The Royal Treatment

The Royal Treatment 
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Luke 19:28-40
Sermon for Palm Sunday, 4/10/22
Psalm 118 was and is still used as a hymn in Passover services. It has three major parts. It begins by thanking God for God’s eternal character of steadfast love, for being the God who keeps promises. The section skipped by today’s lectionary recounts how God helped the psalmist in battle and gives thanks again. Then the author gives thanks that God has saved the stone that the builders rejected, redeeming and transforming it into the chief corner stone. For one verse, the writer cries out for God’s help. Then the one who comes in the name of the Lord is honored with waving branches, a prayer for victory in the form of physical movement. The psalm ends by repeating the affirmation with which it began, “Give thanks to the Lord.”
Our lives, our blessings and our troubles, are surrounded by God’s love. When danger and hard times come, we are hemmed in by God’s goodness. God has saved us in the past and will save us again. There are blessings in gratitude, thanking God for past blessings and believing that God wants the best for us in the future.
Jesus used his ceremonial entry into Jerusalem to show that he was a different kind of king. He knew there would be a donkey colt waiting for him and told the disciples where to find it. It was a donkey that had never been ridden, one barely old enough to carry him. Yet there is nothing in the account saying the donkey bucked or rebelled. Jesus was in control. It was instantly tame under his hand.
The disciples cheered him, the poor and the outcasts, who threw their tattered garments onto the road for him to ride over and sang about his coming using this same Passover hymn. “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” In Luke’s gospel, the crowd changed “the one who comes” into “the king who comes.”
Because they had felt like the stones the builders rejected until Jesus came, they gave him the royal treatment as much as they could. But because he was a different kind of king, there was no brass band, no red carpet. There was no army. He had no weapons or protection. He knew the difficult fate he was riding toward. He went anyway, riding resolutely toward another road with a different red carpet, one made red by his blood.
The problem was that the large crowds expected Jesus to be the worldly king who would free them from Roman rule. They knew he had power. They’d seen him perform miracles, including raise Lazarus from the dead. They wanted him to go from being a healer to being their liberating hero.
If he came as a king, why not ride a war horse?
Riding a donkey fulfilled the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 & 10:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations;”
Jesus showed us that our love should be selfless and peaceable, not saber-rattling or domineering. Jesus came not only to bring peace, but also to be our peace.
His entry into Jerusalem from the east was a dramatic contrast with the procession that happened on the opposite side of Jerusalem that same week, when Pilate entered from the west with Roman soldiers to prevent rebellion during Passover. That parade included mounted and marching soldiers in full battle regalia, ready to put down anything even remotely like a rebellion. The two kingdoms were opposites, Caesar’s one of ruthless domination as opposed to Jesus’ kingdom of peace, love, mercy and justice.
The Pharisees, probably worried about the Romans suspecting insurrection and coming down hard on the Jews, told Jesus to stop his disciples from singing and shouting. Jesus refused, speaking from a different position of authority. He knew the power of his kingship. He knew that the Gospel wouldn’t be stopped by threats or violence or even martyrdom. It was and is a truth too good to be hushed. If his followers fell away, God would raise up more. Even the rocks, those rejected stones, would cry out, singing the might and power of God.
Are you feeling like the stone the builders rejected, sitting on the refuse pile? God can turn you into the chief cornerstone of a new building, helping you be strong enough to support the weight of two walls. You can become a success in unconventional ways by supernatural, divine means. God works through materials that wouldn’t pass today’s safety inspections, because God is the catalyst for the process of converting sandstone into marble, and turning people no one expects to succeed into soldiers for God’s kingdom.
Are you feeling weak and small? Don’t measure yourself against others. You don’t have to do things alone. God can still use you and strengthen you. You are a precious child of the king! Give thanks for the God who works on your behalf. Give thanks for the people who can help you.
We live in a culture of self-sufficiency, one that rewards independence and hard work while judging those who can’t make it on their own. Those who look weak and useless to others may also be part of God’s plan to do a new thing.
Are you feeling worried that you might fail? God can equip you and use you. Pray for God’s perfect will, and thank God in advance for answering your prayers. Let Jesus be your peace. Invite the Holy Spirit to fill you with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Are you feeling like people don’t care about you? God cares about every detail of your life and will see you through. God even knows how many hairs are on your head at any given moment! Give thanks to the Lord for that kind of deep caring, and for your siblings in Christ who care about you, too.
Are you feeling unworthy? You don’t have to prove yourself worthy, just acknowledge that you owe your life and future to God in gratitude for Christ’s redeeming grace. Even the disciples fell asleep, fell away, denied Jesus. Paul persecuted Christians until God knocked him off his horse, then used him in a mighty way.  Give thanks that God loves you in the condition you’re in right now, just the way you are. And God can forgive you for whatever you’ve done. Run home to God’s loving arms! We are God’s children and heirs of a king!
Don’t react out of fear. Act out of faith. Believe and be ready for God to do a new thing. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and keeps his promises. What looks frightening to us may also be part of God’s plan. Jesus followed through with God’s plan even though he knew he would suffer terribly. I don’t believe that suffering is something God wants for us. There are times, though, when suffering can’t be avoided and teaches us things we need to learn, tempering us like steel in a fire. Don’t let fear stop you from doing God’s work.
It occurs to me that suffering, especially as we near the end of our days, is like the pain of childbirth, which makes a woman determined to make it stop by doing the last, most painful step, forcing the child from her womb, to get it done. The pain at the end of our days reminds us that to go through death will be a relief from the trials of this world. The fear of death recedes, and the promise of new life in Christ comes to the forefront. Jesus’ suffering made it possible for us to die in full anticipation of the new life to come, when we’ll be crowned as his royal heirs, then cast our crowns at his feet. We’ll sing with all the saints who’ve gone on before us, “Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good. His steadfast love endures forever.”

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