The Great Desert Palm Tree
Palm Sunday Sermon
Rev. Kit Billings
Hymns: #112 “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty!” #110 “From
Bethany the Master Comes”
Hymns: #112 “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty!”
#110 “From Bethany the Master Comes”
Jeremiah 17: 5-8
Mark 11: 1-11a
By "the fruit of the tree of honor," which they were to take on the first day, was signified festivity and joy on account of good being implanted within the conscious mind, wherefore the words follow, "that ye may be glad before Jehovah.” By "the branches of palm-trees” are signified the internal truths of this good [and thus, wonderful perceptions of spiritually ‘high things’].
Heavenly Secrets #9296
Palm Sunday is really the most incredible part of Holy Week to me. It’s stunning how quickly one religious leader could go from being hailed the King on one day, and then five days later vehemently condemned for crucifixion. At face value Palm Sunday reminds me of what Sumatra’s northern province called Aceh looked like on December 25, 2004, just before the deadly Tsunamis hit on December 26 the following day. From Christmas to desolation—the two stories are not dissimilar. Before that massive earthquake rocked the ocean floor creating that life-engulfing Tsunami, life in Aceh was alright—not perfect, but okay. Little did anyone know, however, there were immense and powerful seismic activities rumbling below our awareness! On the surface of the ocean, one or two days before the Tsunamis, things looked well. But after the effects of that under-ocean earthquake struck, creating that monstrous tidal wave, devastation, chaos and death abounded.
Yes, this morning we are remembering the point in Christ’s ministry when outwardly at least it appeared that Jesus was seen by the crowds as their long-awaited hero, and most of everyone was shouting Him their Savior King! We know the fateful outcome of this awesome tale, don’t we? Just five days later, as the nightmarish events of Good Friday were well under way, the crowds and most (but not all) of the religious authorities turned on Jesus. The hatred of the religious leadership majority had regained control, and most people instead were then crying out, “Crucify Him! Kill Him!”
I know. The difference was dramatic to say the least. On Palm Sunday the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem appeared to be the sweetest story every told—the kind of good news that folks like to bring up at birthday parties and Sunday Bar-B-Q’s. But then as the final week of Jesus’ ministry centered in Jerusalem and the Temple unfolded, the story turns dark, terrifying, painful on the surface of things—while at the same time beyond the perception and grasp of those who hated the Lord the GREATEST and MOST WONDERFUL miracle of all was secretly unfolding and blossoming—Jesus’ glorification into full Divine-Humanity.
Extremes. Palm Sunday for me is about extremes. But you know something, when I take a careful look at it all, the explanations really are there, which ultimately turn this story into not simply Bad News, nor pie-in-the-sky Good News, but rather deeply spiritual and transformative Good News that only our loving God could bring.
Actually, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, the Lord’s death and resurrection are the best news we could ever get! For me, the hard-heartedness and spiritual lifelessness rampant in Israel at the time, as well as the betrayal, torture and awful death of Christ (as well as all the tortured emotional states of being and sadness felt by Christ’s followers) are heartbreakers for me, and they always will be. It’s a sad thing when people choose to betray God…when we betray love, goodness, and redemption…and when we lose faith and perception of the infinite power of God to transcend and overcome our human frailties. Unfortunately, such inward conflict (the battle between good and evil within us and its accompanying hurtful behavior) is a regular part of life for now. Indeed, just as was the case back then, life for us today is often VERY, VERY MESSY. The dark side of Holy Week reminds me of the drama and messiness of our life-journeys today. That’s why we need not be shocked when a friend confides in us her severe sinking into gambling addiction, or when we find ourselves struggling with feeling drawn toward materialism or pornography. Life on earth easily gets very tough and messy, but even these dark and loathsome things carry a silver lining, which both Palm Sunday and Easter are here to keep reminding us of.
So let’s talk a bit this morning about why life gets so messy, and also let us focus in on these two powerful things: that God is on our side; and that like the desert Palm Tree, I can choose to dig my spiritual roots down deep into the Lord’s almighty love, goodness and truth, which makes my soul and life sing and shout in glad exultation.
Holy Week contains so much. If you take your Bible this week, and choose to read through some of events, miracles, and discourses, and see how God was moving so beautifully, wisely, lovingly and courageously, I suspect that like me you may at times be moved to tears. This week, if you care to take the time, we encounter the profound drama and meaning within Holy Week, which is that God is truly FOR US. For indeed, only true, divine love and commitment could do what Jesus did in Holy Week, not least of which is seen by the events surrounding Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Let’s piece this apart for a moment.
Let us take note that long before Jesus sat upon that donkey and rode peacefully from the Mount of Olives down into the heart of Israel’s addiction to spiritual darkness, selfishness and sin, the Lord learned that remaining on course with His ministry would be life-threatening and deadly. In addition, He was well aware of how spiritual bereft and pitiful the Israelitish Church had become, which is why He wept deeply over Jerusalem before His final week of life in natural form.
In Luke’s gospel, when the Lord in the fourth chapter entered a synagogue and read from the scroll of Isaiah of the fulfillment of God’s promise to send His savior, the Messiah, the response from many of the Jews was to try and stone Him to death. In John’s gospel early on we read about the terrible response by the Pharisees to excommunicate the blind beggar whom Jesus healed giving him back his sight. In John’s eleventh chapter, we read how the chief priests of the Temple and the Pharisees began to plot to figure out a way to kill Jesus, fearing that Jesus’ power to perform great miracles would continue to win Him popularity among the people. They feared that Rome would eventually grow weary of this and destroy their nation. And in response, the Lord and His followers roamed mostly in the countryside, steering clear of those in power.
And lastly, there were more than several occasions when Jesus tried to communicate to His disciples before Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday that they should expect for Him to be betrayed, handed over to the unbelievers, mocked, beaten severely, whipped with flesh-splitting chords, spat upon, and crucified----but also, that on the third day He would RISE AGAIN unto new, glorified life. Indeed, the Lord understood oh so well that for Him to remain on course meant not only ongoing confrontation with many who were flatly against Him, but also His impending torture and death.
But look at what Jesus’ choice was, and see how He went about it. Instead of turning tail and running away, the Lord chose to plan carefully how He could borrow a friend’s donkey, in order for Him to ride deliberately into Jerusalem—into the hotbed of all the hatred against Him. In the face of extreme opposition, Jesus not only calmly came into the “lion’s lair”, He also did what would inflame them even more. He chose to enter Jerusalem in the way done historically by kings, on the back of a she-ass. He could have ridden in on a horse, which would have communicated that He saw himself as a Messiah bent on warfare; instead He chose the donkey, which said that He was not a king of war, but a king of peace. But still, he drove His truth of His Messianic nature right into the face of those plotting His demise. To be sure, Christ was courageousness at its greatest. But rather than come at His evildoers with more evil and destruction, He came at them with peace, forgiveness, and love (this, by the way is what I find dramatically shown in Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion, as Jesus was shown to always choose to return darkness and evil with love and forgiveness.
The first lesson I see in Palm Sunday is the most important one for me personally, that even when the world and humanity (as well as the church of God on earth) get terribly caught up in evil (with all its self-absorption, hatred and hard-heartedness), in falsity, as well as in despair, anxiety and fear, I do not need to despair over these things. For the Lord God is always on my side and is more than courageous enough to meet the evils head-on with me, saving the day, as far as God’s part is concerned. Today, Jesus is still meeting evil, hatred and meanness with love. And as He proved back then, His love is always stronger and more powerful. This power of His love over evil would not be with us today had He not glorified every natural element of His humanness, which was constantly going on underneath the surface of His being, culminating in His victory over evil while on the cross.
Now, as New Church Christians we are remiss if we think that the super tale we call Holy Week is only about the human spiritual dramas of long ago. No, God’s Word reaches down not only into the depths of what the Divine had to do in order to save and redeem humanity from remaining enslaved in Hell back then—God’s Word is also constantly speaking to our personal internal journeys as they are unfolding inside of us, week in and week out. Thus, we must be ready to look squarely at ourselves, and see that before a lot of spiritual development within our natural will and thinking takes place, that initially it will be easy for us to welcome God and divine truth into our minds. But then the Lord and His spiritual principles meet up against the unregenerate inclinations and promptings within us, which tend to reject and try to kill Him. These are those tendencies within us to want to return evil with evil, anger with more anger, cruelty with more cruelty, greed with more greed.
Said differently by one of my colleagues, the Rev. F. Bob Tafel, “The triumphant entry of Jesus on what we celebrate on Palm Sunday, followed by the escalating controversy with the religious leaders culminating in His betrayal and crucifixion, corresponds to our spiritual regeneration. Divine truth welcomed into our mind soon finds itself at odds with the present ruling loves and principles. We often then initially resist or reject God’s rule. Recognition of this is part of the process of repentance and reformation.” And so, Palm Sunday may easily reflect my own internal conflict with God’s rule of love and forgiveness for all. Palm Sunday reminds me that the drama of Holy Week may easily be seen going on more than once within me, as the Lord slowly regenerates me.
I recall once quite a while ago in my journey of life when the dynamics of Holy Week began showing up in my life. It happened when I was a high school teenager, when it began to get clear to me that my varsity basketball coach was devoted to playing favorites with certain players who behaved a lot like him—that is, more like a simple-minded jock. He was playing underdeveloped sophomores over skilled seniors, and finding minor reasons to bench players like my twin brother and me. Well, this was an easy-to-read injustice, and so the decision came as to whether to confront this authority figure. Finally, we called him up late one night and asked to see him in his office. It was so scary standing up to the coach, and it was hard seeing how real and gigantic our fears were inside of us at the mere thought of confronting someone over what many perceived as a clear case of favoritism and injustice. So, I began to pray for God to strengthen me. The fears were not eradicated, but instead what I felt was given from the Lord was the strength to meet those fears head-on inside my guts and not shrink away from this man. And so, the young met with the old, so to speak, “David met up with Goliath.” I remember praying so intently the night before our meeting with the varsity basketball coach, and then again in the morning. And you know something, during our meeting with him I felt something special inside. I felt the warm, oh-so-strong courage of the Lord deeply pumping through my heart. And while we lost the outward battle, we won the more important interior one.
Yes, in the midst of all this messiness of life and also of our internal living, Christ our Lord is profoundly well at work saving and transforming us. Indeed, He truly is our Divine King of Love able to save us from being overwhelmed by the impulses from hell. And He can give us the strength to accomplish great and noble deeds, for His sake, and for the sake of the kingdom of goodness and truth. And for this powerful reality I want to SHOUT TO THE LORD like one of those pilgrims on Palm Sunday—“Hosanna! Glory to God in the highest! Save us God…help us find wholeness in Your love, goodness and mercy.” And here’s where our blessed Palm Tree leaves come into play.
Palm Trees, as long as their roots have access to enough water under the sand and soil, are amazingly hearty and tough trees. More than that, their thick trunks shoot joyfully up, way up, into the air, as their fronds burst out into glad shouts of joy over their Maker. Also, they make a digestible and useful fruit that people can eat. They correspond to the great feelings of joy and praise we too can feel and express over the great and mighty truth that God is here and shall not be moved—that the Lord is always here to save and heal us. That indeed, my Redeemer doth live!! Even when we are in many states of being that feel like a parched desert, when our feelings of spiritual lifefulness, joy, wholeness and satisfaction are far away, we can choose to sink our depth-finding roots of self down into the life-giving soil which is God, which is His loving Spirit. Thus, how important it is that we use creative visualization and intention regularly that we imagine ourselves to be like a great and mighty Palm Tree, sinking our soulfulness and deep interior love down into the holiness and goodness of the Great Spirit—the Lord.
This is what our theology describes as, “…joy on account of good implanted, wherefore the words follow, ‘that ye may be glad before Jehovah….’”
In conclusion, I pray that you also will meditate today on these sublime truths: that the Lord our God is always on our side; that Christ my Savior never loses His courage and resolve and is always riding calmly and bravely into the very heart of life’s messiest and hardest struggles with the Power to gain victory over evil—especially those happening inside of my own heart and mind; and that therefore, I can truly (with depth and realness) join in this Palm Sunday with glad shouts of joy! For I understand that I have the power (like the mighty Palm Tree) to choose to sink my soulful roots into God’s kingdom of heaven as my thoughts stretch up and out high into the sky!! Welcome Lord Jesus! Welcome my Savior. Amen.