Faith United Methodist Church
April 13, 2014
Rev. Krista-Beth Atwood
Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11, Philippians 2:5-11
Prayer of Illumination:
Nourish us, O God, with your word of life. Take away our arrogance and uncertainty, that we may follow Christ Jesus our savior all the way to the cross and rejoice together as sisters and brothers in the new life you give. Amen.
Sermon: Obedience Above All
Obedience. It’s something that we like to see in our kids, right? ~ and in our pets. For one thing, obedience ensures safety. Don’t touch the hot stove. Hold my hand in the parking lot. Heel. Sit. Stay. Obedience gets a little more tricky for us, though, as we grow-up. Teenagers don’t often like to follow Mom & Dad’s rules, no matter that many of those rules are for their safety. And, as adults, we sometimes play fast and loose with the rules ourselves. That 35 mph speed limit is just a suggestion, right?
According the Mirriam Webster, obedience is an act or instance of obeying, the quality or state of being obedient. To be obedient is to be willing to do what someone tells you to do or to follow a law or a rule. That’s all well and good if the person or law is ethical, but what happens if the person or law or rule is unethical or immoral. As they say, some rules are meant to be broken.
Personally, I believe that some of the rules of The United Methodist Church regarding treatment of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are unethical. I’ve joined with colleagues to speak against these rules and affirm that, if necessary, I will break them. In this case I may be disobedient to the rules of the church, but obedient to my understanding of God’s love. Sometimes we have to decide whose rules we are going to follow.
The disciples knew whose rules they wanted to follow and, on this day, they got it right. The disciples weren’t necessarily known for their obedience. They argued when Jesus told them to stop. They fell asleep when Jesus told them to stay awake. But on this day they carried out Jesus’ instructions. “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” After they brought back the donkey the day started in earnest.
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the crowds gathered to lay down their cloaks and wave their branches and sing, “Hosanna (which means save us)… Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” It was a celebration. There was a party going on! A buzz of anticipation filled the air. And all this was done to fulfill the prophet’s words: “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Everyone, right down to the crowd, was being obedient to the rules.
It was, indeed, a feel good moment. And, for us, it would be tempting to go right from the fanfare of the parade to the empty tomb ~ unscathed by what lay in-between. But this isn’t just a week of praise and shouts of joy. It’s also a week of cries of lament. It is a week of death and life, of losing and gaining, of obedience and disobedience. And, before was over, the crowds’ triumphant hosannas turn to angry shouts of “crucify him.”
As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi, “…being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” These words of Paul tell us what happened in that week between the Palm Parade and Easter. In obedience, Jesus gave himself over to a criminal’s death.
As we learned earlier, according to Mirriam Webster, to be obedient is to be willing to do what someone tells you to do or to follow a law or a rule. Yet, I don’t think many people would characterize Jesus as a rule-follower. How many times did he get in trouble with the Scribes and the Pharisees? How many times did he heal on the Sabbath? Converse with women? Eat with sinners? In fact, all that rule breaking eventually lead Jesus to the cross. He drew attention to himself by not following the rules.
The crowds along this day’s parade route probably didn’t really know why they were cheering. They’d heard about Jesus. They thought Jesus could do something for them, so they were ready to get on the bandwagon. And, in some ways, we’re not so different. We don’t truly understand the power of God in Jesus. We may think we do, but often we don’t. Jesus challenges some of the rules we live by. We have trouble seeing that being last is being first. That love actually is stronger than hate. That light cannot be overcome by darkness.
So we come to this week wondering if our obedience is enough, if we have been disobedient in the right ways. And we thank God that ours is not a faith of rules and laws. It’s a faith of grace and forgiveness and new life. In this week of death and life, of losing and gaining, of obedience and disobedience the cross looms ahead. We can’t avoid it, as much as we might like too. As one preacher said, “The passion is not horrible but avoidable, but horrible and necessary.”
“Hosanna, save us, Son of David. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus didn’t follow all the rules. He didn’t mount a military campaign to overthrow the oppressors. Instead he submitted to the oppressors in defiance of their power and did something even greater. “…being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Jesus came in disobedience to the world so he could show us the way of obedience to God.
Easter is coming, but we have to remember that we are called to the empty tomb by way of the cross. We are called to make this journey with Jesus to learn that the rules are sometimes different than we think. That being last is being first. That love is actually stronger than hate. That light cannot be overcome by darkness. That life is stronger than death. Amen.