This is a copy of my ‘sermon’ preached at the ‘Livestream’ Service from Billericay Rectory on Facebook on Palm Sunday, 5 April March 2020. The Bible Reading is Matthew 21:1-17. If you didn’t get a chance to watch this live, you should be able to catch up at www.facebook.com/EmmanuelChurchBillericay .
Service sheets can be downloaded here:
Live Stream Worship Palm Sunday 2020
Live Stream Worship Palm Sunday 2020 – Visually Impaired
What kind of people get on your nerves and wind you up? Have you ever thought about who they are? I have, and it’s not people who don’t share my enthusiasm for Rugby Union, loud music and Sunderland AFC. It’s not people who make me envious by having loads of natural talent and excel at everything they do when I have to work extremely hard to be reasonable at anything! And it’s not people who drive their cars around as if they own the place – though they come a very close second. The kind of people who irritate me, and who I struggle with the most, are:
- Those who always manage to spoil something that is going so well.
- Those who don’t enjoy the collective or individual imagination of others.
- Those who have that irritating knack of bringing you back down to earth with a great big bump, just when you were beginning to enjoy yourself.
- Those whose cynicism makes you wish that you’d never taken the plunge into something new or exciting.
I’d better stop there because, if I go any further, you might think I’m being autobiographical. But you know the sort of people I’m talking about: someone like Victor Meldrew!
1. Enthusiasts and Critics
Unfortunately, you nearly always find that enthusiasm and criticism go hand in hand. For where there is enthusiastic support, you can bet your life there’s more than a fair share of critics and cynics ready to shoot you down – it’s a fact of life. And it’s interesting to see how this conflict of attitude crops up in the last week of Jesus’ life.
A week that began on that first Palm Sunday, with Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. Jerusalem was at breaking point with Jews, about 2 million of them, arriving from all over the known world for the Passover Festival. There would have been an exciting, if not electric, atmosphere.
Those of you, who’ve been to the Notting Hill Carnival, or Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve, or a Football or Rugby Cup Final will know what it’s like to be carried along by the euphoria of the occasion/crowd.
Jesus was given the ‘red carpet’ treatment as the crowd placed their coats and palm branches in his path, vs8. Who was worthy of this reception? A Prophet? Priest? King? Messiah? Some knew about Jesus’ reputation, they’d heard about his miracles and wondered what he was going to do next.
In vs9 we see the crowd’s enthusiasm broke out into shouts of praise: Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
Amongst the crowd were the inevitable cynics and critics in the shape of the Pharisees (Luke 19:39-40), who frowning on all that was taking place, said to Jesus: Rabbi, rebuke your disciples.’ ‘No!’ Jesus said to them… if these were to keep silent, the very stones would cry out.’ Jesus was reminding the critics and cynics they were wrong, and it was the enthusiasts who were right.
2. The Enthusiasm of Children
But there was no-one more enthusiastic than the children who were so affected by the wonder of what they had seen, they added their own words of praise: Hosanna to the Son of David (vs15).
The Sanhedrin (temple police), the Chief Priests and teachers of the law were indignant and wanted Jesus to tell the children to be quiet and stop their blasphemous shouts. Vs16: Do you hear what these children are saying? Yes, Jesus Replied, Have you never read, ‘from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise (Psalm 8:2).
Children, in Jewish culture, were looked upon as insignificant and unimportant. So, it’s no surprise these teachers of the law responded to children in the same way the disciples did when they couldn’t understand why Jesus should be bothered with them (Matthew 19:13-15).
Remember when Jesus said: … unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:3). If a childlike faith is what is needed to enter the kingdom of God, then I want more of it.
Of course, children have their limitations, but Jesus was pointing out we must learn from them if we are ever going to develop into the right kind of adults. He was saying how there are certain things we’ll never understand as long as we have a hard, cold, critical heart full of worldly wisdom.
I also think Jesus is saying we’d do well to have something of the spontaneity and enthusiasm of children. Children have exceptionally open, trustful and generous hearts. They are uncritical, ungrudging, enthusiastic, free from jealousy. They make friends, accept love, are blissfully unaware of class/race-distinctions and barriers. A child doesn’t assume intellectual authority and they are always looking for the right answers to their questions. OK, that may be a bit ‘rose tinted’ but you get the point!
Children are a sharp contrast to adults – we like to rely on our own strengths, intellect and wisdom. We find it hard to admit failure and admit we have fallen short of God’s standards, morals and values. Our pride comes in the way of having a simplistic, childlike faith. But being childlike is not about suppressing our enthusiasm and enjoyment of life. It is childlike faith, not a childish faith.
This poem is taken from my friend Phil Steer’s book ‘As A Child: A Call To Littleness’ which seemed to sum up so much of what I wanted to say (I love the first line of the last verse!):
As a child I found delight in leaf and twig and tree.
Such simple gifts of nature were a source of joy to me.
Birds singing in the tree-tops, the sun against my face,
Splashing through the puddles, as round the woods I’d race.
Taking home a sticky-bud and placing in a jar,
Then watching slowly open the green five-pointed star.
Collecting burnished conkers, lying where they fell,
Amongst the Autumn-tinted leaves and peeping from the shell.
But now it seems much harder to enjoy such simple things;
To receive with open hands and heart the gifts that each day brings.
No longer just accepted with unconsidered pleasure,
But analysed and categorised, I miss the hidden treasure.
O to be a child again! And put off grown up ways.
To know again the myriad gifts with which you fill my days.
To know you as my Father, and to know that I’m your son,
And as a child to trust your ways until my days are done.
This book is currently free for Kindles at the moment from Amazon so my mate Phil told me today (5 April 2020)
3. Enthusiasm Achieves Great Things (For God)
It’s interesting to note that the word enthusiasm comes from the Greek words en theos which means ‘to be in God.’ To be enthusiastic means to be glad about, and rejoice in, the things of God.
The American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. And how right he was. How little would have been achieved in history if individuals did not have the enthusiasm to follow their impulsions!
None of us would be driving around today if Henry Ford didn’t have the enthusiasm, and belief, that his Model T Ford prototype could be a commercially viable vehicle.
What about William Henry Gates III, better known as Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and probably single handedly responsible for the computer revolution that we have today. Many people told him his ideas were impossible, but – through his child like enthusiasm – he was able to able to turn his dreams into reality.
There would be no Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader if George Lucas had not persevered with his passion for Star Wars when the showing of his first film draft got a resounding thumbs down – even from Steven Spielberg!
And perhaps the greatest achievement/innovation of them all was Brooke Bond’s four-year quest to develop the perfect cup of tea in the guise of a pyramid shaped tea-bag – now that’s enthusiasm for you!
All these people, and many like them, were willing put their enthusiasm to good use.’
So, a few practical pointers for you:
a. Don’t quench the enthusiasm of others
This is something the Scribes and Pharisees did on a regular basis. Don’t be the critical cynic or the cold-water pourer, who restricts people from moving on in their life. It’s a national quirk that we seem unable to affirm and encourage others. Cricket legend, Sir Ian Botham once said:
It’s a national pastime to build people up and then to take great pleasure in shooting them down in double quick time.
This attitude is the very opposite of the spirit of Jesus, who always welcomed exuberance, and encouraged the enthusiasm of the crowd and the children who proclaimed him the Messiah.
As a church family, we should have a ministry of encouragement. William Barclay wrote:
One of the highest of human duties is the duty of encouragement … It is easy to pour cold water on enthusiasm; it is easy to discourage others. We have a Christian duty to encourage one another. Many a time a word of praise or thanks or appreciation has kept someone on their feet.
Who do you know in our church family or community who might benefit from a few words of appreciation and encouragement? If you can think of someone, be sure to tell them.
b. Be wary of allowing your own enthusiasm (for the things of God) to be quenched
This often happens as we get older, both as Christians and human beings. We lose our spontaneity, generosity and enthusiasm. It gets dulled and stiffened with the passing years. Of course, times of difficulty, stress, and the rigours of life all contribute to this. I guess many of us are fast losing our enthusiasm for life at this time. With strained family relationships, holidays and weddings put on hold, and those of you who are a key worker, working under extreme pressure. However, all of this will pass, and life will continue to be lived once again and we want to make the most of what we have when that happens.
The Christian life is meant to be an exciting adventure, a life of joyful enthusiasm, a life of purpose, hope and reason – even in the midst of our current circumstances.
Parents, don’t allow your children and young people to succumb to a safe conventional kind of Christianity that never allows them to experience the enthusiasm and excitement that the Christian life can be.
To those of you who are entering into midlife, don’t allow yourselves to become middle aged in an unimaginative, dull sort of way which means losing your exuberance for the Christian life.
To the more ‘mature’ folk amongst us, remember the zeal you had when you were younger and seek to rekindle that. Ask the Lord for that sparkle in your eye once again.
But what about when we lose our enthusiasm to be a Christian? It happens to all of us at one time or another. Even more so in these challenging days. Keeping up the charade that everything is fine, when inwardly we’re as dry as old bones.
The question is, what can you do about it?
c. Allow the Lord to restore your enthusiasm
Ask God to restore your first love for Jesus. That feeling you experienced in those early days of your Christian walk. When everything was so new and exciting. When you were overwhelmed by a living, vibrant faith in a majestic, righteous and generous God. Allow the Lord to renew his love and joy in your life, to rekindle that spark of passion and enthusiasm you once had for him.
Some people would suggest that enthusiasm in church is misplaced – you know, when we’re referred to as ‘happy clappy’ Christians. But we should be more concerned when enthusiasm in our worship and in our Christian life is absent.
Who knows, when we are able to worship together again, maybe there will be more enthusiasm in our worship than we’ve known before as we suddenly realise what we’ve missed and all what we’ve taken for granted. I can’t wait!
As we enter this Holy Week, and reflect on the implications of Jesus’ trial, rejection, torture and crucifixion. Let us be Christians who have the enthusiastic life-giving Spirit of the resurrected Jesus in our hearts. Let us remember that, for the Christian, everyday is Easter and know that we are not alone.
As we finish, we’re going to listen to a song by Keith Green. You may want to use this time to ask the Lord to renew your first love and your faith and ask, if you dare, for a childlike enthusiasm to fill your heart this Easter.
My eyes are dry, my faith is old.
My heart is hard,
And my prayers are cold,
And I know how I ought to be:
Alive to you and dead to me.
Oh, what can be done
For an old heart like mine?
Soften it up with oil and wine,
The oil is you, your spirit of love,
Please wash me anew
In the wine of your blood.