Sunday, 20 March 2016

Palm Sunday 2016: The way up is down

I rarely think that my sermons are any good, but some are better than others (although still not good), and I enjoyed (?) preaching this one at the Welsh Holy Communion Service:

The way up is first down

I want to share with you a brief statement which summarise the readings this morning (Zechariah 9:9-12; Philippians 2:5-11; Psalm 45:2-7; Matthew 27:1-54) . If we are to enter new life with Jesus, the way up is first down.

That is the message of the collect that introduces our readings this morning. The author writes that God sent his Son Jesus Christ:

“to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross” why?
“(so that) all mankind should follow the example of his great humility”

As we therefore “follow the example of his patience...we will also “be made partakers of his resurrection”. In other words the way up, to enter new life with Jesus—partakers in his resurrection—is first of all down—following the example of his great humility.”

In the first reading from Zechariah we have what appears as a contradiction. The prophet paints a picture of a king coming in to Jerusalem.

“Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he”.

But he rides no warhorse or chariot but instead a lowly donkey:

“humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.” (Zechariah 9)

It is this king that God will exalt over all his enemies, bringing peace to the nations and setting the captives free. The way to up, the way to power is first of all down, through humility and lowliness.

“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23:12 

This picture of exaltation through humiliation is repeated in Paul’s
famous hymn to Jesus echoed in our collect this morning, where

“being found in human form ...humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore—that is as a consequence of this – God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.”  (Philippians 2)

The way up—Jesus’ exaltation—is first of all through his coming down—his condescension. And if we want to enter life, Jesus is the example we must imitate.

"If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross, deny himself and follow me.”   Luke 9:23

Psalm 45 is a messianic psalm and anticipates Jesus. He is the one who is:

“fairer than all the children of men, full of grace..”

And Jesus’ beauty and grace come from his humility and “therefore God hath blessed him for ever” . The way up is first down.

And lastly the account from Matthew charts, in grim detail, the end of the process of Jesus entering fully into our humanity. God is crucified—to borrow a phrase from Jurgen Moltmann—and dies:

“despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces .” (Isaiah 53)

But the way up is the first of all through going down and this same Jesus is raised on the third day and ascends to be with God. And so Paul can write to those preparing for baptism:

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  (Romans 6)

The old evangelists used to invite their hearers to enter into this way to life with a simple ABC outline:

A. Accept you are a sinner.
"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23)"

B. Believe Jesus died for your sins.
"If you confess with your mouth, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom 10:9-10)"

C. Confess your sins.
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9)"

It’s not a bad model, For the way up is first down, and the way to new life is through the self-humbling which Jesus has showed us.

"Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God so that in due time he may exalt you."
1 Peter 5:6

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