Palm Sunday – 5th April 2020: Isaiah 50: 4-9a and Matthew 21: 1-11

Our Old Testament reading used the phrase, “I have set my face like a flint.” How might we phrase that today? “Go for it, no matter the cost.” “Climbing over dead men’s bodies.” “The end justifies the means?”

The phrase conjures up a sense of dedication and a refusal to be deflected no matter what happens. Determined, committed, purposeful.

It could be like a powerboat moving so fast towards its destination that its wash overturns everything in its wake. Real winners don’t put time limits on their commitments! They are committed with no conditions, and when they begin, they’ve made up their minds to finish!

Martin Luther King, Jr. said something a bit different: “If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michael Angelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.”

Ambition, determination, whole-hearted commitment to our goals are quite good things in themselves. Often, however, when our hopes conflict with the interests of others we can produce all sorts of justifications for less than generous attitudes and actions. Our readings speak of whole-hearted commitment. Jesus, on Palm Sunday, sets his face like a flint towards Jerusalem, nothing will stop him fulfilling God’s will – nothing will deflect him from the path of the cross.

Success for Jesus is, however, measured in terms of apparent personal failure. In Jesus’ weakness, God’s purposes are fulfilled. For Jesus to meet his goals he has to die.

In Isaiah, the Suffering Servant, sets his face like a flint into the suffering that is coming his way – confident of God’s help to endure. There’s no disgrace, no shame, in the torture he faces because he knows that he can trust God for his future, for his ultimate vindication.

How different these attitudes are to our own? We struggle and strive to protect ourselves. We’ve learnt to be self-reliant. “Look after number one – no one else will!”

We’ve learnt to see failure and weakness is shameful. Success in the world=s terms is important to our sense of self-worth. We cannot be seen to fail, even if that means that we need to put others down.

Is that a fair assessment? Is that what I am like?

Perhaps I need to ask my self a few questions. …. How willing would I be to embrace apparent failure, like Jesus did, for the sake of others? … Would I be prepared for you to think bad of me, to reject me – if I only knew that I was doing what God wanted?

But things are never quite as stark as this. Things are never that clear-cut. It=s in the smaller things that I need to learn to place the needs of others above my own, in the smaller things that I need to learn to set aside self-protection and look to the interests of others. So, what does Christ-like determination and commitment look like?

Our reading from Isaiah gives us a clue:

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens  – wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.”

Says Isaiah – we need the “tongue of a teacher” – the openness that doesn’t hoard knowledge (because knowledge is power) but shares it with others. Openness that shares ourselves with others. Openness which allows us to share the glory and praise with others. Openness that makes ourselves vulnerable so as to lift others from their weariness.

And, says Isaiah, it is not only a willingness to share but a willingness to listen. … We must not close our minds in some sort of self-righteous crusade. (We know what is best and we’ll do it. Blow everyone else!)

No. It was because Christ was open to others, vulnerably sharing himself with them listening to their needs, that he set his face like a flint to the cross. Because he loved of others – he chose suffering a death.

The challenge for us is to be so open with others that we are prepared, if necessary, to set aside our well-being, our comfort, so as to meet their needs. So, how do we succeed?

Jesus answer: “By becoming vulnerable, willing to die, willing to embracing failure.”

By accepting that Palm Sunday’s adulation will give way to Good Friday’s rejection.”  A very different measure of success!

Collect

Loving Father, whose Son Jesus Christ set his face like a flint toward the cross. Give us, your people, such love and compassion for others that we, like Christ, may be prepared to place others needs above our own. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayers

Let us pray for the world and the Church and let us thank God for his goodness. ….. Almighty God, our heavenly Father, you promised through your Son Jesus Christ to hear us when we pray in faith.

We bring before you the needs of our nation: we pray for those living below the poverty line, for the unemployed, the homeless, the dispossessed, those unjustly accused, those longing for justice.

We pray for all who govern and lead us. The Queen and her minsters of government, the opposition, civil servants and other government employees. Our Councillors and local authority workers. All who make decisions which affect our daily lives. We pray for the rule of law and that we will be justly and peaceably governed.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for nations around the world, for regions of conflict. Bring peace to our world, bring to power those who seek not only for their own good but for the good of others.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for your Church throughout the world, across all our denominations. Bring unity and a sense of common purpose in serving you. Help us to see Christ in one another and be alive to each others needs. Strengthen our bishops, church leaders and all your church in the service of Christ. May we, and they, place serving you above party spirit and narrow ambition.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Merciful God, in silence we lift to you the names of those we love, our families, friends and neighbours. … Break down the barriers that we so easily erect, and open us up to sharing with each other in love

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Comfort and heal all those who suffer in body, mind or spirit – those whose names rest heavily on our hearts, …. those in our street, our parish, our community and further afield, who we don’t know, … those known only to you – all of whom need your healing touch. Gather them into the warmth of your embrace, give them courage and hope in their troubles, and bring them the joy of your salvation.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Hear us as we remember those who have died, those whose funerals have taken place this week. May we, and they, share in your eternal kingdom.

Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

A prayer over your Palm Cross

If you have been sent a Palm Cross, or if you have one from last year, please use this prayer and give the Cross pride of place in your home over Holy Week and Easter. ….

God our Saviour, whose Son Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem as Messiah to suffer and to die, let these palms be for us signs of his victory; and grant that we who bear them in his name may ever hail him as our King, and follow him in the way that leads to eternal life; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

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