruption are rampant, and many faithful have turned inward. When we realize that Palm Sunday was the arrival of God in Jesus who changed the lives of many who went on to change the lives of many others,


we will then truly follow
the leadership of Jesus and be
individuals, communities and a
nation who care for the
marginalized and vulnerable,
who uncover hypocrisy and
corruption, who are ready for
Christ’s coming, and who love
our neighbors as ourselves.

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