Sermon for Palm Sunday YrB 2018
‘Christ leads us in triumphal procession’
There are clergy and occasionally sermons you remember very vividly. One such person was the Revd Gordon Dey – who lived and worked on a very tough outer urban housing estate in Bradford. The sort of place common in the UK where the poor having been uprooted were dumped. As a friend who worked in a similar patch and knew Gordon said, ‘you never lived in such places, you lived on them’ So Gordon faithfully worked amongst those who lived on Holme Wood. And people would say of him, ‘he is a little Jesus’ 🙂 He was a beautiful soul.
I remember Gordon preaching once when I was a curate – he was talking I think about the life of a disciple of Jesus, and recounted his first trip in an airplane. He arrived at eat airport and was thrilled at the sight of the huge sleek glossy airliners, and it was a bit of a comedown to see his own small non descriptor and slightly tatty prop plane – his carriage for this momentous occasion – somehow it didn’t seem important enough.
Well Gordon came to mind in my personal bible reading this week where I discovered St Paul obviously finding the Corinthians less than enamoured of him and his ministry. The argument is clearly about whether or not Paul truly might be called an Apostle, and ambassador of Christ – in other words, one with the authority to teach the Church. Does he seem to observers to be sufficiently impressive?
Yet Paul sets out his case for his authority not in terms of his learning, or his eloquence, or his wisdom – nothing that would catch the eye or attract human praise, but rather in terms of his suffering for the gospel – in other words he affirms his ministry in terms of the ministry of Jesus, and opens his account with the words ‘Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ’
Well, we cannot think of that triumphal procession without considering Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem which to the naked eye had little more than the sense of a great slave revolt. This dirty dusty wandering Rabbi – shunned by those in power and authority, at the head of a disreputable band of North Country fishermen, tax collectors and religious zealots.
Paul’s use of the words ‘triumphal procession’ would summon up for his hearers the well known processions of the Roman legions as they paraded their spoils, their foes, their newly enslaved kings and princes. The glitter of the armour, the sound of trampling boots, the golden Roman Eagle held aloft . . . the contrast with Jesus’ triumphal procession could not be more sharp, as St Paul sought to deflate the Corinthian sense of their own importance.
As Christians we don’t travel first class – that is not our way, for our way is the way of Jesus, and by the standards of the world – well it gives off a bad smell. As St Paul puts it ‘For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.’
Watch the rabble with Jesus – imagine the smell . . . with whom would we walk?
Paul in his epistle to the Philippians puts this in words which are so familiar to us, but which we may flee from embodying – ‘Let the same mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus . . . may you be governed by the same attitude, which is not the path of worldly success, but that of worldly self denial – of humility – of remembering that we are dust, as we were reminded at the beginning of Lent. You are of the Earth – earthy, humus, humility. The Earthiness of Jesus and his disciples is about the reality of our human condition.
And Jesus, unlike the first Adam, does not reach out to grasp equality with God – rather he takes the downward path, falling into the ground to die. Those who are going with him, the aroma of Death to the World, but of Life to those who are being Saved – leading all who would follow in what only the shock of Easter will reveal as Triumphal procession – when to use the words of Mary, he will exalt that which is humble and meek
Let the same mind be amongst you as was in Christ Jesus – Jesus is our Way, in His Life and in His Death – and we follow Him, all the way, as we will enact this coming week.
We follow Jesus in triumphal procession – through the hard disciplines of Lent – to Good Friday – learning also to lay down our own lives for Christ’s sake and the gospel, being seeds that fall to the ground to die, to bear much fruit.
Having the Mind that is in Christ is a different way of seeing and living in the world – one in dependence on the one who leads us – God in Christ
Isaiah’s servant of the LORD a foretelling of Christ reveals much of what this looks like
The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.
To follow in the way of Jesus is to awaken each morning to teach us – our first words each day should be those of Samuel -Speak Lord, your servant is listening, for in truth everything that is life giving and Good comes from the Word of the Lord. It is to sit eating up on the Word – taking time to begin our day reading form the Word, and then responding
The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.
If we follow the story Israel through the wilderness, we find them continually rebelling against the life giving word of God. Rebelling against his instructions, ‘do these things and your will live’. To follow in the way of Jesus, having the mind of Jesus is only to do what we see the Father doing, and not to reject it – although that might land us in bother with those around us
I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.
For God’s Servant, the one walking in the way of Jesus knows The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; And that further fills them with resolves – therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me;
As I have been at pains to point out during Lent, we do not watch Jesus in his time in the wilderness, in his passion, in his suffering and death, we are not simply observers – for ‘wherever I am, there my servant will be also. We are identified with Jesus by our baptism, made his, and living His Life in the World.
It is not glossy and First Class – it looks like nothing to those who are perishing – but to those who are sign saved it is the Wisdom of God – the Way of the Cross – to which we turn our hearts and minds in these coming days, as God in Christ leads us in triumphal procession