By Pastor Bryan Niebanck
28 March 2021 – Palm Sunday
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” ~Philippians 2:5
When was the last time that someone was coming home to see you, perhaps from a long time away, perhaps from somewhere quite distant? Perhaps it was a family member coming back home to the States after being abroad, on a mission trip or in the service. Perhaps it was a college student who you have missed at home. Perhaps it was a family member or friend who had merely taken a job states away and was coming home for a visit. How did the thought of them coming home make you feel? For many, this is an exciting time; it is a time of reunion, to catch up, and to celebrate the time that you are blessed to spend with each other. It is all that you can focus on.
I have felt something similar for seeing my scout camp again, in addition to seeing my family. I spent many off-seasons looking forward to when I could be working another summer at camp. Every Sunday campfire one of the long time staff members sang this song at the beginning of our week, which spoke to how we all felt: “Sequassen I am coming home, I can see your rolling hills of trees and your crystal waters flow; I am reaching out, won’t you take my hand? I’m coming home Sequassen!” It truly has been a second home for all of us and somewhere which always holds a special place in our hearts. It was not just any camp to us; we always formed a special bond and often cried when we left; it is hard to describe to someone who has not experienced it.
On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the arrival of Jesus to Jerusalem in much the same way as we reenact it today, waving palm branches and laying them down on the road for Jesus to walk over on his donkey. The people praised Jesus, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9). The people gathered just to welcome this one man to Jerusalem. It is like the fans of the winning Super Bowl team cheering the plane that carries their team as it lands back in their hometown. Much of the city has gathered on this occasion. Surely, Jesus felt welcomed, even though he knew what was to come.
When do we become true disciples of Jesus? How do you think Jesus would respond if we responded to him in the same way that the city of Jerusalem did nearly two thousand years ago, or if we welcomed him into our hearts in the same way that we might welcome a special homecoming or a winning team coming home? Would Jesus smile and bless us? Would he ride on grimly, knowing that we are just going to leave him again and go back to our old ways? As Mark tells it, “Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve” (Mark 11:11). That’s quite exciting. He looked around. We are not told much more than that; we only know the people’s reaction. An important question for us to ask is how much we are like these people. Do we say, “Lord, Lord!” on Sunday, and turn around on Monday and forget? How do we practice our faith – and turn to Jesus – on every day of the week? Where were the people who were saying, “Lord, Lord!” on Friday morning when Jesus was being tried?
Mary McAleese, a Catholic academic and the President of Ireland from 1997 to 2011, wrote about the Palm Sundays that we have experienced in our lifetimes. She wrote, “There have been Palm Sunday Days in every conflict. We have had them in Belfast, days when we believed the seed of hope had finally blossomed and that all was suddenly about to be well. Peace people marched, doves of peace were released, we held hands and sang hymns which offended neither side. One such day happened in November 1995 when we clamored our welcome to President Clinton. Even the sourest and most distrustful of faces grew wide with smile as the party mood infected the country gripping us with a wild mad joy… [but] the mood was not long evaporating” (Reconciled Being: Love in Chaos, 1997p. 68). The Cold War had ended, the Berlin wall was no more. It seemed like an era of peace was upon us. The same can be said for the roaring 1920s. The World War was over, peace was had around the world, and life was happy for the first time in years. The United States mint issued a Peace Dollar from 1921-1935, showing the eagle sitting quietly on an olive branch. This was in contrast to the Morgan Dollar and most other eagles before it, depicting eagles in mid-flight either holding arrows or defending itself with a shield. The country was so at peace that they could show a peaceful eagle sitting quietly on their dollar coins. But even then, conflict grew under the surface, and with the added Great Depression leading into more world conflict, peace was hard to come by yet again. So it is with Jesus. Everything seemed to be a wonderful celebration on the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, but there was something under the surface which Jesus already knew, and had already hinted at his disciples. It could seem peaceful now, but it might not stay that way.
But this could get too depressing if we pessimistically think this way. We might have peace now, but not for long! The question we are asking ourselves is, “When do we become true Disciples of Christ?” We might first know this when we feel the same excitement for Christ that we do when we are excited for peace, or for a reunion, or for your sports team to win. Why do we clap and jump up and down when the team we are rooting for scores a three-pointer in the NCAA basketball tournament, but keep to ourselves when we are thinking about Christ? No, we do not have to jump up and down – though some traditions do that in their services – but we can ask ourselves where we are in our hearts. Are we eager for the kingdom? Or are we simply going with the flow, waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna because that is what everyone else is doing? If you asked me, growing up, I even felt funny waving a palm branch in church even though other people were doing it.
We might also know that we are true Disciples of Christ when we have the same mind that was in Jesus. Do you ever ask yourself what would Jesus do? What would Jesus do if he were one of us in this world? He would walk around, or maybe drive around, and help those who need healing, listen to those who need someone to talk to, and share God’s love with everyone. He would be the winner of the 40 acts of kindness in forty days challenge. He knew how to take care of himself too. I know that he would not worry. He would trust God. He would not lose his faith in God when people battered him.
Our Lent journey has focused on becoming better Disciples of Christ. We have learned that we transgress against God, but that God gives us God’s grace when we seek God. We have asked God to search our heart and make us true by breaking our sinful habits. We have renewed our focus by filling ourselves with good things, and we realize that we are identified by what we bring our focus to. The truth is that we are not identified by our worry or our doubt. We are identified by our faith in Christ. People know us because of who we place our trust in. And people know us by what we do. We are Disciples of Christ when we follow Jesus even to the cross, for we know that the way of the cross leads home. We follow Jesus by focusing our minds on Jesus and nothing else.
Philippians 2:5 says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” This is Paul’s wish for those who follow Christ. Let us have the same mind. That is, let us have the same focus on God and love of others. Let us have the same unshakable faith. Let us not consider ourselves as more righteous than another (Phil 2:6). Let us be the spark that causes others to come to Jesus (Phil 2:10-11). People will want to know Jesus by the way that we live our lives, because of how happy we are able to live it. This is what marks a true Disciple of Christ. You are unshaken. And when you are shaken, and ask God for the cup to be taken from you, you keep the faith even when it is not. That is what Jesus did, and that is what each of us are called to do. In the face of violence and terror, as was described on the faces of those in Boulder, Colorado this week, we can still have faith. We can still ask God why. We can still lament. But we still have confidence that God is here for us, no matter what happens.
You may feel peace with God now, or you may not. Our history has shown that neither one lasts. We long for the peace, but we will not find true peace until we are with God in heaven. What we can find here, however, we can cherish. What we can find here is enough to wave our palm branches in the air and shout Hosanna, which means, “Save us, we beseech thee” in the Hebrew. We are excited for a homecoming, but the excitement will not last. We are excited to travel to a place we love, but we cannot always stay there forever. We are excited when Jesus is born and when Jesus is raised, but even then, the feeling does not last. When you find that your excitement for Jesus is not lasting, there is something that is causing it. I challenge you to continually walk through the journey that we have gone through in this series this Lent, because Lent is not the only time to try to understand how to be a better Disciple and how to draw closer to God. There is enough at work in this world to tear you away from this relationship, or this peace, even an hour after you attain it, if you do not continually ask God to search your heart to improve your relationship and faith. Turn to God in joy. Turn to God in terror. Turn to God in confusion, and in everything. The prayer of Paul is my prayer for us all: Let the same mind that was in Christ Jesus be in us as well (Phil 2:5). Then, we will turn to God on Friday too. Then, we will be as excited to see God work in the world as we are when our team wins and our family comes home. Then, we can handle anything, because we have God on our side.
Walk with God, knowing that we need God’s help, in prayer, God’s help, in the word, and God’s help, through the help of another. My prayer on Ash Wednesday was that your heart would be a little bit brighter and your soul is a little bit lighter. I pray that that is so now. Closer, my God. God, may you feel closer to us as we seek you. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Themes for Lent – Recap
• First Sunday in Lent: How do we recognize that we have a transgression against God?
• Second Sunday in Lent: Where does God’s grace shine through our fallen efforts to grow as a Christian?
• Third Sunday in Lent: Why do we need to renew our inner being and what does that even mean?
• Fourth Sunday in Lent: What can we fill ourselves with to stay faithful to what we have committed to this Lent?
• Fifth Sunday in Lent: Who do we serve? Is this evident by who we follow?
• Palm/Passion Sunday: When do we become true Disciples of Christ?
11:1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples
11:2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.
11:3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'”
11:4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it,
11:5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?”
11:6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.
11:7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it.
11:8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.
11:9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
11:10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11:11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
2:5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
2:7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
2:8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.
2:9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
2:11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.