Sermon Text: Upside-Down King
Week three of our on-line church, and I miss you fiercely. It's Palm Sunday, and it's hard to be without you. I have to remember other years.
At the 10:00 service, it's been our custom that the young children join me in parading around the church, waving palms. And all of us sing "All glory, laud and honor to thee, Redeemer, King! To whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring." It has always been so much fun.
And at the 8:00 service, I customarily chant part of Psalm 118 in our procession. That was a traditional chant of Jewish pilgrims in the time of Jesus as they approached Jerusalem: "Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Hosanna in the highest."
We can't be together to do it today, so we'll just have to remember and imagine it.
And let's think about the first Palm Sunday. Jesus knows what he is doing, and he is heading for Jerusalem to challenge the status quo, and to battle the forces of darkness. He is at last ready to take his message to the heart of his religious tradition, to Jerusalem, to the Temple.
And he begins with an intentional piece of street theater. He offers what you might think of as performance art. He does it on purpose, and he knows what he is doing. He seems to have set it up ahead of time. He sends a couple of disciples ahead to get a colt, a donkey. They do it, using a code phrase Jesus gave them, and Jesus rides it into the city.
This is a strong statement. The Jewish people know about an old prophecy of a king arriving in a gentle way, on a donkey instead of a warhorse. Jesus is coming to claim that kingship. And the crowd understands and rejoices.
But Jesus is not the typical kind of king. Going by his teaching, you'd have to say that his kingdom is an upside-down kingdom. The first will be last, all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and the littlest, the least, and the lost are the cherished ones. Jesus is not a warrior king, but the Prince of peace. He is the King of kindness, the King of compassion.
The more conventional rulers -- Pontius Pilate of Rome, Caiaphas the High Priest in Jerusalem, and all the ones who are in power in the more usual way -- realize that Jesus is challenging them. Jesus will be dead within the week. The King of kindness has no place in the real world, they think.
And it turns out they think wrong. This upside-down King also turns death upside-down. Death cannot hold him.
And on that first Easter, his friends learn the truth of the upside-down kingdom. And the Prince of peace, the King of kindness, the King of compassion, lives again.
He knew exactly what he was doing as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey instead of a warhorse. To use a modern image, when Pontius Pilate arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, you could think of him in an armored Humvee with heavy guns. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, it's like he rode in on a child's tricycle. The upside-down, crazy King.
The Prince of peace. The King of kindness. The King of compassion.
If the church which claims him is going to be true to him, then we must be a church of peace, a church of kindness, a church of compassion.
And that leads me rather nicely to a spiritual practice I'd like to underline today. In both of my on-line sermons so far in this time of lockdown, I have offered a simple spiritual practice I've been finding helpful in these tough days.
The first week, I talked about breathing...conscious, deliberate, spiritual breathing. Last week, I talked about connecting to nature in a more focused way.
Today, I'd like to remind you of the important spiritual practice of kindness. It's one of our themes here at St. Mark's...be kind. And it's more important than ever.
You are needed as a person of kindness and compassion, now more than ever. Your gentle acts of kindness for others will ripple out in powerful ways in these tough times.
You can phone someone. You can email someone. You can connect with people on-line. You can be generous in helping others get what they need.
I am stunned by the reaction of this parish when I put out word that we needed food for our CHOW pantry. The response was overwhelming, our storeroom is full for now, and it made me so proud of you. You really do belong to the Prince of peace, the King of kindness, the King of compassion. You show it to me in so many ways, and always have. And I know you are also offering kindness in ways few other people see.
It's my belief that when I act in kindness toward someone, I myself also feel better. And that makes the practice of kindness even more important in this stressful season. You always make me proud. Keep on being kind.
So let me say it again: "Life is short, and we don't have too much time to gladden the hearts of those with whom we journey along the way. So let us always be swift to love and make haste to be kind...And the blessing of God be upon you, and all those you love, and the whole earth, today and always."