Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Humble Glory

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday in Lent, Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, April 10, 2022.

    There’s a stark contrast between the two Gospel readings we hear today.  We began this morning reading about Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  The people paraded as Jesus rode in on a donkey.  They waved palm branches and cried out, “Hosanna!”  They welcomed Jesus as their King.  It was a joyful and glorious time.  And we in our own way take part in that parade as we came into this sanctuary, waving palms, crying out our own Hosannas, and singing with joy “All glory, laud, and honor to [our] Redeemer King.”  But then we just heard the rest of the story from that week: a murderous plot, a last supper overshadowed by an argument over who’s the greatest, betrayal and denial, a sham trial, mockery, humiliating beatings, nails hammered into Jesus’ hands and feet, a crown of thorns made in jest of the King, and finally death.  Of these two Gospel readings, which one do you prefer to hear?  Which one would you rather be a part of?  Without question it’s Palm Sunday.  We want nothing to do with Good Friday.  But the glory of our Redeemer King isn’t a parade; it’s His cross.  
    But we want the parade.  We want glory.  That’s what the people of Jerusalem wanted.  The words they sang; the palm branches they waved; it was all about glorious victory.  Hosanna means “save us,” and they called Jesus the “King of Israel.”  The waving of palm branches was a symbolic act of celebrating victory over an enemy.  All of this suggests that the people expected Jesus to be an earthly king who was going to get rid of Rome and restore glory to the nation of Israel.  And that’s the same glory we want too.
    We want the glory of victory, the glory of success.  We’re not looking to Jesus for victory over foreign enemies, but we do want victory over everything that makes life hard.  We want Jesus to give us the glory of health, wealth, and happiness.  We want an earthly glory in which people look up to us, thinking well of us, thinking we have it all together.  These are the things that we value and pursue.  
    We want the glory of health.  How much time and money and energy and focus do we spend on our health?  And I’m not talking about the good habits of eating well or visiting the doctor. I’m talking about our obsession with sculpting our bodies to fit a specific image.  We want to look like those movie stars and airbrushed marketing pictures we see on the internet.  We want to look like that so others will look at us in the same way we look at those pictures.
We want the glory of wealth, believing it’ll give us endless happiness.   Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous may not be on TV anymore, but there’s plenty of other reality shows we watch that glorify extravagant living.  We watch these shows and there’s a little part of us that wishes we had that kind of money and life.  Yes, we know those people have problems too, but money has to make those problems easier to deal with.  
Of course, most of us won’t have that kind of life, so we have to find another way to get people to notice us.  That’s where our social media comes in.  We share and post everything through filters so that others will “like” us, give us “thumbs up,” and subscribe to our life.  The number of “friends” and followers we have validate us, and we seek to increase that number.  We do this because we want glory.  We want people to see us as the greatest.  But wasn’t that exactly what the disciples were doing?  Weren’t they seeking glory when they argued at the Lord’s Table about who was the greatest?  And what did Jesus say to them?  
“The kings of Gentiles exercise lordship over them ….  Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.  For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves?  Is it not the one who reclines at table?  But I am among you as the one who serves” (Lkk 22:25-27).  The greatest one is our King who came with humility to serve us by dying on the cross, to save us from sin and death.  
    Christ came with complete humility, not just by riding on a donkey instead of a war horse, but by taking on the form of a servant, being born of the Virgin Mary, being born in the likeness of men.  
Jesus is God, fully God, 100%.  He possesses all the divine attributes: He’s all-knowing and all-powerful.  He was before the beginning.  As Scripture says and as we confess in the Nicene Creed, all things were made through Him.  And yet, with all that glory, He humbled Himself by taking on our humanity, our flesh and blood, so that He could be an obedient servant.  That obedience led Him to the humiliation of the cross.  
We prefer our crosses to not to have Jesus on them, or at least if He is on them, we want Him to have His arms raised in victory; and that's fine.  But the glory of the cross isn’t our resurrected Lord.  The glory of the cross is our Servant Redeemer King who willingly and lovingly endure that shame so you’d be saved, so that you’d receive the glory of forgiveness and everlasting life.  It’s hard to listen to what our Lord suffered on Good Friday.  It’s uncomfortable to look at Jesus hanging on the cross.  For all the gold and silver we put on it, the crucifix isn’t a glorious thing.  But that’s exactly where we see our Savior’s glory; because that’s where He won victory.  The glory of our King isn’t royal robes or wealth.  It isn’t a parade.  His glory is His victory over sin, death, and Satan; victory won by His own death.  His glory is the salvation He graciously gives to you.  And so we humbly wait for the fulfillment of that promise of everlasting life.  
The humiliation of Jesus seen on the cross doesn't look glorious.  We want our Savior to look like Jesus on Palm Sunday.  We want Him to look like what Peter, James, and John saw on the Mount of Transfiguration.  We want our Redeemer King to be strong.  But His strength is the cross.  His glory is victory over death by His own death.  It seems backward; but with humble faith, we look to that glory alone; and we patiently wait for the glory of everlasting life He won for us.  In Jesus’ name…Amen.

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