April 9, 2017 Sermon (Palm Sunday)
Matthew 21:1-11/ 27:11-54
Humility and Obedience
Today is Palm Sunday and we read a variety of gospel readings from the triumphant entry to Jerusalem to the passion story. Palm Sunday worship service is divided into two parts; the liturgy of the palms and the liturgy of the passion. That is why we started with an upbeat scripture reading and a joyful hymn, and then suddenly became somber. The two different liturgies of Palm Sunday are interesting because these two stories teach us the two central values of God’s kingdom; humility and obedience to God. These two values are what the gospel teaching is all about; what the kingdom of God is about.
Let’s start with the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry to Jerusalem. Now this is the beginning of the last part of the gospel story; the climax. Every proper story has a climax and a conclusion. I think this is why we read story books. In this story, Jesus is entering Jerusalem while being hailed by the crowd as their saviour/ king. Check the manner in which this “king” is entering the nation’s most important place. Other great leaders and kings would have ridden a handsome and strong stallion. This king rides on a donkey. Of course, we found out during this reading that the prophet Zechariah prophesied to his people that their king will come on a donkey because he is humble. The leader that will save the Israelites is not like the rulers of the world who wield majestic power over their people. From the whole gospel teaching, we heard Jesus teaching about humility, praising those who are humble and rebuking those who are not. He said he came to serve, not to be served; that in God’s kingdom, first will be last and last will be first. Humility is indeed the highest value in God’s kingdom, according to Jesus.
But when we get to the passion story, we see the crowd suddenly turning on him and asking for his death. They wanted a king/ leader to save them, but they didn’t get him; they didn’t understand him and his messages. They wanted a superhero who could deliver them from the Roman Empire; but Jesus was first and foremost a spiritual teacher. He was never going to incite a rebellion against the empire; yes he indeed promoted justice for the oppressed, but his resistance was more of a spiritual nature. When we get to the passion story, what we witness is a representative of God obeying his God without compromising in the face of fear and death. His beliefs and conviction concerning God’s will and the community of God’s people were so strong and solid that even the fear of the most gruesome death could not make him stand down. He lived teaching God’s kingdom of justice; and he died standing up for his conviction.
Humility and obedience to God are the core values of God’s kingdom that we should strive to achieve. The Season of Lent, especially the Holy Week, is the climax of the gospel story and of the Christian Year. From the gospel texts, we learn about a leader who taught and demonstrated humility throughout his life, and a brave man of strong conviction who did not flinch and compromise his beliefs even in the face of suffering and death. During this spiritually crucial time in the Christian Year, and also during our lifetime in general, let us strive to learn these two core values of God’s kingdom.
We are vulnerable to temptations and full of fear in the face of threat and danger. Not everyone can live like Jesus did; no, in fact, not many people can even live half as perfectly as he did. I know that the task of following Jesus and imitating his life and values is a great challenge. Even many of Jesus’ immediate disciples ran away when he was arrested because they were scared. Peter denied being his friend out of fear, and then wept bitterly afterwards. But remember that after Jesus left the earth, God sent us the Holy Spirit to be our personal trainer, coach, and guide. Know that we don’t have to do this discipleship thing alone. Know that we have the Holy Spirit as our helper and the Creator God who keeps giving us a second chance when we make mistakes and say to us, “It’s your heart and effort that I see, not the result and accomplishments”. So I would like to send you off into the Holy Week with this encouragement from the God of love and compassion, not the God of judgment.
Rev. Sunny Kim