Palm Sunday: Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord
The chosen hymns for this week, Children of Jerusalem and May way can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Palm Sunday: Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord
Welcome to our time of reflection for Palm Sunday.
Before we start today we have gone through a year since the first lockdown.
I think it is fitting that we acknowledge that moment in some way.
So before we start this act of worship let us remember all those who died over the last year, not only those who died of Covid but also because of the restrictions we created, those that weren’t diagnosed with other illnesses because we were so preoccupied with Covid. So we remember them and those that mourn their loss.
We remember those who have cared over the last year, not only all those in the frontline health services, but also those running foodbanks, those health workers and carers that have kept those who are housebound and struggling.
And we remember God’s kingdom, and all of those that have sought to give a message of hope and love through action and word, through care and concern. We pray that we might truly be the light of God’s hope to the world.
If you get the chance to read this part of the Bible from Mark 11 on to the end of the Mark you see that things move at a tremendous rate.
It is as if a tipping point has been reached and once that tipping point has passed things move very, very quickly.
After three years of ministry, Jesus and his disciples have been moving towards Jerusalem and now that they are there, there is adulation, there is the cheering crowd, and then suddenly there is betrayal and crucifixion.
And I want to reflect on that a wee bit today.
Why are we so enthusiastic about faith, then suddenly cold or even antagonistic towards faith?
We will reflect on this after Margaret shares with us the reading and a time of prayer.
Mark 11: 1-11.
Have you ever read the passage before this one, the one that leads up to the entry into Jerusalem?
You should do so; it is like an introduction to what is happening.
Jesus has been wandering through Israel giving his message about the kingdom of God,
about the way we should live our life if we want purpose and meaning,
about the way we should live our life if we want to fulfil the life that God has given us.
Part of that meaning is understanding covenant; that God promises to be with us.
The principle that we don’t need to live lives as if we are on our own, to live lives as if we can’t depend on anyone else, that we have to think of ourselves first and everyone else as a distant second.
And the reason we don’t need to live that way is because God is with us. God promises to stay with us, he promises to give us guidance; he promises to give us the strength to do what we need to do.
In the same way that he was with Noah, in the same way that he was with Abraham, in the same way that he was with the nation of Israel, he will be with us.
That doesn’t mean that everything Noah and Abraham and the nation of Israel did was right, that everything that they did was God blessed, but it does mean that God was with them, and when they messed things up, God forgave them and helped them to get things right, no matter what the cost.
That has been the message of Jesus.
Jesus has lived his life totally living that truth. That the Father is with him, and that the Father and He will ultimately forgive us all, and do whatever it takes, no matter what the cost, even to death on a cross, to help us make things right.
This message is being given throughout Israel, and now Jesus is heading to the religious capital, to the temple of Jerusalem, to fulfil that message.
And on the way he meets a blind man, Bartimaeus. And Jesus heals the blind man so that he can see.
A reflection of how Jesus hopes the people,
who were ignorant of God’s love for them,
who were blind to God’s love for them,
will finally see the truth Jesus has been giving them.
Bartimaeus sees again and with that gift he is able to follow Jesus.
So the hope is that once the people finally see who Jesus is, see the truth that Jesus is giving, that they will follow.
Yet in a cruel twist we see that doesn’t happen.
The crowd seem to see that Jesus has come in the name of the Lord, they greet him like a Messiah into the city of Jerusalem, and then very soon they reject him and have him crucified.
They are so like us, who sometimes find it easy to follow the path of God, and at other times find it just as easy to reject it or ignore it.
Some would say it is us being sinful; that we have this evil in us that is rebelling all the time against God.
I think that is a bit simplistic.
I’m not too sure what the point of just saying ‘we are bad people that do bad things’ is?
Is it meant to let us off the hook, ‘It isn’t my fault I am just human’?
Is it meant to let God off the hook, ‘It’s not that God’s love isn’t enough, it’s that our evil is too great’?
I think with the people of Jerusalem, and with ourselves, there is a misunderstanding going on.
Listen to what they say...
‘Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the coming of the kingdom of David, our father! Praise God!’
What are they really saying?
I think they are saying, and I hate to say this but I think we often say as well, ‘We want you God, but we want you on our terms.’
Listen to that phrase, ‘God bless the coming of the kingdom of David, our father.’
Jesus has spent three years and not once has he talked about the coming of the kingdom of David.
Jesus talked about the coming of the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of David.
But this crowd have changed it; they have changed it to the kingdom of David.
Yes they want Jesus to rule their lives, but they want him to rule their lives on their terms.
King David was seen by many to be the best of kings that Israel ever had.
At his best he fought against the enemies of Israel and won. He united their kingdom into one people instead of a bunch of often conflicting tribes; he expanded their kingdom into a nation that was to be feared by others and a place where people could live in peace.
Unfortunately he was also corrupted by the power and within that corruption was the downfall of not only his own dynasty but the nation itself.
But the people dreamt, they dreamt of a time when they would be a sovereign nation, a powerful nation again, when they could live in peace, not under the rule of other empires. In their eyes if they had that that would solve all their problems.
They wanted Jesus to be a ruler like David, to conquer the Roman Empire, to make them a great nation again. It was all about them, it was all about what they could get; to be blunt, it was all about selfishness.
And that wasn’t what Jesus came to be.
And so they rejected it,
they were still blind to the message about the Kingdom of God where we are free to think about others, to care about others in the same way that God unselfishly, unconditionally, loves and cares for us.
Let me tell you a story I heard recently...
A rabbi once says to his disciples, ‘If your God comes to your rescue and gets you out of trouble it is time you started searching for the true God.’
When his disciples admitted that they were confused by this the rabbi said,
‘A man left a brand-new bike unattended at the marketplace while he went shopping.
He only remember the bike the following day-and rushing to the marketplace, expecting it had been stolen, found to his surprise that he bike was exactly where he had left it.
Overwhelmed with joy, he rushed to a nearby synagogue to thank God for having kept his bike safe- only to find, when he got out of the synagogue, that his bike had been stolen.’
I found that story amusing because I know a true version of that story.
When I first went to Castlemilk to work, the neighbouring minister was a great guy called John Miller. He truly was a wonderful guy and a wonderful minister, greatly respected by his congregation and parish. He used to travel everywhere on his bike to save the congregation travelling expenses because his congregation was one of the poorest in the church of Scotland and he didn’t want them having any extra expense that they didn’t need to pay for. He wanted to be as little a financial burden on that poor congregation as was possible.
His congregation thought of him as special, and special things happen to special people.
So I heard a story that once when he was visiting a bereaved family his bike was stolen. That word had got out that John’s bike had been stolen when he was visiting a family, and that the respect for John in the community was so great that the next morning John found his bike outside his house.
Me being me, I wanted to know if this was true.
So the next time I meet John I asked him if the story was true.
‘Oh yes,’ said John,’ the story is true, and how the people tell that story. But then never tell the story of the seven times I have had my bike stolen and it has never been returned.’
We create a narrative, a story in our head that we want to hear.
That God will rescue us from evil.
That God will give us the life we have always wanted, a life of peace and serenity; an easy life.
That God will manipulate the world so that it works in our favour.
For those poor people of Castlemilk they wanted to believe that God protected their minister because he was a good man. Because if that was true then they could have the hope that if they were good then God would protect them in the same way.
And sometimes God does bless us.
People that we love are healed.
People that need a job get a job.
Food is left outside someone house just when they need it.
But these things are not given as an end in themselves. The end of God is not that our life is blessed. The hope of God, the end result for God, is that our lives should be a blessing for others.
God didn’t bless Mother Teresa’s life so that she could have an easy life living in a condo, playing tennis with her friends every Tuesday and watching The real Housewives of New York and have lots of servants looking after her.
God blessed Mother Teresa so that her life could be a blessing to the poorest of Calcutta.
God didn’t bless his son’s life so that he could be king in a palace living the life of luxury with servants galore. God blessed his son’s life so that he could be a blessing for others, making the blind see, the crippled walk, the downtrodden liberated, the guilty free from the chains that stopped them living their lives with hope.
As we move into Holy week, looking at the sacrifice that God was willing to make freely in love for us, let us reflect on what that means for us.
If God believes in covenant; in a promise to be with us, to support us, to give us strength, to bless us...
Do we truly believe that God does all that just so that we can live a comfortable life and everyone else can rot?
Or does God want us to have more than that, to have purpose and meaning to our lives, to have lives that are significant. To have lives that are blessed, so that we can be a blessing to others, so that they can be a blessing to others, so that eventually the whole world is blessed?
Let us pray
We have had lives that are blessed.
There are times we were really struggling and somehow we have recovered, grown, moved on from that which might have destroyed us.
You have given us enough riches that we can live in relative comfort.
You have given us friendships that have sustained us.
You have given us moments of joy and moments of wonder.
You have allowed us to glimpse times when everything had made sense, we may not have understood it, but we believed that things would work out, that there is a meaning to life and that in the end all will be well.
You have given us hope in times of distress.
You have given us comfort in times of grief.
You have given us assurance when we were afraid and unsure how things would work out.
We have had lives that are blessed.
Help us to be a blessing for others.
Just to be there for others, to be a light of hope in the darkness.
To be a hand of comfort when folk are struggling.
To show your love by our willingness to get involved in the messiness and uncertainty of life with hearts of compassion and openness.
We may not know where our final journey will end, but help us to see clearly what our next step should be.
And help us to see that our next step can always be with you, no matter where our last step took us.
This we ask in Jesus name.
If you feel this message would do someone else some good then please pass it on.
Over next week we will have a series of Holy Week services from Monday through to Friday.
These services will be live and if you want to be here to take part then contact me at 01259 760262 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Places are limited so they are given on a first come, first served basis.
But if you are unable to attend for whatever reason you can also watch them the way you are watching this service.
A closing blessing.
May we see God as he truly is,
As a Father who loves us,
as the Son willing to die to show us an example of how to live our lives for others,
as the Holy Spirit who empowers us to do God’s will.