Philippians 2: 5-11 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Matthew 21: 1-11 April 9, 2017
“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey… ”
Prayer: Incarnate God, you who refused to let your high and holy status be exploited, won’t you please teach us the grace of such humility? In Christ Jesus, I pray, Amen.
Here we are… the beginning of Holy Week, the beginning of a week that will take us further and deeper into understanding the extravagant love God that is shared with us and the languages which communicate that love. So far, we’ve explored five love languages which communicate love in ways we can understand.1The first one was the language of doing Acts of Service. The second language was the Giving and Receiving Gifts. The third love language that communicates love is spending Quality Time with God and each other. On the fourth Sunday of Lent we heard about Physical Touch as a love language. Last Sunday, we delved into Words of Affirmation that speak of holy love.
Today, on Palm Sunday, we push further in our exploration. The biblical texts for today I think speak to us textsthe language of Expressing Humility as a love language that might well communicate extravagant love.
Jesus’ ministry was all about sharing God’s extravagant love for God and advocating what God is about. Remember what Jesus’ first words were in his ministry? “Repent! The kingdom of God is at hand!” His ministry was about bringing God and God’s realm down to earth. Accessible. To have it among us and part of us.
And Jesus showed that God is about love. God is about justice, fairness, and equality. God is about doing the right thing by caring for the earth and its resources, by caring for the people of the earth, regardless of status, wealth, nationality, or race. God has a soft spot for people, especially if they are on the margins and outskirts of society and culture; if they are weak or poor; if they are homeless or refugees.
Jesus himself I think experienced what it meant to be on the margins. His followers called him “Rabbi,” which means ‘Teacher,’ and so he was. But in the official circles, in the leadership of the established religion, Jesus was not welcomed. He was bad mouthed in Jerusalem’s Pharisaic circles for being one who broke biblical laws. He was an itinerant preacher with a huge, threatening entourage, and he had a reputation for being overly critical of the scribes and lawyers for being hypocritical. For not practicing what they preached. For “lording” their power over the common person by imposing huge fines and punishments for not obeying the Laws of the Torah. For not being the shepherds of the people as God wanted them to be. Is it any wonder that in those circles Jesus was a radical.
So I think Jesus communicated God’s extravagant love by being their shepherd for people by identifying with them… by being among them as their leader who didn’t have the typical appearance of being all high and mighty...but, by arriving in Jerusalem on a donkey and a foal, the same kind of animal the common person would own and use, instead of mounting up on a warhorse, or something, which would be typical of a king or a military leader. According to Matthew, Jesus was fulfilling what the prophet Zechariah foretold—that their king is coming, humble, mounted on a donkey and a foal of the donkey. He entered Jerusalem, not flaunting his power as the Chosen One of God, not all high and mighty, not with threats of violence toward Jerusalem or Rome.
No, Jesus entered expressing humility. He entered as a different kind of king, one who humbly communicated God’s extravagant love for people through solidarity with them, not sovereignty over them. Sovereignty comes later.
Paul invites us as Christ’s followers to have the same mind as Christ had. He invites us to be on the same page, to be willing to put aside any status, any privilege we might have so as to identify with God’s people who may be on the margins, or treated unfairly just so they know God’s extravagant love.
Let me tell you the story of Chuong Nyugen, one of the few boat refugees to escape Vietnam in 1975. He made it to the Philippines
and was welcomed by the US 7th Fleet of the Navy. Eventually, he arrived in the United States where he soon became a Catholic priest. Well, Fr. Nyugen made the news recently when he wrote President Trump on the day the executive order was signed which banned entrance to the US for Syrian and other refugees. In his letter, Fr. Nyugen offered to relinquish his US citizenship so that it could be offered to a Syrian refugee. And not only that, he wanted his bishop to relocate him to one of the seven predominantly Muslim countries named in the executive order. Now, it is not known whether the White House responded to the priest’s letter or whether such a citizenship swap is even possible, but what an extravagant proposal! What a way to communicate God’s extravagant love by the humble act of relinquishing one’s higher status of citizenship for another person to become a citizen, but also to desire to go and be with and identify with those who are refugees stuck in an oppressive situation (“A Refugees Gift,” Marty, Peter, Christian Century, March 15, 2017, p. 3)! I found the priest’s letter and proposal quite compelling in terms of how extravagant love can be shared through expressions of humility.
So, how might we be able to share God’s extravagant love through our own expressions of humility? Perhaps we might find it possible in our relationships… where equality between people, spouses or partners is shared, in spite of what roles males and females offer to us in our culture. Reflections of God’s love get shared this way, I think.
Maybe expressions of humility are found in good working environments… between boss and employee, where bosses don’t “lord” it over employees, but instead they identify with the employees by working hard alongside them and supporting the gifts, skills and abilities employees have. I think that the power of God’s extravagant love is mirrored in the work place.
Lastly, I said a moment ago that sovereignty comes later. After the expressions of Jesus’ humility, and humble action on the cross, Paul affirms that God highly exalted him as our Sovereign Lord and Savior.
Well, I wonder… the way that God elevated Jesus because of his faithfulness, because of his willingness to humbly express God’s extravagant love, will God elevate us as well when we express humility which communicates this holy love? I don’t mean that we become Christ, but I do mean that perhaps our inner spirit gets restored and elevated that way. I mean that this holy love transforms us, and energizes us, and we become a joyful people who extend God’s extravagant love… We find that it’s like second nature to welcome all people, that it’s like seeing all the colors of the rainbow in each person, no matter who we are or where we come from. We see God in the person next to us. We see a part of God in the person down the street. We see God all around us.
So today we sing “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty” because Christ was lifted up for expressing with humility the extravagant love of God. May we be empowered to so, too. Amen.