POCKET SERMON 12: "A PALM SUNDAY REFLECTION AND BELATED CHRISTIAN WELCOME TO ISRAEL AND PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU"
By Reverend Barbara Sexton
March 28, 2010
"The Biblical Biochemist-Where Science Meets the Cross"
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Hip Hip Hooray! It's Palm Sunday! It's the final Sunday before Easter Sunday, marking the beginning of Holy Week. Christian churches distribute palms, usually allowing children of the church to have the honor of handing out the fragrant, floppy fronds supplied by local florists as a 'specialty order' at the Pastor's request. This day commemorates Christ's triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, when palm branches were placed in His path by an excited, hopeful and grateful populace. It was a joyful and warm welcome before the subsquent arrest and ultimate Crucifixion on Good Friday.
If I had to characterize Palm Sunday in a modern context, it would be to say that it was "The Big Set-Up Before the Storm". I've been called a 'cynic' for saying such in my street ministry, but I say it on good authority, based on the words of Jesus, himself. Jesus's own admonition, as he is sending his disciples out to deal with those who are not genuine, is: "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." Mt 10:16 (NIV) Plainly, believers had to be careful then and they must be careful today, and that's just the way it is.
The original Palm Sunday was a 'party time' starting with a super-warm welcome for a most special and beloved guest of honor. Surely those who lined the path into Jerusalem were mostly genuine in their intentions. But you better believe that among the well-wishers back-in-the-day, there was a cadre of 'imposters" amongst them. That cadre exists still, sad to say, amongst some who call themselves 'Christians'. They are anything but genuine in their accolades and recently, we saw them in the news.
Once again I remind one and all that you may fool 'us', but G-d will not be mocked! With that in mind, let's concentrate on a happy time in the Biblical history of Israel.
The original 'Palm Sunday' attendees were so uplifted and jubilant that they scarcely cared about the amenities while waiting for Jesus Christ Superstar, just like the fans of superstars today don't care about them. It was quite enough to stand in the dust for hours on end, if only to get a glimpse or maybe even a nod or a touch from the celebrity they have grown to adore. Not having camera-phones, fan photos and 'Sharpees' in hand for autographs, the fans of Jesus of Nazareth stood there and jumped and whooped and hollered. They felt gladness in their hearts, praised G-d and had the blessing of hope and that was quite enough for them, thank you!
These excited folks waved what they had at hand--those glorious palm fronds reserved to welcome really important people, like royalty. They could show their respect by 'air-conditioning' their honored passerby with the palm fronds. All that 'waving' kept insects off their guest, too! If we were there when Jesus rode in, we'd be most happy to do the same things, too, no doubt about it, and we'd enjoy all the excitement.
The laying down of those fronds in those days was the equivalent of laying out a 'red carpet' today. In this case, it was actually a green carpet which was alive and fresh and delightful to tread upon. It even served as a kind of 'natural chlorophyll deodorizer' for the inevitable animal and other waste below. We know that for medicinal purposes, herbs have routinely been 'strewn'' over the millenia as a means of deodorizing, disinfecting and preserving. For esthetic effect, greens and flowers were used and what could be more appropriate for the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem than to greet him with the palms of royalty?
So here we have Jesus, the Messiah and King, riding in on, of all things, a symbol of peace- a donkey! No matter. Still the people shouted "Hosanna to the Son of David" and "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord". (Mt 21:5, Jn 12:15). Read here 'The Triumphal Entry':
"1As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, "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. 3If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away."
4This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5"Say to the Daughter of Zion,
'See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.' "[a]
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
"Hosanna[b] to the Son of David!"
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"[c]
"Hosanna[d] in the highest!"
10When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?"
11The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee." Mt 21:1-11 (NIV)
It is of interest to note that Jesus went to Jerusalem specifically to celebrate the Jewish holiday known as Passover. Jesus was no surprise to those welcoming him with palm fronds, for his arrival had been predicted many years ago by the prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9) in the Old Testament, which is quoted in the Matthew 21 passage above, verses 4-5 To these new fans and followers of Jesus, he was a dream come true!
The meaning of the Passover or Peshach or Pesakh (prounonced PAY-sock, gutteral 'ck') commemorates the Hebrews' escape from enslavement in Egypt. Here is the way it worked: G-d was going to inflict ten plagues over the slave-owning Egyptians. The Lord inflicts many plagues upon Egypt but it takes the tenth plague (the killing of all the firstborn humans and animals) before Pharoah finally has enough. "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn-both men and animals-and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD ”, we read in Exodus 12:12 (NIV) Having lost his firstborn son, Pharoah relents and releases his Hebrew Captives.
Remarkably for the Hebrews held captive in Egypt, they are spared the loss of their firstborn as the Spirit of the Lord ('Angel of Death') "passes over" Egypt doling out G-d's punishments. You see, they were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb. This was to be the signal to the Holy Messenger to pass over these homes and spare it's occupants! "21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. 23 When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down." Exodus 12:21-23 (NIV)
Now if you will allow me a 'Biblical Herbalist' moment, it might interest you to know why bunches of hyssop were used as the 'sopping brush' by Hebrews to 'anoint their doorways' with lamb's blood. It is because hyssop branches, when wetted, get soft and absorbant at the tips and can be used as a sort of mop or brush.. In the modern day, we now know that hyssop contains very potent 'penicillin-like properties' and is useful for those who can tolerate it's potency. We read the Scripture verse: "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Psalm 51:7 (NIV)
This verse from the Psalms is referring to cleansing from sin, of course. But as is true with all the remarkable things our Maker provides for us, if I am to interpret this properly, there's more to it. You see, if an herbal concoction of hyssop is made and applied to the skin, it can, indeed clear up any number of skin conditions (including those so rampant in Biblical times) and would indeed make the skin cleaner and clearer. Read "Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean" and marvel that only G-d could provide us with such as this. (Note: out of respect for the intended audience, the name of the Divine is not written in completion--not my usual habit, but gladly done here.)
Let me share this thought with you as we celebrate and welcome our Lord Jesus in victory and triumph today on this Palm Sunday. This is the season of Easter and Passover. This is not just a Christian Holy time; it is a Jewish Holy time, as well. One cannot pretend to be a true Christian while hating their Jewish sisters and brothers, now matter how 'popular' or 'politcally correct' that stance may be today. No one ever speaks of this, however, and we must remedy this.
Everyone thinks that they've got 'the lock' on things. But I ask you, how can anyone consider themselves a Christian while degrading or even hating the heritage of our Lord Jesus? Now let me say what few are willing to say publicly: both Jews and Christians will 'know salvation' if they are true to G-d. Yes, this is a mystery to us, but I know it in my heart from God and because this is what the Bible says. It is pure presumption to suggest that one 'group' is holier or 'more saved' than the other, though many religious leaders and even politicians would beg to differ, especially if it happens to serves their political agendas.
I will further extend my argument to suggest that anyone wishing to walk in the steps of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ would do well to respect and protect the Holy Land. True Christians everywhere should uphold, support and pray for the State Of Israel, home of G-d's Chosen People and birthplace of our Messiah. You've not heard this before, no doubt, or if you have, it's been given scant publicity. But the time for that is over. My sisters and brothers, rethink yourselves. Rethink your theological imperatives on this beautiful day. Israel is 'the hub' of Christianity. It's where it is 'happening' for all of us, as it always has been, is now and will be in the days to come.
I believe that true Christians all over our country welcome Israel's head-of-state to the U.S.anytime and especially this past Palm Sunday week with all our hearts. No matter what purported representatives of American sentiment say or do, I would like to say to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that American Christians support you and your country! How I wish that you had been given the warm and joyous welcome you and the country you represent deserve!
But you didn't, so please accept this Palm Sunday Sermon as a letter of support from American Christians to the people of Israel. There is no way to know how many are reading this and embracing it's tenets, but it makes no difference. What matters is that G-d knows, as He examines what's in our hearts. We may fool others, but we cannot fool Him.
Therefore, if you are Christian and object to current American policy regarding Israel, PRAY ON IT. Do it now with me, also, helping the Prime Minister and the Israeli people recover from the recent disregard and disrespect they have just experienced while visiting our country. G-d will listen as we pray. (please join me now):
You are our very life and blood, our breath and our destiny. We pray that you forgive us our shortcomings in protecting and defending the lives of our brothers and sisters, as we should. Sometimes people get caught up in the politics of the times, ignoring where their beliefs 'begin' and where our common destinies 'end'. O Creator, you are G-d of us all, defend your weakest against the tyrannies of earth and Heaven. We ask for forgiveness for those who disappoint by what they do...or do not do. We pray that you impel us to remember to reflect upon our common heritage, to embrace it and to imbue us with the common decency and the miraculous fortitude needed to defend whatever and whomever needs to be defended when we and our allies are confronted by our enemies. We pray this collectively in our individual traditions, remembering that:
"The God of Israel is the King, and He reigns over all." (1948)
In the name of Jesus of Nazareth (Palm Sunday 2010)
Written for you with love and again let us say--
Reverend Barbara Sexton
"The Biblical Biochemist-Where Science Meets the Cross"