Sermon by Pastor Bill Chadwick | April 5, 2020
Natalie is the only person I know personally who has experienced Covid-19. Natalie was a little girl in the congregation I served 20 years ago. Today Natalie is 26 and living in South Korea teaching English. Natalie was infected with Covid-19, was hospitalized, received wonderful (and free) health care. She recovered fully. A week ago, her mother posted on FB a photo of Natalie and her friends who were out hiking together near her apartment. As you can see, they are standing on top of this high hill, arm-in-arm, no longer needing to practice social distancing. Life is getting back to normal there. What a lovely ray of sunshine!
Good morning, or afternoon or evening or middle of the night. I’m Bill Chadwick, one of the pastors of Calvary Presbyterian Church in McGrath and of Wahkon Presbyterian Church.
Welcome to this service for Palm Sunday, 2020. Friends, I miss you! I can’t wait until we are together once again.
Palm Sunday Call to Worship I (based on Zechariah 9:9 and Psalm 118:26, 28-29)
One: Rejoice greatly, O people of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you.
He is righteous and victorious,
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—
even on a donkey’s colt.
All: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
One: You are our God, and we will praise You!
All: You are our God, and we will exalt You!
One: O give thanks to Yahweh, for God is good.
All: God’s faithful love endures forever!
Opening Prayer of the Day (Church of Scotland)
Humble and riding on a donkey,
we greet you;
Acclaimed by crowds and caroled by children,
we cheer you;
moving from the peace of the countryside to the corridors of power,
We salute you: Christ our Lord.
You are giving the beast of burden
a new dignity;
you are giving majesty
a new face;
you are giving those who long for redemption
A new song to sing.
With them, with heart and voice, we shout:
Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
—from Common Order, Panel on Worship, Church of Scotland, 1994. Used by permission.
Two favorite Palm Sunday hymns are found elsewhere on the website and FB page: All Glory, Laud and Honor and Hosanna, Loud Hosanna!
Let me share some news of the congregation. In recent weeks we have experienced the loss of several long-time members—Bill Berger, Don Robbins and Harry Toppings. Today, April 5th is the one-year anniversary of Gordy Stalker’s transition from this lie to More Life after an 11-year journey with cancer. We also celebrate the births of new additions to the Goplen and Roeschlein families. Asbjorn Russell, born to Kiana (Goplen) and Nathan Lease on March 4. Grandparents are Dennis and Colleen Goplen. Debbie and Jeff Roeschlein welcomed another grandchild, Jefferson Paul (JP), born to Darcee and David on March 12. We share the joy of these families.
Know that I will be continuing to post pastoral letters at least weekly for the foreseeable future and that we will continue with brief services online through FB and the website. In addition, printed versions of the sermons will be available. There will be Maundy Thursday materials available this week.
Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer
We come now to our communal prayer time. Many of us have been praying more frequently and more fervently than we regularly do.
Let us begin by breathing. Relax your shoulders. I frequently find myself these days with my shoulders up around my ears, a repository of anxiety. Take a deep breath and let it out. Release anxiety and tension. A few more. Breathe in God’s peace and hope.
O God of grace, this is like a nightmare we just can’t wake up from. We find ourselves feeling sad, helpless, anxious, fearful.
Help us constantly to turn to you and turn to you and turn to you, as many times a day as we forget, forget that you are God, and that you promise your gracious presence with us, let us turn back to you.
Let us claim the promise of the Risen Christ, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
Thank you for all the people laying their lives on the line on behalf of others—medical personnel, EMTs, police officers, and so many others. Thank you for all those working to make our lives easier—grocery workers, delivery drivers, pharmacy workers.
Bless those scientists who are racing to develop better treatments and vaccines. Give them your supernatural creativity and wisdom.
Comfort those who have lost their employment. Grant us hearts filled with compassion and wills bent toward justice.
And above all, comfort those who have lost loved ones in such heartbreaking circumstances, unable to hold hands and hug the people they love so much as they transition from this life.
We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for resurrection promises and the hope of glad heavenly reunion.
Help us know how to be Jesus for other people, in this crisis and each day. In all things make us instruments of your shalom, secure in the knowledge that nothing can separate us from your love.
We pray for the families of those who have recently left this life and entered into the Church Triumphant: Bill Berger, Don Robbins, Harry Toppings. Grant them your peace and comfort.
We celebrate with the Roeschlein and Goplen families as they welcome new grandbabies. What a wonderful symbol of hope in the world!
We pray for those who are ill, for those in prison, for those who may be without food or shelter, for those suffering from anxiety, depression and all forms of mental illness, for the addicted…Help us always to be people of compassion not judgment.
We continue to pray now in the silence of our hearts.
All these things we pray in the name and the power and the love of Jesus, using words as he taught: Our Father, who are in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen and amen.
Scripture Reading: Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Thus begins the week we now call Holy. Let’s walk our way through this passage and see where we might find words of encouragement for our own walk of discipleship.
First. Jesus enters the City of Jerusalem at the time of Passover despite knowing there is a price on his head. He made this decision nine chapters earlier in Luke. In one of my favorite phrases, the gospel writers tell us that Jesus “set his face” to go to Jerusalem. “Set his face,” steely resolve.
Living word number one: Jesus is a man of courage and Jesus is in charge.
Moving on, we see more evidence of this. In the scripture passage Jesus instructed two of the disciples to go into the village and bring back a colt 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.”
Did Jesus arrange for this ahead of time? We don’t know. What is clear is that Jesus is asserting his authority. It would not be uncommon for a king to command that something be done and if anyone protested, merely the words, “The king needs it” would silence the questions.
I think this is one of the key phrases in this passage. “The Lord needs it.” The bystanders evidently say, “Okey-doke, then. Take the colt.”
“The Lord needs it.” What do you and I have that the Lord needs? I suppose the Lord doesn’t NEED anything from us, but what does the Lord desire from us? Our allegiance, our gratitude, our talents and our money put to use to heal the world. There are so many organizations and people who need help.
For some of you, your health might make these suggestions difficult. Then how about your prayers? The Lord needs you, the world needs you, to pray—not just when there is a global virus, but at all times–to pray in praise and thanksgiving; and to pray for kids and for older folks and parents and for folks who are lonely, for refugees and all who struggle, to pray for the church, for political leaders, for the planet.
Living word number two: The Lord needs it. What is it that you can give in service to God?
Verse 37…, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Whoa! Some of us are so familiar with this story that we forget the significance of what the people were shouting. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!“
In the eyes of the Pharisees this was blasphemy!
In the eyes of the Romans, it was treason!
Whenever those in the early church declared “Jesus is Lord” they were simultaneously declaring, “Caesar isn’t.” If Jesus were trying to avoid trouble he never would have participated in this parade. He is claiming his rightful place as lord and king.
So, living word three: Jesus is indeed Lord.
But what kind of Lord? Palm Sunday is a mountaintop experience, both literally and psychologically. It’s so wonderful that the crowds of Passover pilgrims seem to be “getting it”! Yay! Jesus is king. The people acknowledge that. I can imagine the disciples thinking, “How cool is this!? They’re going to crown Jesus king. He’s going to zap the Romans and set up a new kingdom and we are right in the middle of it, on the ground floor of the new reign of God!”
But there was no zapping of the Romans.
Over spring break some time ago, when our kids were young, our family went to South Dakota on vacation. We stayed at two different working cattle ranches. It was right at the time when the calves were being born, so that was terrific, for our kids to witness the miracle of birth. We also saw the sights of the Badlands and the Black Hills. We visited Custer State Park, Reptile Gardens, the Mammoth Site and of course, we also visited Mt. Rushmore.
At Mt. Rushmore, after staring up at the sculpture for a few minutes we then went down below into the visitor center to view the 15-minute informational film narrated by Tom Brokaw, a South Dakota native. The language of the film went like this: “The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, wanted to memorialize some of the greatest men in American history. The sculpture honors the greatest attributes of man and is itself a great achievement of mankind.” Man and mankind just pummeled the ears of the sensitive listener. Kris and I were flinching.
The whole enterprise is so masculine. Think about what took place. Using powerful, noisy explosives, men forced their will on nature, to create, on land sacred to Native Americans, this mammoth sculpture of four Euro-American males, all famous for their leadership during wars. Mt. Rushmore is quintessentially masculine—the ultimate example of “marking one’s territory.”
For all that, I kinda like it; it’s pretty darn impressive. I’m not excited for humankind to hammer any more faces on mountains, but if we do, I hope we can get a little more diversity. Crazy Horse is a good start, and of course some women and other people of color would be welcome.
So, what does this have to do with Palm Sunday?
The Jews in Jesus’ Day were hoping for a Mt. Rushmore sort of Messiah, a George Washington on war horse to lead the violent revolution, or a Teddy Roosevelt, “talk softly but carry a big stick,” charging up San Juan Hill, sword in hand. A Mt. Rushmore sort of Messiah is what they had come to expect and what they deeply desired, to get them out from under the thumb of the Romans.
But instead of a Mt. Rushmore messiah they got a Mt. of Olives messiah. They got a Messiah that did not charge up the mountain on a war horse, but one who rode down the mountain on a donkey, the mode of transportation used by a king coming in peace. Jesus didn’t carry a big stick. In fact, on the Mt. of Olives a few nights later, when the Temple guards came to arrest him, Peter pulled out a sword. Jesus responded, “Oh, for Pete’s sake.” (You always wondered where that expression came from, didn’t you?) “For Pete’s sake! You still don’t understand me? Put away your sword!” Jesus didn’t carry a big stick; he allowed himself to be nailed to one.
So Living Word number one is that Jesus is a man of courage and he is large and in charge. Living Word number two: What does the Lord need from you? And from me? Three. Jesus truly is LORD. But what kind of Lord? Living word number four: Jesus is a different sort of king. One that does not choose “power over,” but “power from within.” One that chooses not to kill, but chooses the way of suffering love and nonviolence. May we be faithful.
Friends, I can’t wait until we gather together once again, when we can sing together and laugh together and snuggle in the pews together and at the conclusion of the service, stand and join hands to receive the benediction.
Go now in peace, love and serve the Lord, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion and fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you now and always. Amen!
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Barb and myself very much enjoyed the Palm Sunday service along with the music. Feels good to be somewhat connected in these scary times. Stay safe and thank you.
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