March 24, 2002
Sixth Sunday in Lent

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

Liturgy of the Palms
Matthew 21:1-11
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Liturgy of the Passion
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54

The underlined texts will take you to additional sermons on the texts.
And here's a great Maundy Thursday Resource:
Christian Passover Meal

for Good Friday
A Good Friday Meditation - "Night Is Darkest Before The Dawn
Isaiah 53:4-6 & Hebrews 4:14-16 - "For Us"


Resources from Prior Years for Non Lectionary Preachers

Psalm Sunday
Luke 19:28-40 "In The Thick of Rejection"
Luke 19:35-44 - "A Window of Opportunity"

 Passion Sunday
Luke 23:33-43 "A View From The Cross"


"Benedictus qui venit... "
"Blessed is he who comes... in the name of the Lord"

It is a thrilling cry in the midst of a broken world.

"Blessed is he who comes... in the name of the Lord!"

The first time we hear this exclamation is in Psalm 118. Psalm 118 is one of the "Hallel" or " Praise Psalms. This particular Psalm was used after the Passover meal and would have been a part of Jesus' last Passover meal with his disciples.

What an amazing evening that was!  What an incredible mixture of feelings surrounded the disciples when Jesus was on the one hand telling them that he would be arrested and tried and on the other hand that he would eat with them again in the Kingdom of God. Then when the meal was finished, among the words they would sing would be those from the Hallel Psalm 118, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."

Baruch haba b'Shem Adonai  

At the beginning of this Holy Week, we join with the disciples and the crowds who longed for God's intervention into their lives. They lived in a world where Roman troops occupied their cherished homeland and the national sense of security that Israel enjoyed as a faint memory. The words of the ancient Psalm stirred their souls.

Baruch haba b'Shem Adonai

"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."

Ancient longing for freedom, peace and pursuit of all God wanted for them was bound up in their spirits waiting for the day they could welcome the One sent from God who would bring salvation.  As the crowds cried out that first Sunday of the Palms, it was as though God had finally come to them.

Today, almost two thousand years later we gather in a broken world where our sense of security has been shattered by terrorism and where human hearts are still longing for life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- what a wonderful thing it would be if someone would come from God and bring the peace and security we long for.

Surely we would join the cry, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."

***

I have a kind of pop quiz that will date me and many of you. How many of you have ever heard the phrase, "Klaatu Barada Nikto? "

To give you a bit of a hint, the year is 1951, and the world has just come out of a World War that has destroyed entire cities, killed millions of humans and caused massive destruction on the planet that was unparalleled in human history. Another war threatens the stability of the earth and at home there is a politician who is bent on destroying the lives and careers of honorable men and women with his "Red Scare."

Into all of this comes one of the greatest science fiction films of all time where the words are spoken by the actor Michael Rennie, "Klaatu Barada Nikto."

Do any of you remember the film?  (wait for a reaction)

It was, "The Day the Earth Stood Still."

The film went to the heart of a desire for peace that filled the world in those precarious days a half century ago. Amazingly, the film captures some of the most important themes of Palm Sunday. The Son of God comes from beyond to offer a message of peace and hope. Even though he was rejected and his detractors finally killed him, he asked that they might be forgiven and have the opportunity to choose life and hope and peace.

In the film a flying saucer has been tracked all over the world, circling the earth at speed  in excess of 4,000 mph. When the ship lands in Washington D.C., a crowd of soldiers and on lookers gathers. The ship's doorway opens and the occupant of the craft, Klaatu (Michael Rennie) walks out of the ship and says, "We have come to visit you in peace, and with goodwill!" Klaatu lifts his arm to show a gift that has been sent for the President of the United States, but a soldier shoots and wounds Klaatu. After the alien is taken to the hospital, it is learned that the purpose of his visit is to bring a message to the inhabitants of earth. The message "concerns the very existence of every last creature on earth," Klaatu explains to a secretary of the President of the United States. Klaatu also tells him that the message is too important to give to the leader of any one nation. He asks to meet with the leaders of all nations of the Earth.

When the world leaders decline to meet, Klaatu disappears from the hospital and plans to observe the people of this strange planet on his own. After taking a room at a local boarding house, Klaatu befriends a young boy, Bobby (Billy Gray) who takes him on a tour of the city. From Bobby, Klaatu learns of a professor, who he convinces to call together a meeting of scientists of the world to deliver his message to. He explains to the professor that Gort, (Gort) the robot who came with him, and has been standing guard outside the ship since it landed, is one of many robots who are like an interplanetary police force. They patrol the planets and are programmed to immediately eliminate the instigator of any aggression. To prove the power Gort possesses, Klaatu gives a demonstration to the world, by neutralizing the electricity all over the world for thirty minutes at 12:00 noon. Hence the title of the film. Later when Klaatu is being pursued in a cab with Bobby's mother, the Army tries to capture him and Klaatu is shot.

Bobby's mother is given a message by Klaatu, that she must relay to Gort before he destroys the world. "If anything should happen to me, you must go to Gort, you must say these words. "Klaatu, barada nikto," which means something like, "Bring back Klaatu and do not destroy (the earth)." Fortunately for planet earth, Gort brings Klaatu back to life and an ultimatum is delivered to the world by Klaatu as he leaves, "Your choice is simple, join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. The decision rests with you."

***

Klaatu came to the earth in peace to call its inhabitants to peace in much the same way Jesus came to the earth to offer peace. "Glory to God in the highest heaven," the angels of heaven sang, "and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" [Lk.2:14] Though the world has gone through radical upheavals, countless wars and the coming and going of earthly kingdoms - this one thing has not changed.

We do not seem capable of bringing peace to our world and peace to our lives!

The longing cry of the crowd on that first Palm Sunday, "Baruch haba b'Shem" Adonai," became a part of the church's worship in its earliest centuries, "Benedictus qui venit in nominie Domini," and remains a hope for Christians around the world today, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

And would you not think that the whole world would join in the shout, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" in either case? But no -- the alien Klaatu was shot for reaching out to a fallen race and the Savior was crucified.

Both Klaatu in the imaginary film and Jesus in the real world made an offer.  And both said in effect, "The decision rests with you!"

This is where the similarities come to a screeching halt and where Christian faith has a dramatically different approach to the issue of peace on earth and peace with God.

Klaatu comes with power and might to issue an ultimatum. "Get your act together as a planet or face obliteration."

Jesus comes, "... righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey..." [Zech. 9:9 NIV] broken hearted and weeping over Jerusalem crying out, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes." [Lk.19:42 NIV] Jesus comes to issue an invitation.

Klaatu comes with a clenched fist. Jesus comes with open arms. Klaatu comes back from the dead to threaten a fallen race with destruction. Jesus will rise from the dead to offer a fallen race new life.

***

There was that brief moment in time when the crowds on the Mount of Olives that first Palm Sunday saw clearly who Jesus was.

The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" [v.9]

Within a very short time however, all that changed. "When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, 'Who is this?' "

The question is front and center for you and me on this Palm Sunday in 2002. "Who is this?"

As Jerusalem was "in turmoil" so long ago struggling with the question of who Jesus was - so our lives today are in turmoil until we recognize the Prince of Peace who came to us and embrace him in our hearts. The peace of Palm Sunday which we seek is in the embracing of the ancient cry -- it remains a thrilling cry in the midst of a broken world:

"Baruch haba b'Shem Adonai"

"Benedictus qui venit in nominie Domini"

"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

[Say it with me...    "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" ]

***

[If you have not used the Psalm for today in your liturgy - a unison reading of Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 would a fitting response to the sermon.]


There is a wonderful resource for congregations which might want to do a "Christian Passover Meal"  This site has a downloadable booklet and Real Player renditions of the songs which are used in the service. You can hear the music for  "Blessed is He..." at the site. This service is one of our key recommendations.

There is a great web site for those who happen to be fans of science fiction and this amazing film.  You will find it at: The Day the Earth Stood Still


Notes On The Text

Lectionary Texts:  The revision of the lectionary places the celebration of Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday on the same Sunday.  As Palm Sunday the assigned Gospel text is Matt. 21:1-11.  As Passion Sunday the assigned Gospel is the lengthy portion from Matt.26:14 to Matt. 27:66.   The Palm Sunday Psalm (NRCL and BCP) is Psalm 118 and the Passion Sunday Psalm either Ps. 31 (NRCL) or Ps. 22 (BCP and RC)

Attempting to deal with all the lessons could be overwhelming to the preacher and yet so many in our congregations who will not participate in Holy Week services need to hear something beyond the joy of "Triumphal Entry" before moving directly to Easter.  One possibility is to use the Palm Sunday Gospel from Matt. 21 and the NRCL Psalm (118) along with the Isaiah 50 and Philippians 2 readings.   There are definite "mixed feelings" with what has traditionally been called the "Triumphal Entry" as we combine the mystery of the Messiah who at once "Saves and Suffers".  If your congregation does not normally have access to the text of the readings, today's sermon assumes they are hearing the following readings.  A bulletin insert would be a good idea to hold together the twin themes of Palm/Passion Sunday -- admittedly a difficult task.  [Matthew 21:1-11,  Isaiah 50:4-9a,   Philippians 2:5-11,  Psalm 118:1-2; 19-29]

Matthew 16:21ff.  The conflict is so great for Peter because it is inconceivable that Messiah should suffer, much less be killed  and incredulous that he should be executed in Jerusalem!

v.5 The NIV is closer here by translating "praus" as "gentle" rather than "humble". The idea is one of "meekness" or "gentleness" rather than "humility" which would be "tapeinos".  However the text from which the quote comes is Zechariah 9:9 which uses the Hebrew "aw-nee" which is closer to the Greek "tapeinos".

In 538, Cyrus the Great, emperor of the Persian Empire, issued an edict (Ezra 1:2-4; 6:3-5) allowing the Jews in Exile in Babylon to return to Jerusalem. Over the next two decades, many Exiles took advantage of Persian leniency, returned home, and began to reestablish life in Jerusalem or Judah.  Their hopes were high for the intervention of Messiah to speed up the process of renewing Jerusalem and restoring complete sovereignty to Israel.  In chapter 14, Zechariah paints a picture of Messiah standing on the Mt. of Olives as it splits in two.  A powerful image... "On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward" [14:4].

v.9 The procession calls to mind the jubilant royal procession of King Solomon in I Kings 1:32-37 when David had him anointed King of Israel. The words from Psalm 118:25-26 are words from the last of the Hallel Psalms sung at Passover.  Hosanna is originally "Save!  We beseech you!"  By this time, the shout is essentially a religious "cheer". 

v.10  "turmoil" (Gk. "seio")  Literally to rock or shake.  Figuratively... to throw into a tremor of fear or concern.  See Matthew 2:3 - Herod and all Jerusalem troubled at the news of a King who was born.


Additional Sermon Possibilities

A Clash of Kingdoms ~ Matthew 21:10

A message can be centered in the question Jesus' appearance in Jerusalem brings about as the "whole city was in turmoil". "Who is this?"

You might explore this question in terms of all the ways the question about who Jesus is has been asked and how his "kingship" or "kingdom" has been consistently understood. Here the people say that Jesus is a prophet.  The passage Matthew quotes from Zechariah 9 leaves no doubt that Messiah will bring restoration of Israel's fortunes.

Jesus himself asked the question of his disciples in Matt. 16:13. "Who do people say that the Son of Man is." (Actually "Who do people say that I the Son of Man am?") Peter answers that Jesus is the Messiah of God. The disciples show consistently that they see the Kingdom as the restored Kingdom of David. (Acts 1:6)

Look at Jesus' appearance before Pilate in John 18:33-36. Here Jesus says directly that his kingdom is not of this world.  Use Romans 14:17as a focus for developing Jesus' meaning of the Kingdom which is "not of this world".  [For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Rom.14:127]   The Isaiah 50:9 text can bring the sense of dependence upon God as one of the qualities of persons who are under the reign of God.  See also Eph. 2:19 for the "citizenship of God's people -- Phil.3:20; "Our citizenship is in heaven..."

Use a question to focus people's thoughts.   "What kind of a Kingdom did this King on a Donkey come to bring?"   The above make it clear that the Kingdom of God is no longer equivalent to a geographical location on planet earth -- but a place within the spirit of those who choose the reign of Christ. The kingdom of God is wherever God is in charge.


The Mind of Christ ~ Philippians 2:5-11

If you choose to do something with a focus on this passage --   (You've preached on the Triumphal Entry for 20 Palm Sundays for instance) -- you might use the "Humility" theme of Zech. 9:9 along with Matt.21:5 and Isa. 50:6.

Then go to the Philippians passage.  You can also tie in Isa. 50:9 with Philippians...  "Therefore God has highly exalted him..."  If you did not already use the meditation for Christmas '98, you will find an exposition of this theme in the message:  "The Mind of Christmas."  (Change it to simply the mind of Christ -- or "The Mind of Palm Sunday."


Philippians 2:5-11
"The Way Up With God Is Down"

Theme: Jesus Christ takes the goals and values of this world and turns them inside out like a mother might turn a child's sock inside out. In a "King of the Castle" world where, "might makes right", "money talks," and "it's not what you know, but who you know", Jesus says, "The way up with God is down!"

If you are doing this sermon as an alternative to the usual Palm Sunday texts, you might choose this text to weave together "Passion Sunday" and "Palm Sunday". Jesus comes first for the cross and only later for the crown. He empties himself and God lifts him up.

The world values power, fame and wealth while Jesus chooses humility, obedience and death. It doesn't get any more opposite than this! When Palm Sunday does finally come around... the time for his exaltation, Jesus has to even arrange for his own transportation. The crowd that confesses him on Sunday will convict him on Sunday.

With the world as our model, the formula is: wealth + power = recognition.

With Jesus as our model, the formula is: humility + obedience = exaltation.


 Worship Helps

A Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 118)
Leader: This is the day that the LORD has made;
People: Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Leader: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD.
People: Let us rejoice and celebrate for Jesus Christ is Lord!
Leader: O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
People: For his steadfast love endures forever. Amen! 

Confession of Sin

Almighty God, we come before you today with humble and heavy hearts. Your Son Jesus Christ has given his very life for us and we continue to struggle with giving our life to him. Our hearts are prone to self centeredness and we too often choose not to see the suffering of the world around us. We too easily forget that everything we think and say and do effects the people around us. O free us from selfish living we pray, and cleanse us today from every wrong that we might truly give honor to your name through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Hear the words of scripture O People of the Lord: "Help us O God of our Salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive us of our sins, for your name's sake." [Ps.79:9] Open your hears, turn to the Lord and receive the forgiveness of God. Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

We rejoice and give thanks O Lord, for the great gift of salvation you have made possible for us through the sacrifice and suffering of your Son Jesus Christ.

We can not fathom the depths of your love. As the heavens are high above the earth, so are your thoughts higher than we can grasp. We come so short of fully embracing the peace of Christ, for it goes beyond all understanding. The greatest news that has ever come to this world is ours because of a grace we could never have imagined.

It is all too much for we poor mortals O Lord, and yet our hearts are filled with gratitude and our spirits are renewed as the earth is renewed day by day around us. Our minds are filled with hopeful anticipation as the promise of growth and harvest fill your creation this day.

Bless you Lord, all praise and thanksgiving belong to you. You alone are worthy of the devotion of our heart and mind and soul and body. Amen.

A Prayer of Dedication

As we bring these gifts, O Lord, we so desire to bring all the praise and honor our hearts can contain. With the children of old, we bring our hosannas and with the saints of every age we bring our adoration. Yet, no gift we bring can compare with the amazing grace so freely given to us. Bless these gifts we pray, and give us wisdom to use them in the spreading of Jesus' love. Amen.