Why are you here? Don't answer. Plead the fifth, if you must, and if you need to think about it, go ahead and think about it. Why are you here?
Second question: What have you come here to do? Again, please don't answer the question, and this is not a test.
And my final question is-What are you willing to die for? In other words, what are you passionate about?
I ask these questions because we need to get some clarification today. Here we are once again, right at the beginning of Holy Week, Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday, just one week, seven days before Easter. We have journeyed from Ash Wednesday until today. This week we will experience-like in Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ" -- the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The movie begins in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus had gone to pray after the Last Supper, the Passover meal. But there is so much more to the week.
The week begins with the story of Jesus' triumphant victory and return to the holy city Jerusalem and how he road into Jerusalem on a donkey and how the people laid palm branches down and said, "Hosanna to the Son of David, hosanna." And even how he celebrated the Passover and how they took him all the way up to Calvary, the place where they would crucify him on Golgotha. This is Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday, a Sunday that we are reminded that God did make his lamb selection. He choose the spotless lamb, young, 33 years old, and he chose Yeshua, the one promised from the foundation of the world, the Christ, the anointed one of God, Jesus. That's why we have Passion Sunday, because we see what Jesus is willing to die for. Not some creed, not a pew, not for family, because families will be divided, brother against father and daughter against mother. He did not die for black or white or male or female, but he did die for you and for me!
But my question to you is, What do you have so much passion for that you are willing and would be able to die for it?
This day I want to talk to you about the Passion of Christ. Dr. Jacqueline Grant -- womanist theologian, systematitian extraordinaire, and professor of systematic theology at the Interdenominational Theological Center, the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in systematic theology -- authored a book which contrasts black and white women's interpretations of Jesus Christ, a contrast that seems to be at the heart of many other differences. She stated that white women tend much more to see him as a Christ, a master, while black women base their understanding on humanity upon the ideal of Jesus, the co-sufferer and liberator. Black women have been able to experience a Jesus of history who has also challenged them to move toward liberation from the social and political structures of domination.
I want to suggest that, while it's nice to talk about the passion of Christ, on Palm Sunday we need to talk about the passion of Jesus. Not that we can separate the two natures, but we want to celebrate the fact that the word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Therefore I decided that we needed to get a good definition of passion, so I went to my Webster's dictionary and found the word "passion: to have a strong feeling or emotion." But passion is also a technical term for the suffering and the agony of Jesus that led directly to the crucifixion, a central Christian event. The Passion narratives tell this story in all four Gospels. As a matter of fact, the etymological origins (the root beginning) of the word lie in the Latin passio that first appears in the second century, precisely to describe the travails and suffering of Jesus in this present context. All other meanings of "passion" have been derived from this one.
You see, the word passion was born out of the experience of Jesus' suffering and agony. In other words, before there was a word passion, there was a man who suffered and died. Hang on because I'm going somewhere: The passion of Jesus. You see Jesus is passion and before there was a passion there was Jesus.
Jesus, also known as Jesus of Nazareth, is the central figure of Christianity. Jesus is the main event, not an added or a side attraction. You see, from the very beginning Jesus was there, and John has to remind us that in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. Jesus is central to our trinitarian, our tri-fold, understanding of who and what God is. God is Creator and Redeemer and Sanctifier. We see it in our creeds, our statements of belief, the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian.
You see, Jesus is commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus, where "christ is a title that derives from the Greek Christos, meaning "the anointed one," the one hoped for and the one promised to, the one they waited on, which corresponds to the Hebrew-derived Messiah. The name Jesus is a form of the Greek Iesous, itself believed to be translated Yeshua, meaning YWWH, the name of God, salvation. God with us, Emmanuel, who is prince of peace and the Lord of Lords.
You see, he is passionate and not passionless and is ready willing and able to do. Let me see if I can make this thing plain: Jesus was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in still another village where he worked in a carpenter shop. For three years he was an itinerant preacher. He preached every time he had an opportunity, on the road, on a mountain, in the valley. He never wrote a book, he never held an office, he didn't go to college, he didn't matriculate through the theological process, he never visited a big city, he never traveled more than 200 miles from the place from where he was born. He never pastored a megachurch. But he humbled himself and didn't take the place of honor, nor the seat of judgment, and didn't regard himself as equal to God. As a matter of fact, he did something we should all do. He emptied himself, he forgot, he did not remember. He forgave. He let the past be in the past. He took up and took on the form of a slave, a servant - washing his disciples' feet. The same one who calmed the raging sea, who spoke in parables, who turned water to wine, who ate with sinners, who had time for everyone, the lonely, the poor, depressed, many people with no name-men and woman and children, boys and girls, and the like, the disinherited.
This simple prophet, who spoke a comforting word to two friends on the death of their brother, Lazarus. He put an undertaker out of business. He cleaned up the temple. See, I stop by to reminisce, to tell you a little about his life, how he died at the age of 33, how he died at the hands of the Romans and a man by the name of Pontius Pilate, who washed his hands, while Caiaphas and Herod sentence him to death, how he was born in a lowly manager in a stable in Bethlehem, the City of David, because there was no room for him and his family in the inn, how he was survived by his mother Mary, and Joseph his father proceeded him in death. He was crucified and suffered from extreme exhaustion and severe torture and loss of blood. And so we celebrate his accomplishment, the fact that he was raised from the dead, gave sight to the blind, healed the lame, took the time to talk to women, and let another woman sit at his feet, and another touch the hem of his garment, how he healed a man possessed of demons named Legion, how he cured 10 lepers, how he cured a women with an issue of blood, how he was the best lawyer for another woman, and a teacher for 12 knucklehead disciples, and his name is Jesus.
The passionate one, the Son of God and the Son of Man, my alpha and my omega, my beginning and my end, to Jesus my CEO, the word that was made flesh and dwelt among us, we have beheld his glory, the glory of the Father's only son, Jesus, the one who is a chip off the old block, God from God and light from light, true God from true God, of one being with the Father. There is no substitute; he was begotten not made, through him all things were made, he is the one, go and tell John that you don't have to search any farther. God's only Son, Son of Man, Son of David, alpha, omega, my beginning and my end, he is the same yesterday, today and forever, and without him there will be no end. There is something about that name that every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, Jesus.
Luke is the only gospel writer that has Jesus speak three times from the cross, but it is also the only one that records the conversation of three dying men, and it basically ends right there. And this man never heard from him again, but if I had a chance to speak from the cross one last time, he would have said to us today, he is sweet I know, I know who he is and what he is to me. If it had not been for the Lord who was on my side, Father, I stretch my hand to thee, no other help I know, give us this day our daily bread, you said you would supply all my needs today according to your riches, I have but to ask and I shall receive.
I can see him pulling out one of those old hymns from the Songs of Zion - Psalm 34, I will bless the LORD at all times, and God's praise shall continuously be in my mouth. I will glory in the LORD. Let the humble hear and rejoice, Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord, let us exalt God's name together. You see I sought the Lord and God answered me, even me, a criminal up here on the cross in my dying moment, God delivered me, a nobody, a sinner of his saving, out of all the terror, look at God and be radiant. And let not your faces be ashamed. I called on God in my affliction and the Lord heard me. And he saved me from all my trouble.
But let me go to Psalm 23 and line this great hymn of the church.
The Lord is my shepherd. (That's relationship.)
And I shall not be in want. (That's supply).
He makes me lie down and close my eyes, in green pastures. (That's rest.)
He leadeth me beside the still waters. (That's refreshment.)
He restores my soul. (That's healing.)
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness. (That's guidance.)
For his name sake (that's purpose.)
Yea though I walked up the hill carrying my cross to Calvary and through the valley of the shadow of death. (That's testing.)
I will fear no evil for thou art with me, my God. (That's protection and faithfulness.)
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (That's discipline.)
That you prepare a table before me, a place for me in the presence of mine enemies.(That's hope.)
You anoint my head with oil and prepare me for burial (that's consecration).
My cup runneth over. (That's blessed assurance and abundance.)
Surely, I said surely, those twins goodness and mercy, shall be here and there and everywhere all the days of my life. (That's blessing.)
And I will today, not tomorrow, dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
And his name is Jesus. The Passion, the passion, the passion of Jesus!
Let the Church say "Amen."
Good and gracious God, we again thank you for this Palm Sunday, this Sunday of the Passion. We thank you for Jesus who was willing to be human, who came down and lived among us. We thank you as we journey now toward Good Friday and him dying on the cross, hoping and praying, really not trusting or knowing what will happen Easter Sunday morning. So we live with expectation and hope, and it's in Jesus' name that we pray. Amen.