Faith United Methodist Church
March 25, 2018
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: Mark 11:1-11, Philippians 2:5-11
Response to the Word (Responsive)
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Jesus Christ, Son of God, Word made flesh.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!
Open your eyes to see the kingdom God is creating in our midst.
Sermon: Left-Handed Power
A few weeks ago we talked about names. When God made a covenant with Abram he promised him as many offspring as there are stars in the sky and he changed his name to Abraham, which means Father of Nations. Sarai also got a new name, Sarah, which means Mother of Princess. And, in the fullness of time, Abraham and Sarah lived into their names.
Today we are focusing on another name, the name of Jesus. Jesus means “rescuer.” A rather fitting name for the savior of the world. And it wasn’t an uncommon name of that day. The Hebrew pronunciation of Jesus is Yeshua, and comes to us in English as the name Joshua. The Spanish pronunciation of Jesus is Jesús and is a common boy’s name in Spanish-speaking countries. There is nothing particularly special about the name Jesus ~ it isn’t a royal name or a unique name or an exclusive name ~ except that it is the name of the One who came to rescue us from our sins.
If we look a the story of today ~ the story of the first Palm Sunday ~ we see that, upon entering the city of Jerusalem, the people cheered for Jesus, “Hosanna! (Save us!) Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus wasn’t being recognized as a good teacher or an impressive healer, but as one bearing the very name of the Lord. . As William Loader explains, for the people if Israel “…bearing someone’s name was like bearing their responsibility and being recognized as able to represent them.”
Yet this procession wasn’t quite what we might expect for one representing God. Where one might look for a battalion of soldiers, a rag-tag group of followers ~ including fisherman, tax collectors, women, and children ~ lined the parade route. Where one might expect a king outfitted in armor riding atop a stallion, Jesus sat on the back of a borrowed donkey. Trumpets didn’t accompany the arrival, but shouts of “Hosanna!” One might even think that Jesus was poking fun at the usual show of might that accompanied the military parades of the day, which inspired both awe and fear.
And maybe that was the point. Maybe it was meant to be a joke of sorts. A way to show the big-shots that their brand of power wasn’t the only show in town. A way to distract from the show of force and intimidation that usually accompanied a king. A way to affirm that the name of God was greater than any military parade that humanity could muster. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
The reformer, Martin Luther, described this kind if power as left-handed power. Unlike right-handed power, left-handed power doesn’t force or coerce. It doesn’t threaten or bully. Left-handed power isn’t afraid to show weakness or vulnerability for the sake of something greater. It is a power that grants freedom. It is a power in favor of relationship and community, that rejects the idea that “might makes right”. It is the kind of power shown throughout Jesus’ life and in his death. Luther described the cross as the left-handed power of God.
It seems to me that left-handed power requires us to look beyond ourselves ~ and that isn’t always easy. We want to make a name for ourselves. We want to protect ourselves. We look out for No. 1. We live in fear of what we might lose if we make ourselves vulnerable to the needs of the world. Yet by opening ourselves to others we might find our fear replaced by something even more powerful, love.
In his small book, In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen offers this reflection: One of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power – political power, military power, economic power, or moral and spiritual power – even though they continued to speak in the name of Jesus, who did not cling to his divine power but emptied himself and became as we are. I take this as a caution when I am trusting too much in the power of the world and, instead, try to look for the left-handed way.
This is the way that Paul sought to emulate and uphold as he taught the early Christians about the Way of Jesus. In our reading from Philippians, Paul reminds us that Jesus, “…though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death… Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Preaching professor, Barbara Lundblad suggests, “Living this peculiar God shaped life, Jesus knew he would not escape suffering. He talked of it along the way… yet he still rode into the city, drawn there by the heart of God. And he comes riding still.” He comes riding still. Jesus chose to use his power in the left-handed way, not toward war, but toward peace. And we are invited to join him, to experience his passion, which becomes our passion, to be embraced by his love, which becomes our love.
This is just the first stop on our journey through Holy Week. The happy crowds of Palm Sunday soon dispersed. Jesus’ followers scattered. Even his very closest friends forgot that they had ever heard of him. The cry turned from “Hosanna!’ to “Jesus who?” Fear gripped the hearts of Jesus followers and they scattered. By the end of the week, the name Jesus didn’t seem to ring any bells. Fear overtook love. The reality was that in the short time between this Palm Sunday, when crowds gathered around him, and Friday, Jesus was left alone.
So we have quite a journey ahead before we reach the empty tomb. Yet we can face that journey ~ the journey through the valley ~ because we know we don’t walk it alone, but with the one who humbled himself for the glory of God. This story is not just about palms waving, but about truth spoken. It is not just about cries of Hosanna, but about power shown through love. Jesus doesn’t force us into following him, but invites us. Jesus doesn’t bully us into honoring him, but loves us. Jesus doesn’t impress us into worshipping him, but gives us the power to choose.
There is nothing particularly special about the name Jesus ~ it isn’t a royal name or a unique name or an exclusive name ~ except that it is the name of the One who came to rescue us from our sins.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord….so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is lord, to the glory of God the Father. Blessed indeed! Amen.