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The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams

The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams is a retired Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor serving as Interim Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA. 

Member of:

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Representative of:

Higher Ground
First Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, GA


A Beautiful Mind

Matthew 21:1-11

6th Sunday in Lent

March 20, 2005

Today the Christian church around the world celebrates one of the most colorful events of its faith heritage-the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. When Matthew tells the story in his Gospel, he becomes so caught up in the spirit of the occasion, he has Jesus riding on two animals instead of one. Verse 7: "The disciples brought the donkey and the colt and spread their cloaks upon them and Jesus sat on them." Please do not try to resolve this conundrum in your mind as I preach this sermon. Matthew's exuberance is balanced by his careful attention to the historical magnitude of the moment. He quotes not just one prophet but two, both Zechariah and Isaiah. He wants to make it clear that the Messiah, the King, the Savior for whom the people have waited so long, is the one who is coming into the city. Tell the daughter of Zion, "Look, your king is coming to you mounted on a donkey." The point is unmistakable. Royalty is on the way, but it is the kind of royalty that people have never seen before.

Two thousand years after Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, another visitor came to the city, Germany's last kaiser, Wilhelm II. His entourage was so grand that he had to have the Jaffe Gate in the old city widened so that his over-sized carriage could pass through. After the parade had ended, someone climbed up and attached a large sign to the gate. The sign read, "A better man than Wilhelm came through this city's gate. He rode on a donkey."

What made Jesus a better man, do you think? What was it about him that compelled the people to spread their cloaks and wave their branches in the air? What is it about him that still inspires millions of people to give their lives to him and even for him? Nowhere has the paradoxical beauty of the mind of Christ been more eloquently expressed than by Paul in his Letter to the Philippians: "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

What made him a better man? It was his beautiful mind, which was nothing less than the very mind of God. His beautiful mind put him on the back of that donkey.
* His beautiful mind gave him the courage to speak the message of salvation no matter what it cost.
* His beautiful mind opened his eyes so that he could see the people who were being put down or shut out by unjust practices and selfish ambitions on the part of others.
* His beautiful mind led him to overturn the tables of the money changers in the temple, led him to cure the blind and the lame.
* His beautiful mind brought him to his knees before the disciples so that he could wash their feet on the night of his betrayal.
* His mind led him to the cross where he poured out his life.

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus," Paul admonished his friends in Philippi. If you want to belong to him, the first thing you will need to do is get your mind right.

Can we live that way too? Paul thought we could. "Have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus," he said. But not in the sense of transplanting that divine perspective into ourselves through our own efforts; certainly that is impossible. No, it is this sense of receiving the gift of transformation that I am speaking of today-receiving transformation through him who became completely one of us and, thereby, defeated everything. And I do mean everything that would keep us from our own full humanity.

What does a Christ-like mind look like as we live in the world? We can see it clearly in the great saints and martyrs, such as Mother Teresa or Albert Schweitzer. I'm drawn as well to the idea William Placher suggests in his book "Narratives of a Vulnerable God" as he uses an illustration from the world of basketball. Professor Placher writes, "In basketball the players who are always asking, 'How am I doing? Am I getting my share of the shots?' Those are the ones who never reach their full potential. It is the players who lose themselves who find themselves. And it's that kind of self-forgetfulness that makes the best players." And isn't that the case with all of us in whatever we do?

An artist becomes lost in the work. Lovers become lost in their beloved. Workers are excited about a common enterprise. You toss aside that part of yourself that is always watching how you're doing. In self-forgetfulness, you become most fully yourself. This is the great paradox of human existence.

I read about one of the fastest growing churches in the world, with branches in 32 countries already. It is called the Winners Church, and according to its leaders, it lives by a motto that comes from America's religious culture. Here's the motto: "Be happy. Be successful. Join the winners." People flock to that kind of church, I guess. But it all depends, doesn't it, on how we define winning? I wonder what kind of church you would have if your motto were "Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant." Or about this one for a motto, "Those who want to save their lives will lose them and those who lose their lives for my sake, will find them."

In the years that I've been a minister, I have known some winning churches and lots of winners in them. One who comes to mind is a young man in my first congregation, an advertising executive on the rise in his profession. Every Tuesday night he volunteered at the foot clinic for the homeless people who made their home in our church gymnasium. Robert was his name. He was the nattiest dresser I had ever seen. I can picture him now in my mind's eye, wearing a crisp shirt, red suspenders. I see him sitting on a stool before the chair on which one of our homeless guests is sitting. He takes the guest's feet and places them in a basin of warm water. He takes a towel and dries the feet. He applies ointment to their sores. The ritual ends with the gift of a clean, white pair of socks. I see the man in the chair, as he slips his socks on, brush a tear from his own cheek-a tough guy whom no one has touched with tenderness in a very long time. I once asked Robert, the advertising executive on the move, why he came to the foot clinic every week. He brushed me aside, saying, "I figure I have a better chance of running into Jesus here than most places. That's all." I watched him week after week. I realized as I watched him that I was developing my own sort of double vision. I was seeing Christ in the stranger that he served. I was also seeing Christ in the one who was finding deep meaning in his life through serving others.

To see what the world cannot see and then to do something about it-these are the marks of the mind of Christ.

Why did Jesus ride that little donkey into town that day? I think he did it to demonstrate true greatness to all the world. After the donkey came the cross. And it is there, right there, that you see greatness in all its glory.

In my tradition, we say the Apostles Creed, and when we say it, we include the line, "He descended into hell" after we say, "He was crucified, dead and buried." He descended into hell. What a powerful acknowledgment that there is no human experience - no height, no depth, no loss, no pain, no apparently God-forsaken place, even the farthest reaches of hell - that Jesus has not entered into. He descended into hell is immediately followed by the glad affirmation that he rose again from the dead, he ascended into heaven. It is here that the great reversal takes place. The servant becomes Lord. The humiliated one becomes the exalted one whose name is above every name. He ascended into heaven, and on Palm Sunday, and during this Holy Week ahead, we remember that he did not get there the easy way.

Oh, my! What a journey he had. Before the suffering and the crucifying and the dying, he entered Jerusalem and all the city was in turmoil, Matthew tells us. English words are entirely too mild for the original meaning of this word "turmoil." In Greek the word was usually used in reference to violent changes in the weather or earthquakes. In other words, Jesus comes into town and the whole world shakes. A fundamental shift takes place at the heart of things, and nothing is ever the same again.

I hope the parade will pass down your street today. I hope your heart will bow before him. I hope your hosannas will ring to highest heaven.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to the Son of David.

Let us pray.

In your mercy you come so close to us in Christ Jesus, O Lord. No wonder they waved their branches with joy so long ago. Will you come to us now into the hearts of our cities? Will you come into our troubled world? Will you come beside the hospital bed, into the broken relationship, into our own fearful, longing hearts? Will you come? We wait for you in hope. All glory, laud, and honor to You and to your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.


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