Swords vs. Palm Branches: Sermon, 4/1/12 (Palm Sunday)

02 Apr

Palm Sunday

Zechariah 9:9-10; Mark 11:1-10

Some scholars claim that there are actually two processions into Jerusalem happening simultaneously on that Palm Sunday.

One is the procession we are celebrating: From the east comes Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a simple colt, the common crowds lining the street and waiving branches.

And from the west comes Pontius Pilate to keep order during Passover. He comes draped in all the glory of Roman power: horses, chariots, rows of soldiers in gleaming armor.

As Jesus enters, the multitudes of disciples are throwing their coats on the road and waving branches and shouting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

As these two processions enter Jerusalem, there will be a clash of kingdoms when they meet. Who will win? Who will be king? Caesar or Christ?

Rome is dominating, powerful, ruthless. By virtue of sheer might and intimidation it has brought submission and accompanying lack of conflict to the known world. Yet this is the kind of kingdom Jesus refused when tempted in the wilderness. It is this kingdom of force, of power, of violence, of control that he rejects.

The kingdom of God that he is bringing is one of mercy, forgiveness, love, giving away power and strength. It is letting go of domination and siding with the powerlessness. It is getting to know the lowest in society while turning away from the privilege of being highest. And doing all this very publicly in the face of the culture.

Who will win?

In the next several days during this Holy Week, we will hear the clash of these two kingdoms. We will hear on Maundy Thursday about the betrayal and the arrest of Jesus, and his command to love one another anyway. On Good Friday, we will hear the crowds as they cave in to the influence and seduction of worldly powers, crying out for the crucifixion of Jesus.

But the clash of these two kingdoms isn’t confined to the events of Holy Week. It is something we live with every day.

Every day we experience clamoring for power and security, backstabbing, gossip, resentment: both as things we do and things that are done to us. And there is also the gospel call to forgive, to serve, to love. Every day we experience the lure of our culture: the yearning for control, the temptation to keep more for ourselves, the longing to secure our own futures, even if that means ignoring the suffering of others around us. And there is also the gospel call to give away money, power, control.

This is the story of two kingdoms colliding, culminating in the life and death of Jesus the Christ. It is our story, the story of our struggle of living in both these kingdoms at the same time.

We long for the allure of power, comfort, and security that the world around us offers, the culture that surrounds us with messages of supremacy, influence, greed, getting ahead.

But we are also at our baptism given a new life in Christ, a kingdom-of-God life, an eternal life. We are called through our baptism into Christ to reveal God’s kingdom of grace, forgiveness, generosity, and mercy in the face of our culture’s power.

At times, it looks like our culture is winning. Through the events of this Holy Week, it will look as if Rome has won.

Jesus will be killed by the power of Rome.

In our lives we are confronted by the powers of this world.

But we know that the death of Jesus at the hands of his culture is not the end. So in the same way we can trust that the illusion of the victory of our culture is also only temporary.

We are in Christ. Though we experience the influence of our culture in this world, can be overwhelmed by it, and sometimes fall victim to it, it is not the end. There is more. Though the world around us can corrupt us, feed our greed, overpower us, prey upon us, break us, cast us aside as useless, hate us, wear us down, shame us, judge us, it will not be the last word about us or for us.

The kingdom of God has the last word. The kingdom of grace, love, forgiveness, and hope cannot be stopped by the world’s deceptive victories. Not even the death of Jesus can prevent the kingdom of God.

Nothing we experience can stop the ultimate victory of the kingdom of God. Nothing the powers of this world do to us will stop God from forgiving us, from loving us, from being present with us. That is the victory of the kingdom of God. The victory we not only experience, but are called to share.

There’s a clash of two kingdoms. Regardless of how it appears today, the kingdom of God emerges victorious.

We are in Christ.

Though we know the power of this world, it cannot prevail against the kingdom of God.

Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Who will win? The victory has already happened.

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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Sermon


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