March 6 – Fourth Sunday in Lent
Proclaimer: Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
Worship Theme: Imitating the Spiritual Life of Jesus: What Jesus Wouldn’t Do
Sermon: Jesus Wouldn’t Lead a Parade about Himself or Die for Nothing
Scripture: Luke 19:29-40; 23:44-49
People gathered in Jerusalem to begin the most sacred week of spiritual renewal in their tradition of faith. Jesus discerned he would be praised as he entered the city. So, he sent his disciples to fetch a young colt. Jesus chose to ride upon a colt because it symbolized peace and humility. Riding a horse into the city would have symbolized military power. It is still easier to find people riding a message of military power rather than a message of peace and humility.
Although Jesus planned what he would ride in the parade, he did not plan the parade to be about himself. The parade was a symbol of Jesus’ teaching and lifestyle practice: The supreme power of God’s transformational influence in the world is incarnated as actions of humble service. As people hoped to make Jesus a king, he always pointed beyond himself to the King of Kings, The Living God. Jesus used that parade of palms to emphasize the character of God and God’s people to be humble and loving.
Today, in a procession of palms, we enter Holy Week; the most sacred week of spiritual renewal in our tradition of faith. We renew our commitments to be humble servants of God.
Friends, please be reminded that your humble service makes more of a difference in the world than you will ever know. To quote a poet, “Just as a rose cannot trace its scent, you cannot trace the effects of your influence.” As you incarnate the supreme power of God through humble service, you influence the world in transformational ways. Harry Emerson Fosdick said, “We cannot all be great; but each of us can connect our lives to something that is great.”
As palm branches welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, he was looking beyond the parade. Theologians tell us that, from the back of that colt, Jesus could foresee the shadow of a cross.
Theologians propose different ideas as to why Jesus died. Some suggest Jesus died to appease God; proposing God demanded a sacrificial lamb. I disagree with those theologians.
I agree with Baptist theologians such as Frank Stagg and Fisher Humphreys, who teach that Jesus chose to die because he was committed to revealing The Living God as love. Jesus did not die to appease an angry God. Jesus died because he was a humble servant of God. It was not God who chose to crucify Jesus; it was a sinful human choice to crucify Jesus. Yet, God’s character is revealed in Jesus’ prayer, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Humphreys introduces the phrase, “cruciform forgiveness.” He teaches that forgiveness is always costly and requires a sacrifice on the part of the one who forgives. Jesus forgave the very people who caused his pain. Just as God’s forgiveness is expressed in a way that is costly to God, so every expression of forgiveness – including humans forgiving humans – is costly taking the shape of a cross; thus, the word, ‘cruciform.’ In the death of Jesus, we see both the nature of The Loving God who is forgiving and the nature of forgiveness which is costly.
Of course, there are many theologies of Jesus’ death and you are free to choose yours. One thing is sure, Jesus would not die for nothing. Jesus did not merely choose to die because he was giving up in despair or fatigue. Jesus died for something; he died for you and for everyone to know The Loving Living God and to inspire us to follow God in our living.
Today, we are focused on more than a palm procession. At the beginning of Holy Week, the most sacred week of spiritual renewal in our tradition of faith, we offer our lives in humble service through our commitments to the mission of God. We choose to present our bodies as living sacrifices unto God who calls us to the ministry of reconciliation and redemption. We are faithful followers and learners of Jesus, Lord of the dance:
Dance, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance, said he, And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he.
I danced on the Sabbath And I cured the lame. The holy people Said it was a shame. They whipped and they stripped me And they hung me on high, And they left me there On a Cross to die.
I danced on a Friday When the sky turned black – It’s hard to dance With the devil on your back. They buried my body And they thought I’d gone, But I am the Dance, And I still go on.