Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sermon -- 6th Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday (April 9, 2017)



In the name + of Jesus.

     The prophet Zechariah had foretold: “Behold, your king is coming to you....” (Zechariah 9:9)  If the King came to your town, it was a monumental event.  It is something that Americans really don't understand.  When the president comes to our city, we are not that excited.  We are annoyed that the president's motorcade messes up the traffic.  Many people won't care what the president has to say.  Some will go to protest.  Americans can show up to a presidential speech and hold up signs that say, “The President is an idiot!”  If you did that, you would expect that nothing serious would happen to you, and you would be outraged if it did.  But that is not what it is like to live under a king, and Americans will never really be able to grasp this.
     If you lived in a true monarchy, you would probably never see your king.  A king would not have to answer to you or take questions from the media.  The king would not need to defend himself.  He would put an end to his critics and protesters.  And if you held up a sign that read, “The King is an idiot,” you would never be heard from again.  When a king comes, his subjects fall to their knees in humble obedience, or they will be regarded as rebels and be executed.  So, while there would be some excitement about a king coming to one's town, there would also be some fear.
     Zechariah dispels the fears.  He summons Jerusalem: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)  The king does not come with war horses or armies.  He does not come to destroy or avenge.  He is not angry, and he does not even appear threatening.  He comes for the good of the people he serves.  And in fact, when he comes to Jerusalem for the Passover, your king comes to suffer and to save.
     Just as Americans are inclined not to fear their leaders, so we are not inclined to fear Jesus either.  We are quick to criticize our Lord, as if he owes us answers for the way he rules the universe, that he should defend himself to us, and that he should be open to our criticisms of him.  We challenge God's love, power, and wisdom.  “If God were so loving, why does he let wars and disease happen?”  Such questions presume that God is not loving, or wise, or powerful, or any of them.  We even believe that we would do better at being God than God is.
     Repent.  For we cannot run our own houses without stress, let alone the universe.  We lack the patience to deal with our loved ones well.  Rather than have compassion for others, we get angry because their problems inconvenience us.  No matter how angry you might get with God, remember that we did not create him.  He created us.  Therefore, he is not accountable to us for the life we have; we are accountable to him.  He who created life also directs how it is to be lived, and his word stands firm.
     St. Paul wrote, Christ Jesus…was in the form of God. (Philippians 2:6)  Or to say it more plainly: Jesus Christ is God.  He is rightly the King of the Universe.  But he did not come to earth to exact his vengeance on all who have rebelled against him, who protest his reign, or who defy his word.  Kings do that, but not your king.  Your king comes to suffer and to save.
      Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)  Jesus did not enter our world to make people grovel before him and to demand the honor he deserves.  He did not even flaunt his divine power.  Whenever Jesus did a miracle, it was not to show off; it was to be merciful to diseased and dying and desperate sinners.  When Jesus entered Jerusalem to the cries of “Hosanna!”, it was not to challenge King Herod or to overthrow Pontius Pilate.  Jesus came as a slave, carrying out the orders that God the Father had given him to do.  He came to die.
     Your king came to suffer and to save.  Jesus came to save the very people who have rebelled against him, who criticize his rule, who protest his word, and who think he is an idiot.  Jesus came to proclaim mercy to people who wanted him to shut up.  Jesus came to suffer for people who wanted to harm him.  He came to die for people who wished he were dead.  Kings don't die for their subjects; kings make subjects die for them.  But Jesus came to receive God's curse for people who have earned that curse by their disobedience.  Jesus Christ became a man in order to take mankind's place under the curse of the law, which also meant having to die a shameful, cursed death on the cross.  He did not do this because he owes you.  The almighty God emptied himself to be weak in order to die for you.  He willingly suffered for his subjects, and gave himself into death so that they would live.  Your king comes to suffer and to save.
     “Therefore” (Philippians 2:9), St. Paul writes.  Therefore, because Jesus has been obedient to his Father....  Therefore, because Jesus has redeemed you by his sacrificial death....  Therefore, because Jesus has suffered and saved you, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)  Therefore, there is no greater man than this man, because salvation is found only in this man, Jesus.  He is the man who died for you and now is risen.  This man conquered death for all mankind.  He lives and reigns over everything.  And just as Jesus has come to suffer and to save you, so also now he lives and reigns for you.
     Therefore, Jesus Christ is King.  He reigns supreme.  As King, he owes you nothing, and yet he gives you all good gifts.  He is not accountable to you, and yet he reveals his will to you in his word.  All that Jesus does, he does for you and your salvation.  He puts a cross on you to mortify your sinful flesh so that your flesh will not seize control of you again.  He disciplines you so that you will not love this world but will rather long for the kingdom of God.  He comforts you in your fears and frustrations, and he instills you with joy no matter how deep your grief.  Jesus Christ is King, but he is your King.  Jesus Christ is Lord, but he is Lord for you.  He who suffered and saved you lives and reigns for you.
     It is right to be on your knees in his presence—not to cower before him, but to receive good things from him.  That is why you kneel at this altar—to receive his body and blood for your forgiveness and salvation.  It is right to confess his name—for those who confess his name are the ones who are marked by his name and are, therefore, saved.  The day will come when all will confess that he is Lord, whether they want to or not.  They will have no choice, because Jesus will not appear in weakness, but in glory as King of kings and Lord of lords.  But you will not bristle at such a confession.  It is our joy already to honor Jesus as Lord, King, and Savior.  That is because your king has come to suffer and to save you.  Jesus is King for you.  Jesus is Lord for you.  He lives and reigns and does all things for you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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