Sermons

"Glory, Laud, and HONOR?": Sermon for Palm Sunday, Year C

"Glory, Laud, and HONOR?": Sermon for Palm Sunday, Year C

Apr 14, 2019

Passage:Philippians 2:5-11

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Holy Week

Category: Discipleship, Humility, Servanthood

Keywords: holy week, honor, humility, palm sunday

Summary:

On Palm/Passion Sunday we sing the Hymn "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" for the King--Jesus. But do we REALLY know what it means to HONOR Jesus? What IS "honor" in our world today? What was it in the time of Jesus? And what did Jesus expect in response? This sermon meditates on these questions...

Detail:

In the name of God, the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday. But we also recognize Passion Sunday today, so we have this discomfort because there is a tension between celebration and knowledge of Jesus death on a cross as we enter into Holy Week.

The Palm Sunday part of this is about celebration of the joyful entry of Christ into Jerusalem. We have all of the pomp and circumstance of Jesus' triumphal path into the eternal city.

This morning we sang the processional hymn, "All Glory, Laud and Honor..."

We talk about honor to the king... Jesus.

But this concept of honor is really tricky.

What does it mean to "honor" the king?

Do we live in a society where we even know what honor means?

Several years ago, I wrote a book about honor in American history.

My focus was to look specifically at how the concept of honor was used in the Old South--especially among college students in the 1800s.

One of the fascinating things truths in this country's cultural history is that "honor" meant, more than anything else, "how we are perceived publicly."

For instance, to uphold the family honor means to make sure the family is never embarrassed.

So, in the book I wrote, a major example of this protection of family honor, it turns out, that in antebellum colleges, cheating was rampant among students in order to maintain honor...

And not only that, many parents even encouraged their sons to cheat.

One story I wrote about was a student who was supposed to deliver a big speech in front of his whole university faculty and trustees back in the 1840s. How well the young man did on the speech would determine if he graduated or not. The boy's father sent him an article from the London Metropolitan newspaper.  He told the boy to simply read the article aloud as his speech. The father figured no one would ever know the boy didn't write it himself. The father's friends tried to talk him out of this, saying it was wrong to create this lie. But the father still encouraged the boy to cheat. He said: "Plagiarism in preference to Dunceyism is my motto!"[1]

Now we may think that this type of behavior to define honor has passed away. But I probably don't have to point out that in the news this past month we've heard of major scandals where parents have bribed and cheated college officials to the tune of millions of dollars, just to get their kids special treatment.

But what's worse is that we witness this type of behavior in some form or fashion every day from our elected politicians--from all over the political spectrum. They posture and preen for the cameras, or on social media. They say one thing and do another, often forgetting that their actions and decisions affect actual people.

But if we are really honest with ourselves, what's probably even closer to home for all of us, is the fact that we truly face issues of this nature in our day-to-day lives. We all have to navigate a modern world where often the standards of "appearance" and "reputation" take precedence of over "substance" and "humility."

We worry about how others see us or might judge us. We make decisions about our relationships and behaviors based on these appearances rather than perhaps what know is just or right or good or true...

But that's not JUST our modern society. That was also the world that Jesus came into as well.

When he entered into Jerusalem that day, the people honored him as a great king and a powerful leader.

But even the crowd gathered does not fully understand that Jesus is not entering that city under the same rules of honor they hold dear.

He will not try to hold onto the power and prestige of this world at all costs... That's what honor would say he should do, right?

We soon find out that within a week of this triumphal entry, Jesus will humble himself, even unto death.

The same crowd that welcomes Jesus will yell "crucify him!"

In Paul's letter to the Philippians, he was writing to a church he had established in the Romanized city of Philippi. There was conflict in the church. Some of the leaders of the community had fallen out with each other.

Paul reminds this church community of one thing: they ARE the Body of Christ. As the Body of Christ, they should “be of the same mind, have the same love, be in full accord.”

 As followers of Christ, this is not the place for discord and strife. This is the place for compassion and sympathy, says Paul. Just before the section we heard today, he writes: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, regard others as better than yourselves.”

"Regard others as better than yourselves!"

That message is not a message about living up to the strict code of honor of the day. Paul is pushing a radical agenda in the Roman world. His society highly valued a strict code of honor where citizens of the empire--like those inhabitants of Philippi-- were expected to promote themselves above others in social situations. Status was important. Humility was not considered a virtue.

But here is Paul saying to them: “in humility, regard others as better than yourselves.”

Paul goes on to quote an early hymn. This hymn was one that all of these early believers at Philippi knew and probably recited or sang at baptisms or at regular worship.

 Part of that hymn says: "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 slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross."

I love thinking about the early Christians reciting or even singing this hymn. But even more so, I like to think how radical this hymn is for the small band of Christians who believed it in the context of a Roman world that was so defined by power and status. Those Christians at Philippi were in the minority. But they could sing together this hymn that proclaimed that Jesus was in the form of Almighty God, but did not take advantage of that power. Instead, he went the opposite direction. He emptied himself! He took the form of a slave. He was the obedient son—even unto death on a cross.

So, what about us? As we enter Holy Week, we have the opportunity to also reflect on our need for humility as the Body of Christ. We live in a society that still values a corrupt version of honor. We know there is another way.  

Christ emptied himself, humbled himself in obedience. Paul tells us—the Body of Christ—to “let the same mind be in you that you have in Jesus Christ.” We know that we can enter this world of empire, of arrogance, of conceit, of status, and of power, and still be able to live in a manner worthy of the good news.

So as we enter this Holy Week, let us humble ourselves, knowing that it is the only way to walk in the path of Christ.  

AMEN

 

[1] Quoted in Robert F. Pace, Halls of Honor: College Men in the Old South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004), 27.