Here is a my sermon from this past Sunday, but if you want to read one that is far superior to mine check out the Running Priest.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”
May only God’s word be spoken, and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!
I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately, more specifically Jesus’ spiritual leadership. It is not surprising thoughts of leadership have been banging around in my skull, since the vestry retreat ended yesterday; even more so because it is lent and we have been following Christ. Christ is leading us toward this day, Palm Sunday and leads us still toward Easter. This Day we follow Jesus liturgically in the invasion of that ancient Middle Eastern city Jerusalem.
Jesus’ act of riding into the city on a donkey colt is leadership because Jesus is showing us the Godly way to establish the Kingdom of God. Picture with me, that scene of Jesus, probably covered with way more travel dirt then paintings and artistic renderings allow, riding into town with throngs of people waving palms and shouting the royal greeting:
“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Watching this had to make the “powers that be”, the religious leaders of the day, a bit nervous. In fact, we know some Pharisees were nervous because the scriptures say they tried to get the crowd to shut up. But why they are nervous is not clearly stated. The Gospel of Luke is silent on that point and we are invited to speculate.
Now, I think the Pharisees and other leaders were nervous because they weren’t Episcopalians. See, they had actually read their bible. Now, I know the bible wasn’t complete by this point, and for sure, despite popular misconception, Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem wielding a brown, soft leather bound, King James Translation of the bible with his words marked in Red. I know this. When I say the leaders of Jesus’ day knew their bible, I am, of course, referring to the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, consisting of the books of Moses, the writings, the psalms, and most importantly for today the Prophets. They knew the great stories of the faith! See when Jesus rode in on a donkey, the Pharisees and other leaders had to recognize the scene from Zechariah 9:6 where the prophet writes,
“See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
They would see Jesus, and instinctively remember the foretelling of the coming prophet king that would establish peace and lift up the lowly.
Now, you might still be wondering why this made them nervous. Establishing peace sounds like a good thing. Indeed it is, unless you are part of the elite who prosper from the status quo. See, in order for the lowly to be lifted there would a disordering of the system, a reorganizing of the way things are. Like Mary the mother of God says in the Magnificat, for the lowly to be raised, the high must be brought down. Consequently, those that manage the system, those on top of the pile, are loath to lose there station. So seeing Jesus’ paradoxically triumphant entry on a humble mule, would make the Pharisees nervous, would make them ask: what is this prophet-king going to do, and what will this cost us personally?
Now the Pharisees weren’t the only power in town. Jerusalem was occupied by the Roman Empire. The sight of Jesus coming in town and being greeted as a king by the people had to at the very least seem weird to the Romans. See, it was ingrained in the Romans that peace came through victory, Roman victory; and the Romans were very good at victory. Make no doubt about it, in their day they were the only super power. They had the largest military force that was also the best funded and equipped with the latest in technological advancement. Where Rome went, Rome conquered. Rome was in no way squeamish about inflicting great violence upon the conquered. So, the Roman soldier standing a top the walls of Jerusalem watching Jesus amble into town on a colt had to wonder, “What’s the big deal?” “Where is this guy’s army?” This dirty hoard of unemployed unarmed fishermen, tax collectors, and vagabonds can not take on the Roman Empire.
Now, we know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey use to say: a week later Jesus is dead and risen. A few decades later the temple is destroyed and the religious leaders all but exterminated, and the Roman Empire eventually falls as well.
Which leads me to ask, “what are we hereafter today?” How come we Liturgically remember, indeed we re-enact Jesus’ triumphant entry and his last days leading to his crucifixion. I have two ideas about this:
1) We do this worshipful imitation of Christ, because we know about the resurrection, but we don’t understand it. We may intellectually realize that Jesus defeats the powers that be and even the ultimate power of death by his life, death, and resurrection. But we do not get that the kingdom of God is not established by conquest; peace does not come from victory, domination, or control. Indeed, we often are more like the Romans and the Pharisees then we are like Jesus. We still build bombs instead of levies. Our schools are more separate and unequal then we admit. And our battles in the church are more about who we can keep out, more about maintaining the status quo; rather than about how we can share the good news with everyone.
2) We do this thing called Holy Week, because deep down we know number 1 is true. We know we are not right. We know we are wrong. We know we are not as God intends us to be. That’s why we say the confession every week. We know that we need to be formed, indeed transformed by God into what God intends. Simply put: we got some learning to do.
I am blessed to be married to an educator, one who is professionally engaged in the formation of others. She reminds me often that absolutely the worst way to teach anyone anything is through lecture. Study after study after study shows that talking at people just doesn’t get the point across. Now, I am a preacher. I like to think that my craft is affective and effective; so, those study result do not make me happy. However, I know they are true. We learn best by doing, by practice. So that is why we are here this week. That is why we processed with palms today, and why we will wash feet on Thursday; why we abstain from communion on Friday, and immerse ourselves in salvation history to await the Resurrection at the Easter Vigil. We do them in the hope that by literally doing what Jesus did we might be transformed to be more like Jesus. That we may continue to hope that we will structure our lives both personal and communal in more Godly ways. Indeed we do them in the hopes of letting the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, our victory is in our defeat, our salvation in the cross, and I invite you this day to walk with Jesus to the cross. Come! Receive the bread and wine, the body and the blood of Christ shed for you and for all. Come let this mind be in you! Amen!