This is a shorter sermon than usual because of the palm liturgy and long gospel reading.
s158e98 Somerton Park 5/4/98 Palm Sunday
"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited ..." Philippians 2:5-6.
On Palm Sunday we are confronted particularly starkly with the fickleness of the crowds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church tells us that the Palm Sunday procession is attested to in Jerusalem in the 4th century (p1025), so the little ceremony we begin this service with is of very ancient origin. We are presented with the joyful acclamation of the disciples and the crowds to Jesus coming into Jerusalem.
However the Book of Common Prayer (1662) prescribed no special ceremony for today, and the gospel appointed is the first of the Passion narratives (from Matthew), followed by Mark on Monday and Tuesday, Luke on Wednesday and Thursday and John on Good Friday. So following this lead (at least partially) we read a passion narrative, this year from Luke, today. In whatever year it is liturgically, A, B or C, each of the Passion narratives we have the crowd taking the opposite line and asking for Jesus to be crucified.
In "real time" of course this change, from welcome and acclamation to derision and condemnation, took 4 or 5 days to happen; each Palm Sunday we are confronted with that change within the space of a service.
There is a saying that a day in the life of a politician is a very long time. We do not have to look very far at all to see similar changes of mood in the electorate. All the hype that attends an election, particularly when it transpires that there is a change of government, soon vanishes as it seems it is not realistic or even desirable that every election promise is in fact fulfilled. There would be few public figures, in political life, in the public service, or indeed in the Church who have not felt at one point or other, the vicissitudes of public opinion. Be they Queen or Governor General, Presidents, Prime Ministers or Premiers, Police Officers, School Teachers or clergy, no one is immune.
It is not difficult to see why this should be. We elect or people are ordained to serve. The spirit of "the grass is always greener" means that we expect the new broom to bring about the changes we desire to see. Perhaps that is indeed so, yet "the grass is always greener" means that either other changes less foreseen, less palatable, or less possible seem unable to be addressed. We don't get our own way completely, and we look to someone else...
How quickly we ordain others to make ourselves happy. We do it in marriage all the time, yet one doesn't have to be long in a marriage to realise that happiness depends rather more on us than on our partners.
The reality is that "popular opinion" is no guide to the eternal truth, neither does all wisdom reside in the incumbent of a particular office.
Some time back in my "surfing of the Internet" I found a report to the United Nations of the head of UNSCOM, Mr Butler, about the Iraqi situation. But even with this sort of knowledge I would hardly pretend to be able to pontificate on the situation.
My Lenten discipline this year has been to read JRR Tolkein's "The Lord of the Rings". It is odd that one would think of reading, what is a fantasy tale, as a Lenten discipline. We always think of "Lenten disciplines" as something we don't particularly enjoy doing. They are like having to take not-particularly-palatable medicine or having a flu injection. Yet, despite thoroughly enjoying the book, one does has to have some perseverance to manage it; much of the journey is long, arduous and fraught with peril. Sometimes it takes the reader through 40 days in the wilderness metaphorically, if not actually. And despite the author's denial that there is "any inner meaning or 'message'", he would surely not disagree that the consistent theme of the book is the taking and using of power corrupts even the most noble of souls. Power must be thrown away, not used. Even better if it is destroyed.
To do this it takes an effort of will. We need to think and act appropriately. We need to consult with people and pray about such matters. We do not do this out of emotion.
We need to hear not just the lovely message that Jesus: "though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:6-8) - but the words which immediately precede them: "Let the same mind be in you ..." (2:5)
We are not called as Christians to die on the Cross for Jesus as martyrs to the cause, we are called to think, to use our brains, and to act appropriately.
For Genesis tells us that we too are "in the form of God" male and female, and we have been given "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." (Genesis 1:27,26).
We have been given dominion, not to magnify ourselves but to care for others.
I commend to you again the "Sabbath Blessings" which I put in the folder in the foyer each Sunday for you to read. At the end of each one of them there is a lovely sentiment by the Rev'd Lane Denson which says: "So be human, be who you are; not a human being whose vocation is to have a spiritual experience, but a spiritual being whose vocation is to have a human experience."
Think and see that we are indeed not pawns, slaves to this or that decision of a politician or other public figure, but masters of our own destiny and happiness. We are bidden to divest ourselves of any power that works to the detriment of others.
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