The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
April 14, 2019 – Palm/Passion Sunday
What is most remarkable about this first day of Holy Week is what Jesus could have done but did not do.
Jesus could have played the political card for a while, enjoyed for days the popularity and power He had from Palm Sunday, and then escaped the torture and execution awaiting Him – by either retreating to a hiding place in Galilee or returning to heaven.
Instead, in a remarkable decision of all-out love, Jesus chose to continue as He had begun. On Palm Sunday Jesus reaffirmed His choice to give up everything in order to give us everything. On this day He recommitted to “emptying” Himself of the prestige and peace that were His as God’s Son.
Just as He had, in taking human form, given up His invulnerability to pain and death – just as He had, in taking on the form of a servant, given up the privileges of One who has “equality with God” – just as He had, in taking on the form of the sacrificial Lamb praying for our sin, given up the protection and perfection of heaven – on this day He set His face to Golgotha and steeled Himself to give Himself over to the humiliation, cruelty and God-forsakenness He’d endure there. On this day He who’d paraded into Jerusalem on a lush carpet of palm fronds reaffirmed His resolve to leave Jerusalem in a body bag.
Jesus freely chose, when He had other options, to put Himself in that awful position in order that He might put us in the wonderful position of being able to have reconciliation with God, empowerment from on high and at last Paradise. He chose, when He could have chosen otherwise, to become obedient to the demands of all-out love even if they dragged Him into hell.
He suffered, when He didn’t have to, in the hope that His horror would bring us infinite happiness.
That willingness to suffer revealed the heart of God in its passion to save and bless the undeserving.
We sometimes wonder about God: Does He care enough to listen to what I have to say? Is He kind enough to share His wisdom when I am confused and His guidance when I am lost? Will He grant me courage and soul strength to face down my challenges and to endure my problems? Will He face them with me and see me through to the end?
Does He even pay attention to what’s going on with me? Is He engaged with me enough to feel my pain and share my joy? Does He give me reason to dare to think that, with His help, I might start over after doing what makes me hate myself? Will He be there for me when I am weak, mixed in my motives and justifiably ashamed of myself?
The Bible poses this rhetorical question: “He who spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not, with Him, freely give us all things?” It is asking how could we ever think that the God, who sent His perfect and precious Son to pay the penalty we incurred, would hesitate to give us any lesser gift that would serve us well. Only a heart of all-out love could lie behind the suffering and self-sacrifice of Golgotha, and such a heart would never falter in giving us what’s best.
How could we ever think that we are nothing, since God valued us so highly that He went to such extreme lengths to save us – or that we could be so bad that He could not bring Himself to forgive us? After all, when He didn’t have to, He took our punishment in full measure and absorbed the righteous wrath of justice in our place.
And how could we ever fail to realize that our lives have a profound significance and importance since God has no other helpers to assist people in discovering the awe-inspiring blessing of His all-out love? We really do have good news too good to keep to ourselves!
So, when someone gives us permission and welcomes our telling our story, we are to tell them what Jesus has done for us. So, when we have earned people’s trust, we are to invite them to join us at worship or in fellowship events to see if they might catch a glimpse of Jesus in the midst of us.
So, while we will always do it inadequately, we are always to try to embody something of God’s love.
Now love is not made credible by poetic words and eloquent declarations, as nice as those may be. Nor is it made credible by warm feelings and kind sentiments, as touching as those may be. Love is made credible by action. God acted when He hung on that cross; and we are to ask as we reach out to share His all-out love. That’s why God keeps expanding our capacity to act more like Jesus. We may not do anything like what Christ did at Calvary; but we still do much. We can act with integrity, refusing to pose or play pretend, but openly revealing our shortcomings and failures in order to highlight God’s grace. We can listen to a friend even when we can’t think of anything helpful to say in reply, and can convey to the friend that we wish we could and that we wish them only the best. We can include them in the blessings of a community that often embodies God’s love.
Even if our behavior is never impressive, it can still suggest a little of the reality of God’s all-out love. And that’s purpose enough, and happiness enough, for anyone. Let us pray.