Preached at the Palm Sunday benefice service, St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Upton upon Severn, 14 April 2019
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” say, “The Lord needs it.”’
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’
34 They replied, ‘The Lord needs it.’
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’
40 ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’
One of my strangest – and most enjoyable – experiences of visiting a church while on holiday was a Sunday morning Carol and I spent with a church that met in an open-doored barn on the Hawaiian island of Kauai back in 2003.
What made the lack of doors memorable was the thunderstorm going on outside. But inside, it was dry, the welcome was warm, and the people were clearly in love with Jesus. And then they sang the perfect song for today’s Palm Sunday reading. Do you remember how it ended? With those grouchy Pharisees – the equivalent of today’s church shush-lady – telling Jesus that his disciples weren’t being very reverent.
Rebuke your disciples sir, they’re not acting like good Christians!”
And how did Jesus reply?
“I tell you, if they keep quiet the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)
Well the song we sang that morning was a joyous gospel song called, “Ain’t Gonna Let No Rock Outpraise me.” Look it up on Youtube! And it set me thinking – what can we learn from the people in our passage, to make sure we ain’t gonna let no rock outpraise us?
Well let’s start by thinking about who they’re praising: the Lord. Because “Lord” is how Jesus describes himself here. Did you notice that in v32? It’s a word that means “the one in supreme authority.” So it’s a God claim. Jesus is describing himself as the one in charge of everything – of all of creation.
That’s why he sends his disciples to get the donkey. Notice how he doesn’t say,
Go and ask the owner if the Lord can borrow the donkey.”
Instead he says,
Untie it and bring it here.”
You see, the Lord is entitled to take what is his own, because he’s the one in charge.
That’s probably why he can ride the donkey as well. Now I know some of you here can spot a health and safety risk from five miles away with your eyes shut, so I hope you noticed the danger lurking in the passage here. Someone who has never ridden before, is getting onto an animal that has never been ridden before. What could possibly go wrong?
So presumably after filling out a 5-page risk assessment form and letting Ecclesiastical insurance know, the disciples bring the donkey to Jesus, throw a cloak on its back and put him on it, for the short journey into Jerusalem. And nothing goes wrong. Sometimes we just have to stop worrying and trust that God is in charge! Especially when he’s got a purpose to fulfil.
You see the donkey is Jesus way of sending a message to the crowds about an Old Testament Messiah prophecy. Here’s what Zechariah 9:9 says,
Rejoice greatly…Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
So what message do you think Jesus is sending by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? It’s that he’s their Messiah. The one long promised by God. That’s why – along with the miracles he’d done – the crowd go crazy, shouting v38,
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Jesus is the king they’ve been waiting for, for hundreds of years. No wonder they were excited. But what about us? Are we excited about Jesus the Lord of creation, the long-promised Messiah, and indeed the tamer of donkeys?
You know, it seems to me that if we want to be good Christians – and I’m sure you all do – then excitement about Jesus has got to be part of the deal hasn’t it?
Now to be sure, part of that excitement is gonna’ be felt on the inside – deep down in our hearts. No one’s gonna’ see that. But if it’s really there – well – it’s also gonna’ bubble up and be visible on the outside.
And that’s a really good thing. You see it’s the Pharisees who get worried about exuberance in worship. Its’ the Pharisees who want everything kept under control. Yes – the Bible talks about church being done in a good orderly manner. But when St Paul speaks of this he’s contrasting it with a festival meal in which people are getting drunk and disorderly. He’s against drunken selfish chaos, not exuberant, authentic, joy-filled worship.
So when you’re singing God’s praise – don’t hold back. We’re not here to win a music competition, or to sing perfectly in tune. So let rip. Let the joy of the Lord fill you to overflowing, and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. You’re singing to God, because of the wonderful thing he’s done for you in Jesus.
And he has done something wonderful for us. That’s there in v38,
Peace in Heaven and glory in the highest.”
That’s all about the hope we have in Jesus of being reconciled with God.
You know all week long I’ve been doing the same Easter talk for the schools. I started at Breakfast Church and then did it at Hanley Swan and then Upton. I’ll not repeat the full thing here, but I start with a large Easter egg, which gets smashed, to represent the brokenness of creation, and of course of people. We all know that brokenness don’t we? We live among it, and it lives in us. It makes us do things we regret, things we’re ashamed of. It leads us to deceive others, and even to deceive ourselves. It turns some of us into moral scoundrels like the prodigal son. And it turns others of us into Pharisees – like his brother. All the mess of our lives comes from the brokenness of creation.
But when Jesus died on the cross, he took all of our brokenness with him. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah put it like this,
We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him, the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
Imagine that. All our brokenness and shame – laid around Jesus neck. Not a garland of honour but a garland of shame. That’s what the broken Easter egg is.
And then I produce a new egg to help the children understand the resurrection. It’s perfect, new, still in its shiny rapper. And that’s what Jesus can do for us. Make us new. Put us back together in a way we can never do ourselves. And give us the best gift of all – peace in heaven with God. Reconciliation with the Father. That’s exciting.
But only if you really know how broken you are. Because until you recognise how broken you are, you can never know how rescued you are. That’s why although the language is hard, I love the confession prayer in the Book of Common Prayer.
We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness , Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.
Do you really believe that? Then what joy that the wrath and indignation of God the Father at our sin, falls on Jesus instead.
And what joy we should feel that our manifold sins and wickedness are not counted against us, but are borne by Jesus instead.
And what joy that anyone could love us so much that he’d be willing to take that for us. Greater love has no one than this – than to give his life for his friends. I hope that’s something that makes your heart want to sing! After all, we don’t want the rocks outpraising us!
So we’ve looked at the joy of these disciples. Let’s finish by thinking about their obedience?
Did you notice how at the start of the reading, Jesus sends two of his disciples on a strange errand. Go to a location you’ve not been before, untie the donkey you find there, and bring it, because the Lord needs it! Imagine being given an instruction like that!
Once, when I was working in London, I set my youth worker off on a similar task.Find us a donkey for Palm Sunday, I said. She didn’t go off to the next village like these disciples did. She went online. And it was only after several emails had been exchanged, and we were nearly ready to pay quite a substantial sum, that we realised the farm she’d contacted was in the USA! I blame the internet!
God often asks us to do strange things that require faith to do them properly. That’s what obedience is – heading off into the unknown because the Saviour says so.
It takes faith to love your neighbour.
It takes faith to forgive your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.
It takes faith to go to all nations making disciples.
It takes faith for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church by giving himself up for her.
It takes faith to use money the way God wants you to use it, not the way Tesco and Apple want you to use it.
It takes faith to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Jesus.
It takes faith to go now and leave your life of sin.
And if we want to be good Christians – and I’m sure you all do – then faithfully obeying the obvious commands of God is part of the deal.
But as a culture we really struggle with this idea of obedience, don’t we? There’s a philosophy out there that says human freedom is the most important thing, and therefore you can never be free if you’re following someone else’s rules. We call it moral relativism, where everything becomes true from your own perspective. And it’s exactly the same idea the serpent whispered in Eve’s ear all the way back in the Garden of Eden. You know best. You know better than God.
But we don’t. Life isn’t just about the individual. We don’t live all alone on an island. Life is a team sport. And team sports need rules. In fact, there’s no freedom in a team sport unless you have rules, and a referee to enforce them. Take the rules out of rugby and you’re left with a riot.
And it’s just the same with God. When we give ourselves into his faithful and obedient service – like these disciples do – When we go and do the things Jesus calls us to do, Even though its going to be hard and costly, that’s when we discover true freedom and true joy.
Maybe there’s an issue like that you’re struggling with at the moment A particular place you find it hard to obey God. Maybe it’s a moral issue. Or a relationship issue. When you commit to obeying God, That’s when you discover true freedom. And when you beg his forgiveness for your past disobedience, That’s when you discover true joy.
At the very end of your songsheet there’s a prayer of St Augustine. You might want to have a look at it because I’m going to invite you to pray it with me in a moment, and it expresses that relationship between obedience and freedom beautifully.
O God, you are the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the wills that serve you: help me to know you that I may truly love you, and so to love you that I may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Augustine of Hippo 354-430)
This Palm Sunday – let’s choose to be a people who ain’t gonna let no rocks outpraise us, And who in joyful obedience, discover perfect freedom. Would you pray with me?