4/13/03, Palm Sunday, Year B
his week we have all enjoyed seeing television images of happy and free Iraqi citizens parading jubilantly waving palm branches and shirts in the air, as they welcomed our American soldiers into Baghdad. They looked so much like the Sunday School images that we grew up with of the Triumphal Entry that Jesus received from the crowds on the Sunday before his Crucifixion. At lunch with a fellow pastor on Wednesday I asked if he had seen the television coverage of the welcoming of our soldiers and before I could draw the connection he observed, "it looked like Palm Sunday to me." You probably made the same connection.
Indeed, it was a wonderful thing for the entire world to see the fall of Saddam Hussein's main statue in Baghdad because it underlined our objective of bringing freedom to an oppressed people. However, the day after the celebration much of the international news media had returned to negativism, second guessing and complaining. Even though the shooting war is still ongoing, some of our congressional leaders have resumed their sniping remarks.
A negative chain of events also followed Jesus' jubilant welcome into Jerusalem. Much of the crowd turned on him and one of his own Apostles betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver. Thus, today we re-enact the events of Palm Sunday's welcome, knowing that hosanna's soon turned into hatred. Our celebration today is more of a commitment that we will not betray Jesus and will remain loyal to Him forever. And the Lord needs our unwavering loyalty.
There is a remark made by Jesus in our text that I had not noticed previously:
It hit me that the Lord needs a lot of things from us too.
The Lord's church, here on Peachtree Street, has just seven thousand dollars in the bank and we have a seven thousand dollar gas bill due; and also a payroll due in two days. Hopefully, more than we need will come in through our offering plates today to meet our bills, but it does underscore the shortfall we are working with this year due to a major cutback in investment income. Hopefully, we will do our best to meet the Lord's financial needs today, right here. "The Lord needs it…"
More than money, however, the Lord needs our loyalty. Betrayal by loyalists is a theme of Holy Week that has for two-thousand years reminded the Church of the sinful and fickle nature of some. The story of Judas is a valuable lesson to us concerning how much the Lord needs our loyalty. We all know that folks can fall away. We have known deserters to the faith. We have all known persons who have fallen from grace. We know that we too can fall.
I learned a valuable lesson in falling during a teenage summer job with a company that installed gutters. The first time we climbed up on a high roof my boss warned us, "Be careful, and don't take any chances, because you can fall!" Knowing that I could fall kept me from falling. We were careful in every move we made up on that steep slate roof.
Although our loyalty to the Lord is at a high point on Palm Sunday, we all have seen folks fall from faith. Usually their fall is not as dramatic as the big dive off the roof; rather, falling is usually a gradual process. They drop out of their Sunday School Class, and you rarely see them at any of the worship services. Pretty soon they are gone.
Another aspect to the events surrounding Holy Week that were impressed upon me when I was initially working on this text was that after He entered the Temple and looked around at what was going on He took the Apostles back to Bethany for the night. He possibly has a sleepless night because of what He saw, but in the morning He returned and cleansed the Temple of the merchants who had turned the House of God into a den of thieves. No doubt many of those who felt the wrath of Jesus' anger had started out as honest providers of a service to folks who forgot to bring along a sacrificial lamb or dove. Others needed change and there were no ATM's. These temple vendors had lost the spiritual reason for being there. They had forsaken the Lord.
We run the same risk. Many who would never admit that they have lost the fervor of faith have indeed lost sight of the heartfelt experience that they once had. Now, they are bored with preaching and prayer and with their original reasons for wanting to follow Jesus. It is not far from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, from celebration to denial, from a seeming victory, to a hopeless death. We march through the reenactment of the forsakenness of the Cross and burial in a tomb, to the hope of Easter. We relive this story knowing its glorious victory is our victory too.
I have walked through this week of pageantry every year of my life and it never ceases to grab me in unexpected ways. As a child I seemed to always get a new Easter suit that always included white shoes. It is still a tradition in Augusta for folks to wear white shoes on Easter Sunday, maybe not always new but newly polished. It is a sign of new life. Not just new life in the azaleas and the dogwood trees, but renewed live in our hearts.
Let us allow the message of Holy Week grab us anew this year! The Lord needs us, but we need Him so much more.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor