I don’t think we moderns understand what the word King means. The last Sunday of the church year is often called Christ the King Sunday. King is one of the three offices that are ascribed to Jesus – prophet, priest and king. But we don’t know what that word means anymore, especially if we are basing it off of our images of the modern British monarchy. This sermon attempts to think through what King means and how it might effect our lives.
It was Palm Sunday which has morphed into the Sunday of the Passion. The Triumphal Entry is the Gospel of the Day in Advent 1. Maundy Thursday (the institution of the Lord’s Supper) and Good Friday (the crucifixion) have their own days, so I try to preach on the arrest and trials of Jesus. And I have to be honest that 15 years ago I don’t know if I was just naive or if things were really different, but these trials always felt like a different world. But with the number of polically motivated trials and refusals to prosecute that we’ve seen in the past few years, they have become much more real. This sermon meditates on how Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’ three trials: Chief Priests, Pilate and Herod represent three modes of failure to do justice: venality, cowardice and cynicism. How we often succumb to those failures. And How Jesus overcame them and deserves the crown.
Advent 3 at St. Mark’s is the Children’s pageant. On the old calendar it would be Guadete Sunday meaning rejoice. It would after be a mini-Christmas or feel like it. You light the pink candle on the Advent wreath. If you were at the Cathedral they might even have rose altar cloths and stoles. Not being the Cathedral we have a pink candle. And given societal changes, like an entire family not being in one congregation any more whether due to moves or disruptions, things that put demands on families need to be done outside of prime time. So while my childhood pageants were on Christmas Eve, ours are on Advent 3. My message before the children does some of that reflecting – a bit of nostalgia – before hopefully putting a good frame on the kids presentation. What Child is This was the theme. The answer is king and savior, but also ours. We can proclaim Christ, but it does no good if we don’t welcome him in our hearts.
The image and the reality is all over the new and old testaments. We pray for it constantly in the Lord’s prayer. But moderns have no idea what the world King means. We don’t have a good concept what it means to receive one. And even the examples that we have, like the Queen/King of England, are not what we are talking about. When those places use the world or the thought King they don’t mean a statutory figurehead. They mean a real one. One like a lion, however nice they might be at play, all you can think is “those claws, those claws”. This sermon is an attempt to recover some of that meaning. It is also an attempt to understand how this King is still different that all the others. And finally it is an attempt to understand how we receive a king – here in time and their in eternity as Luther would explain the Lord’s prayer petition.
The Sermon is for Palm/Passion Sunday, so the service starts out with those Hosannas and the Palm procession, it moves through Pilate’s palace, and ends at Golgotha and the tomb. There are a myriad of subjects possible, but the with Mark’s text what stood out to me this week was Pilate’s repeated pawing, “The King of the Jews”. He’s having perverse fun with the Chief Priests, and the crowds, and even with Jesus. He’s abusing his office for entertainment. The sermon compares it to an old cat and a mouse. The irony is that Pilate, the de facto king of the Jews, actually has the King of the Jews before him. And all throughout Jesus is nothing but truthful. The test is can we see that. Can we see the King not just in his purple, but also in His suffering? Old cats grow blind, all tyrants fall, but the King shall come when morning dawns. Can we see it?
Worship note: I’ve left in a verse or two of several of our hymns today. The hymns of Palm Sunday are such a big part of the experience.
We fade in with the choir processional – Hosanna
In between the split reading is No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet verse 2 (LSB 444)
At the conclusion of the readings is Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted verse 2 (LSB 451)
The conclusion is Ride On Ride On in Majesty (LSB 441)
All of these hymns in their fullness deal with seeing the King on the Throne which is the cross.
Biblical Texts: Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday Matthew 21:1-17, Matthew 27:32-66 Full Sermon Draft
Have you ever been in a situation where you knew exactly what was going to happen, what was going to happen was a travesty but the desires of everyone involved are just too set in stone? Every action and reaction is a cruel inversion of the claims of those doing them? That is Holy Week. The desires of the Galilean crowds, the desires of the Jerusalem priests and the desires of Rome are locked into a danse macabre . The thing about the dance of death is that it reveals all of our follies. All of our false pieties and crass ambitions are laid bare and open for us to see. Those groups dancing 2000 years ago desired messiahs not very much different from those we often desire. Jesus exposes them, and defines what the messiah is. The sermon explores our false messiahs and how they tyrannize us, and the freedom the true King offers us.
Worship note: I’ve left in a bunch of music this time. The hymns for Palm Sunday are probably the greatest in the hymnal. Between the palm and passion lessons the choir sings a pretty arrangement of the Palm Sunday Hosanna. The Hymn of the Day was LSB 444, No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet, a modern hymn which keys off of Pilate’s ironic words in the gospel of John “behold your King”. Truer words were never spoken that came off a tongue so false. The closing hymn, LSB 441, Ride on Ride on in Majesty, also beautifully connects the Palms and the Passion.
The text for the first Sunday in Advent is usually Palm Sunday. The theme is the Advent of the King. There are multiple ways that Advent invites us to ponder the Kingship of Jesus. We can reflect on the first advent in a holy longing for the second advent. The first time in grace and humility, the second in judgement and power. We could reflect on the King as stand-in for His people. In this case the King on the way to the cross and our penitential need. That is Advent as a penitential season. The Isaiah text which is just as much the sermon text of the day invites a third meditation, Advent as the dawning and growing of the light. What this sermon attempts to do is think about what it means to have a King. It posits a couple of forms of human kingship – modern and ancient. It then contrasts those with the Biblical picture of the Kingship of Jesus. It concludes with the encouragement as the natural light grows shorter, to let they spiritual light brighten. Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Worship notes: The other voice you hear is our Seminarian Tim Bayer. He was in town for Thanksgiving and it is always great to be able to include him in the service. Since the break is a short one, he and his wonderful voice handled the liturgy for us. I’ve left in two hymns. At the start LSB 343, Prepare the Royal Highway. At the end LSB 331, The Advent of Our King. Both carry the Kingship theme and explore it is ways similar to the sermon. I love the hymns of Advent. I’ll often try to work some of them in during the year itself because the season itself is made to short. The other reason is that the themes of advent are so deep and worthy of reflection.
Our world is awash in various forms of credential checks. What I mean by that is various ways of authorizing or legitimizing certain behavior or positions. The opening comparison is how we as American used to be by looking at Abe Lincoln’s credentials to be a lawyer vs. what we require to be a hairdresser today. (Hint, I think we require more of the cosmetologist than Abe had to provide to practice law.) We then look at what credentials mean to theology and the pastorate.
The reason I do that is hopefully to evoke the uneasy nature of theological credentials. The text has this idea running throughout it with two conflicting groups. There are those who accept Jesus at the word of his disciples. The Lord has need of it at which the colt’s owners let it go. And there are those who reject the word of Jesus. The Pharisees telling the “teacher” to “rebuke your disciples.” Both scenes are a form of credential check. Those with the perfect Jerusalem credentials fail the city. Those without have the freedom and hearts to join the triumphal entry.
The theological truth that the Kingdom of God comes humbly always makes theological credentials tenuous. The best are learned through prayer, study and trial – represented by the margin notes of my grandfather.
It is the humility of those credentials that free us. The false messiahs and false prophets – the laws and priests – that Bethany and Bethphage represent (per o]Origin) always try and keep us bound. It is the humble credentials of Christ and his word that free us, and free us for his need. The Lord has need of us. Do we hear his credentials, or do we demand better ones?
This was the first Sunday in Advent which is a season of preparation, of preparation for receiving God. The first open reception of Jesus as the Christ as the King was Palm Sunday, and the triumphal entry has been the historic reading for the first Sunday in Advent for almost forever. When you read it from the Gospel of Mark, as we are doing this year, it reads as irony (in contrast to the moment of messianic fervor in Matthew). In Mark, that first time, nobody got it. They were all looking for the messiah, the king, and when he shows up, nobody recognizes him. Now I think you could say the inverse. Nobody is expecting the messiah, the king, and if you believe the Bible, when he shows up this time, everybody will recognize him immediately. That is the Kingly Irony.
This sermon looks at the way this irony continues in our lives and that irony is actually the extended offer of the grace of the King.
This is the biblical text for the events of Palm Sunday, the start of holy week. The outline is very basic law and gospel. The law consists of identifying where we have gone astray. That happens in the reactions of the crowds. Those who should have known don’t care. This is traced as a pattern in Matthew’s gospel. Those who have some idea never-the-less attempt to pervert the power of the Kingdom to their personal Kingdom. The gospel is simply that the King comes anyway. The King comes, and humbly offers himself to all who believe.