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TITLE:  A King on a Donkey -- a God on a Cross   SCRIPTURE: Matthew 27:11-54

SERMON:     March 20, 2005

This great week had a humble beginning and a humble ending. Jesus began the week by riding into Jerusalem, not on an impressive stallion, but on a donkey -- on the colt of a donkey -- and he ended the week on a cross.

Jerusalem was accustomed to impressive displays.  When kings and Romans came to Jerusalem, they tried to outdo each other -- to impress people with their importance.  They rode great horses and dressed in rich garb.  They entered the city trailing an entourage -- soldiers and servants and hangers on.  The people of Jerusalem were accustomed to these great parades.  Who could blame them if they judged a man's importance by the grandeur of his entrance.

But Jesus didn't work that way.  The Son of God came into the Holy City accompanied, not by soldiers and servants, but by a ragged band of disciples.  He came riding, not on a great white stallion, but on a donkey -- the colt of a donkey.  His humble procession made a statement.  It proclaimed that the Almighty God chooses to work, not through displays of power, but through displays of humility.

We saw it a Christmas.  We saw a babe born, not in a palace, but in a stable -- dressed, not in fine silks and linens, but in swaddling clothes -- attended, not by princes and courtiers, but by lowly shepherds. 

On Palm Sunday, we see it again.  Jesus comes into Jerusalem in a way that proclaims his humility -- not his power.

This Holy Week we will see it again and again.  Jesus will move through the week, doing his Godly work -- cleansing the Temple -- denouncing the rich and powerful -- teaching his disciples -- lamenting over Jerusalem -- gathering his disciples to share bread and wine -- praying in the garden. 

And then we will see Jesus arrested -- mocked -- beaten within an inch of his life -- marched through the streets like a common criminal -- and hung on a cross to die. 

Let me ask you a question.  If you were God, would you have done it that way?  Would you have brought Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey?  Would you have allowed him to die on a cross?  I doubt it!  I know that I would have done it differently! 

-- I would have had Jesus descend into Jerusalem from the clouds. 

-- I would sent lightning to illuminate him as he descended. 

-- I would have vaporized his enemies. 

-- I would have parted the crowd for Jesus as God, centuries earlier, parted the Red Sea for Israel.  I would have created a royal pathway to the Temple.  I would have installed Jesus there on a throne, high and lifted up.

But it didn't suit God's purposes to do it that way. 

-- God didn't care about installing Jesus on a throne in the Temple.  God cared about installing Jesus on the throne of our hearts. 

-- God didn't care about impressing the people of first century Jerusalem.  God wants Jesus to be Lord of our lives in every century.

And so God did it differently than you and I would have. God's ways are not our ways. Nothing demonstrates that as clearly as Palm Sunday and Good Friday.  God has a grand vision, and that vision could never be realized by a display of human power.  God's vision can be realized only by humble service -- by winsome courtship -- by great love.

I have seen a good deal in the press lately about the Pope.  The Pope, as you know, is in poor health.  He has been in the hospital recently -- near death.  Newscasters have tried to assess that. 

-- Some of them believe that the Pope is living out a sermon illustration -- although I have not heard them use that exact language.  They say that the Pope is drawing attention to the value of all life -- even the life of an elderly, sick man.

-- Others suggest that the Pope is being irresponsible.  They believe that he should retire so that a healthier, more vigorous man can assume leadership.

-- One commentator noted that, ordinarily, a person who has been given power should, when infirmed, give that power back to the people so that they can find a healthy, vigorous leader.  But he went on to say that the Pope's power does not come up from the people but down from heaven (which is true for everyone called by God). The Pope, therefore, owes nothing to anyone but God -- and it is quite possible that God has called him to serve through adversity -- through his failing health. 

God often does that.  God often demonstrates that there is Godly power in weakness -- in suffering -- in adversity.  That was true on Palm Sunday.  It was true on Good Friday.  It is still true today.

So what does that have to do with us?  There must be many lessons that we could derive from Jesus' humility on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.  Let me mention three:

-- First, we need not despair when we when we see the mess that people have made of the world.  For those closest to Jesus, things looked even worse on Good Friday -- but Jesus' cross turned out not to be the end, but the beginning -- turned out not to be defeat, but the prelude to victory.

-- Second, we need not despair when things are going badly for us personally -- when our dreams seem to have come to an end -- when our health has turned bad -- when we are grieving the death of a loved one -- when all seems darkness around us.  In such circumstances, we can lift our eyes to the heavens.  We can ask God to redeem our suffering.  We can ask God to show us a pathway through the darkness.  We can ask God to help us to find new meaning for our lives.  And he will.

-- Third, let us remember how much power there is in Godly humility -- Godly service -- Godly love.  I know people who have great earthly power and wealth.  I know others whose only power is their humility -- their service -- their love. 

In some cases, people with earthly power use that power in Godly ways.  I know that God will bless them for that stewardship.  But I believe that it is only through their humility, their service, and their love that their power and wealth take on real meaning. 

But the lives of those who have no power and no wealth -- who have only humility, service, and love -- those lives also have great meaning.  Palm Sunday and Good Friday demonstrate God's determination to work by Godly rather than earthly power.  If you think of yourself as ordinary -- as having little power -- as living from paycheck to paycheck -- then recognize that you have a special place in God's plan -- that God can do wonderful things through you as you render humble service in Godly love.

If you are powerful or wealthy, I pray that God will give you a humble heart and willing hands to do his work.

If you are ordinary, I pray that God will give you the faith to recognize the wonderful things that he can do through your life.

Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed UMH #294

Jesus, Keep Me Near The Cross # 301

Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling # 348

Go to Dark Gethsemane UMH #290

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross UMH #298-299

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CHILDREN'S SERMON:  What Does It Mean?

Objects suggested:  A large paper heart and/or a picture of a rainbow and/or an American flag and a cross.

What do you think about when you see a picture or a paper cut-out of a heart?  Yes, we  think of love. On Valentine's Day we give cards shaped like a heart or decorated with hearts to those we love.

When you see a rainbow, how does it make you feel?  For many people a rainbow is a sign of hope.  Rain may be falling, but for a rainbow to color the sky there must also be sun.

What do you think about when you see an American flag? Yes, the flag represents our country and it may cause you to think about how fortunate we are to live in a country that is free.  We enjoy many freedoms.

All three of these things we have been talking about (a heart, a rainbow, and a flag) are known as symbols.  A symbol is something which gives us information without using words.

As Christians, we also have a symbol.  It is a cross.  The cross stands for love and freedom and hope.  Jesus died on the cross to demonstrate God's love for us.  Because he did that we may choose to have freedom from the mistakes we have made in the past.  We also have hope for a future with God.

Our Christian symbol, the cross, means many things to many people.  Three things for which we can give thanks when we see the cross are love, freedom, and hope.

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