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Sermon for Palm Sunday

Luke 19: 28-40    Fickle Friends and Focused Foes

I love watching people when they gather at the church on Sunday mornings.  As I see people who are once again comfortable hugging, shaking hands and smiling at one another without the need of a mask it is obvious that there are many friendships among those who attend church. I am thankful that most people took wearing a mask seriously during the pandemic, but now we are starting to wear them less. We should always put the safety of others above our own convenience. As believers, we need to keep this forefront in our thinking.

I have a question. What exactly is a friend?  I am sure if I were to ask you to define the meaning of the word “friend”, there would be as many different answers as there are people here today. Some of us only have a very few people we call friends. Others of us would say anyone who’s not my enemy is my friend. The definition does depend upon the person making the claim or assigning the title.

Social networking has become a big thing in our culture. With social media, to be a friend means to accept someone who sends you a friend request.  Then, if they make you mad or you just want to ignore them you can click an icon on the computer screen and defriend them. 

Some people would likely admit they have friends they have never met in person. They are “friends” on social media.

I believe a friendship is a relationship.  It can be a deep, intimate involved relationship or a simple shallow acquaintance. When a friendship is deep, it is a form of love.

In fact, the Bible states, no greater love has anyone than their willingness to lie down their lives for their friends. To give one’s life would be a very committed friendship.

But would we be willing to give our lives for someone who did not like us, someone who considered us an enemy?  Not very likely.  Many people find it hard to be civil to someone who does not like them, much less be willing to make self-sacrifice on their behalf.

Yet, this is exactly what Jesus did.  The scripture states, “while we were yet enemies of God Jesus died for us”, so great was his love for each and every person who ever lived.  In reality, we worship God who loves.

Still, some would say, I don’t care what the Bible says. It is just an old book of myths and legends that people believed before our modern scientific age gave us better knowledge.

Forgive my thoughts but I am amazed at how arrogant people can be in their ignorance. I know the words arrogant and ignorant are harsh, but they need to be because of the damage that can be done.

The insights we can gain from the Bible regarding God’s love have been proven true experientially over the centuries and still teach us more about life-and-death, love, and hate, good and evil, hope and hopelessness, than any other knowledge human beings have been able to acquire.  This knowledge can change our lives or our circumstances and give us answers and assurance that transcends mere facts or philosophies. It is the knowledge that is experiential.

Today, on this Palm Sunday, we focus the account of Jesus’s arrival at Jerusalem. Today is the beginning of Passion Week, the last week before Jesus’s crucifixion.

In the passage, we find Jesus interacting with three different groups of people. He’s interacting with his disciples, the crowd, and the religious leaders who are there wanting him to just go away. In this encounter, we find both fickle friends and focused foes amid them all.

In the account, Jesus sends some of the disciples on a mission, a special task, to get a donkey.  Even though this directive seems strange, they willingly comply. This is what a disciple does.

You hear the word disciple a lot at church. What exactly is a disciple? It is someone who’s dedicated to learning from a teacher.  Someone who is committed to following and learning.  Someone who seeks to become like the one they are following.

It is the purpose of the church to make disciples. Jesus’s last command to his followers was, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.  (Matt. 28:19-20 CEB)

Since this is the task of the church, the forces that work against humanity have done everything possible to get the church off track concerning its disciple-making responsibilities. Thus, the church is growing weaker, and more and more people do not get the blessing for the resources to spiritually thrive.  The result of this failure produces the multitude of social, moral, and spiritual problems human beings face today.

The disciples traveling with Jesus have seen Jesus reveal the wonders of the kingdom of heaven. They followed Jesus, often stumbling, and staggering on the way, as he taught and demonstrated the will of God and the way to God. They had insight and what Jesus could do through their experience with him and their desire to follow him faithfully is confirmed in their attempts at obedience whenever Jesus asked them to do something. The disciples who were sent to get the donkey found that donkey exactly where Jesus said it would be in the question that was asked they responded exactly as Jesus told them to do and as usual everything went just as Jesus said it would. When Jesus speaks what he says will be.

This is the most important aspect of faith. Faith is not just believing but knowing that God will do what God says God will do. It is the decision and commitment to be a friend of God in the deepest sense.

But one of the disciples was a fickle friend who became a focused foe.  Judas became dissatisfied with Jesus and then became a betrayer of Jesus.  In Matt. 26, just four days later, we are told, “His betrayer (Judas) had given them a sign: “Arrest the man I kiss.” Just then he came to Jesus and said, “Hello, Rabbi.” Then he kissed him.  But Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him. (Matt. 26:48-50 CEB)

Many people will say they are your friend if they can get something from you. These are the fickle friends of life. However, once you don’t have anything they want they move on to someone else. A whole lot of people think they can be a fickle friend of God and if things are going their way, they are fine, but as soon as they don’t get what they want they are upset. Usually, they blame God, blame the church, blame life, however, the real problem is with their hearts.

Many people join a church, walk down an aisle, and prayed a prayer; believing God now owes them heaven. Maybe they listen to some preacher who was after numbers called decisions.  Maybe they are fed a line about cheap grace and easy believe-ism have never been taught to be a disciple of Jesus. I really feel sorry for those who have been so deceived. They are like people who buy insurance from a con man to find out later that it is worthless.

I encounter people in crisis who cannot understand why God let whatever happens to them happen. Then they get mad at God because their faith does not sustain them. It is not God’s fault.

God has told us what is required. If we are to be God’s disciples, we must be willing to trust, even to the point of caring our own cross. When we make a true decision, however, it is not long before we realized just how good and true God is. God will be our friend.  Again, I stress when Jesus tells us, it will be!

The next people we meet is the crowd. These folks want to make Jesus a king but a week later they will cry crucify him. The crowd can be a very fickle friend who can become a focused, very focused foe.

We live in a time of crowds. The crowd consumes. The crowd becomes the wave of culture. The crowd thinks it should get its way. The crowd worships its own way. There is no darker dictatorship in this world than the dictatorship of the majority.

Crowds are not our friends. A deceptive person or persons can manipulate a crowd. A crowd is easily used. The crowd wanted to make Moses take them back to slavery in Egypt. The crowd was implicated in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is the crowd, manipulated by the religious leaders, which will force Pilate to order Jesus’s death.

Today the crowd wants to be entertained. The crowd wants to accept that which God says is unacceptable. Too many crowds are manipulated by the prejudices of past and present, by the pandering politicians, and by the phony promises of commercial corporate culture that push us to the point of selfishness and away from God.   We wonder why things are as bad as they are. If you are part of the crowd, you have the risk of compromising your soul.

The last group is religious leaders. These are the keepers of the status quo. These leaders seek to manipulate the crowd. They tell Jesus to shut the people up.  They are not friends of God.  Their interest is themselves.

When religious leaders are concerned more about their positions, their profits, and the privileges they believe they are entitled to, the church suffers from scandals, decline, and corruption. Look at verse 39.

They cannot even tell the disciples from the crowd they are so myopic in trying to save their own status. They have forgotten their purpose.

When we forget our purpose.  When we ignore God’s love and grace, we are not friends of God.  When we treat God as a commodity, a status symbol, or simply another way to try and make ourselves better than other people, we are at the best fickle friends, shallow in every way, but more likely foes who are focused on our own agendas.

This is not a good place to be. 

In the book of Jude, the Scripture starts, “But you, dear friends: build each other upon the foundation of your most holy faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, keep each other in the love of God, wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will give you eternal life. Have mercy on those who doubt. Save some by snatching them from the fire. Fearing God, have mercy on some, hating even the clothing contaminated by their sinful urges. (Jude 1:20-23 CEB)

This is what it means to be a disciple.  This is what it means to be a friend of God.  Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (Jn. 15:14 CEB)

There is no better time than now to decide, to commit, to give your all to become a friend of Jesus, a friend of God.

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