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Sermon (2) and Liturgy for The Sixth Sunday in Lent - Year A
Palm - Passion Sunday
Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Matthew 27:1-2,11-50
"The Crowd and The Cross"


READING:  Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Matthew 27:1-2,11-50
SERMON :  "The Crowd and The Cross"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-le06sm 661000
                   
     The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
     for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
     found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
     SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.

     Sources: The children's time is loosely based on the Palm Sunday
     story from "The Whole People of God" in 1996.  The sermon is
     extensively based (specially at the beginning), upon the ideas 
     and words of a former neighbour of ours - the Rev. John Smallman, 
     "Sermon For Palm Sunday", Windermere Valley Shared Ministry, 
     Invermere, BC, 1993 and, in original form, was shared online 
     in 1996 in a "Telos" Newsgroup.


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


     RUBRICS FOR THE PALM SUNDAY LITURGY:  The children of the Sunday
     School, along with the Choir are gather in the foyer of the
     congregation prior to the service beginning.   The, along with
     the rest of the congregation in the pews, will have Palm
     Branches.  They will enter the church after the Palm Sunday
     Reading singing "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna and march around the
     sanctuary till the song is over.   A supply of Palm Crosses will
     be held in reserve for the "Children's Time" and handed out by
     the children to all present at the conclusion of that time.  The
     use of both Palm Branches and of Palm Crosses is central to the
     sermon that follows.

	 
* GREETING AND CALL TO WORSHIP  
L    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
     and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P    And also with you.
L    We gather to worship God and to give thanks to him for his love.
P    We are here to praise God for all his promises and for how they have
     been fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord.
L    We are here to remember the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem and was
     acclaimed as the Messiah by all.
P    We are here to recall how Jesus was enthroned on the praises of his
     people.
L    We are here also to recall how Jesus was abandoned to his death on the
     cross.  
P    We celebrate today - and yet we also mourn. 
L    Let us hear the word of God and worship God and God alone.


THE PALM SUNDAY READING (Matthew 21:1-11)
     (NIV)  As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount
     of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying 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.  If anyone
     says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will
     send them right away." 

     This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: "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.'" 

     The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.  They brought
     the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on
     them.  A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while
     others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The
     crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
     "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of
     the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!" 

     When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked,
     "Who is this?"  The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from
     Nazareth in Galilee."


* HYMN AND PARADE: "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna"                         - VU 122
  (Note the rubrics at the beginning of the service.)


* PRAYER OF APPROACH
Lord Jesus - we come this day filled with excitement and enthusiasm like
all those who gathered on at the side of the road to cheer and wave palms
that day in Jerusalem so long ago.  Increase our faith and listen to our
prayers as we honour you this day.  Help us to always live in you and to
glorify your name.  Amen. 


* HYMN:  "He Came Riding On A Donkey"                              - VU 124


CHILDREN'S TIME: "Who Is Jesus To Us?"
Object:   Palm Crosses
Theme:    Who Is Jesus To Us
Source:   Loosely based on the Palm Sunday story from "The Whole People of
          God" in 1996

Good Morning...  Today is Palm Sunday - the day that Jesus made his entry
in Jerusalem riding on a donkey - the day that all the people who had heard
about his great wisdom and his great miracles gathered to welcome him and
cheer for him - waving palm branches - much as we did - but even louder -
and with even more excitement.

But today also has another name.  Do you know what it is?  It is called
Passion Sunday.  Does anyone know why we call it that?   Can anyone tell me
what the word passion means?

The dictionary says that Passion is any strong or powerful emotion - it can
be love, or anger, or hatred, or joy, or jealousy, or fear or reverence. 
We are beginning holy week today - the last week of Jesus' life - and all
of those feelings: love, anger, hatred, joy, jealousy, fear and  reverence
were a very powerful part of what happened during the five short days
before Jesus was killed.  In fact the story of Jesus' death is sometimes
called the Passion Story.

How people felt about what happened during the last week of Jesus' life
depended on who they thought Jesus was.  Some felt he was a great teacher,
while others felt that he was teaching people things that were wrong.  
Others thought he was a political leader - one who was going to lead his
people to revolt against the Roman Empire and establish a mighty kingdom of
his own - while others were afraid that he would cause all kinds of people
to get killed..  Still others thought he was a holy man and a healer and
others thought he was a sinner and a performer of tricks.  One of the
soldiers on guard at the cross when Jesus died said "truly this was God's
Son."  That is what we believe.

There is a hymn that we have been s that tells a bit of the story of who
Jesus was - and how people reacted to him - and we are going to sing it in
a minute - but first I want us to pray - and then, as we sing, to hand
these PALM CROSSES to take home and to remind you of how Jesus died for us 
 

PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
     Loving God - Help us to remember - all the good things Jesus did
     - and the great joy he brought people. - Help us also to remember
     - how Jesus suffered and died - to give life to us - and to all
     who believe in.  - We ask it in his name.  Amen".

     And in the word's Jesus taught us:

     Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom
     come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us
     this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we
     forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into
     temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom,
     the power and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen


* HYMN:  "Tell Me The Stories of Jesus"                            - VU 357


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING TIME
- Announcements    
- Birthdays and Anniversaries  
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


TIME OF PREPARATION (Music and Silent Prayer and Meditation)


A READING FROM ISAIAH 50:4-9a:
     (NIV)  The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know
     the word that sustains the weary.  He wakens me morning by morning,
     wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.  The Sovereign LORD has
     opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. 
     I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled
     out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.
     Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced.

     Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put
     to shame.  He who vindicates me is near.  Who then will bring charges
     against me?  Let us face each other!  Who is my accuser?  Let him
     confront me!  It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me.  Who is he that
     will condemn me?  They will all wear out like a garment; the moths
     will eat them up.

L    This is the Word of the Lord
P    Thanks Be To God


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 31:9-16 (VU 758 part 2&3)


A READING FROM MATTHEW 27:1-2,11-50
    (NIV)  Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of
     the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. {2} They bound
     him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. 

     Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, "Are you
     the king of the Jews?" "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.  When
     he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 
     Then Pilate asked him, "Don't you hear the testimony they are bringing
     against you?"  But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single
     charge--to the great amazement of the governor. 

     Now it was the governor's custom at the Feast to release a prisoner
     chosen by the crowd.  At that time they had a notorious prisoner,
     called Barabbas.  So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them,
     "Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is
     called Christ?"  For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed
     Jesus over to him. 

     While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this
     message: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have
     suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him."  But the chief
     priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to
     have Jesus executed. 

     "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" asked the
     governor. 

     "Barabbas," they answered.

     "What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?" Pilate
     asked. 

     They all answered, "Crucify him!" 

     "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all
     the louder, "Crucify him!" 

     When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an
     uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of
     the crowd.  "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your
     responsibility!"  

     All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" 
     Then he released Barabbas to them.  But he had Jesus flogged, and
     handed him over to be crucified. 

     Then the governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and
     gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him
     and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of
     thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and
     knelt in front of him and mocked him.  "Hail, king of the Jews!" they
     said.  They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head
     again and again.  After they had mocked him, they took off the robe
     and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
     As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and
     they forced him to carry the cross.  

     They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the
     Skull).  There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but
     after tasting it, he refused to drink it.  When they had crucified
     him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.  And sitting down,
     they kept watch over him there.  Above his head they placed the
     written charge against him:  THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 

     Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his
     left.  Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads
     and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in
     three days, save yourself!  Come down from the cross, if you are the
     Son of God!" 

     In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the
     elders mocked him. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save
     himself! He's the King of Israel!  Let him come down now from the
     cross, and we will believe in him.  He trusts in God. Let God rescue
     him now if he wants him, for he said, 'I am the Son of God.'"  

     In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped
     insults on him. 

     From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the
     land.  About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi,
     Eloi, lama sabachthani?"--which means, "My God, my God, why have you
     forsaken me?" 

     When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling
     Elijah."  Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it
     with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to
     drink.  The rest said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes
     to save him." 

     And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his
     spirit. 

L    This is the gospel of our Lord
P    Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


HYMN: "Ride On, Ride On in Majesty"                                - VU 127


SERMON:  "The Crowd and The Cross"

     O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds
     and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in 
     the thoughts that we form.  Speak, O Lord, for your servants
     listen.  Amen.

Crowds.  They're sometimes scary.  Sometimes supportive.  There are
cheering crowds.  And there are jeering crowds.  And there is a "crowd
mentality".
  
You've heard of "mob rule".  That's the mentality of a crowd.  There is no
space for individual thoughtfulness.  No time for reflection.   Just
immediate and mass response.

One thing that's been true, from the very moment the first crowd gathered. 
And that is this:  There are usually two sides in a crowd.  Whether its a
packed stadium for a baseball game, or a political rally, there are those
for, and those against.  There are the cheerers and the jeerers.  

And sometimes one side or the other takes over.  
Sometimes, you get a crowd that becomes either supportive, or hostile.  
And often - the balance is delicate and fragile.  
A crowd can turn on you.

The crowd that Jesus faced in these days at Jerusalem was both.  
     
It started off as a cheering and supportive crowd.  
And that's the crowd we meet today on Palm Sunday. 

But - watch out Jesus!  Because - in a very few days - these same people
are going to be a very different sort of a crowd for you!  And God help
you, my Saviour Jesus.  These cheering ones - are going to turn into
jeering ones.

Jesus attracted crowds.  

He was a most charismatic person, this One who called himself the "Son of
Man". People came from far and away to hear him.  To see him.  To witness
to the amazing things he was doing.  The great and inclusive and loving
addresses he gave.  Tthe miracles he was known to perform.

But in any crowd - then and now - you get two kinds of people
- the believers, and the doubters.  
And we see this quite often in the Bible 
- when we are told of the reaction of the crowds, the behaviour of the
onlookers.

For example: When Jesus healed the man born blind by making mud with dirt
and spit and anointing his eyes with it some of the Pharisees believed it
to be a great miracle.  Some believed that indeed Jesus was the Messiah.  

But many more did not believe.  As we heard two weeks ago, they expected
kept questioning the healed man.  And his parents.  And his neighbours. 
And then they accused both him and Jesus of being an agent of the Devil. 

Some for, some against.  
The cheerers - and the jeerers.

And later - when we look past Good Friday, past Easter, to the events of
Pentecost - to them time when the Spirit descended on the disciples like
tongues of flame and they began to praise God and speak in other languages, 
we discover that some of the onlookers saw it miraculous event.  To others
it was just a big drinking party!  "They are filled with new wine" they
said.

But - you know - as a crowd takes shape, as "mob rule" comes into effect
the sentiment of the crowd solidifies.  The mind of the crowd moves to one
side - or the other - of an issue.  It can be very frightening.  And if
you're in such a crowd - there's only a couple of "safe" ways to behave. 
Either go along with the crowd, or keep quiet.

If you don't agree, better stay silent, or leave - inconspicuously.

Some interesting experiments have been conducted by an American
psychologist to understand crowds.  And these experiments show how readily
people will change their opinion to match the crowd.  And I don't mean
pretend to change their opinion, to fake it.  I mean - really change their
mind.

     The experiment was simple.  A bunch of people were seated in a
     dimly lit room.  Onto a screen at the front of the room two
     straight lines were projected.  One was obviously longer than the
     other.

     The task was simple.  State which line was longer.  However
     unknown to the one subject of this experiment (let us say unknown
     to you) all of the other people in the room were involved in
     trickery.  They had been told to lie.  So - you had twenty or so
     other people around you saying that line A was the longer one. 
     Everybody else in agreement.  And you can see clearly that line B
     is longer.

     What happens?  Well, the experiment showed that you change your
     opinion, that's what.  Pure and simple.  And - even after the
     experiment is finished, and you are told what was going on you
     still hold to your changed opinion.  That line "B" was longer. 
     That's how persuasive the effect of a crowd is.  It will even
     sway you to an obviously wrong opinion - and keep you there.

There was a big crowd in Jerusalem that day.  Lots of people who didn't
even know who Jesus was - even though he'd been the talk of the city in
recent weeks.  It was at Passover time, when many Jews from the countryside
would be there - celebrating this special feast.  

There would be Jews from far away places too.  Honouring their religious
beliefs by travelling the great distances to Jerusalem, perhaps only once
in their lifetime.  Going to the Holy City for the most Holy of Feasts -
the Passover.  And this crowd - this day - was in a happy mood.  They're
ready for a parade!  They are ready to celebrate. 

And Jesus - knowing the mood of the city just before Passover - knowing the
prophecies concerning how the Messiah would enter Jerusalem - and knowing
what would come later - rides into the city on a donkey - his disciples
beside him.

For those who have eyes to see - it is significant this choice of animals. 
Conquering heroes - generals and kings ride into town on horses - on
stallions.  The Messiah comes in a more humble fashion  - on a donkey.
Just as predicted by the prophets.

And on this day - and on this crowd - the Spirit of God had descended.
"Hosanna" they shouted "Hosanna in the highest Heaven".   
"Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord".

The disciples must have thought they had it made.  Success - at last! 
Where are those arrogant Pharisees now?  We've got it made - with Jesus! 
The people are all for him.  They recognize that he is the promised one -
the Son of David - it won't be long now - everything is going to go our
way.

But Jesus knew what was to come.

He know even as the people shouted on Sunday
     Hosanna in the highest - hosanna to the Son of David -
     Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. 
What was to come on Friday.

He knew what the same crowd would shout out when Pilate asked them "What
should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" 

He knew that they shout out "Let him be crucified!" 
And that when Pilate asked, "Why, what evil has he  done?"  
they would shout all the more, "Let him be crucified!"  

And so Pilate released Barabbas for them; 
and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. 

How quickly things can change.
One week a hero, the next just another victim,
a person, an object, to be spat upon and scorned 
- to be beaten and killed.

And yet here we are today - the Sunday before the Friday.  With our palm
leaves and branches - singing praises to Jesus with our children.

We have cheered with the crowd that cheered for Jesus -
and rightly so - for Jesus deserves all our cheers.

But we have also -if we have understood aright,  
cheered with a heart heavy with the knowledge of what is to come.   

In that we are closer to Christ and his knowledge of the real situation
than the disciples were.   

Jesus knew who he was dying for -
     he knew that Judas would betray him,
          that Peter would deny him,
               that the disciples would abandon him 
                    and that crowd would call for his death.

He knew what was to come - and yet he ate and drank with Judas
He knew and yet he prayed with Peter
He knew and yet he called all the disciples his friends 
He knew and yet he taught in the marketplace 
     and healed those who came to him.

Jesus knew - and we know.

We know his part - and we know our part 
- and knowing - we have celebrated 
and I say to you we must celebrate.

We must cheer for life, 
     knowing that death follows.   
We must praise Jesus and call him Lord 
     even knowing that we - like all the others have failed him,
and may yet fail him.

We must cheer, and we must remember 
     we must remember that Jesus knows who we were - and who we are
          and what we have done and will yet do 
and he still lay down his life for us.

Today we handed out palm leaves so that we might celebrate
     a token memory of the cheering crowd on Palm Sunday when they lovingly
     spread palms and cloaks and branches into the roadway ahead of our
     Saviour.  
And we have handed out palm leaves shaped into crosses.
     
Look at what you hold -
perhaps you have placed it on a seat beside you...

The palms of "hosanna"!   
The palms of this "day of acceptance" of our Lord.  
Are woven into the cross of rejection.   

And yet, it is an empty cross - this cross you hold
- a cross which bespeaks resurrection.
- cross which bespeaks forgiveness.

It is a very holy mystery - this cross that you hold -
this cross upon which Jesus died.

It is a mystery which the crowd can never quite accept.   
A mystery which you and I cannot truly understand.
- but which, when we accept it in faith - in our heart of hearts
turns earthly despair into heavenly triumph.

Hosanna - Jesus!   Hosanna - in the brief moment of earthly acclaim.  
Hosanna, and may God your Father give you strength for what is to come.
Hosanna, blessed are you who have come in the name of the Lord to save and
deliver your people.
Blessed be your name - now and forevermore. 
Hosanna in the highest heaven.  Amen


LET US PRAY:  
Gracious and ever-living God - we do well always and everywhere to give you
thanks and praise to you through Jesus Christ our Lord - and we do well to
praise his name and bless him.  We thank you Lord, though you were sinless,
you suffered willingly for sinners, though innocent, you accepted death to
save the guilty.  Help us always to call upon you and walk in your path.... 
Lord, hear our prayer...

We pray, O God, for all who are in deep need this day,

We pray for those who like Jesus enter this week knowing that they will
suffer...  Lord hear our prayer...

We pray for those who like Jesus enter this week knowing that they will be
rejected and reviled - even though innocent of any crime....  Lord, hear
our prayer..

We pray for those who like Jesus enter this week whole - and who like him
will by the end of the week will die...   Lord, hear our prayer...

Father, we pray for all who suffer at the hands of their brothers and
sisters, and for all who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and for all
who require daily bread.  We pray for them and for those sinners who still
need to find you as their Saviour and for all those saints who need a touch
of your healing hand or some other blessing of your presence to help them
through the day...  Lord hear our prayer...

Lord hear too our prayers for those whom we have named before your people
this morning - and even now name with them before you, both in our hearts
and with the words of our lips.... BIDDING PRAYER... Lord, hear our
prayer...

All that we have prayed, most Gracious God, we pray in Christ's name.  Amen


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS:  As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of
Dedication

     Bless, O God, our offering this day -- may it be a true sign of
     our trust in you and be used of you to further the work of he who
     gave everything he had for us and for our world.  We ask it in
     Jesus' name.  Amen 
  

* DEPARTING HYMN: "O Jesus.  I Have Promised"                      - VU 120


* COMMISSIONING:  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we now go forth into the
     world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body of Christ.


* BENEDICTION AND THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace, remembering all that Jesus endured for your sake 
- and may God bless you and keep you safe in his knowledge and his love 
both now and forevermore.  Amen


* CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                              - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2002 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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