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Sermon for March 24, 2024 – Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Program Transcript

In the midst of the changing seasons, when the world comes alive with the promise of renewal, we gather together to commemorate Palm Sunday. Today, the first day of Holy Week, we turn our hearts and minds to Philippians 2:5-11, unveiling the Passion of our Lord and His boundless compassion for the world.

“In Philippians 2:5-11, Paul writes:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

In the midst of the jubilation, we stand on the precipice of a profound week—a week that would test the very fiber of Jesus’ being. Challenges awaited him, yet he faced them with unwavering resolve, for it was compassion that fueled his every step.

From the intimate communion of the Last Supper to the anguished cries in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the weight of judgment in the halls of power, Jesus bore the weight of our humanity. Each step, each trial, marked by his unyielding love for us all.

As the cross loomed, a symbol of sacrifice, it was not duty or obligation that led Jesus forward, but an all-encompassing love for humanity. He took upon himself the weight of our transgressions, surrendering himself for our sake.

As we navigate Holy Week, let us reflect on the overwhelming compassion our Lord has extended to us. He relinquished the glory of heaven to embrace the humility of the earth. Whether you are basking in spring’s embrace or facing the chill of autumn, you are never alone. He is with us, and his compassion is a guiding light, leading us through the darkest hours.

This Palm Sunday, let us reflect on the humility and compassion of Christ. Let us release our burdens at the feet of the One who bore the world’s burdens on his shoulders.

As we continue our journey towards the cross, let us remember that the Passion of our Lord signifies his limitless compassion for the world, transcending every boundary and division. In a world longing for hope and healing, may we become vessels of his boundless compassion. Let us be the hands that reach out, the hearts that love, and the feet that follow in his footsteps.

Psalm 31:9-16 • Isaiah 50:4-9a • Philippians 2:5-11 • Mark 14:1-15:47

Today is Palm Sunday, also known as the Sunday of the Passion or the beginning of Holy Week. It’s a celebration of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem where crowds waved palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna!” Our theme is the passion of our Lord, and the readings for today highlight different challenges Jesus faced during Holy Week after a rousing welcome by the crowd. Psalm 31 talks about being in trouble, foreshadowing the events of Jesus’ betrayal. Isaiah 50 also speaks of the insults and violence that were to come during Holy Week. Mark 14:1-15:47 recounts the plotting of the chief priests and scribes against Jesus as well as the beautiful story of the woman who anointed him with costly perfume and her tears. The sermon text comes from Philippians 2:5-11, and it expands our understanding of what makes Jesus’ sacrifice holy.

Love’s Holy Sacrifice

Philippians 2:5-11 (NRSVUE)

Though it is Palm Sunday today, I want to begin by telling you a Christmas story. You may have heard it before. It’s called “The Gift of the Magi,” written by Willaim Sydney Porter, whose pen name was O. Henry in 1905. The story goes like this:

On Christmas Eve, Della Young needed to buy a gift for her beloved husband Jim, but she only had $1.87 (or about $62 in today’s economy). She had beautiful, long brown hair that she was very proud of, but because she needed the money for Jim’s gift, she went to a nearby hairdresser who cut her beautiful hair off and bought it for $20 (or about $700 in our day). Sporting a new pixie haircut, Della spent the afternoon looking for the perfect gift for Jim. He had an heirloom watch from his grandfather that he treasured, but she noticed its leather band was worn, and he had to keep it in his pocket, so he didn’t lose it. She found a gold watch chain, one that looked like it was made for Jim’s watch. It cost $21, and she went home to prepare their meal with 87 cents in her pocket.

When Jim arrived home, he stared at her, surprised to see her short hair. Della quickly explained how she wanted to give him a special gift and that she sacrificed her hair to buy the watch chain. Jim pulled a package from inside his coat and gave it to Della. Inside it were two beautiful, bejeweled hair combs that she had often admired in the shop window but knew they could never afford. “How did you ever afford them, Jim?” she asked.

“I sold my watch, Della,” Jim said, and the story ends with this: “Each sold the most valuable thing they owned to buy a gift for the other…Of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise.”

Though this is a story that takes place at Christmas, it is also very fitting for Holy Week because it is a story of love’s sacrifice. Theologian and author Frederick Buechner (pronounced BEEK-ner) has written, “To sacrifice something is to make it holy by giving it away for love.”

Though Palm Sunday often focuses on the crowd’s adulation of Jesus and his fulfillment of prophecy, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, today we’re reading about Jesus’ mindset as he approached Holy Week. Make no mistake: Jesus was not a victim. He chose to sacrifice himself, not to appease an angry Father God, but to show us that his choice was the truest expression of Divine Love and a radical identification with our humanity. Let’s read Philippians 2:5-11 Read More


We’ll examine four important nuances about the text that help us better understand the holy nature of love’s sacrifice.

Christ in us

The passage begins with “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” This translation sounds as if Christ’s mindset is something we must work on. What’s interesting is that the verb “was” doesn’t appear in the Greek, so we could also consider the possibility that the verb could be “you have,” acknowledging Christ’s mind that is already in us:

Let the same mind be in you that [you have] in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5 NRSVUE)

This mindset is already a part of the body of Christ, and it gives us pause to think about how it informs our relationships, both in the church and with the world. The self-emptying attitude of Jesus is not something we must “work up,” but is part of living within the Christ consciousness already present in us.

No grasping

Traditionally, verses 6-7 have been used to encourage believers to practice humility.

Who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness. (Philippians 2:6-7 NRSVUE)

But what if these verses are telling us more about how Jesus was revealing the Father’s heart for humanity than they are telling us what we should be doing or how we should be feeling?

The Greek word harpagmos is translated in v. 6 as “something to be grasped.” But modern interpretations of the word harpagmos say that rather than acting like a noun, it is a gerund, which is a verb turned into a noun by adding the ending -ing. So rather than “something to be grasped,” it might be more accurate this way:

who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God to consist of grasping (Philippians 2:6)

Author Sally A. Brown from Princeton Seminary notes the subtle nuance of the change:

Philippians 2, far from being a touching portrait of a self-effacing Jesus, speaks of Jesus’ radical embodiment of divine redemptive and restorative power as the power of self-outpoured service to the other. The alternate translation also has the advantage of helping us resolve the troublesome tension between the affirmation in verse 6 that Jesus is somehow ‘in the form of God’ and yet somehow at the same time refusing to act ‘godlike.’

Jesus didn’t hold on to his divine rights, and as we saw in the opening story, neither Della nor Jim held on to the material things they treasured. It was love that spurred the sacrifice of the lesser treasure.

Sacrifice as an expression of love

Despite taking on our humanity, Jesus remained God, and in doing so, his life and death did not reflect a dismissal of his Divine nature. Instead, Jesus’ humility, obedience, and willingness to sacrifice show us the best and most truthful expression of God and God’s love. Verse 8 talks about Jesus and his surrender to humanity’s hate, absorbing our selfishness and the pain of our separation from God. This is echoed in today’s other Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings:

For I hear the whispering of many—terror all around!—as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.(Psalm 31:13, NRSVUE)

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. (Isaiah 50:6, NIV)

On this Palm Sunday, we are reminded that the same crowd who gladly cheered, “Hosanna!” also were the ones who shouted, “Crucify him!” a few days later. We have experienced those same emotions that caused the crowd to turn on Jesus and misunderstand him. We are quite capable of the same mercurial mindset because we know what grief, loss, disappointment, injustice, and anger feel like. By studying Jesus’ betrayal, we can see how “Christ in [us], the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) can help us live with the uncertainties and suffering that are part of a human life. We know something the Palm Sunday crowd didn’t know: when we suffer, God is not far from us. Jesus’ sacrifice and suffering show that God is willing to suffer with us. We are never alone.

A new name

Verses 9-11 contain God’s response to Jesus’ holy sacrifice for love.

Therefore God exalted him even more highly and gave him the name that is above every other name, so that at the name given to Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 NRSVUE)

Verse 9 talks about Jesus being “renamed,” given “the name that is above every other name,” so that all the earth and its inhabitants would understand how Jesus’ perseverance through suffering expressed the love of God. Reading through the Old Testament we see examples of a new name being given to a man upon entering a new state of life. For example, Abram became Abraham when he entered the covenant with God (Genesis 17:5), and Jacob became Israel after a night of wrestling a spirit being (perhaps God?) and refusing to let go unless he was blessed (Genesis 32:28). One possibility for Jesus’ new name was “Lord,” because it meant he was “the Master and Owner of all life.”

Holy Week begins with the celebration of “Hosanna!” and quickly turns to the darkness of betrayal. We understand that Jesus’ unwillingness to grasp his divinity and instead, reaching out for us through the incarnation, conveys the depth of love the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have for all creation, including human beings. Through Philippians 2:5-11, we see that Christ is not just a suffering servant or a victor: he is both. Holy Week is our opportunity to see the full expression of God’s love through Jesus.

As we consider the opening O. Henry story about Della and Jim, we understand that the gifts they bought were not really the truest gift they gave each other. The real gift was an understanding of how much they loved each other, proven by their willingness to sacrifice their most prized possession. In similar fashion, God through Jesus communicates the connection with and depth of love for creation through the mind of Christ.

Call to Action: As you begin Holy Week, consider how often you might engage in “grasping” for what you think you deserve. Be aware of your ego’s drive to compete, be acknowledged, or praised. Instead, think about how you might communicate love to others through a humble sacrifice of time or resources, living the mind of Christ that is in you.

For Reference:

The Hour Has Come w/ Dr. Jenny Richards W1

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March 3—Third Sunday of Easter Prep
John 2:13-22, “Zeal For Your House”

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Program Transcript

The Hour Has Come w/ Dr. Jenny Richards W1

Anthony: Our first pericope of the month is John 2:13-22. I’ll be reading from the New Revised Standard Version, the updated edition. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for the third Sunday of Easter Prep/Lent, which falls on March 3.

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, with the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Jenny, Jesus overturned the tables, and it got me thinking and wondering, metaphorically speaking, what tables do you think we modern people try to have a seat at that Jesus would actually overturn?

Jenny: I think my response to this would be to say, oh dear, because my instinct, and the first thought that came into my head when you say that is, all of them, Anthony. All of them. And the first ones to me, the ones that are reflected in this passage, spiritual power, or just any power and mammon, the love of money. Because for profit, the money changers in the temple were holding onto the spiritual keys of forgiveness, right?

So, you’ve got both of those there, spiritual power and mammon. So, they’re controlling the access of the people to the sacrifices that they could offer to make themselves right with God. They’re interrupting that process and controlling it for profit.

And I think very often we still seek influence; we still seek power both within our churches, but also power for our churches in our culture. And there are a lot of movements trying to jostle for influence and power and maintain hierarchies and oppression of minorities. All of that stuff’s going on in our societies, right?

Those tables all need flipping, and yet we want power and fame and influence. And we try and sit at those tables instead. And sometimes I think as I reflect on that, I think we actually spiritualize our search for that. Sometimes to try to justify it, we spiritualize taking those seats at those tables.

We seek political influence as though Jesus needs our help and is not actually already Lord of our particular nation. We say that we want to earn more money than we really need, and we build wealth so that we can, I don’t know, fund missions or something.

And having money in and of itself is fine, right? And of course, donating to missions and helping to fund that kind of work, there’s no problem with any of that. I know quite a few Christian philanthropists, and all any of us need to do is be good stewards of whatever money is entrusted to us.

I also know a lot of people who, by default, even if we don’t want to sometimes, put our trust in the size of our bank accounts—even when the size of that bank account has been accumulated at the expense of others. We’ve got a housing shortage in Australia and yet—and it’s probably happening elsewhere in the world too, I think—and yet many people buy as many properties as they can as a source of passive income and try to retire early like they’ve arrived, they’ve won the race or something. And I’m pretty sure that most of the time, if we search our hearts, more is going on in all of that. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening all the time here, and no doubt in other countries as well. I read something the other day by Pastor Matt Tebb, which said that roughly 44 percent of the world’s wealth is held by 1 percent of the population.

And it suggested that this should shock and offend a Christian worldview, and I agree. And yet so often, the opposite happens. Power and wealth and status and being at the top of social hierarchies are all held up as something to emulate. And in some places, including here in Australia the word Christian is becoming synonymous with bigot and with someone who’s power hungry, who seeks to control, including political control, through religion.

And Christianity is meant to be the opposite. All of that reminds me of one of my favorite books by C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory. And he says, and I’m paraphrasing him, but he says, look, it’s natural for us to want fame, to be seen as worthy, to have people think we’re fabulous and to be seen as having value and so on. But that’s because what the heart of every person really needs, what we were created for, is to have that recognition and that level of acceptance from God, to have what Lewis refers to as fame from God and with God.

And the gospel message is we actually have that. We do. That is the result of the person and work of Jesus. That’s what the gospel is all about. We’re beloved of God the Father in Jesus by the Spirit. But it can be hard for us to see and truly engage with that love, I think, especially if we’re full of our own insecurities and self-doubts. So, it’s easier for us to seek after and engage with power and influence and accolades from people and from society.

It’s quite beautiful to me incidentally, particularly as we read through the implications of that passage, that in overturning the tables, Jesus wasn’t just making a point to the money changers (although I think that was the main point that was being made). He was also removing the capacity of the people to provide their own sacrifices. That was probably just a consequence of all of the animals and doves and whatever winding up being driven out of the temple. But I love the symbolism of that.

Anthony: Jenny, you and I were chatting via email earlier today and about this particular passage and I made the comment, Lord, your kingdom come. We want you to flip these tables today.

And then I just stopped in my tracks when I realized: no, in actuality, he is already flipped the tables of greed, of bigotry, of racism, sexism, misogyny, all of it, because it has no future in the kingdom. It has been dealt with once and for all in the person and work of Jesus.

And the Christian response is to listen to our Lord and respond in kind to be a part of the kingdom ethic that’s breaking into our dark reality in the here and now, because that evil, that sin has no future. Lord, we invite you to—you’ve already flipped them, but if we’re still trying to sit at certain tables that you would have flipped, flip them! Because we don’t want any part of it, right? That’s the lesson.

Jenny: That’s right. There’s nowhere to sit. Those tables are gone. There is nowhere to sit at those. The only table we can sit at is the table that’s prepared for us and has been prepared for us and it’s there. The family table, the kitchen table of Father, Son, and Spirit, that we’re drawn into as his children, that’s the table to sit at.

Anthony: Yes. Hallelujah. And amen. As you look at this particular passage, Jenny, are there any other preaching teaching nuggets that you find that might be a blessing to our listening audience?

Jenny: Probably just that last one that I made, the point about removing the capacity of people to provide their own sacrifices. Because to me here, Jesus is ushering in a completely different way for people to approach God, especially in relation to their wrongdoings and their failures and the things that they have come to the temple, so to speak, to feel that they need to make up for. So not only will Jesus not allow those issues to make them vulnerable to manipulation from others, but he himself becomes the point at which fellowship with God occurs and that right-standing is restored.

It’s not the money changers tables anymore, and it’s not the sacrificial altar that they would then go and take those animals to. He himself is our peace, we’re told. He himself is our salvation. Isaiah speaks of that. He himself is the covenant between God and humanity. And I think that starts to come out in this passage as well.

Anthony: Thank you, Lord, that you have prepared a table. We long for the feast, the fullness of the kingdom of God, the celebration feast. But in the meantime, we are so grateful for the table of fellowship, the Eucharist table, the communion table, that we experience your peace when we come forward. So, thank you, Lord.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • How does the idea of the mind of Christ being at work in us now, not as something we must develop on our own, change your view of the passage from Philippians 2:5-11? How do you think we might increase our awareness of Christ in us?
  • If Jesus was not “grasping” at divinity, gripping with both hands his rights as God, what does that tell us about God the Father? In other words, what qualities does our God value as exhibited by Jesus’ behavior during Holy Week?
  • Why do you think that Jesus’ sacrifice reflects the most truthful expression of God’s love?
  • Why do you think God gave Jesus a new name? For whose benefit?

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