Luke 19:28-40/Philippians 2:5-11
Could it be true that Palm Sunday prods us to ponder that it is easy to welcome Jesus but hard to follow him?
As we hear of this new king being welcomed to great applause, we know from our own experience that it is easy to welcome a winner. We have probably applauded the winner many times. Like when our child’s team or our own team won the grand final or or when Australia won the Americas Cup so long ago. It is a good thing to experience welcoming and applauding winners now and again!
If it is easy to welcome a winner, like they did on Palm Sunday, then it is probably quite easy to follow a winner too. If the winner is loved and has good skills and a good plan and the right intentions, then following can be done with relative ease. We are happy to jump on a winning band wagon and see where it leads.
It may be easy to welcome a winner, and even follow a winner, but it is a lot harder to welcome and follow a loser. You may have done that too; like when you are on the boundary line of junior sport or in the crowd of a production and mistakes are made and things do not go well. You have to welcome those who have not done their best and that may not always be so easy.
If welcoming a loser is hard, then following one is harder still. Remember that teacher you once had who you just could not follow but had to in order to get through? Remember that boss you worked under who didn’t always know what was going on or understand the issues, but you worked away anyway.
What about that colleague whom you just find it hard to trust and work with, but you have to anyway; that kid at school who was cruelly named the class “loser” whom you found it hard to stick up for?
It is hard to follow a person or a faith that you or others sometimes judge to be a “loser”.
What would inspire you to do this difficult thing of following a so called “loser”?
You might follow if you knew that the person was not actually a loser. That would take some attention and working through. It would take a seeking heart to find this out. It would take some application, patience, personal time and reflection to discover that your and others’ judgements about the person and their views were actually inaccurate.
You would follow a loser if you trusted that it was all for a great and noble purpose – a purpose of hope, of life, or renewal, of learning, of growing, of truly living and understanding.
You could follow if you trusted that his loss was others gain: a gift given so that good things come to us, and to a world in need.
If the loser was actually a winner who operates on a completely different scale of who is a winner and who is a loser, and if you could understand his way of winning and what it meant for the good of you and the world, then we might follow him.
What of this Jesus on the donkey? How do people in our time judge such a man on a cross and in a tomb. In our time and place, many people would regard him and those who follow him as “losers”.
Even those who profess to follow Jesus – may wonder if they have actually backed a winner when they are not held in great esteem, just as he is no longer held in high esteem by many in our community.
We may even get to the point of only following parts of Jesus – the parts that are easy and don’t confront us too much or make us uncomfortable.
An example: we hear a lot about God’s grace. “It’s all about grace” we say. Our life is based on simply receiving the free gift of God’s grace and learning to be gracious, and so it goes. This is true, but it is also incomplete.
Jesus doesn’t really allow anyone to leave it there. Yes, he is magnificent in his lavish grace as he takes a beating from evil itself in our place on that cross. Yes he is grace personified as he is lifted up in pain and blood to lose it all so that we can gain all.
Yes, we are connected with the maker of all things in a relationship of compassion and love by the compassion and passion and love of this divine man, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God.
But then he lays a call on us. He called those 12 people entering the city with him that first Palm Sunday, to “follow”. In his grace – which is grace enough to overlook our ignorance and offensive ideals and actions – he calls us to “follow”. His call to us is a call of underserved love and confidence in us, and yet it is still a call to follow him somewhere or into something.
“Follow what or whom?” we might ask. Follow a lifestyle goal? Follow a code of ethics? Follow a set of values. Follow the great thinkers and theologians? Follow the church and all its teaching religiously? Follow the family tradition of Christianity?
No, not in the most basic and first instance anyway. “Follow ME”, the donkey riding, Servant King calls. “Follow me into the city; into an unknown future”.
So, we are called by this grace-filled God to follow him somewhere in the journey of life he has given us. Today he calls us to follow him into the city and the suffering and the crucifixion and death and then that life at the end of the tunnel.
So, how about it? As we welcome the winner, Jesus, will we also follow him into an unknown future? Will we welcome this divine crucified man who will win the greatest victory of all – the ability and the power and authority to overcome death, forgive human sin and heal human blindness?
Will we welcome him as he reveals the wise and divine to the foolish and impatient this Holy Week? Will we follow him into Easter and see where he leads us? Will we follow him all the way to the cross?
The opposite response to this call would be to settle for a theoretical brand of Christianity. Peter, with all his promises to practice his faith and stay with Jesus even to death, found that the practice of faith and following is more confronting and scary that the theory of it. Actually following in faith is confronting.
But imagine his life after it was all over and he was restored by Jesus to full belonging and love. The practice of following the resurrected Jesus was a joy and a light burden and a great love and fulfilment to his being!
So, will we go for more than only the theory and let Jesus lead us into the practice of being Christian, and in so doing, find that world-shaping and fulfilling life which the Saviour promises?
The time for just entertaining Christianity is over! The call of Jesus to this generation is upon us. He still calls to all of us – “Follow Him”.
Follow him to the cross and stay there with him in your spirit these holy days. Stay in the tomb with Him and wait for the stone to be removed and stand with the Son in all his glory on Easter Day.
He is calling all of us to let him love us, let him surround us with his underserved kindness. He is gifting us with a call right here – to follow him in this place with our skills, our relationships, our hopes, our plans, our whole selves.
So, we welcome the king. We ask with all our soul for this winner to lead us into his suffering and into his glorious power and light for our calling here – in this place, at this time.
Welcome the winner, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and follow him, even if for now-it may mean losing something. Amen.