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First Reading = Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
1O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
2Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
19Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.
20This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.
21I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
22The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
23This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
26Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.
28You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.
29O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
This is the last in our series looking at covenants in the Bible. Remember that covenants are promises that God makes to us. God sets the terms, God sets the expectations, and though we fail the covenants are sustained by the commitment of God.
Today is Palm Sunday. You probably noticed that already since you’re smart…and the whole palm waving thing. This marks the high point where the crowds are with Jesus. But this also marks the point where his betrayal and crucifixion are just around the corner.
Sermon Reading = Mark 11:1-11
11When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
“Hosanna!Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
It was December 24 – Christmas Eve – in 1914. Over here on one side were some German men. They were singing their favorite Christmas carols at the top of their lungs. And over here on this other side were some British men. And they, too, were singing some of their favorite Christmas carols at the top of their lungs.
At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, 1914, some of the German soldiers emerged and carefully moved forward, calling out “Merry Christmas” in English. Now, they had to be careful. Because the land they were walking over was No Man’s Land – the charred space between the two trenches during World War I. As the bullets stopped flying, at one point along the miles-long lines of death, the two sides enjoyed a friendly game of football – or soccer as we Yankees call it.
A German lieutenant recalled: “How marvelously wonderful, yet how strange it was. The English officers felt the same way about it. Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time.”
It was never to be repeated, because the officers wouldn’t allow it to happen again, but for that one day…for that ONE DAY…there was a glimpse of the humanity beyond the helmets and mortars and machine guns.
For that ONE DAY, they saw each other as fellow followers of Jesus Christ celebrating his birth.
Palm Sunday was another one of those days. A day when people saw a shared hope, a shared dream, a shared vision of what could be through the person of Jesus.
For that one day, for Palm Sunday, they stood together in the streets and shouted “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!” For that one day, for Palm Sunday, they stood together and looked toward the same person for their hope. For that one day, for Palm Sunday, they looked to Jesus instead of glowering at their enemies.
Now, we know what is coming, right? We know that Friday is coming. We know that the cross is coming. We know that this crowd couldn’t keep it together more than a couple of days. We know the “Hosanna” turns into “Crucify him” in just a few days. I don’t need to tell you about the tragedy, the pain, the loss, the confusion that comes next. You know that. But I do want to talk about this one day where things were different.
Similarly, you know a few things about World War I. You probably know a lot of people died. You might know that it was the first large-scale example of total war. I don’t need to tell you about the millions who died. I don’t need to tell you about the 1918 flu pandemic that swept through. We have plenty of perspective on that one ourselves, thank you very much! But I do want to talk about that one day where things were different.
Who We Are
What was so different about Palm Sunday? Why was the Palm Sunday attitude so different? Why was the Palm Sunday identity so different?
Well, to figure out what was so different perhaps we should figure out what was normal. You see, normally, they had the same kinds of division and fault lines that have waxed and waned through almost every culture throughout history – including our own.
They had the religious conservatives and the religious liberals. They had those who wanted to embrace the multi-cultural Roman empire. And they had those who were committed to the traditional Jewish cultural values. They had those who wanted to just keep their head down and not be bothered. And they had those who were willing to fight for what they believed in. They had the divisions between rich and poor. They had the divisions between city and rural. They had disease. They had crime. They had racial tensions. They had questions about justice and taxes and the military and foreign relations.
And yet for one day – for ONE DAY – they stood next to each other and shouted “Hosanna! Save us!” They had a Palm Sunday identity. They saw who they were on that day in a different way. And that Palm Sunday identity allowed them to shout “Hosanna” next to someone they would have simply shouted at any other day.
Let me share some of those key identity moments in our text today before I bring us back to Littleton, Colorado.
The first identity moment in our text is when it says “his disciples.” In that era, students became disciples of philosophers and rabbis and gurus by trying to copy everything about them. They would copy their ideas, copy their ways of speaking, copy their dress, copy their actions, copy everything they could. That’s what it meant to be a disciple. You copy everything you can about your teacher.
If your teacher liked basketball, you liked basketball. If your teacher liked robes, you liked robes. If your teacher was from Boston and said he wanted to “pahk the cah,” you wanted to “pahk the cah” even if you were from Georgia.
So a disciple of Jesus is someone who wants what Jesus has and tries to copy him in every way they can. That’s an identity moment. I am a disciple of Jesus. I want to copy Jesus in every way I can.
The next identity moment came with the colt. Jesus told them to say, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” By the way, if someone’s sitting in my car trying to hotwire it and they say, “The Lord needs it,” I’m not sure I’m gonna be cool with that!
But something on that day, on Palm Sunday, clicked. And the owner of the colt made a choice about his identity. He decided to serve the Lord rather than serving himself. He chose to be the kind of person who saw his stuff, his colt, as on loan from God instead of his own. He chose to be a servant of the Lord instead of a servant of himself.
The next identity moment came from the crowd. When they shouted “Hosanna,” “save us,” they were making an identity statement. They were saying they needed to be saved. The Romans weren’t shouting for Jesus to save them. The traveling merchants in Jerusalem weren’t shouting for Jesus to save them. But this crowd was. They were the group of people who knew they needed to be saved, and they were the group of people who believed Jesus could do it.
And the final identity moment came from Jesus himself. When someone rides into an occupied city with a crowd shouting “Save us! Save us!” you expect them to start a rebellion. But Jesus didn’t. He went to the Temple instead. Going to the Temple made a statement that he was re-ordering the spiritual situation rather than the military or political situation at the time. He knew his mission. He knew his identity.
Those were some identity moments in the text. Let me bring it back home.
I have spent a large portion of the last fourteen months thinking about my identity in Christ. We did a sermon series, a small group series, and I also did an intensive group about purpose and identity in Christ.
The core idea is that each person is uniquely crafted by God. I wrote a science fiction short story for a competition in late 2019, and the story emerged from my dreams and visions for each character. Characters in a good story aren’t generic archetypes. They have histories and passions and flaws and motivations and challenges.
In a similar way, God dreamed a unique life for each one of us before we were born. Luckily for us, God has a better imagination than I do – I didn’t win anything with that short story. But unlike the characters on a page, God lets us weave in and out of alignment with his dream and vision for our lives.
When we’re living in alignment with God’s dream for our unique lives, it’s like catching the wind on a sailboat. It’s like catching the wind with a kite. It’s like hitting the boost pad on a racing video game. It’s like when you arrive at your favorite vacation spot, and your shoulders relax, and you just <AAAHHH> feel at home. That’s how I feel when I get on a ski lift early in the morning before the throngs arrive.
And that brings us back to the paradox of Palm Sunday. When we are looking to Jesus, when we are placing Jesus first in our lives, when we are pursuing Jesus ahead of our own ambitions, when we have a Palm Sunday identity…the paradox is that focusing on Jesus, this faith we share, focusing on Jesus results in us living the unique lives that God dreamed for us.
When we focus on Jesus, when we have Palm Sunday identity, we don’t become identical people with identical lives and identical desires and identical answers to the hot button topics of our age. No way. God is way too creative to make a bunch of duplicates.
When you focus on the faith in Jesus that we share, you become more uniquely you – as God dreamed for you. And I become more uniquely me – as God dreamed for me. And the person in the other pew becomes more uniquely them – as God dreamed for them. And the person watching this recording on Thursday becomes more uniquely them – as God dreamed for them.
So let me tell you a bit about who I am – uniquely. I firmly believe that God dreamed a life for each and every one of us. I firmly believe that living the life God dreamed for me is the best life I could possibly live, even if it’s not the one I would have dreamed for myself. I firmly believe that my faith should transform me and sometimes challenge me to be a better version of myself – to be more like the life God dreamed for me. I firmly believe that I have the most important answer – Jesus – but I don’t have every answer. And because of that I firmly believe that I should demonstrate a gracious attitude when people have some different answers than me. I firmly believe that I know Jesus better and discover the life God dreamed for me better as I understand the Bible better – that’s God’s number one way of communicating with us.
And I firmly believe that I am here on this earth to create transformation. In a church setting, creating transformation means helping you live the life God dreamed for you. In my family, creating transformation means helping my children live the life God dreamed for them. In my work teaching kids computer programming, creating transformation means helping kids whom others have left behind have a chance at a different future. I am here on this earth to create transformation.
That actually spills over to my projects at home. I am way more interested in building something new than doing routine maintenance. I want to create transformation!
That’s me. That’s who I am as best as I can articulate it today. By focusing on Jesus, my Palm Sunday identity, I discover more and more this unique identity that God dreams for me.
Who are you? What life does God dream…uniquely…for you?
The most important place to start is something we share – that Palm Sunday identity of placing Jesus first. That’s the most important part of your identity. But after that? After that, you start to discover who you are and what kind of life God dreamed for you.
Helping you discover and live the life God dreamed for you? That’s the motivation behind our recent effort to check in with individual households. We are asking the same kinds of questions because there are some important commonalities in our lives. But each person has a very unique way of answering them.
I firmly believe that every person needs compassionate relationships where people know how to pray for you specifically this month. You might get that from a church group, but it might be a book club or a lifelong friend you stay in touch with. We all need those relationships, but your path is unique.
I firmly believe that every person needs to invest in their spiritual growth. As you get to know Jesus better, you discover more of the life God dreamed for you. That’s a good thing! That’s a great thing! That’s a fabulous thing! But each person resonates with different approaches to spiritual growth. In fact, for the next nine weeks, starting next week on Easter, we are going to cover nine different spiritual pathways. Nine different approaches to connecting with God.
Here they are:
- Naturalists: Loving God Outdoors
- Sensates: Loving God with the Senses
- Traditionalists: Loving God through Ritual and Symbol
- Ascetics: Loving God in Solitude and Simplicity
- Activists: Loving God through Confrontation
- Caregivers: Loving God by Loving Others
- Enthusiasts: Loving God with Mystery and Celebration
- Contemplatives: Loving God through Adoration
- Intellectuals: Loving God with the Mind
Most churches only know that you’re investing in your spiritual growth if you attend one of the organized church groups. But what if you’re an ascetic who loves God in solitude? Should I demand that you join a small group or Bible study? No! I just need to know you well enough to know how you’re loving God in solitude. Maybe that’s a walk alone in the morning. Maybe that’s a prayer closet.
But if you haven’t discovered the spiritual pathway that works best for you yet? Well that’s where I can help and that’s where the church can help. We’re going to spend nine weeks on this, and over my sabbatical this summer I’m going to spend some time trying to turn it into an online resource you can use at any time.
I also firmly believe that every person needs to serve others generously. Jesus came to serve, not to be served. As we serve others, we draw closer to Jesus and we discover more of the life that God dreamed for us. Again, you might serve on a church committee. But you also might serve in the community and we would love to know that and celebrate that! That counts!
On top of those questions, we’re asking how we can pray for you, what would make you happy, and if you have any questions for us.
This is how we are trying to invest in your journey toward Jesus, which will in turn help you live the life God dreamed for you. Your Palm Sunday identity of looking to Jesus unlocks the unique life God dreamed for you.
Sisters and brothers, we all have the same Palm Sunday identity – looking to Jesus first before anything else. And as we look to Jesus, this faith we share, we also discover the unique life God dreamed for each and every one of us.
The original Palm Sunday crowd could only keep their eyes on Jesus for a day or two. The two sides in World War I could only keep their eyes on Jesus for one day.
Can we keep our eyes on Jesus first – before anything else – longer than that? If we can keep our Palm Sunday identity in focus, we can discover the lives God dreamed for us. That would be remarkable. Just as remarkable as the first Palm Sunday. Amen.