“To Be Continued…”
Philippians 2:5-11 and Matthew 27:11-54
April 17, 2011 (Palm Sunday)
First Christian Church
About a 10 years ago, I was driving down I-35W from Edina to Minneapolis. All of the sudden, the traffic just stopped. Now usually if there is a traffic jam, the traffic slows down, but it rarely just stops. I looked at the other lane and it was devoid of any traffic…at all. It was a little odd to see a freeway not have any cars on it at all, especially at the middle of the day.
Just then, a caravan of black cars made its way down the empty lane. One of those cars was a limousine with flags donning the hood. It occurred to me that what had just passed me by was a presidential motorcade. Then-President Bush was in town to make a speech in Eden Prairie and as is the case whenever the president is in town, all roads leading from the airport to the location where the president will be are shut down totally to offer he or she protection.
Frankly, I think it’s kinda cool that as president you don’t have to worry about traffic jams. Ever.
Now, I understand why one would shut down roads in order to make sure that the leader of our nation is protected from threats. But all of these measures are a reminder of the power of the Presidency. When the President walks into a room, please stand up. Sometimes it’s even followed by music, “Hail to the Chief.”
Even in a democracy, there are trappings of power. It just kinda comes with the territory.
Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter where we remember Jesus entering into Jerusalem, not in a motorcade but on the back of a humble donkey to cheering crowds. So, we all get palm fronds and wave them back and forth as a reminder of Jesus’ tripumphant entry into Jerusalem.
In recent years this Sunday has also had another name: Passion Sunday. Because in some cases people don’t come to Maunday Thursday or Good Friday services there was a fear people would go from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the celebration of Easter and miss that whole suffering and death thing that happens between the two events.
So, today instead of reading the traditional Palm Sunday texts we went with the Passion Sunday texts.
In planning for this Sunday, I kept reading Paul’s letter to the Phillipians. It’s not the kind of text one would expect to hear on a day like this, but in some way it is exactly the kind of text we want to hear today. As Jesus starts down the road towards Easter, we have to stop at the Cross. Paul wrote this text to remind us all of who Christ was and how Jesus lived and died on this world and how we are called to do the same thing.
Paul writes these words to the Christians in Philippi and they are in a jam. They are facing persecution, worried about Paul who is inprisioned, and to leaders in the congregation are bickering with each other. In the midst of all this turmoil is these words about how Christ being equal to God, but knowing gave up his status and position to become a servant even to the point of death. And then he talks about how all of this made a difference in our lives and to top it off Paul calls us to imitate Christ and learn to lead lives of service towards others.
In verse 7 we see the Christ “emptied himself.” In Greek it means to make void to become nothing. It means that Christ set aside the position and power that he had to become a servant, and he willingly became a suffering servant for the sake of others. Now, none of this should be used as a excuse for someone to do violence towards another, but it is a reminder that as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to set aside our standing and status to serve others.
Kara Root, a colleague who is pastor of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis recounted a story in the early history of the church that is a wonderful example of being emptied for others. Two major plagues hit the Roman Empire in the years after the church began. It was during these times that Roman doctors literally headed for the hills. Basically, anyone that was not sick, took off and let the sick and dying fend for themselves. Everyone did this; except the Christians. They were the ones who took care of the ill. Why did they do this? Why did they put themselves in harm’s way when they could have ran off as well? Kara notes that they did this because they saw those sick and dying as the sisters and brothers and decided to be in service to them.
In recent weeks, I’ve seen how this community of faith, a community that is not unlike the church at Philippi- filled with chaos and wondering about its future- show a willingness to be a servant to others.
A few Saturdays ago, I get a phone call while I’m at the airport in Mexico. It’s Bob and tells me of our sister Paola and what was happening with her. I did what I could, though it would have wait until I arrived in the States, and so did Bob , but what I saw is how this community rallied to Paola’s aid. They offered clothing, food and even a place to stay. That’s an example of servanthood, setting aside our needs to help a sister in Christ who really needed just the basics.
The act of servanthood by Jesus was something that set us free from the powers of sin and death as my Lutheran friends like to say. Our own servanthood is not only a way to pay homage to what God did in Jesus Christ, but it can also free people. Helping an immigrant, or feeding someone at a soup kitchen or giving someone a shelter who doesn’t have one, being a servant to these folks can give someone life.
I’ve shared with some of you the stories I have of my time in China back in 1999. For those who don’t know, I had the opportunity study abroad during seminary in Hong Kong and mainland China. There are a ton of stories to share, but I want to share this story about a parade. We were visiting these small villiages in remote southwestern China. One day as we walked towards on such villiage we saw that the townspeople had lined the streets to greet us. What had started as a little walk to meet the villiagers turned into a parade. We had become instant celebrities.
But maybe what was even more memorable was the fact that the people in this villiage, actually in every villiage, made us food and wanted us to eat with them. Believe me when I say that I ate so much rice, that it took a while before I wanted to eat it again. It meant a lot to them that guests were arriving and they did what they could to welcome us and make us feel at home. They didn’t have much, but they gave what little they had for our enjoyment.
This coming week, we will go through the busyness that is called Holy Week. It is so easy to just go through the motions or even just forget about it and not listen to the stories. The story of Jesus in the last week of his life is one that we need to listen to again and again. It’s not just something we have heard before, but this story, this act of service and love has made a difference in our lives. For the love of God, let us go out and do likewise. Thanks be to God. Amen.