Palm Sunday, Sermon. April 5th 2020.
Matthew 21:1-11, Isaiah 50:4-9a.
In this crisis time, much of the news we watch or flick through on our phones is heavy in tone, as many thousands have died since last Sunday, governments makes statements on what they are doing next or how things are going, the WHO sharing about the ongoing spread of the Coronavirus and a BBC article asking what will be the last place for Coronavirus to reach. Yet as we begin Holy Week, as we focus upon the Self Giving of Jesus, the Servant King, as we remember that sacrifice, we remember also the stories of acts of service – actions by individuals to care and help those in need on their streets. And there, in the Netherlands and in each country, the incredible sacrificial work being done by our health professionals – nurses, doctors, paramedics – and we respect and honour those hours, demands and frontline work. Those acts of service. We thank you. We continue to pray for you.
Isaiah 50 is about service. It is one of the 4 Servant Songs – chapters 42, 49, 50 and 53. Jesus is the Servant par excellence. Yet Paul, when preaching in Acts 13, reminds us, when he says : ‘We are now turning to the Gentiles, for so the Lord has commanded us, saying: ‘I made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ He quote Isaiah 49. We as servants of the Servant King, we continue to be about the Servant Kings’ work.
What is the Servant called to do? By reading the previous servant songs, we would see: The servant is called to bring God’s truth and justice to the nation. To be a light to others who do not know.
How is the Servant to act. The Servant will not be someone who snuffs out a smouldering wick, he will not be someone who breaks a bruised reed. These beautiful words applied to Jesus ministry in Matthew 12. Most people, trample down a reed – it cannot be used; a bit of candle wick, we get a new one. The Servant – Jesus, and by association us – the one who binds up, heals, supports the bruised. He does not stub out, he seeks to fan into flame. Just consider, how in this Holy Week, Peter. By the end of Friday, bruised, the flame is low. Yet on Easter Sunday – as Mark 16 records: The Angel says: ‘He has risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples, and Peter.’ Tell Peter. Healing begins for the bruised, broken. And on that beach over breakfast in Galillee, Jesus brings that healing fully and fans into flame Peter, as he has done already for the other disciples. The Servant is to bring a word, to ‘sustain the weary’. Who is Jesus you may ask? He is one who says – ‘all you who are weary and heavy laden, come to me and rest’. The one who seeks to heal the broken, who does disregard the vulnerable or damaged or hurt.
What is the Servant to be careful of? That he himself will not be snuffed out or broken himself – due to the demands, or when difficuly and opposition comes. He has resources. His resource is that is involved in God’s plan. It is God who sends him. He has power, he has God’s Spirit – the Spirit came on particular people at particular times and particular times in the OT, but it always came at times connected with God’s plan being worked out. He has the strength of relationship. He is chosen, he is upheld, his hand is taken by God.
As Servants of the Servant King, as ones to be about the Servants work, we are to bring his light, his truth, his justice, to others; we are to bind and heal and to fan into flame; we are to use and remember the resources from God – it is God who has a plan, a mission; God’s power, for in each of us the Spirit dwells and Paul exhorts us, to be daily filled with the Spirit; and our relationship with the Lord – we are chosen by Jesus, we are his friends, we are held, no one can snatch us out of his hand, or separate us from his love.
Isaiah 50 shapes us more. The Servant who listens in order that they can speak. ‘’The Lord has given me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens me morning by morning. He awakens my ear to listen as a disciple.’’. Its possible that someone can be so full of words that it increases and not reduces someone’s weariness. Job’s friends – called comforters – they had been at their best when they sat silently with Job, almost like the family and friends of a Jew, ‘sitting shiva’ with him, in a time of bereavement. A time to speak there must be. To listen to understand the precise nature of someone’s weariness. And then our privilege and responsibility, as a disciple, is to not only show that we have understood, but to apply the gospel to it.
But how do we have the right words? John Goldingay:
‘’The key to his having them, is the fact that he listens for them. The secret is to have a disciples’ tongue, a mouth that speaks what the ears have learned.’’
The starting place is in the word: disciple’s tongue. The Servant has done his learning, he has soaked in the Torah, in the Prophets, in the other writings like the Psalms. Soaked in the Scriptures. The Servant points us to : Who knows how to sustain the weary? It is Yahweh. That it had to be what Yahweh taught.
Jesus modeled this. Jesus said the night before he died – Maundy Thursday : ‘The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.’’ (John 14). And again, ‘’I have called you friends, for everything I learned from the Father I have made known to you You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command. Love each other.’’ (John 15).
The challenge of the Servant, the challenge of Jesus. To be taught. So we can sustain the weary. So we can love each other. This naturally asks, about the time we set aside to be with the Lord. When we come to his word, as we grow in a grasp of the truth, we need also to be asking: what is this saying to me, today, what does the Bible passage mean to me, today, how does this apply to me, today We seek the Spirit to illuminate. To shine into our lives, for the Father to speak, to build us up, to strengthen us, to comfort us, to encourage, to correct and change.
However, there is the second aspect, of generally regular time and space with the Lord, to reflect, to hold things before him, people, situations, opportunities, challenges. I remember a person was exploring if he was called to be ordained. He went to see someone, a spiritual director, that person said – just spend 30 minutes in silence each day. Nothing more. That was step one. He hated it. He found it so hard. Yet he was not used to silence. Yet he found. In the silence, the Spirit began to speak, remind, shape.
I say this not to say you need to spend 30 minutes. Rather. The Servant daily was being taught. Focused time. It is so hard if we grab a few minutes in the word, over breakfast, then into work and that becomes our daily pattern – and we say, God does not speak, I have nothing from my storehouses to give out. But you need to be realistic in this season of, for some chaos. Some of you are just hanging in there, it feels – work, home schooling, cooking, trying to work out how to do exercise, keeping in touch online, ringing elderly relatives… and fitting in time with God. Be kind to yourself . Be realistic. But you know, the Servant thinks about the word to sustain the weary. You may be the weary one he seeks to sustain. The bruised one he seeks to heal. The stub he seeks to fan into flame. Think. Where in this week – can I set aside some quality time with the Lord. The Lord who seeks to sustain you, the weary. And the words we receive as we spend time, as we read how can they sustain others we know who are weary?
The Servant is the One who listens. But also. The Servant is one who accepts affliction as the price of ministry. The LORD has spoken. The gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness, truth and faithfulness. The Servant will not draw back or be rebellious. The price for the Servant to be willing and obedient to bring God’s word to the weary, is to feel his enemies lashes on his back, their mockery, their spitting, the physical harm. It isn’t hard to see what the Anglican Church worldwide has this as one of its readings on Palm Sunday.
Jesus chose to enter the city. He knew what faced him. In fact, in Mark, three times he says – the Son of Man, the title he used for himself, would be betrayed, suffer and die, and be raised to life. He knows it is the will of the Father. He has heard his voice. He walks into Jerusalem, with the crowds, on the donkey, declaring he is the Messiah, knowing what it will mean. The Servant’s piety in private, is backed up by courage in public. Ministry, faithful service, in God’s name and God’s plan, brings trouble.
Winston Churchill. Was called Britain ‘s greatest leader. Yet when he read about him, you learn that in the First World War, he had resign from office, because of the failed Gallipoli campaign. He failed spectacularly yet he leaned not to give up. There is a story. He went later to his old school in Harrow. He was asked to speak to the boys. He got up – the whole school assembled for his words and sentences of wisdom. He said: Young men, never give up, never give up, never give up.’ He then sat back down, the speech lasted a few seconds. They never forgot it. That is the popular google version. He did say words like that, but in a longer speech: Towards the end of the speech he said: ‘’Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the overwhelming might of the enemy.’’
Jesus never gave in through this week. He did not give up. Jesus went in. He offered his back to the beaters – as he was beaten by the guards at the Sanhedrin, Pilate’s ordered him flogged on Good Friday morning. He was mocked upon at the cross – he saved others, why doesn’t he save himself – yet he prayed for those who mocked him.
The Servant. Jesus. Has a disciple tongue. He has been declaring what Yahweh taught him. He can take the consequences. Yet his afflictions are not in vain. He knows. It is God’s plan, and it will be shown to be right.
As the words close. Servant speaks of God’s help in these difficulties as he faithfully serves and brings the word. God does not just send, but he is present and strengthens. It reminds us, not only how Jesus draws on daily strength from prayer – he went daily to the Mount of Olives in that Holy Week, hence Judas knows where to find him. How in Gethsemane, an angel strengthens him as well. Strength and help comes in opposition. But he has confidence – who ultimately can accuse, or bring charges, the Lord God is for him.
We too as servants have that confidence in all we face. We can listen. We know God’s work he invites us to. We have the promise of his power. And we are confident in our relationship, whether weary, under attack or hanging in there. Jesus was. So we can be. So to end with well know words. Let these words, be over you this week, whatever or wherever you are.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[j]
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (Romans 8:31-39). Amen.
A Prayer for this Sunday and for this Holy Week.
Thanks be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have won for me,
for all the pains and insults you have borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may I know you more clearly, love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.