Monday, April 2, 2012

Your King Is Coming

In Nomine Iesu
St. John 12:12-19
April 1, 2012
Palm Sunday B

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

This Sunday has it all—everything from pomp and pageantry and praise, to torture, execution, and burial. Joyful shouts of “hosanna” to bloodthirsty cries for crucifixion. In fact, this Sunday of Holy Week is the Sunday “so nice they named it twice.” It is Palm Sunday; it is also the Sunday of the Passion. Palms and Passion. Cheers and jeers. Triumph and tragedy meet head on this day—in Jesus the Christ.

By the time Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that Sunday, He had achieved a certain celebrity status. It was undeniable. Just days earlier He had called Lazarus from his tomb and raised him from the dead—in a quiet bedroom community, just outside the Holy City. As a result, the crowds had never been bigger. The excitement had never been greater.

And that’s usually how it is whenever a bone fide celebrity comes to town. I was trying to remember the last time a celebrity came to Whitefish Bay. And, perhaps because opening day for Major League Baseball is this week, my thoughts went back to a Saturday morning in July about four years ago. Ryan Braun and a contingent of other Brewers were coming to downtown Whitefish Bay for a rally and an autograph signing. I don’t remember who all the other players were, because Ryan Braun was the real celebrity—the real superstar. I made my way downtown early, but lines were already formed. There were several short lines to choose from (the Manny Parra line, the Bill Hall line). And then, there was the Ryan Braun line—over two blocks long on Silver Spring, and then around the corner where City Market is now located. I was feeling lucky that day, so I got in the Ryan Braun line.

Well, it was a gamble that didn’t pay off. Apart from sweating in the July sun for a few hours, I have nothing to show for that day. From my vantage point, I never saw Ryan Braun. I never heard Ryan Braun. I never got a Ryan Braun autograph. And I even missed out on the free hot dogs they were giving away. Now, perhaps you’ve been more successful than me in meeting and greeting celebrities. But I suspect that a lot of people, like me, often come away feeling disappointed and disillusioned.

But Jesus is no ordinary celebrity. And what we see Jesus doing on Palm Sunday is also wonderfully symbolic of what Jesus does every Sunday. He comes. He comes to us. He comes to us, gathered here, to bless us with forgiveness and faith. If you think that what happens here during the Divine Service is all about us, and about what we’re doing for Jesus who is up in heaven somewhere—distant and disconnected from His people, you’re wrong. He comes. He comes not to threaten you or burden you, but to bless you and to lift your burdens from you.

This is what the Triumphal Entry shows us. And nobody explains this truth better than Martin Luther. This is what Luther says about Jesus’ triumphal entry: “Look at Christ. He rides not upon a horse which is a steed of war. He comes not with appalling pomp and power, but sits upon a donkey, which is a gentle beast to bear burdens and to work for men. From this we see that Christ comes not to terrify, to drive, and oppress, but to help and to take for Himself our load” (Easter Book, p.23-24). He comes. He comes here to serve you with His Word, with His absolution, with His body and blood. This is why attending and participating in the Divine Service is so important. You miss church, you miss Jesus. It’s that simple.

Your king comes to you. “You don’t seek him,” Luther writes, “He seeks you. You don’t find Him; He finds you.” There’s no waiting and long lines. He seeks you and finds you. And that seeking and finding is also an example for us. It shows us what we should be busy doing here on earth. Just as Christ comes to you to serve you, you should go to your neighbors to serve them. That’s the whole point of this morning’s reading from Philippians: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus . . . who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant . . . who humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” That’s your King—a humble, sacrificial servant.

And because Jesus is your king, that humility of His—that servanthood of His—it now lives in you. As He comes to you to lift your burdens, you also go to others to lift their burdens. When people see you, they should also see your king, Jesus. Your speech, the king’s speech. Your mercy, the king’s mercy. Your forgiveness, the king’s forgiveness. Your generosity, the generosity of Jesus. And as you head off as an ambassador of Christ the King, learn from Him.

Learn from Jesus to go—to go where the hurt is. To send a card to someone is good. To pray for someone is good. But your King Jesus did far more for you than pray for you or send you a card. Your king comes to you, and so you go to others. Don’t just e-mail them, don’t just text, don’t merely “like” their status on Facebook. Go to that person you know who is sick, or hospitalized, or dying. Go to that person who is sad, depressed and mourning. Go and give your help and support to that friend who is unemployed, who is recently divorced, whose burden is great. Just as Jesus’ presence matters in your life; your presence matters in the lives of others. And while it’s true that geographical distances will sometimes prevent you from going in person to serve others, there’s always someone nearby—there’s always someone in this congregation who needs the consolation and the support that you can provide.

Luther says this about our King, Jesus: “He gave Himself completely . . . with all works and suffering, so that there was nothing in him that was not made yours and done for you. So this is not your good work, that you should [just] give offerings and pray, but rather that you should give yourself entirely to your neighbor, as he needs you and as you can, with offerings, prayers, fasting, counsel, comfort, teaching, appeal, reproof, pardon, clothes, food, and also suffering and death on his behalf.” Are you up for the task? Are you ready to be a mask of God—a living, loving person through whom the care of the Christ is conveyed? There will never be a good, convenient time to show kindness and mercy to others. In fact, this work will always be inconvenient, time-consuming, draining. It’s putting Jesus first, yourself last, and others in between.

It’s the mind of Christ, and it’s in you. He humbled Himself on the cross for you. He has claimed you as His own in the water of your baptism. And because of that baptism, His humility, His patience, His mind is in you. And today, again, He comes. He comes to you—in the preaching of His promises, in the bread that is His body and the wine that is His blood. He comes. But He doesn’t come as a celebrity sports star for whom you have to wait around in line for hours. You will never have to leave here disappointed or disillusioned. Nor will you leave this life disappointed or disillusioned. For even at your life’s end, your King will come to take you home to heaven. Today He comes here as your personal Savior. His promises are intended for your ears. His body and blood are given “for you” for the forgiveness of your sins. And whether you feel it in your heart or not, Jesus the King is here for you. Because that’s His promise!

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. His name is Jesus. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And you are His ambassador. You are His friend, now and forever. Amen.

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