March 28, 2021 “It’s Time to Step Up”
“It’s Time to Step Up”
Because it bears repeating, I’d like to read again a portion of Paul’s letter to the church body in Philippi. It would be difficult to find a scripture that speaks or shouts to the Christian life louder than this one, and for that reason, I believe, we save it up to be read on the Sunday that begins Holy Week. We’re reading from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message, as Paul writes:
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (Phil 2:1-8 The Message)
It’s no wonder that so many folks consider this the “go-to” passage for just about any situation when it comes to living this life in the body of Christ as opposed to just living. I mean, think about it: we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t feel that we had gotten something out of our relationship with Jesus Christ. We wouldn’t take the time and effort if the love of Jesus hadn’t made some kind of a difference in our lives. And we surely wouldn’t expose ourselves to what Paul called “a community of the Spirit” if it didn’t mean something. We can get a sense of community by joining a book club or playing on a softball team. A community of the Spirit, however, is on a whole different level. Nowhere can you find a gathering of people who are sometimes so different, yet they continue to bond together for the singular blessing that comes from the love of God in the form of Jesus Christ. Paul acknowledges this, Paul lives for this, and in his letter to the Philippians today, Paul tells us that it’s time to step up.
Just as this passage from Philippians is read at the beginning of Holy Week, we will always hear the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on the eve of the Passover celebration, this time from the Gospel of Mark. Now, I’ll grant you that Jesus had made this trip every year since he was a little kid. If you were Jewish in those times, it was expected of you.
But this time things were different. This time the Holy One of God would be far more than a spectator and obedient member of the nation of Israel. This time, Jesus would step up.
It is Tom Fuller who tells us, “For much of Jesus’ ministry He urged people to be quiet about who He was. When He healed he told people not to say anything, when He confronted demons who recognized Him as the Son of God He told them to shut up. That’s because it wasn’t time for Him to declare Himself as the Messiah. On Palm Sunday the time had come.” The time had come. The time had come to finally pull back the curtain, to shine the light, to at long last confirm what so many suspected – their Messiah had finally arrived! It’s a story we all know and love, but there’s one problem. All my life, I’ve heard of this moment spoken of in some rather grandiose terms. I have to admit that whenever I have read this passage described as “Jesus’ Triumphal Entry Into Jerusalem” or simply “The Triumphant Entry,” I was a bit confused. For the crowds who had gathered that day, this was a moment of triumph. For Pilate, who was entering Jerusalem on a war horse at the west gate that same day, this was a moment of triumph. Even the disciples and the faithful who were traveling with Jesus might have felt their hearts bursting out of their chests at this moment of triumph; this moment when the Messiah was going to show up and kick the Romans out on their back sides. The crowds that shouted, “Hosanna, hosanna – save us, save us,” were confident for the first time in a long time that their salvation was near – and they would be correct. But this wasn’t going to happen the way they had planned. The mighty warrior king who had arrived in triumph was in fact the Prince of Peace, seated on a donkey. When David in his old age passed the throne to Solomon, his son, he insisted that Solomon arrive to receive the crown seated not on a white stallion or a chariot of gold. No, he commanded that Solomon arrive on David’s personal donkey. To arrive on a donkey is to arrive in peace.
Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian watchmaker and later a writer who, along with her family members, was able to help many Jews escape from the Holocaust during WW II. When asked once if it was difficult for her to remain humble, her reply was simple: “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments onto the road, and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered the head of that donkey that any of that was for him?” She continued, “If I can be the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides in his glory, I give him all the praise and all the honor.”
Steve Garness-Holmes tells us that “’Hosanna’ doesn’t mean ‘Hooray!’ It means ‘Save us.’ It’s not a cry of triumph, it’s a plea in desperation.” You know, this will be that last time in a long time that we celebrate Palm Sunday without the use of our buildings. From here on out, we can sing our Cantatas and wave the Palms and gather together in anticipation of the Easter celebration that is soon to come. But that doesn’t make this year a total wash; not by a long shot. Our blessing has arrived; our salvation has arrived. Over the past few months, I have found myself praying the Lord would save us. Thanks be to God that the love of Christ makes a difference, thanks be to God that the community of the Spirit has meaning. Thanks be to God that he stepped up.
Amen & Shalom