Dare to Be Found: Palm Sunday

This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on March 21, 2021. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.

Mark 11:1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!

    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

    Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Before we get started, I have a bit of a fun question for you all.

Have you ever had a celebrity encounter? Who did you see or meet?

So, some interesting things about this text today, about Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem. This story is told in all four gospels, but while Matthew, Mark, and Luke only talk about one visit from Jesus into Jerusalem, John tells that he visited multiple times. So we can assume that this account in Luke today is not Jesus’ first time visiting during his ministry.

If we believe this to be true, that it’s not his first rodeo so to speak, then we have to believe Jesus had an understanding of what would happen when he visited, that it would be a bit like those celebrity encounters you spoke about earlier, but even better. That those branches would be laid down, that there would be a sort of fanfare about the visit. So Jesus enters Jerusalem, and he is seen as the true ruler, a leader. 

What makes a good leader?

Some of the characteristics of Jesus do align with the things you all mentioned in a leader. Jesus however, is a certain kind of leader, one whose leadership is often quiet, lowkey, and without fanfare. His leadership and the awe folks see in him is reflected in his humility, his ability to lead among rather than over. That’s one of the biggest parts of his ministry, the thing that sets him apart. While kings and high ranking government officials lead over those in their jurisdiction, using their power and authority to make people conform, Jesus recognizes the power in his relational skills, getting to the same level as the people he’s called to serve .Jesus’ power comes from a place of humility, one where the ruler won’t just sit on top of a throne, but instead rules by kneeling at the feet of the most marginalized. In short, Jesus leads from a quiet, more humble place. 

Jesus isn’t one to love the attention, but here, it seems like he’s tolerating and even accepting it. Why might he be here, in this place, knowing what Jesus knows, in the spotlight? From the beginning, Jesus instructs his disciples to go and find a young donkey, on which no one has sat. This instruction is a sign of status, Jesus assuming a kingly stance by needing this ‘untouched’ colt. And further, Jesus tells the disciples to take it, and if anyone asks, he gives them a valid reasoning, to tell the owner that the Lord needs it. 

So why then, would Jesus spend his whole ministry leading in this humble, under the radar kind of way, and then now, at the end of his ministry, shift his leadership style?

Jesus is allowing his disciples to see him as this ruler, because he also knows that in a few days, they will see him arrested and crucified as well. This juxtaposition shows both his power and his ‘among-us-ness’. It shows us that a true leader can show up in ways they need to be seen by those who they lead. Like if you have an example of a good leader in your life, chances are that they can communicate with you and with others in ways that make sense, rather than barking orders or using power to get what they want. And so in this instance, the leader the people in Jerusalem needed was a leader who they could celebrate in this public way. And while this wasn’t in Jesus’ nature to get all the attention, he wanted to lead from a place of relationship, and thus, he rode into town, showing his rulership in a public way.

The Gospel is subversive, and it’s different from how traditional ‘rulership’ happened. Yet still, Jesus is willing to ride through town, proclaiming the Gospel he knows to be true. Because he knows, more than anyone, that what will happen in the next period of time will be brutal, scary, and traumatic. In the next week, we will remember Jesus being arrested, tried, and crucified, a part of the Easter story we’d rather gloss over. And yet, in remembering it, we live into the Gospel message Jesus brought to us all along. If we don’t experience death, we can’t have resurrection. 

The ending of our passage today is abrupt and makes it clear that this parade is not actually as bright and cheerful as we sometimes make it. 

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. 

That last verse foreshadows what is to come, and for us, as we enter Holy Week, we need to live into that reality as well. Without death, we can’t have resurrection. Without those moments where we are feeling defeated, we’ll never fully understand what success feels like. Without moments of trial, one will never see the true strength of a leader. 

And so today, we do read about this parade, this welcoming of Jesus into town. And we can and should celebrate that moment. And, we must also look to Jesus’ example, remembering that in those moments of celebration, the realities of the world still remain. And we, as followers of Christ, we are called to lead through those moments, building relationships and doing good work, because while it isn’t here yet, resurrection is coming. 

As we speak of resurrection, we remember the ways Christ prepared us for this incredibly emotional time in the Christian story. Christ led us in a way that spoke to his authority and the beautiful claims he was making about God’s redemptive and sacrificial love. If we are to make disciples of Jesus Christ, we too need to be those leaders. 

So to close today, I ask you, what is one thing you can do to be a leader who proclaims the Good News of resurrection, even in seasons of death? 

How can you lead like Jesus?

As you leave this place, may you savor this story, Jesus riding into town on a colt to show us who he is and whose he is. May you seek to follow his leadership style, humble, kind, and relational, in all that you do. And may you go out into the world this week, actively awaiting resurrection.

Let us pray,  God of parades and palms, we thank you for the ways you show us your great love, leading us to be closer to you. Guide us and remind us that resurrection is coming, but without death, we cannot experience resurrection fully. Let us stay attuned to the needs of this world as we journey through the final week of the Lenten season. In your name we pray, Amen.

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