Sunday, April 5, 2020

BE THOU OUR GUIDE - A Sermon for Palm Sunday

April 5, 2020 – Palm Sunday – Communion
Sermon by The Rev. Dr. John A. Dalles
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Matthew 21:1-11

Friends, this is now the fourth Sunday in which we are worshiping in our homes, rather than in our sanctuary.  This is made possible by the members of the special task force created by your Session at their March stated meeting. We are grateful we can join together today, even though we are keeping our mandated social distancing.
I have heard some people say that such a situation is unprecedented.  They would be incorrect.  It is ALMOST unprecedented.  But history tells us that in the deadly influenza pandemic of 1918, Shadyside Presbyterian Church was closed.  Just as it is now.  In fact the Board of Health decreed it so, on October 7, 1918.  Not just for our church, but for all of the churches in Allegheny County.  We were part of a larger mandated closure of churches, that reached far and wide across the nation, and which saved countless lives.
So while we would all rather be at worship, celebrating in person, today and throughout Holy Week, we know better.  We know that we are doing the right thing, in saying home; not just today, but for our evening worship on Maundy Thursday, and on Good Friday, and for Easter Day worship this coming Sunday.  I hope you will join us for each of those services on line, even as you are with us now.

And now for our PALM SUNDAY sermon:
After Jesus had completed his ministry in Galilee, and just as he was arriving at Jerusalem, this event of the triumphal entry occurs.  A procession of sorts.  A parade.  
Have you noticed…?
-       People love a parade! 
-       Something about a parade gets the heart racing.
-       Parades celebrate special events.
-       Parades honor someone who has done something important.
In New York City, the ultimate symbol that you have made it is a ticker tape parade. Fun Fact: The ticker tape parade in New York City began in 1881—to celebrate the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.  Since then, an amazing array of people have been honored by a tickertape parade in the Big Apple, including some expected, and some surprising folks:
-       Admiral Dewy
-       General Pershing
-       Col. Charles Lindberg
-       Amelia Earhart (twice)
-       Admiral Richard Byrd (three times)
-       Bobby Jones (two times)
-       Howard Hughes
-       Winston Churchill
-       Van Clyburn
-       Charles DeGaulle (twice)
-       Haile Selassie (twice)
-       Neil Armstrong, Ed Aldrin, Michael Collins
-       The New York Yankees (nine times)
-       And my personal favorite:
-       Queen Marie of Romania
The ticker tape parade. Honoring that important person who has come to town.  They get out the flags and wave them.  They sound the noisemakers.  That is the sort of excitement and energy engendered by what happened on the first Palm Sunday.  Get ready…  Because the parade is about to start! Can you hear the music?  Here comes our hero! 
A king was visiting the city of Jerusalem.  So the people lined the crowded streets of the city. They were hoping to get to see the King….the Messiah.  Just to get even a glimpse of Him. The King came along.  Riding on a small donkey. And as he rode through the streets of the city, the people held up their kids to see what was happening. They waved palm branches and shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"  We know who that King was. Yes—it was Jesus. We know what day it was.  The FIRST Palm Sunday.  It was a day that began with a parade and palms. It marked the beginning of a week that would see Jesus cheered, arrested, tried, beaten, and put to death on a cross. 
But as that week came to an end, another week began, just as the previous week had begun, with a celebration. And even bigger celebration.  One that put the Palm Sunday celebration into the proper perspective.  (I can hardly wait until next Sunday!)
How does Psalm 118 help us understand the moment?  Psalm 118 comes from the entrance liturgy to the Temple at the time of the Passover.  The entire psalm addresses what God did to save God’s people. In those days when God’s people were in bondage in Egypt, it was the miracle of the Passover that prompted Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. You recall that the blood of a lamb was put on the lintel of each door so that the angel of death would pass over the homes of the Jews.  Otherwise, the first born male throughout Egypt died.  Since New Testament times, Psalm 118 evokes for Christians the unfolding events of Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter. This portion of the Psalm is specifically asking God to give us success.  So it prompts us to reflect on the nature and meaning of success.  And how success might depend upon following Jesus.  
Entering Jerusalem on a donkey would signal to the crowds that Jesus came in peace.  Not to stir intimidate the crowd.  Jesus came with grace.  Not to cause a revolt. The use of force was not in Christ’s intention, as he came to the holy city.  We hear what Matthew says. During the entry into Jerusalem, they spread their palm branches and their garments on the ground. As Jesus rode that humble donkey, the crowd sang: “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!”
"How blest is he!" the crowd proclaimed — but did they understand?  Other kings had entered Jerusalem with troops at their command.  They understood THAT.  They understood force.  They understood OPPRESSION.  They understood anger, and fear, and distress.  O they were all too familiarly with those things.  We understand those things – too.  Especially now.  We understand fear.  Fear of the unseen enemy called Covid-19.  It makes us angry.  We are in distress in ways no one would have guessed a few months ago.  Can Jesus say to us, what he said to those Jerusalem people, on Palm Sunday?
This king, this Christ, this Messiah, came—not with a show of might,  not with the appearance of strength, not with the brandishing of a sword, not sitting high and stiff upon a war horse. A peaceful, lowly colt was carrying our Lord.
Here is information Matthew doesn’t tell us...  What that crowd did after the parade was over. Did they go home to lunch?  And as they went say, “Wasn’t it all so grand?”  Did they congratulate themselves at having the best spot along the parade route?  Did they pat themselves on the back for throwing in their best garments (what a chore it would be to wash them now). Did they go back to the same old everyday life that they had been living before the parade began?
I suspect that they did all of these things.
And if so, they missed the point of the parade.  Which is that Jesus is the honored figure of the parade…
But Jesus is more than that.
Jesus is also the one who can serve as our guide – after the parade passes by.
So, we would miss the whole point of PALM SUNDAY if we were to conclude our time of worship this morning, as they did, when they left the parade route.
What good would it do us or others if you went into the week ahead, unaffected. If you were to say, “Wasn’t it all so grand?” But were not to say, “Hasn’t being with Jesus influenced me for the better?” What might you be thinking about? Snagging the best spot along the parade route?  Would you also think about the ones who could not find a spot at all?  Or who were unable to draw near.  What might you be thinking about what you have giving to the one who was honored here?  Your garments, your praises, your palms.  Was it the right gift?  The gift of your very life?  And will you go back to the same old everyday life that you had been living before the parade began?
Certainly, the people in the crowd had all kinds of reasons to be there.  
-       Some were there simply out of curiosity.  
-       Some were there with a full measure of faith.  
-       Some had hopes that would or would not be fulfilled by the unfolding week. 
-       Those who hoped Jesus would take over the kingdom and send the Romans away would be deeply disappointed.  
-       Some of the people in the crowd might have taken the Roman line (and looked at Jesus and the noisy demonstration and said, “This is a problem, and may cause a riot”).  
-       Or they may have taken the slant of the Jewish religious and political leaders, who would have felt that Jesus would undermine their authority.  
As happy and joyous as the day is, there is a mess of other stuff going on.
Ask yourself: “Will I go back to the same old everyday life that I had been living before the parade began?”
You see, the entry into Jerusalem was not as much for Jesus as it was for you.
-       So that you could become a kind of City Of Jerusalem.
-       So that you could open wide the gates of your hearts.
-       So that you would say with words of love and hope:
“Be thou our guide, Lord.”   “Be thou our guide.”
I pray this day that you will not let the parade move on down the street…
-       Until the sound of the music fades away in the distance. 
-       Until the excitement is all is over. 
-       Until the celebration is through.
-       May all who sing "Hosanna!" …
-       Remember this day...
-       And follow his way...
-       Giving honor to him on Palm Sunday. 
-       Giving honor to him… Always.  Amen.

This is an original sermon by The Rev. D. John A. Dalles, Interim Senior Minister and Head of Staff of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA .  It was delivered on the date indicated in the text. You are encouraged to read it and reflect upon it.  Please keep in mind that the sermon is Copyright © 2020 John A. Dalles.  Permission from the author is required to reproduce it in any fashion.

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