Palm Sunday 2022

Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from April 10, 2022

Message from April 10, Palm Sunday by Pastor Richard Pokora
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

Several years ago, the Public Broadcasting System presents a three part documentary titled, Diamond Queen, based on life of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.

In one episode, the queen prepares a speech for parliament. The camera shows her sitting on a couch with feet folded beneath her, reading a script. The filming takes place at her private residence, Balmoral Castle, in Scotland. Her famous corgis get some down time. The room has a nice bed with plaid carpeting on the floor. Bookshelves are filled with mementos and family photos. And then there’s that red pillow embroidered with these words, “it’s good to be queen,”

Doesn’t that say it all. “It’s good to be Queen.” Elizabeth travels about her realm in a Rolls Royce. She never cooks a meal. Everyone bows when she enters a room. She doesn’t worry about balancing a check book, shopping for groceries, or cleaning a bathroom. She has servants to do all these mundane tasks and a nation of people to foot the bill. Yes, it’s good to be queen.

It’s also good to be king. Remember reading about the temptation of Jesus at the beginning of Lent. “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, who took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” Satan said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus refused the temptation, but, if he had succumbed to it, he would have been king of the world.

This temptation to be world ruler takes many forms. Again, imagine the same scene with Jesus and Satan, standing on the mountain, except this time Satan holds a small piece of paper in his hand. He turns to Jesus and says, I will give you the numbers to the Powerball lottery and you shall be rich beyond your wildest imagination. All you have to do is bow down and worship me.” Now that’s a temptation we understand. It’s like being king or queen with fabulous wealth.

Think about what it implies to be queen, or king or lottery winner, for that matter. It suggests great wealth, and with wealth comes power and influence and fame. The disciples understood this power equation. Recall when James and John, the sons of Zebedee, spoke to Jesus: “Master, they said, we want you to do for us whatever we shall ask. Jesus responds to them, “What do you want me to do you?  They answer, “Grant us that we may sit, one at your right hand, and the other on your left hand, when you come into your glory.” Clearly, the disciples’ intentions become self-serving. Kingship, to them, means a personal windfall.

Let me use a pun to make a point about James and John. It’s geld by association, geld in the sense of reward, gift or money. For these two disciples the road to Jerusalem is paved with yellow bricks of gold and they want their share. The entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday means wealth, power and influence. Their investment in discipleship is about to pay off the old fashioned way. Yes, it’s good to be queen, or, in this case, king.

On Palm Sunday we hear again the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem. This account ought to ring a familiar bell for us who live in Iowa. Every four years presidential candidates from across the nation campaign in our state. They parade through city streets with their followers. People line the curbs to cheer and wave campaign placards. We find ourselves caught up in the brouhaha of political campaigns. The candidate makes promises about what they will do, we urge them on. To the people in Jerusalem, Jesus represents a political power play. He is the long awaited and promised Messiah who will throw the rascal Romans out and restore Judean independence. He is the fulfillment of their political aspirations. They like what they see and cry out: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” It’s good to be king when the people shout your name and wave palm branches.

The problem is this; appearances can be deceiving. People may line the city streets to catch a glimpse of Jesus and applaud. But elsewhere, the Romans cautiously watch these events and worry. The religious leaders hatch their plots. They don’t care what the people think. To them Jesus appears a dangerous political upstart who threatens their rule.

Recall again the threat Jesus poses to the hierarchy. Following the resurrection of Lazarus, a report reached the Pharisees. They hear these words: “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy our holy place and our nation.” Caiaphas the high priest, cynically responds. “It is better for you to have one man die than to have the whole nation destroyed.” Plotting the death of Jesus begins at that moment and continues through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

On Maundy Thursday, temple guards arrest Jesus. On Good Friday he will be brought before Pontius Pilate to be condemned to death. Roman soldiers lead him through the city to a place called Golgotha where he will be nailed to a cross and die a painful death. We look at this scene and think to ourselves, “Maybe it’s not so good to be king,” This isn’t the sort of kingship we had in mind. Kings, to our way of thinking, don’t get nailed to a cross and die an ignominious death with criminals. Jesus says to Pilate: “My kingdom is not from this world.” His followers do not fight. Instead, he comes to testify to the truth. That’s true kingship.

The events, beginning on Palm Sunday and ending, on Good Friday represent a great irony. An irony occurs when we expect one thing to happen, and the opposite happens. The other night I watched the documentary about Queen Elizabeth on TV. She may have palaces, wealth, and influence, but the human dimension came through. Elizabeth’s father died young, her sons divorced, all the usual family problems. Being queen doesn’t stop human suffering we experience. Ironically, wealth, power and fame cannot protect us from ourselves and the vicissitudes of life. We still suffer, no matter how much money in the bank.

On Palm Sunday we learn again being king or queen doesn’t protect us from the ups and downs of life. Like Jesus, we have Palm Sunday highs and Good Friday lows. Christ on the cross looked to heaven and understood only the power of God by the grace of God saves us from this harsh world and our own foolishness. No amount of wealth or power insulates us from illness, old age, tragedy, injury, accident and all the other things we fear. The kingship of Christ is not of this world. We bear the cross. Our hands pierced by the nails of misfortune. May we be like Jesus, who commits his spirit to God, trusting in God’s mercy, and power and love. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your minds and heart in Christ Jesus.