Sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday

Text: Philippians 2:7-8

(Christ Jesus) emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death Ė even death on a cross. (NRSV)


Our humble servant-king

Today I want to open my sermon with a parable - not about Palm branches, but about Bamboo.

Once there was a beautiful garden. Of all the plants in the garden, the one that the master regarded as the most beautiful was a splendid and noble Bamboo. Year after year, Bamboo grew yet more beautiful and gracious. He was conscious of his master's love, yet he was modest and gentle in all things.

One day the master looked at Bamboo and said: "Bamboo, I want to use you." Bamboo flung his leafy head to the sky in utter delight. This was going to be the day in which he would find his completion and destiny! His voice came low: "Master, I am ready, use me as you want."

"Bamboo," the masterís voice said seriously, "I want to take you and cut you down."

A trembling of great horror shook Bamboo. "Cccut Ė me - down? Me whom you, master, have made the most beautiful in all your garden? Cut me down? Ah, not that, not that."

"Beloved Bamboo," the masterís voice grew even more serious. "If I donít cut you down, I canít use you."

The garden grew quiet. Then came a whisper. "Master, if you cannot use me unless you cut me down, then do it."

"Bamboo, beloved Bamboo, I also want to cut off your leaves."

"Master, master, spare me. Cut me down and lay me in the dust, but will you also take from me my leaves?"

"Bamboo alas! If I donít cut them away, I canít use you."

Bamboo shivered in terrible expectancy, whispering low. "Master, cut away." "Bamboo, Bamboo. I will also split you in two and cut out your heart, because unless I do this, I canít use you."

"Master, master, then cut and divide."

So the master of the garden took Bamboo and cut him down and hacked off his leaves and divided him in two and cut out his heart. He carried him to where there was a spring of fresh, sparkling water in the midst of the master's dry fields. Then putting down one end of broken Bamboo into the spring he gently laid the other end into the water channel in his field.

The clear sparkling spring water raced joyously down the channel of Bamboo's torn body into the waiting fields. Then the rice was planted and the days went by. The shoots grew. The harvest came. In his brokenness Bamboo became a channel of abundant life to his master's world.

This is not just a story about Bamboo, but also of Christ. He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death Ė even death on a cross.

The prophet Isaiah talked about Godís servant who "had no dignity or beauty to make us take notice of him. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing that would draw us to him. We despised him and rejected him; he endured suffering and pain" (52:2,3).

Bamboo was stripped of all his beauty, split and laid down in the dirt so that he could serve his master. He served not just his master but also the plants in the field. He gave his life in order to give abundant life to the field. In a similar way, Christ was stripped and beaten, raised on a cross and died in agony, so that he could bring to us abundant life.

Todayís readings give us a strong emphasis on Jesus who came to serve. We first heard about Jesusí arrival in Jerusalem riding on donkey. In the eyes of the people he was a hero.
They had heard about how he had healed people, the blind were able to see, the deaf to hear; how evil spirits obeyed his command and even the dead were raised.
They had heard how Jesus had been a friend to people everyone else tried to avoid.
They lined the road into Jerusalem and shouted and cheered as he rode by. They waved palm branches; they spread their coats on the road; they shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord."
This was the long expected king the prophets had spoken about.
This was the Messiah who would give them political freedom, prosperity and freedom from hunger and disease.

There can be no doubt about it. Jesus is a king. He is the creator of the universe. He rules with power and majesty. There can be no doubt about his royal credentials. When it was announced to Mary that she would soon be pregnant she was told by the angel Gabriel, "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord will make him a king as his ancestor David was, and he will be king of the descendants of Jacob forever."

History records that when Chancellor Bismarck of Prussia in the nineteenth century chose to make his grand entrance into Jerusalem, he did so on a white horse. He was accompanied by such a large army of officials that a section of the wall had to be removed. That is the way a person of greatness is supposed to enter a city. Black limos, bands playing, waving flags, cheering crowds lining the streets, live coverage on TV.

There is something different about this king. He enters astride a lowly donkey. He is a servant king. He has come to serve, to help, to give relief and support, humbly and selflessly.
Whether we talk about the bowl of water and towel at the Last Supper,
or his suffering and dying,
or this king mounted on a humble donkey on Palm Sunday,
they are all powerful symbols of the way Jesus saw his mission and ministry. He saw his life as one of humble service. "He emptied himself Ö being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death Ė even death on a cross". If serving meant laying down his own life, then thatís what the Palm Sunday king would do.

In a Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown and Linus are standing next to each other, staring at a star-filled sky. "Would you like to see a falling star?" Charlie Brown asks Linus.

"Sure..." Linus responds. "Then again, I donít know," he adds, after some thought. "Iíd hate to have it fall just on my account."

The point is this - a star did fall on our account. A star did give up its brilliance, its lofty position on high just for us. Jesus came down to us: like a lamb led to slaughter. He died on our account. I hope that this fact will hit us again this Good Friday as we remember his cruel and horrible death.
Here is the King of the universe, the perfect Son of the Most High God enduring such suffering at the hands of evil people.
Here is the God whose incredible love of his people can hardly be described in human words, jeered at with so much hatred and nailed to a cross of wood as if he were the worst criminal.
What humility!
What love and,
oh, what he accomplished there. "He emptied himself
Ö humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death".

He died for us. Those words are music to our ears.
He died for us.
He came to offer up his life as the perfect sacrifice, laying down his life for every single person who has lived, is living and will live in the future.
He came to release forgiveness into the world.
He came to take away our fear and give us peace - a peace that surpasses all understanding, a peace that calms us when we are terrorised and horrified at what our sin does in our lives.
He came to make the way open for us to enter eternal life. Even though the events of Good Friday are horrifying, God is was working out our salvation for us.
He takes all of our failure and guilt on to the cross with him and he dies there on The Place of the Skull for us.

It is humbling to be loved like this - to be loved to death by God.
It bows the head. It bends the knee. It is the end of all trying to justify our wrong.
To be loved like this gives us a new sense of our own worth. The Son of the Most High God has died for us!
We canít help but marvel at the price God was prepared to pay for us.
It stirs within us the desire to now truly live up to our status as one of Godís children.
This week Godís Spirit calls us to a deeper faith, an unshakeable trust in Jesus as our Saviour and helper at all times, and a commitment to serve him as he has so graciously served us through his suffering and dying.

Letís join with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and the church throughout the ages and celebrate that peace that comes from Jesus dying and rising. Letís join the church around the world and the church of all times, praising God saying, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest."

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
4th April, 2004

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