Passage: Philippians 2:5-11
Date: April 14, 2019
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Newman
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How many sopranos does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. One to change it, and nine to think they can do it better. (I myself am a soprano, and I believe there is some truth in that joke.) But it’s true for all of us, isn’t it, that we frequently judge and rank others. We decide who’s up and who’s down. It’s even fun when it’s in the realm of sports, as we take sides and cheer and parade. We celebrate winning and avoid losing at all costs.
It’s the “up and down” thing that crops up again and again as we read the Gospels.Remember Mary’s Magnificat? God will send the rich ones away, hungry, and fill the empty ones with good things.Over the centuries, on Palm Sunday, as we wave palms and cheer hosannas, proclaiming Jesus King, there has often been a dangerous attitude of superiority that completely misses the point of Jesus’ way:the way of humility and service. It’s interesting and wonderful that years ago, the lectionary committee (who chooses passages to be read and preached each Sunday of the year) chose the Philippians passage for every Palm Sunday. It is an ancient hymn in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I believe it was chosen because it reveals the kind of ruler we are celebrating: the Lord of Love and the Prince of Peace.
Jesus parades toward Jerusalem not as an autocrat with wealth and armies but as one bearing forgiveness and healing. Not a ruler who associates with the powerful leaders but with the peasants.Not one who draws a tight circle to defend against the “other” but one who advocates for those at the margins. Not one concerned with his image and name on buildings and monuments but who cares for the vulnerable.Not one who attacks others but who gives of himself, and one whose advocacy for the outcast leads to his own execution.
In our participation in the parade, we are urged to have the same mind that was in Christ, “Who though he was in the form of God did not consider equality with God a thing to be exploited, but emptied himself…”
Fr. Richard Rohr rightly points out that historically, the church focused on worshiping Jesus (which Jesus never once asked us to do) rather than following him, which he did repeatedly command. This Holy Week, as the way of Jesus leads to betrayal at the Last Supper, execution on Good Friday, and three days and nights in the tomb, it’s understandable that we are skittish about following Jesus. The way of the cross looks like failure. Christianity suggests that the way to win is through losing.
But there is a mysterious twist to this Christ mystery. It’s the mystery of self-giving love that is redeemed by God. It is love that carries us through impossible situations. Through disappointment and grief, through flood and fire, through rejection and doubt, through pain and heartbreak. That sustaining love is universal, did you hear it?
“But God raised Christ Jesus, and gave him the name that is above every name, so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord…”
Following Jesus is not an exclusive club. It’s not a superior position that filters out the unworthy. The Christ mystery is indeed “the way, the truth, and the life,” but this is not about a narrow religion or group; it is a mystery of Incarnation that can be experienced by all and in a million different ways. Christ is the love that was with God in the very beginning. The love with us at our beginning sees us through our lives, our broken relationships, and even death. That love sustains not just human beings, but all creation.
The One we follow is One in whose name all of creation rejoices!
As I was planning worship for this Palm Sunday, our music director, Debbie Glaze, asked me if I wanted to have the mood of this service to be primarily joyful—the cheering Jesus intone—or whether I wanted to end on a somber note, since not everyone will participate in our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. Just how much levity should we feel as we are heading toward Jerusalem, betrayal, and execution?
I believe that it’s fitting today that the choir leads us in strong and joyful songs because we are cheering that which holds us together in the midst of turmoil, strife, and fear. Love is at our center, and all creation is singing praise. Don’t we need to be reminded every day of the love for every person, every creature?
There is no place in the universe, no created being, beyond the reach of the redeeming act of Christ. The central event of God in the world, and in our lives, is an act of humble service. Service from love.
A couple of years ago, I had the joy of snorkeling in Maui. One of the most memorable experiences was going out in a small boat and entering the very deep waters next to the Molokini crater. As soon as my head was submerged in the water, I heard a whale singing! Later, I learned that humpback whales are vocal learners. Like some songbirds, and dolphins, they have the ability to imitate and learn songs. Scientist Scott McVay wrote, “We have become aware of what we believe to be the humpback’s most extraordinary feature—they emit a series of surprisingly beautiful sounds.” Over the course of several weeks, it turned out that all the whales they were studying were singing the same song, which lasted from six to thirty minutes. These songs evolve over time, so that within a span of four to six years, all the humpbacks in all the oceans are singing a totally different song. McVay was so inspired by this, he wrote this poem:
Up and up and up the scale
beyond the topmost upper note
and beyond that
straining for ultimates
leaving a low wailing
a small sob before
to the reachingest next-to-god note of all,
a Humpback sings his song.
The Song of Songs.
The Hymn of Hymns.
Maybe on this last week of Lent, rather than writing a letter, we should write a song. I invite you to remember a time when you felt in the center of love and to write a psalm of praise.
The way of the One who travels by donkey is the way of shalom, which encompasses well-being for all creation, at all levels, and manages peace that exceeds human imagination.
That is why we wave palms. That is why we sing.