Sermon Options 2: Palm Sunday

January 27th, 2023

Palm Sunday Year B

Sermon 1: Telling the Story Without Expectation

Scripture: Mark 14:12-16, 22-24

12On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, the disciples said to Jesus, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?”
13He sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city. A man carrying a water jar will meet you. Follow him. 14Wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks, “Where is my guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?”’ 15He will show you a large room upstairs already furnished. Prepare for us there.” 16The disciples left, came into the city, found everything just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
22While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”


It was a good meal. Passover always was. It was a time of rituals, food, and fellowship. Of course, there was probably some talk among the disciples about the strange way in which they found the location for their celebration and the means by which they made the preparations. They had followed Jesus’ instructions, despite the oddity of those instructions. They were probably delighted that the preparations for this meal were lighter than usual—they had found a room, with Jesus’ help, of course, that was furnished and ready for the Passover meal.

The preparations were made. The meal had been served. Everyone around the table was getting along. It was a typical Passover meal. The evening was progressing nicely. You can almost hear the disciples breathe a sigh of relief and pride in honor of their accomplishments for the evening.

The disciples thought they knew what to expect. They thought they knew everything that was happening. They thought they knew Jesus. Having heard the story before, we are not surprised at what comes next. We know Jesus is not an individual of routine. We know to expect the unexpected.

But imagine how the disciples felt. They came to the meal expecting to be physically fed, to participate in fellowship and friendship, and to spend time with Jesus. In the unexpected events that interrupted the Passover meal, Jesus offers them more than the food filling their bellies and the wine quenching their thirst. Jesus offers them a covenant sealed with his own blood and body. Jesus offers them a holy gift that would change the face of the world forever.

Holy Week is about expecting the unexpected. In Holy Week we tell the story of ultimate highs and depth-defying lows. We tell the story of life conquering death, and salvation dominating sin. We tell this story because it is part of our story, as we have become journeyers with Jesus. We participate in the telling and retelling of our story as often as we partake in Communion.

We have come to expect the elements to be set before us on specific Sundays of each month. We anticipate hearing the story and resonating in the familiar words from our passage for today. We know what is coming. The bread is broken, blessed, and offered. The cup is poured, blessed, and offered. There are blessings and affirmations. We know what happens around this table, as we are lovingly invited to come to it over and over again.

But let us not forget that the first time this meal was offered, the disciples had no idea what it meant or what would come to pass to enlighten this holy ritual. They may have even seen Jesus’ words and actions as interruptions of the ritualistic Passover meal. They did not know what we know. They did not know that Jesus was offering them the only meal they would ever need, one that fills the hunger of eternity and quenches the thirst for everlasting life.

We see this meal in light of Christ’s death and resurrection because we know the events that follow. We know what happens when Jesus and the disciples leave the Passover meal. We recognize that Holy Week culminates in Christ’s victory over sin and death. The disciples would not grasp the intensity of their surroundings for days, if not months or even years. At this point we typically vilify the disciples, pitying them for their lack of foresight and their inability to recognize the gravity of their interactions with Jesus.

Perhaps our knowing the rest of the story is not always to our benefit, at least in terms of being able to appreciate the newness of each journey to the Lord’s Table. Is it possible that in our telling and retelling of Christ’s story, we have become so familiar with what we know comes next that we miss something? The disciples experienced what we know as “the Lord’s Supper” as an intimate moment with their friend and leader. Their eyes were focused on Jesus. Something new and unexpected was happening, and they did not want to miss any of it. How often, I wonder, are we that focused when we approach the Lord’s Table? How fresh are our eyes? How new is this experience? Maybe the disciples really did get it that night with Jesus. Perhaps we should approach Communion as they did, as an interruption of our routines, as Christ announcing an unexpected message of grace, thanksgiving, and commitment to us when we expect it the least.

In this Holy Week, expect the unexpected. Expect the crucifixion of a King. Expect the masses to turn against that which is blameless and perfect. Expect life after death. But do not forget to expect something unexpected. Open your eyes to interruptions in routines, welcome those who want to make commitments with you, and approach the Table with the reverence of the first time. Jesus Christ is not bound to routines. Expect the unexpected, and prepare the way of the Lord. Amen.

—Victoria Atkinson White

Sermon 2:A City in Turmoil

Scripture: Luke 19:28-40

28After Jesus said this, he continued on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29As Jesus came to Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he gave two disciples a task. 30He said, “Go into the village over there. When you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If someone asks, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say, ‘Its master needs it.’” 32Those who had been sent found it exactly as he had said.
33As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34They replied, “Its master needs it.” 35They brought it to Jesus, threw their clothes on the colt, and lifted Jesus onto it. 36As Jesus rode along, they spread their clothes on the road.
37As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. 38They said,
“Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”
39Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!”
40He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”


Comedian David Brenner’s routine relating to Superman uses the image of bullets bouncing off Superman’s chest without incident. When the bullets run out, the bad guy frequently throws the gun at Superman. Brenner reminds us of what Superman does then. He ducks. That’s right. After the bullets bounce off his chest, when the gun comes toward him, Superman ducks.

The people in Jerusalem were looking for Superman. They wanted someone to rid Jerusalem of the Romans. For many people, Jesus was the one, and he was coming to town. Luke writes that the Pharisees encourage Jesus to calm the crowd. Matthew is even more descriptive. Matthew writes that the city is in turmoil. The word turmoil here is from the same word translated “earthquake” elsewhere. Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem causes tremors.

The reactions to Jesus vary. Some people are excited, while others are threatened.

Jesus descends upon Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives riding a colt. People are throwing clothing in his path and reacting to his presence joyfully, praising God with a loud voice.

The question of the day was, “Who is this?” For many of the people of Jerusalem, this was the new King . . . the Messiah. Jesus had come to free them from Roman tyranny.

The scene reminds me of our own political process. Especially in presidential election years, each of us has great hope in a candidate whom we believe can bring about the changes we desire in our political system. Many people in Jerusalem saw Jesus as their political hope.

Jesus comes into Jerusalem at Passover, a primary religious observance for Jews. At the end of the Seder meal, the participants covenant with one another to meet in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover the next year. Being in Jerusalem, especially for Passover, was a desire for all Jews. Crowds are gathered for Passover, shoulder to shoulder. Into this scene comes Jesus, riding a colt down the main road. Jews are gathered to remember what God had done for them in the exodus from Egypt, and to consider what God still might do. Who is this? Could Jesus be the Messiah, the fulfillment of God’s hope for their future?

Not everyone in Jerusalem is excited about Jesus’ presence, however. The Roman officials are wary of him. Pontius Pilate has ordered extra soldiers to Jerusalem because it is Passover, but also perhaps because he knew Jesus was coming. Each street corner has soldiers watching Jesus’ every move. These Gentiles do not fully understand the Jewish expectation of Messiah. When they hear that Jesus might be the new Hebrew king, their ears perk up. They hear the people shouting, “Blessed is the king.” The Romans who know Jewish prophecy may believe this Jesus is the new king from the Davidic line who will challenge their authority. That’s a threat to Rome.

Jewish leaders are also threatened. Jesus is Jewish, but he is certainly not part of the Jewish religious establishment. The Pharisees and the scribes have turned the Jews against Jesus, certain that Jesus isn’t the Messiah. Before the Sanhedrin, they say that Jesus claims to be God. Along with the Romans, the Jewish leaders fear Jesus. Along with the Romans, the Jewish leaders build a coalition to destroy Jesus.

The disciples of Jesus are also fearful, but for a different reason. They are fearful for their own lives. More than once they have warned Jesus against going into Jerusalem. They know it is not safe. Some of them, led by Judas, are even angry with Jesus because he will not assume the power that they believe is rightfully his as the Messiah. Along with the crowds in Jerusalem, the disciples are also asking, “Who is this?”

In the musical Cats, the eldest cat, Old Deuteronomy, quotes T. S. Eliot in saying, “We had the experience, but we missed the meaning.” In three years of ministry with Jesus, the disciples had the experience, but they missed the meaning.

The city of Jerusalem is in turmoil. Jerusalem is in a state of confusion. Some are celebrating the entry of Jesus with pomp and pageantry. Others are afraid of Jesus and scheming to destroy him. Still others are fearful for different reasons—for their own lives and the life of Jesus, whom they love. We can only speculate how we might have responded to the events in Jerusalem this day. Would we have found ourselves resenting Jesus? Would we have feared him for any reason? Would we have been angry with him because he did not live up to our understanding of the Messiah? Would we have truly known who he was?

Today is the beginning of our own journey through the streets of Jerusalem. It is the beginning of an unfolding drama that leads to the cross, and ultimately to an empty tomb. Many times in the Gospels we hear Jesus telling those whom he heals not to tell anyone. Perhaps it was because they would not understand until the Resurrection. We have the Resurrection, and still we struggle to understand.

Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Episcopal Church in New Jersey says of the Resurrection, “Something happened after the death of Jesus that had startling and enormous power. Its power was sufficient to reconstitute a scattered and demoralized band of disciples” (John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism [San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991], 223). We have the opportunity this week to relive the journey to the cross and experience the incredible power that is ours through the cross and the Resurrection. It is only through the cross that we find the answer to the question on the lips of those in Jerusalem: “Who is this?” The cross reveals not only who Jesus was then, but who he is for us today. Unlike Superman, Jesus does not duck. Jesus faces the cross with great faith and a power that for us seems unfathomable . . . a power that changes lives.

—Dan L. Flanagan

Palm Sunday, Year A

Sermon on the Old Testament Reading

Scripture: Isaiah 50:4-9a

4The LORD God gave me an educated tongue
to know how to respond to the weary
with a word that will awaken them in the morning.
God awakens my ear in the morning to listen,
as educated people do.
5The LORD God opened my ear;
I didn’t rebel; I didn’t turn my back.
6Instead, I gave my body to attackers,
and my cheeks to beard pluckers.
I didn’t hide my face
from insults and spitting.
7The LORD God will help me;
therefore, I haven’t been insulted.
Therefore, I set my face like flint,
and knew I wouldn’t be ashamed.
8The one who will declare me innocent is near.
Who will argue with me?
Let’s stand up together.
Who will bring judgment against me?
Let him approach me.
9Look! The LORD God will help me.
Who will condemn me?


Sermon Title: Serving the Suffering

In the movie The Doctor, William Hurt plays Jack McKee, an accomplished surgeon who jokes around, dances to music, and flirts with the nurses during surgery. On rounds with his interns he warns against involvement with patients: “I’d rather you cut straight and care less.” He favorite saying is, “I know about pain. I’m a doctor.”

But he learns that knowing about pain and experiencing pain are different. He is diagnosed with a malignant tumor. As he begins radiation therapy, he is outraged at how he is treated. He doesn’t think he should have to wait like other patients, fill out forms, or share a room. And he is particularly upset about the callousness of his physician.

Everyone knows a doctor who is insensitive. Everyone knows a minister who doesn’t seem to care. According to Isaiah, however, the servant should be caring and also personally acquainted with pain.

This text comprises the third of Isaiah’s four servant songs. Everyone is familiar with the last one, “a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity” (Isa. 53:3). That fourth song is the climax, but this is the first of the servant songs to speak of suffering. This is the song of preparation. Isaiah declares that God has given him “the tongue of a teacher,” that he might know how “to sustain the weary with a word” (v. 4). But God has also given him the ear of a disciple. Verse 5 literally reads, “The Lord GOD dug out my ear.” In addition to the pain of being struck, having his beard plucked out, and being spat upon, he knew the pain of having his ear opened up. From a New Testament perspective on this Passion Sunday, we acknowledge that these verses extend beyond the prophetic ministry of Isaiah to the messianic ministry of Jesus. Jesus was not only a suffering servant but also a servant to the suffering. He could look out over a crowded synagogue and sense the pain of a disabled and isolated woman in a man’s world (Luke 13:10-17). He could look out over a group of people and cry for them who were like sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:35-38). He could look out over a city and want to gather up the people like a mother hen protecting her chicks (Luke 13:34-35). Jesus comforts us with the tongue of one who has learned about suffering and of one who has heard it and experienced it. Jesus knows your pain. He hears it. He has felt it. He will speak to it.

In the movie McKee learns what it means to care. In fact, he sees to it that his interns check into the hospital to eat hospital food, sleep in hospital beds, and undergo all of the appropriate tests for a variety of diagnoses. But the most significant evidence of his compassion is the relationship he forms with June, a young woman dying from a brain tumor. He learns from her what it means to care, and he sits with her on her deathbed, holding her hand. After her death, he reads a letter she had written that includes a story: “There once was a farmer who owned much land and who used to keep the animals from his fields with traps. But the farmer was very lonely. So he stood in his fields with his arms outstretched calling the animals to himself, but none came. They were afraid of what looked to them like a new scarecrow.” June then writes, “Jack, let down your arms and people will come to you.” Of course, you and I know that people came to Jesus because he held his arms out, there on the cross.

—Mike Graves


Sermon on the Epistle Reading

Scripture: Philippians 2:5-11

5Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
6Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
7But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
8he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
9Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
10so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


Sermon Title: Hymn of Humility

Our text contains a hymn that captures the nature of Christ. He calls and empowers believers to take on this nature. As we allow the Holy Spirit to carve us into Christ’s image, we cannot dismiss Paul’s charge that our attitude should be the same as Jesus Christ’s (v. 5).

Redeemed nature includes a “new mind” or manner of thinking. What is our view of life, others, and ourselves in relation to them? Discipleship demands that we place even the area of our attitude under the lordship of Christ. How we think is part of our spirituality.

I. We Are Called to a Christlike Attitude

In verses 6-8, Paul describes the attitude of Christ. This attitude serves as our model. The first characteristic of the attitude of Christ is that of being nonpresumptuous. While Jesus bore the full nature of God, he did not selfishly assert it by reaching to grasp it (v. 6). As we see in verses 9-11, he waited for the exaltation of the Father. Human nature whines with arrogance, struggling to establish who we are and our value. It is not fashionable to wait for honors to be bestowed; we quickly point out how we were “overlooked” or “robbed” of our “earnings.” As believers, however, our human nature is to be mortified, and we are to take on the nature of Christ to be nonpresumptuous, awaiting God’s timing to bring deserved honor.

The second element of Christ’s attitude is the nature of servant-hood (v. 7). We might have exclaimed, “As the Son of God, I have the right to be worshiped and to be served, not to serve!”

Sadly, even in the body of Christ, some speak more about rights than about New Testament responsibilities. But our attitude is to be willing to serve, not demand service.

Finally, Paul describes the attitude of Christ as humble obedience (v. 8). Christ was obedient unto death—death that he has conquered—even the shameful death of the cross. Obedience to God’s Word and reverence for authority are parts of the Christian attitude. This attitude can be viewed as weak, but Jesus described kingdom members as “meek” (that is, self-controlled). A willingness to submit in obedience is an act of free will demanded of persons of faith.

II. God Honors Those with a Christlike Attitude

Because of Jesus’ humble attitude, God exalted him to the highest place (v. 9). Christ’s refusal to grasp the honor or exaltation results in the action of the Father of bestowing the honor due him as the Son of God. Verses 10-11 note that every knee would bow in worship and every tongue utter to confess Jesus as Lord.

Fallen human nature is tainted by the impact of Satan’s vices. Lucifer, once the angelic worship leader, fell in arrogance grasping what was not his (the glory of God). Human beings, tainted with sinful nature, struggle for their recognition. But Christ came not grasping what was rightly his but awaiting the Father’s bestowal. The Father was faithful to exalt Christ who receives the worship due him.

What are we willing to wait for? Do we trust God enough to allow God to be faithful in our lives? Do we view the intensity of a circumstance and desire to take it into our own hands since our pride is at stake? The fallen nature says, “Defend yourself and grasp what is yours.” The redeemed nature reflects Christ’s attitude of trusting the faithfulness of the Father. He will make all things beautiful and complete in his time.

—Joseph Byrd


Sermon on the Gospel Reading

Scripture: Matthew 27:33-42

33When they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Skull Place, 34they gave Jesus wine mixed with vinegar to drink. But after tasting it, he didn’t want to drink it. 35After they crucified him, they divided up his clothes among them by drawing lots. 36They sat there, guarding him. 37They placed above his head the charge against him. It read, “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.” 38They crucified with him two outlaws, one on his right side and one on his left.
39Those who were walking by insulted Jesus, shaking their heads 40and saying, “So you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, were you? Save yourself! If you are God’s Son, come down from the cross.”
41In the same way, the chief priests, along with the legal experts and the elders, were making fun of him, saying, 42"He saved others, but he can’t save himself. He’s the king of Israel, so let him come down from the cross now. Then we’ll believe in him.


Sermon Title: How to Build a Cross

Shall we build a cross? Crosses were commonplace two thousand years ago. Seventy years before Christ, after the smashing of the revolt of Spartacus, roads to Rome were lined with 6,000 crosses and 6,000 men dying on them. At the death of Herod the Great a revolt broke out, and the Romans crucified 2,000 people in Jerusalem. In A.D. 70 at the siege of Jerusalem, the Roman troops crucified as many as 500 Jews daily for several months.

In 1968, during excavations in Jerusalem following the Six-Day War, the remains of a man clearly put to death by crucifixion were found in a hidden tomb. His name was Jehohanan; in his late twenties, he was obviously from a well-to-do family. Jehohanan was fastened to the cross by nails, there being no standard way to put a cross together or to put a person on it. The victim could be fastened to the crossbar by either ropes or nails. Without some other support a person would die within two or three hours on the cross from muscular spasms and asphyxia, so the Romans devised ways to prolong the agony: a pointed peglike affair as a seat, and a footrest. With these aids, a person might linger for days. A long nail was driven through Jehohanan’s heels; the nail went on into the upright beam and bent when it hit a knot in the hard olivewood. When his family attempted to get him off the cross after death, they had to cut off his feet, then bury a small section of the cross with his feet still attached to it, and the archaeologists found that.

How you build a cross depends on its use. If it is to be worn as a trinket around your neck, that’s one thing. Arthur Blessit, on the other hand, puts wheels on the crosses he pulls across the country. In Passion plays the crosses are made of light wood. The rows of white crosses in cemeteries are often made of stone.

If you are going to save a sinful world by means of it, defeat all the powers of evil with it, crucify the Son of God on it, then making a cross requires more than fine craftsmanship, more than a vertical stake and a crossbar. Look with me at the kind of cross we need to build on which to crucify Jesus.

I. Endure God’s Curse

Deuteronomy 21:22-23 tells us how shameful this death on the cross was, and we’ve lost that reality. Someone from the first century walking our streets today would be utterly appalled to see the cross on our churches and around our necks. It would be similar to you coming back to earth five hundred years from now and seeing little electric chairs on churches and on chains around folks’ necks. Paul says the preaching of the Cross is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. Yet he does not hide the shame of the cross. He embraces it, saying in Galatians 3:13 that Christ became a curse for us. The One who died on that center cross that day died as a man accursed by people and by God; a criminal soon to be dead, buried, and forgotten.

A drama pictures the mother of Jesus years after his crucifixion. Another son, Joses, and his wife have a new baby boy. They ask Mary what they should name him, and Mary stands gazing out the window for a time, then turns with tears in her eyes and, fumbling with her apron, says, “I would have you name the child Jesus. . . . I would not have him forgotten.” Crucified, cursed, but forgotten? Never. But as we build our cross let us remember it must:

II. Hold a God

The irony is that the cursed One being nailed up is no ordinary thirty-year-old in the vigor of manhood; he is also God: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). So what we have on the cross is divinity wrapped in human flesh; God willing to dwell among us and suffer with us and for us, for a higher purpose than anyone gathered around that cross that day could grasp. But let us keep working on this cross. It must be strong enough to:

III. Hold the Sins of the World

On the cross Jesus becomes the very embodiment of sin. Isaiah 53 vividly points out twelve ways that all the sins of the world—your sins and mine—were heaped on the God-man Jesus on the cross that day: “The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (v. 6). Peter, who may have stood at the edge of the crowd with head bowed in grief and shame, tells us that Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24). What a paradox! All the sin of this world gathered to the cross on which is dying the only sinless person ever to set foot on this earth. But let us keep building, for the cross must also hold the:

IV. Loneliest Man Who Ever Lived

There has never been a darkness like what spread over that hill at noon that day and covered the cross of the man Jesus. For when the sins of every human being gathered at the cross, he suffered the depths of all that sin means, and it is seen in the bitterest cry ever wrung from

human heart: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). We know that just as the essence of heaven is the presence of God, so also the essence of hell is eternal separation from God, and that this cry is the agony of hell itself. Consider further the cross we are building for Jesus. It must be:

V. A Tall Cross

This cross of Jesus towers not just over the crosses of the condemned men on either side of him, but over all the ages, to draw people to it through the years. Jesus told Nicodemus that just as Moses lifted up the pole with the bronze serpent on it for the healing of the Israelites, even so must Jesus be lifted up on his cross, above all the nations, all the tyrants, all human achievements, for his lifting up is the only way men and women, boys and girls, can see the terrible power of their sin and the sacrifice of Jesus that sets us free.

VI. Rooted in the Heart of God

Christ took upon himself our sins by the will and appointment of God. He came as the old hymn says, from the heart of God, and that is also why the darkness and the agony of the cross were so deep. John 3:16 leaves us no doubt that Jesus came because God so loved the world. There is no division between the Father and the Son in their love and purpose—the Son of God came gladly, joyfully, to walk the road of the cross in obedience to the Father’s will, and to offer himself up as the greatest act of love ever to grace this universe. I mention only one other aspect of the cross of Jesus; it must be strong enough to:

VII. Hold Two Persons

Remember what Paul said in Galatians 2:19: “I have been crucified with Christ.” The New Testament says that the Christian “suffers with Christ,” is “crucified with Christ,” “dead with him,” “baptized into his death,” and “buried with him.” We who believe are to be identified with Christ in his life, his ministry, his death. Yet in the deepest sense there is no way we can go with him all the way, nor could we have been actually crucified with him on the same cross. We cannot face the darkness he faced, endure the punishment, bear the sins, or die under that ridicule with a prayer upon our lips because we are not the perfect Son of God, the sacrifice without blemish for the sins of the world. But we can kneel at the foot of that cross we have built. Built with our hands? No, built with our sins. We can kneel there and confess that when we survey the cross on which the Prince of Glory died, our richest gain we count but loss, and pour contempt on all our pride. We can kneel there and determine that love so amazing, so divine, demands our souls, our lives, our all. We can kneel at his cross in repentance and contrition, and accept forgiveness, healing, and peace.

—Earl C. Davis

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