Sunday Sermon: “What a Fool Believes”

“What a Fool Believes”
Mark 1:1-11, Philipians 2:5-11
April 1, 2011 (Palm Sunday)
First Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

“As members of the Christian Church,
We confess that Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of the living God,
and proclaim him Lord and Savior of the world.
In Christ’s name and by his grace
we accept our mission of witness
and service to all people.”

The first car I remember was my Dad’s 1965 Buick Wildcat.  It was a beautiful car.  It had a nice light blue color to it, with those old little windows you can crank out when you didn’t want to roll down the whole window.  The memory that sticks in my brain was having dad driving the streets of Flint and heading to the barbershop in this wonderful car.  You kind of felt a belt special riding around in the Wildcat.

By the time I entered kindergarten, Dad had bought a new car; a 1974 Buick Electra coupe.   It was not as cool as the Wildcat.  Though very few cars of the 1970s were that memorable.  Dad gave the Wildcat to one of my nephews, who didn’t keep the car up.   

It’s interesting what we drive says about us.  Some people are concerned about the environment and so they by a Prius.  Others like a little muscle and go for the Mustang.  Some want a lot of room so they go for an SUV.  For those of us who buy cars, by them not only out of necessity, but because we want to make a statement about who we are.  Driving a BMW says something different than driving a Chevy.  

I initially didn’t want to preach the Palm Sunday text.  It’s something that we hear over and over.  It seems a times that there isn’t anything about this event that we don’t know.  Jesus gets on a donkey or mule or something and rides through Jerusalem with people saying as he passes by, “Hosanna!”  We will get the kids to grab a few palm fronds and parade up and down the isle of the sanctuary shout Hosanna, and we talk about how this was the highpoint of Jesus last week before Good Friday.  After this, it all goes down from here.  Palm Sunday has always felt like a friviolous day to me; a weigh station to the more heady and meaningful for days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.  

But thing is, Palm Sunday is meaningful to us.  This odd parade tells us something about Jesus, and something about us as well.

Jesus tells two of his disciples to get an animal for him.  Some translations say colt, which makes us think of a big horse, but some refer to a foal, which is the offspring of a donkey.  A donkey is an interesting animal.  It’s in the same family as a horse, but not as majestic.  It’s a pack animal, more used to moving things than people.  The other thing is that it doesn’t seem like a cool animal to ride on.  Whenever I think of someone riding a donkey, it just seems rather foolish than anything else.  This hardly seems like the kind of animal Jesus should ride on if he really is the Messiah, the king.  It’s like expecting the President to drive a humble Yugo.

But Jesus is saying something here.  The leaders of that age, would ride around on top of a horse.  Horses are big, majestic animals and they are used for show and for war.  A horse was for kings and generals.  Being the king of kings, Jesus should have ridden on a mighty horse, but no, Jesus strides into the big city of Jerusalem on top of a lowly donkey.

Phillipians 2 states that Jesus decide to give up his place in the Godhead and became as a slave for our salvation.  The riding on a donkey was an outward sign of who Jesus was; giving up his priviledge to share our common lot with us.  This was a sign that God was with us, not set apart like most kings, but a king that took on simple clothes and sat with us where we are.

There’s another point I want to make here this morning, and that’s the use of the word “Hosanna.”  Now, if you’re like me, you hear that word only once a year- today.  Sometimes we will shout it during service and if you’re like me, you might think it’s a word of praise.  But that’s not all that it means.  The meaning of the word Hosanna in Hebrew means “save.”  So, for all these years, the people who shouting Hosanna! as Jesus passed them by, were not simply giving praise to God, but asking, pleading for salvation.

That’s not a surprise; I mean, the Jews had been living under the cruel boot of Rome for a quite sometime and they were looking for someone to come and set them free.  I wonder what people thought as they shout for help and they see this guy riding on a donkey.  Did they really think he was going to bring salvation and freedom?  Was this some kind of joke?

But it wasn’t.  This had been part of God’s plan to bring salvation to all of creation.  God was constantly find a way to bring good news and freedom to the nations.  God set a rainbow in the clouds after the flood to say that God would be in relationship with creation.  God chose a people, Israel, to show that God was there to bring liberation.  God raised the prophets to call those he loved to get right with God and each other.  Finally, God came in the form of a tiny baby that later grew up and rode a donkey looking like a fool.  This fool would go on to die on the cross like a criminal and would finally rise again to defeat the powers of sin and death.

It’s interesting that Palm Sunday fell on April Fools Day this year.  Fitting, I think.  It’s foolish to believe in a God that would be willing to be humiliated all for love.  It’s foolish to preach about forgiveness and grace.  It all doesn’t make any sense.

Speaking of looking foolish; I am reminded of Don Portwood’s sermon last Sunday at the dedication service.  For those of you who don’t know, Don is the pastor of our partner congregation, Lyndale United Church of Christ and he preached a sermon with lots of action and very few words.  At one point he takes a large bowl filled with water and attempts to pour it into a small glass.  Many of you were there, so you know what happened; water went everywhere; overflowing the glass and leaving a puddle of water on the floor.  

Back to Philiipians, Paul says Jesus emptied himself and Don’s futile attempt of filling a glass reminded me of that verse.  Jesus didn’t stay on a shelf, but he poured himself into humanity, overflowing and becoming quite a mess.  Jesus kept on doing that; on Palm Sunday, on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

I began this sermon with the opening words from the Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) which is sort of an unofficial confession of our tradition.  We gather here every Sunday to confess that this man Jesus, born to an unwed mother in some backwater town, was the Savior and Lord of all the creation.  The one who rode into town looking like a fool on a donkey is the one that is Ruler over all.  The one whose life poured out and brought us salvation is the one in whose name we worship and do works of kindness.  

As we enter Holy Week, let us be mindful not only of how God’s love overflowed for us and let us learn how live a life of overflowing love to those around us.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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