April 10, 2022 – Palm Sunday
Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church
Before the passage: you’ll notice in the passage that Palm Sunday was carefully planned by Jesus himself.
He would have known the prophesy that Margie read from Zechariah 9, that one day the Messiah would enter Jerusalem in a very humble way. It was considered a messianic prophesy.
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
This message is entitled, “On the Path of Love.”
That’s the path we all want to be on. That’s the path we’re focusing on this Lent. Of course, it’s the path we always want to focus on. But sometimes we lose our way. Sometimes it’s hard to find the path, and the way forward is unclear.
Illustration. My sons and I have hiked every peak in Acadia National Park. They’re not high, but there’s a lot of them. When they were little it was always a fun game to let them find the trail markers. They’re little blue rectangles that have been painted on the rocks every so often to help you find your way. But sometimes they spread them out, so you have to look hard to find them and you can easily lose your way.
The Path of Love is a little like that, isn’t it? Sometimes the path is clear, other times it’s a little hard to find and it’s easy to get off track. But it’s worth searching for and striving for, because just like those hikes in Acadia, the path of love leads to something beautiful, the beauty of human connection, one heart to another.
Well, if ever there was a person who knew how to stay on the Path of Love, it was Jesus Christ. Palm Sunday is one of the best examples of this. He knew the route. He planned out his part of the journey. And he headed straight down from the Mount of Olives and into Jerusalem, because that’s what his Path of Love called for on this day. That’s what the Messiah was to do. So, if Jesus was going to be true to his calling, true to himself, that was the path he had to take.
There’s a truth here that he’s modeling that’s essential to loving others. It’s this:
To genuinely love others you have to love yourself and be yourself.
Jesus was being who he was born to be, when he rode into Jerusalem that day.
He was being himself – Savior, Messiah, and Son of God!
Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish theologian and philosopher said: “And now with God’s help I will become myself.”
You have to love who you are and who God made you to be in order to do that.
It was during Holy Week that Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39). I’m certainly not the first to point out that in order to love others, we have to love ourselves first, because love is giving of oneself.
Isn’t that what Jesus is saying? – love your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself.
William Sloan Coffin once wrote, “If we hate ourselves, we can never love others, for love is the gift of oneself. How will you make a gift of that which you hate?”
You are God’s beloved!
Please don’t hate what God loves.
Cherish what God loves.
Cherish who God loves . . . You!
Let’s try something slightly uncomfortable, but hopefully fun – would you turn to at least 3 people, look them in the eye, and say to them, “You are God’s beloved.”
Reader, “You are God’s beloved.”
As we travel on the Path of Love we have to love ourselves, and remembering that we are God’s beloved can help us a lot towards that effort.
There’s a second thing to note about Palm Sunday and the Path of Love.
Some of the best moments on that path are when the Path becomes a Parade – when joy is shared with others.
Think about the pure joy of Palm Sunday – for Jesus, the Disciples, and the crowds. “Hosanna in the Highest,” they shouted. Palm Branches are waving; children and adults are celebrating.
I wonder if Jesus thought things like,
- “These people are longing for a Savior!”
- “They understand what’s happening!”
- “These people have seen God at work through me!”
- “These people love God and God’s Son!”
- “This is a taste of the Kingdom of Heaven!”
He certainly saw and appreciated their enthusiasm, for when the religious leaders told him to quiet the crowds, he told them that was next to impossible, and even if they were quiet the very stones along the path would cry out “Hosanna!” Love, Joy, and Praise are all meant to be shared, aren’t they?
Illustration. I think I told you about the time I was at a musical comedy in college. I was there with some friends, and sitting right in front of me was one of my professors, who was sitting by himself. And I couldn’t help but notice that every time something funny happened on stage he looked around for someone to share the laugh with. – but most people were there with other people, so it was hard for him to find someone to laugh with. Laughter, like joy and love, is meant to be shared.
Jesus and the Disciples must have felt great joy that first Palm Sunday – for they had multitudes of people sharing the Joy of God’s Love, the Joy of God’s Savior. Their joy was multiplied many times over.
Isn’t that what we’ve missed most during the pandemic? – the joy of community, of experiencing beautiful moments together? As people of faith, we know we’re made for community, and some of our best experiences of life happen when we celebrate faith, hope, and love with each other. That’s also at the heart of Palm Sunday.
The Path of Love is for those who love themselves and want to share that love with others.
The Path of Love is one that you don’t travel alone, because love must be shared.
And of course, the final thing we have to note today is that the path that we’re talking about often requires a love that is tenacious and sacrificial.
Jesus could have turned around when he reached the city gates of Jerusalem. – “Thanks, Everyone! It’s been a fun day! Thanks for coming! See you next time.”
But Jesus couldn’t stop at the city gates. His love was too tenacious to do that.
He saw himself as the Suffering Messiah written about in Isaiah 53, who would suffer and die for the people in order to bring them to God.
His disciple Peter later wrote: “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.”
Love often comes with a price, doesn’t it? It’s not always free and easy. We often say that “Jesus paid the price for our sins,” but there’s another way to look at it. Jesus paid the price that comes with loving others.
Love has many price tags.
The price of love might be the sleepless nights for the parents of a newborn; or the worried mind of the parent of a teenager who just started driving.
The price of love is sometimes feeling the pain of a friend’s heartache, or praying fervently for someone you love when life has overwhelmed them, or feeling the anxiety when someone you love is waiting for test results and fearing the worst.
The price of love might be moving because of job opportunity for one’s spouse, or turning down a promotion because it wouldn’t be family-friendly.
The price of love might be sitting in the ER holding someone’s hands for hours.
It also might be helping someone you love take that final journey to God.
Queen Elizabeth once said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”
Love usually comes with a price.
For Jesus, that price was quite high, quite costly, as it led to Good Friday’s Cross.
But that’s part of the beauty of his love. He never strayed from the Path of Love.
Let me end on a lighter note. Life’s been heavy enough lately for all of us. Two quick personal stories. As I said at the start of this series, most of what I’ve learned about love I’ve learned the hard way; I’ve learned through my missteps and failures.
Two quick stories.
- The first story happened at Phillies baseball game when I was in my early 20’s. Someone gave me tickets, so I invited a young woman I was interested in.
The tickets were down the third baseline, halfway between third base and the foul pole. What’s the problem with sitting out there? Foul balls! They come flying out there often. It is a big area, but you always have to be alert.
Well, sure enough a right-handed pull hitter was up and he hit a bullet that was coming right at us. Everybody ducked, including me and the young lady. When we started sitting up again it unfortunately became clear that I had ducked behind her, using her as a shield. Needless to say, this was our first and only date.
That event haunted me for years, because in a moment of pure instinct, my instinct was selfish and not loving. In the movies the hero always throws himself into danger and saves the day, but I did just the opposite.
I began to feel better about my instincts when this next incident happened.
- It happened when my sons were very little. We were standing in the front yard of the house, talking with some neighbors, when suddenly a huge, scary looking dog came out of nowhere and was running across the lawn and was quickly upon us. I instinctively knelt down grabbed my sons and held them close, shielding them from the oncoming beast. I braced myself, fully expecting to get a chunk taken out of my back.
(I have issues with scary-looking dogs, but this time is worked out okay)
Later that night I remembered the incident at the baseball game, and thought to myself, “Well, maybe I’m making some progress.”
Listen, Life is God’s Classroom, and the subject of the class is Learning to Love.
May God teach us how to stay on the Path of Love by
–Loving Ourselves, as we love others, by
–Sharing that love in community with others, and by
–Being tenacious and sacrificial with our love when that’s what the Path requires.
Think about it.
Let’s pray about it.
Lord Jesus, on that first Palm Sunday you taught us so much; for you were tender yet tenacious, focused yet free with your love, and willing to ride on – even when you knew how costly the price of love would be for you. You have shown us what the Path of Love looks like. Walk with us as we journey on that path. In your precious & holy name. Amen.