Palm/Passion Sunday B (28-03-2021)

The following service was streamed live via Zoom  on March 28th at 10:30am.

The entire text for the service is printed below for home use by those who are not ready to return to public gatherings or who are otherwise not able to be at church on the day.   Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions.  If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church. 

There  are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for some of the text, including the sermon .  [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip]   When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of  your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.

-oOo-

“Unearned suffering is redemptive.”
(Martin Luther King)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

As we live, we are transmitters of life, and when we fail to transmit life, life fails to flow through us into the lives of others. So let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

WE LIGHT THE LENTEN CANDLES
(Those who are using the lenten candles at home should light only 1 of the 6 candles plus the Christ candle.)

May we be open to this light, and to the rich possibilities that it brings us.

HYMN 25 – “As Pants the Hart for Cooling Streams”
(click here to listen)

OPENING SENTENCES

L: He comes in triumph, to a city where people are gathered in festival

R: He comes to challenge power and vested interests, to overturn status and wealth.

L: Come, Jesus, in triumph and sorrow,

R: Hosanna in the name of the living God.

L: He comes in celebration with a royal welcome,  declaring God’s reign of love.

R: He comes to rejection, to the fearful and proud who
sacrifice him to preserve their power.

L: Come, Jesus, in triumph and sorrow,

R: Hosanna in the name of the living God.

L: He comes to acclamation, to people waving and shouting praises, a procession of joy.

R: He comes to abuse, to shouts of crucifixion, false trial and the way of the cross.

L: Come, Jesus, in triumph and sorrow,

R: Hosanna in the name of the living God. 

PRAYER OF APPROACH 

Lord, Jesus dared to live God’s way in the midst of all the ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ of life.  Likewise, you call us to proclaim our faith faithfully by the way we live, and treat one another.   As Jesus wanted his disciples to live passionate, justice seeking, God centred lives, so you call us to be your human face, sharing our lives that others might sense the new signs of hope in their everyday lives.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

For the past 5 weeks of the Season of Lent, we have been preparing; preparing for this moment in the story of Jesus’ journey.  Now we are one week from Easter!

Today, traditionally, has been called Palm Sunday, but you won’t hear about palms from Mark today.  The Gospel of John, written 30-40 years later, is the only one that says people waved palm branches for Jesus.

Anyway, this is the day on which, our tradition tells us, Jesus entered Jerusalem, and just days before his death.

So I invite you to reflect on some of the feelings associated with Holy Week.  Let’s imagine we have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  We begin by listening again to Mark’s story; to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his own city, to encourage the people to see and experience God in new ways.

     Meditation -traditional Gospel for Palm Sunday: Mark 11:1-11

11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 

They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

     Silence

Let us now take moment to settle into the silence.  Hear and feel your quiet breathing.  Hear and feel the quiet of this place and this community of people. 

Jesus dared to live God’s way in the midst of all the ups and downs of life.  We, too, are called to live faithfully so as to proclaim the Gospel by the choices we make and the way we treat people.  (Silence)

Jesus wanted his disciples to live passionate, justice-seeking, God-centred lives. (Silence)

Jesus, as a human face of God, shared his life that others might sense the new signs of hope in their everyday lives. (Silence)

In this quiet hour, may our spirits be renewed, may our minds be open to new truths, and our hearts be receptive to love as we give thanks for this life we are blessed to share.

(at least 30 sends silence)

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

If our songs of praise are a habit that has lost the enthusiasm of its first love; Lord, have mercy. (Lord, have mercy)

If our songs of praise are hampered by a multitude of small doubts and fears; Christ, have mercy (Christ, have mercy.)

If our songs of praise have become the hollow shells of a faith that has withered; Lord, have mercy. (Lord, have mercy.)

God of stringent light and relentless mercy, please reveal to us the condition of our true selves. Expose the ugliness we have ignored, affirm the beauty that has not been surrendered, forgive the sins for which we have made pathetic excuses, and heal the faith which, although lame, has not surrendered to the world’s pessimism.

Encourage us to bear the pain of complete self-honesty, and to embrace the joy of rehabilitation which comes to us through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Then let us live boldly to the praise of your Holy Name. Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: Sisters and brothers in the faith, the sufferings and death of the true Son of God are indeed the ultimate condemnation of evil, but they are also the ultimate witness to the salvation of the world. Through Christ who comes to us, we are a people who have nothing to fear and everything to hope for; and so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Hosanna! Blessed  is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 50:4-9a

  The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.

The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.

I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;

he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.

9 It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
All of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.

FROM THE GOSPELS – Mark 14:32-36

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

IN AN AUSTRALIAN ACCENT – “Tough faith” by Bruce Prewer. 

It was never easy!  This life of faith,
lived freely and lovingly despite contemporary pride
and age-old enigmas, has always been tough,
for Abraham, Sarah, Job, Thomas, Mary, Augustine, Luther, McKillop, Flynn.

Lord, we believe; save us from unbelief!
Pity the overt arrogance of modern culture,
drunk on small achievements,
thinking that our era has put paid to faith,
throwing away God as a superstition
clutched by the ignorant. It was never easy!

Choice, commitment, whether to gamble one’s all
on current self-adulation, or to plunge into the Under-Swell
of hope and faith, spirit and truth,
flowing with creative love,
rampant with celebration and the glory of Christ

Lord, we believe; save us from unbelief.

FROM THE PSALMS – PS.31:9-16

9  Be gracious to me, O Lord,
for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.

10 For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.

11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbours,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.

12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.

13 For I hear the whispering of many— terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.

14  But I trust in you, O Lord;  I say, “You are my God.”

15 My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.

16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.

HYMN 357 – “When Our Life Began” (click here to listen)

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS       “In Distress”       

     Part 1

“Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress” (Ps.31:9)

Today is usually known as Palm Sunday, the name, of course, referring to the palms which were waved and strewn on the road as Jesus made his entry to Jerusalem.  But it is also called Passion Sunday for it marks the beginning of Jesus’ passion, the distressing time leading up to Good Friday.  It is to the latter which my choices from the lectionary point, and so our concern today is not the triumphant entry which begins the week, but with the week’s distress which began on this day.

In the church people often talk about Jesus suffering for us, dying for us, as though he takes our suffering and the consequences of our sinfulness upon himself so that we are magically freed from them.  It is a nice thought and a comforting concept, but it doesn’t stand up to reality.  We do suffer and we cannot escape the consequences of our sinfulness.  That is reality!

However, we can look at the reason for his suffering and how he handled it, and perhaps gain some insight from scripture into the suffering in our own lives.  

Suffering comes to all of us sooner or later, and because of its universal nature it is a good bet that God made it that way.  If one believes in a good God, then potential for suffering is not the creation of an omnipotent sadist, but has a purpose for good.  In the Jewish Talmud, God says to humanity, “With thy very wounds I will heal thee.”  Every crisis is an opportunity for God to enter your life and bring growth toward wholeness which might not otherwise happen.  As the Greek proverb states, “He who suffers will know much.”  This lesson is realised by the servant to whom Isaiah refers as he considers his new role as pupil, learning to listen out of the suffering which he faces.

In times of suffering there is a tendency to become bitter and wish for a return to the past when things were better.  In our readings today, none of the sufferers; neither the servant in Isaiah nor the Psalmist, nor Jesus allow themselves to wallow in self-pity.  Certainly be angry, complain in your loudest voice to God and anyone else in ear shot, be sad and grieve, ask God, as did Jesus, to take the cup away, but when you’ve had your say, don’t stay there and don’t look back.  The pain present in suffering is like bodily pain.  When I touch a hot iron the pain says to my brain, “Move your hand, stupid, or you’ll cook it.”  The pain of suffering says to your soul, “Move on from this stage of your life or you’ll die.”  Inevitably you will come to a point of choice: to get bitter or get better.  When you choose the latter, God gets the chance to make you new.

Another characteristic exhibited by both Jesus and the servant is the choice to suffer – not that either one wanted to suffer, but that suffering was the consequence of a particular path – God’s path – which they chose.  The person who truly follows God’s path will see the suffering coming and keep on the path despite it, rather than resisting it and falling by the way.

There is a legend that comes from the American Indians about a village located on the bank of a shallow, but very swift, river.  The current was so fast that the river could not be crossed without the people being swept off their feet and put in peril of drowning.

One day a warring tribe of neighbouring Indians attacked the village.  The villagers were soon fighting with their backs to the swift water and could only escape by crossing the river.  The Indians gathered up the youngest, oldest and weakest members of the tribe.  The strong ones placed the weaker ones on their shoulders, and risked wading out into the raging river – they had little choice.

Amazingly, they were not swept downstream.  The weight of the burdens on their shoulders kept them from losing their footing.  They, with their extra loads, crossed the swift stream, while their unencumbered enemies were swept away by the current.

   Part 2

Martin Luther King talked about the redemptive qualities of unearned suffering.  To choose to take on the burden of the suffering which comes from living for others may just be, in the words of one wise Archbishop, “more serviceable to us than if we possessed dominion over the world.”

It is easy to talk about choosing to move on from distressing feelings that are tearing us apart in order to realise the growth that can come out of that suffering.  It is easy to talk about choosing to suffer for others – for God’s way.  Talk is easy.  But how can I even dare to glibly suggest such solutions when I haven’t suffered as much as many of the people to whom I minister?  Easy to talk about such choices – damn hard to choose when one is already knocked down by grief.

In that wonderful film, E.T., an extra-terrestrial visitor is marooned on earth where he is introduced to this planet’s ways by a young boy, Elliot.  Elliot gives E.T. a crash course in survival:  “this is food… these are goldfish… the goldfish eat the food and the shark eats the goldfish, but no one eats the shark.”

E.T., used to a much more peaceful and gracious environment, is very distressed and very homesick, so he constructs a primitive but effective radio set and “phones home.”  

As Telstra loves to remind us, phoning home is a good way to handle the distressing situations of life.  It allows one to “touch base,” so to speak, and put things into perspective.  Jesus did that, in effect, during his final distressing week on earth.  He withdrew to the Mount of Olives and prayed to the God he knew as Father.  He phoned home and got in touch with his spiritual source, and it carried him through.

Whether our suffering is chosen or just comes to us unbidden, the response which we need to deal with it is summed-up by the Psalmist.  The first part of the Psalm is a recitation of his distress – a complaint of his ill-treatment -, but his solution is the same as that of Jesus – in trusting God and seeking refuge there.  The implication is that God has some future goal, worth suffering for and worth waiting for.

I have a little story which may perhaps summarise things for you:

A potato farmer failed to pay his income tax and, as a result, went to prison.  His wife, understandably upset about that, wrote him a letter and asked him, “How can we get along without you now?  It’s almost planting time and there’s no way I can plow that field by myself and plant the potatoes.”

He wrote back and said, “Don’t plow that field; don’t you dare touch it!  That’s where I buried the money.”

She wrote to him again, saying, “You idiot! Don’t you know they read your mail in prison?  Yesterday the local cops, the Commonwealth police, and the Taxation Office officials were here, digging up that field looking, albeit in vain, for the money.  Now what am I supposed to do?”

He replied: “Now you can plant the potatoes!”

The Psalmist spent half the Psalm plowing up his distressing troubles:  “My eye is wasted in grief…my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away”

And then – he plants his potatoes:  I trust in thee, O Lord, I say “Thou art my God.”  My times are in thy hand…”

In our suffering, let us cry and rant and rave and curse and grieve, but in the end we can choose to get better, not bitter, and start planting our potatoes, because we are God’s.

DESCENT INTO DARKNESS – Lent is a time for growth”

Yes, but growth means change.  I like me as I am; and while life can be hectic, unfulfilling and downright unpleasant at times, I’ve got a routine that works for me. There are people who like me, even love me, as I am; if I change, who knows how they will react? Heck, growth takes time and energy, and after I’m finished dealing with all my responsibilities, there is none left.
(Please extinguish the last lenten candle)

HYMN 643 – “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”
(click here to listen)

A PALM SUNDAY REFLECTION: Twenty Centuries Past”

L: Twenty centuries past, what city has not heard of your coming? From Beijing to Berlin, from Jerusalem to Johannesburg, from New York to New Delhi, surely the word has spread that you’ve come in peace, not violence to enrich, renew, transform our lives and bring us to shalom?

R: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.  Hosanna in the highest.

L: Twenty centuries past, what city has not heard of your church From Catholic, Orthodox, Uniting or Anglican, Evangelical, Progressive or Pentecostal surely the message of acceptance, healing, confidence in your royal advent, has been passed on through faithful living?

R: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.  Hosanna in the highest.

L: Twenty centuries past, what city has not rejected you? From penthouse to tenement, from factory to leisure centre, from theme park to concert hall, surely the news is that this life is for taking, not giving and what stands in the way of this lifestyle must now be removed?

R: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.  Hosanna in the highest.

L: Twenty centuries past, what city does the Christ seek to enter? From leafy suburb to shanty town, from housing estate to West-End flat, from salon to slum, surely the sign of the church free from pride, united in deed, must be the welcome the Christ longs for as he enters our city?

R: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.  Hosanna in the highest.

HYMN 647 “Comfort, Comfort All My People”(click here to listen)

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION 

God our Saviour and Friend,  in spite of our outward brave faces, inwardly in our souls we need to sometimes weep a while. 

We need to weep with and for those children who instead of enjoying a happy childhood, know all about war, hunger, poverty, mental and physical abuse, illness and dying.

We need to weep with and for those young people who having grown up in pleasant circumstances, now have their hopes and ideals dashed by a cynical world.

We need to weep with and for those among the indigenous people of our land who have lost all sense of self respect and dignity and now are captive to a sense of futility.

We need to weep with and for refugees who have spent years in camps, those whose families have been broken up, and those who risk their lives in unseaworthy boats.

We need to weep with and for prisoners of conscience who suffer deprivation and violence, and citizens who have been tried and sentenced for crimes they did not commit.

We need to weep with and for those within the care of the church who have been misused or exploited; and those who have suffered emotional violence or have been sexually abused.

We need to weep with and for fellow Christians who have lost their joy and now serve with dogged duty, and for any pastors and priests who carry on although they feel failures.

We need to weep with and for friends or family who are choosing paths that will lead to personal degradation, and for any who in their misery refuse all offers of help.

We need to weep with and for you, loving God. For you are that completely Loving One who  “bears our griefs and carries our sorrows,” not wanting a single soul to perish. As we share a little of the grief of your costly love, may we also participate in your outreach among those around us. Through Christ Jesus who taught us to pray, “Our Father…”

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil.  For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.

HYMN 348 – “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty” (click here to listen)

WORD OF MISSION

L: The God we worship is never confined to this holy place. So go and travel with the God who is found in ordinary and surprising places.  May our journeys in life

R: Shine with a star’s delight.

L: May our days and our years

R: weaver together a wonderful tapestry.

L: May our unfolding stories

R: dance with the grace of every blessing.

SENDING OUT

Go gladly on your way as those who have recognised the Palm Sunday man as the key to the healing of the world.
Translate your hosannas in the language of daily loving,
that each task and each person may receive the best you can offer in those circumstances.

The amazing grace of Christ Jesus will cover you.
The enduring love of God will encircle you,
The sure friendship of the Spirit will inspire you,
both today and evermore. Both today and ever more.

An open, virtual door to the world