Monday, April 18, 2011

Whose Palm branches are you seeking after?

Below is the message I shared with Good Shepherd yesterday, Palm Sunday.  It is a discussion about who we are seeking to get praise and acceptance from.  I think it is an important question for us to think about and a appropriate one for Holy Week.  God Bless. 

Mark 11:1-11 (New International Version, ©2011)

 1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
 4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
   “Hosanna![a]”    “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[b]
 10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”    “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

Palm Sunday is a day of celebration.  A day where we remember (and often reenact what is usually called Jesus’ ‘triumphal entry’ into Jerusalem. 
It is also the beginning of Holy Week, the most important week in the life of our church and our faith.
It is also a Sunday of contradictions. 
Palm Sunday usually is focused on the celebration
Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Here comes David’s Son – the rightful and deserving King!
These are the words that ring out from the crowd of people that greet Jesus as he enters the streets of Jerusalem
These are the words that are echoed in this church and in churches around the world on this and every ‘Palm’ Sunday
And in other words Jesus is praised every week, everyday even.
But Palm Sunday, is also the start of Holy Week
And we all know what Holy Week holds
Maundy Thursday & Good Friday
Judas betrayal, Peter’s denial, Jesus’ trial & Jesus’ suffering And finally Jesus crucifixion and death
The contradiction between the praise of the triumphant entry on Palm Sunday and the jeers of ‘crucify him’ on Friday is as sharp as they come.
It’s the kind of contradiction that can only come from a crowd – a crowd seeking to be pleased, amazed, impressed and entertained. 
A crowd that is quickly restless and easily led astray
A crowd that led me to think about our focus for this morning: submitting our praise to God
When it comes to submitting our praise to God I think it is really as simple as this:  We must choose to submit our desire for ‘the praise of the crowd’ in order to really and truly seek after the ‘praise’ of God, praise that comes in being faithful to God’s call on our lives
While Palm Sunday, and the cheering adoration of the crowd that followed Jesus is a familiar story for most of us – have we ever really stopped and thought about what it must have felt like to be greeted like that
Can you imagine having people shouting your name, literally cheering your name and praising you?  Bowing down to worship you?  It must have been an intoxicating feeling.  One that only a few people in our world can in any way relate to. 
Jesus must have been tempted here.  Tempted to give the crowd what it wanted – whatever it wanted – to keep their praise. 
But whatever temptation Jesus felt, he did not give into it. 
Instead of chasing after the cheers of the crowd, Jesus sought the praise and congratulations of his father in heaven, eventually saying ‘Your will, not mine be done.’
Few of us will ever have the experience of praise from the world that Jesus had on that first Palm Sunday. 
But all of us can strive for the praise that Jesus sought.  The affirmation of ‘well done, my God and faithful servant’ spoken from the mouth of God.
Our family recently watched a movie called, ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’.
The movie (with its sequel now in theaters) is based on a successful series of books for young readers.
Greg, the main character – spends most of the movie desperately trying to move up the social ladder during his first year of middle school. 
In the process (which involves a lot of laughter for the audience) he alienates, belittles and betrays the only people that are truly interesting in being his friend and that really care for him.
Despite all of his attempts to win favor and gain acceptance and (literal) applause he doesn’t find it – even when he is doing something he is good at.
The closest he comes is when he has a chance to be a part in the school musical – he has a great voice – but due to circumstances almost entirely of his own making, he is first left out of the lead role, and then makes an embarrassing display during the performance, ruining the whole show
All of Greg’s work and self-centered effort to become popular results not in acceptance and praise, but instead he ends up losing the only friends he had and is left totally alone. 
It is only when he makes a personal sacrifice – in a public way, that paints him in a decidedly ‘not cool’ light that he begins to find meaning, happiness and real acceptance. 
The lure of popularity and applause can easily lead to selfish and misguided efforts that end not with happiness and fulfillment but empty achievements and loneliness
The story also gives a positive contrast to Greg’s striving for acceptance and popularity.
This contrast comes in the form of Rawley, Greg’s best friend – Rawley strive’s to ‘just be himself’ and do what makes him happy.
Throughout the film, Greg keeps trying to ‘help’ Rawley by steering him away from acting like who he really is and doing what he likes – because those things are usually not ‘cool’
Greg is right, Rawley is not ‘cool’, the way he talks isn’t cool, the way he acts isn’t cool and the things he likes are, for the most part not ‘cool’. 
But he sticks to what he likes, what he believe and who he is and In the process, he becomes more and more accepted, respected and liked than Greg, and even enjoys moments of actual popularity and acclaim.
So, now let’s head back to Palm Sunday, Jesus and the adoring crowd
We know that Jesus made the choice to seek the will and the praise of God rather than chase after the continued praise of the crowd – a choice that makes all the difference for us.
But what motivated those crowds? Why were they there praising Jesus?
What were they looking for from Jesus?
what motivates us to join the crowd around Jesus?
What do we seek in Jesus?
What do we believe he has come to accomplish?
Why do we pledge our allegiance to him on Sunday and yet all too often turn our attention elsewhere the rest of the week?
These are questions we take with us, but whatever our motivation, we are called to submit to God in all areas of our lives.  This means following the example of Jesus – even on Palm Sunday, even during Holy Week. 
We can chase the praise of the world or instead follow after the will and call, and praise of God. 
But we have to choose which one we will seek after.
the praise of the world is fleeting and fickle (Palm Sunday, the perfect example – praise on Sunday, only a few days before they began to shout ‘crucify him’)
Seeking God’s praise, on the other hand, will sometimes lead us to make choices that aren’t cool and that decidedly leave us out of the ‘in crowd’, and often are about making sacrifices,
But seeking after the will, call and praise of God is also the only way we can be who we were created to be.  Who God calls us to be and who we were meant to be.
It is only in living into the selves that we were designed to be – not in chasing the approval and applause of the crowd – that we find true happiness, true joy and real fulfillment. 
When we submit our desire for the approval of the world, the roar of the crowd and the lure of popular acceptance so that we can seek after the praise of God we learn that God has already accepted us, and we begin to see who we really are – and what God is calling us to be.

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