Sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday + April 14, 2019
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester
Pastor Nathan D. Pipho
Hosanna in the highest! Amen.
Today it’s Empire vs. Kingdom.
As we receive the Passion this year from the Gospel of Luke, it’s helpful to remember that throughout the Gospel of Luke, according to theologian Dennis Hamm writing in the Paulist Biblical Commentary, Luke presents “The kingdom of God as necessary alternative to the empire of Caesar. Pax Christi vs. Pax Romana.”
Hamm writes: “Both kingdoms promise peace. But the peace of the Roman Empire is achieved and enforced with domination and violence. The peace of Christ, on the other hand, comes as a gift of God in the process of self-giving dedication to the Lord God and loving service of one another.”
In Herod and Pilate, protecting their power, and handing Jesus over to be crucified,we see Empire. Empire uses power for self-preservation and self-aggrandizement. Empire marks its territory with borders – deciding who is in and who is out. Empire silences, marginalizes, and eliminates those opposed to it.
In the angry actions of the Pharisees and Scribes we see Empire coopting religion. In religious leaders spreading lies and accusations against Jesus, and working for his elimination, we see Empire.
In the parade of Palm Sunday, with palm branches and hosannas, we see Empire. The movement of our liturgy today, is from Empire to Kingdom. As Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey and with palm branches, he knew he was fulfilling the prophecy of Zephaniah, a savior of peace entering Jerusalem to break the chariots and battle bows.
But, is that what the crowds saw and wanted? Were they longing for peace, or were they cheering for a return of Israel as Empire? Longing for a savior restoring the military and political might of Empire Israel?
On the other hand, is the kingdom of God. It’s a kingdom whose power is revealed in a battered, bruised, and crucified Jesus dying on a cross.
It’s a kingdom whose power is revealed in Jesus “Who did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, and becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Philippians 2:6-8]”
It’s a kingdom where, as Jesus said:
- the greatest shall be like the youngest [Luke 22:26] …
- a leader does not lord authority over others, but serves others [Luke 22:25-27] …
- forgiveness is proclaimed from the cross [Luke 23:34] …
It was this kingdom, this kingdom revealed in Jesus Christ, that Jesus conferred upon the disciples. Said Jesus, in words we heard in the passion today: “I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom” [Luke 22:29]
This kingdom was conferred on the disciples on the day of Pentecost. In wind, and flames, and tongues, the kingdom was poured out upon the apostles,and through their tongues, conferred upon all the Gentiles who heard in their own languages.
In this radical outpouring, the kingdom of God was conferred in inclusive, expansive, and boundary shattering ways of self-sacrifice and service that bringing life to the strangers and the other.
Those are the kingdoms that clash today.
Empire hiding behind borders with dramatic shows of strength, blessing insiders and eliminating outsiders.
Kingdom of God, revealed in the costly self-sacrifice and service of Jesus Christ, making one kingdom of peoples of all tribes, languages, and nations.
In this clash of kingdoms, we have a choice today. The choice is between sin and faith. Sin chooses empire. Faith receives the kingdom of God.
It’s easier to choose empire. Empire chooses self over the other.
It’s harder to choose the kingdom. Kingdom chooses others over self.
On Monday of this week I was at the gym. I had just started my carefully crafted running routine, sprint for 30 seconds, walk for 60 seconds, when I noticed a woman in front of the treadmill next to me looking for something.
She looked at the floor in front of us and then the floor behind us. As I continued running, a member of the staff showed up and lifted up the treadmill next to mine, and the next treadmill over. She said what she was looking for was small, and she didn’t see it.
I admit, I was in full Empire mode. I was selfish. I didn’t volunteer to stop so she could look under my treadmill. She was on her own. To be fair to myself, she didn’t ask. All of her searching was focused in the other way.
Finally, after the staff member left, and the woman continued a sad search in the all the same spots she had just looked at, I asked her what she was looking for. She pointed to the ring on her finger and told me a diamond had flown off.
At that point, the kingdom of God broke in. I realized, the least I could do, was stop running and give a courtesy check under my treadmill. I stopped, lifted up the treadmill, and she exclaimed, “THERE IT IS!”
In Empire mode, I was turned inward. My agenda was the most important thing. In Kingdom mode, in self-sacrifice and service, she became more important than me. In Empire mode, the lost would have remained lost. In Kingdom mode, the lost was found.
To be clear, we are NOT promised earthly diamonds & riches when we follow Christ. In fact, we acknowledge on this Palm/Passion Sunday that the way of Jesus Christ is the cross. But on this day, we are invited to see in the cross, and in the death of Christ, the victory of God.
Faith today receives the good news, that hidden in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, is the victory of God and the salvation of the world.
Faith clings to the hope, that the KINGDOM revealed in our costly self-sacrifice and service bestows the riches of salvation, peace, and healing. Faith celebrates the cross as the kingdom revealed and where Christ reigns in triumph.
May the Holy Spirit open your hearts and minds, to repent of EMPIRE, and to receive the KINGDOM conferred today in water & word, in bread & cup.
Alive in Christ, with the Kingdom of God conferred upon us, MAY WE BE THE KINGDOM, conferring blessing upon the stranger, upon the outcasts, upon all those Empire would discredit and eliminate.
Hosanna in the highest!