Palm Sunday Sermon - Pr. Kristin Schultz - March 20

What just happened?
How did we get from “sing Hosanna to the King of Kings” to “crucify him” so quickly?
That is the question Palm Sunday lays out in front of us,
when we celebrate the procession of palms,
then minutes later read the story of Jesus’ arrest and execution.
It is a day that makes the paradox of Christian belief most apparent.
The paradox that the Messiah – the Son of God come to save the world –
should be nailed to a cross and killed as a despised criminal.
How could this happen?
One answer is the human answer.
Jesus was not the Messiah the people wanted him to be.
They were waiting for a political and military king,
who would drive out the Roman occupiers and restore the kingdom of Israel.
But Jesus was not that kind of king.
In fact, Jesus steadfastly refused to take part in their exclusive nationalism
 or rigid religiosity.
He crossed boundaries,
he reached out across all the lines the good and upright citizens had erected  to protect themselves and their religious tradition.
So in the end, they turned against him.
There is nothing so surprising about that.
That’s how people act when their nationalism and traditionalism are threatened.
But there is another side to the question of Why? 
and it’s the God question.
Why would Jesus go willingly to the cross?
Why would God send his Son to die?
For that answer, we can start with the text assigned today from the letter to the Philippians.
There is a reason this brief bit of poetry is read on this day – 
as a sort of hinge between the Gospel of Palms and the Passion narrative.
Episcopal priest and professor Barbara Brown Taylor writes that
“This is Paul’s birth narrative, his passion narrative, and his ascension narrative all rolled into one.”
This is how Paul makes sense of that move from Hosanna to Crucify,
from Jesus’ life as the Messiah to his death and, finally, his resurrection.
Jesus emptied himself of divine power and gave himself to live a fully human life.
Jesus emptied himself of ego and gave himself to loving and serving others,
especially the “others” who had been scorned and marginalized.
Jesus was obedient, even “to death.”
Here, Barbara Brown Taylor offers an intriguing interpretation of the text.
“Was it God’s will that Jesus die,” she asks,
“or was it Jesus’ will to be subject to (to obey) the same kind of death that other people died? Rome had crucified thousands of other Jews before it got to Jesus, after all. In many ways, the preferable translation here is: ‘Jesus became obedient to death.’ Having taken the form of a slave, he asked for no special pass at the end. He submitted to death the same way he had submitted to everything else that made him fully human.”
Taylor is one of a number of contemporary theologians who question the classic theories of Jesus’ death –
that Jesus had to die as a sacrifice to appease God’s anger for our sins.
Or that Jesus’ death balances some cosmic justice scale,
paying the penalty for our sin which we cannot pay.
Such ideas have always been difficult for me to swallow as well.
We talk about God’s infinite love,
yet explain Jesus’ death in ways that make God sound angry, vengeful, and  unforgiving.
It makes more sense to me to say that Jesus entered so fully into human life that he willingly accepted a death like that of the despised people he cared for.
He wouldn’t keep score the way they wanted him to,
he wouldn’t use power the way they wanted him to.
He was so committed to his way of love – to living out the love at the heart of God –
that he went willingly to the death caused by his refusal to
be judgmental and divisive.
Nadia Bolz Weber says it this way: Jesus’ death on the cross shows that “God would rather die than be in the sin-accounting business.”
That sin-accounting business is of human design,
and Jesus lived and died to show us another way to relate to one another and to God.
If that had been the end, Jesus would have been an admirable human being –
but we probably would never have heard his story.
But we know that was not the end.
Jesus had done what he came to do.
He had lived life fully in relationship with God,
fully in solidarity with the “least of these” among humanity.
And now God takes over.
Paul’s poetic description changes from what Jesus did, to what God did.
God raised Jesus from the dead,
defeating death not only for his sake, but for all humankind.
God exalted Jesus – raised him up – 
so that we might hear his story and see in him God’s power –
the power of infinite love.
Paul invites the followers of Jesus at Philippi not only to hear this story
but to live it.
“Let the same mind be in you,” he says.
As Christ emptied himself, lived out God’s love, and was obedient even to a cross –
so we are called to do as Christians.
It’s not an easy call.
Especially in this time of ugly and divisive public rhetoric,
when our culture encourages us to draw lines and keep boundaries,
it is not easy to live the love of Christ
But it is more important than ever.
Let the same mind be in us,
that all may know the love of God through us who seek to follow Christ.
Barbara Brown Taylor, “Homiletical Perspective on Philippians 2:5-11,” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2; Westminster John Knox Press, 2009; pages 171, 173

About this blog