Sermon and intercessions for Palm Sunday – Year B

Isaiah 50.4-9a
Philippians 2.5-11
Mark 14.1 end of 15

either: “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death …. on
a cross” (Philippians 2.8)
or: “Abba, Father … remove this cup from me; yet not what I want but
what you want.” (Mark 14.36)

Throughout his public ministry Jesus has been telling us how the Kingdom of God must always be our first priority.

He says that it’s like a priceless pearl for which a merchant would cheerfully sell everything he has.

He has described what life is like in God’s Kingdom and suggests that this is so much to be longed for that we would even do great harm to ourselves, like cutting off a limb, if that limb might prevent us from entering into it.

He has insisted that when there is a conflict between God’s kingdom and worldly values it is God’s will that must be done. We cannot, says Jesus, serve two masters at the same time. If we try to do that there will always be inequality in our service, in our obedience, to each of them. In Jerusalem Jesus tells religious leaders trying to trap him that they must pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. They have to work out their priorities and loyalties and act accordingly.

In the story of Christ’s betrayal, trial and execution we see very clearly how Jesus lives out his own teaching in obedience to God’s will.

The road Jesus takes from his last Passover meal with his disciples to his death on the cross is marked by moments when different people make choices about who or what they will obey. Jesus himself, some time ago (like Isaiah’s servant of the Lord) set his face, as flint, towards Jerusalem. He is fully committed to doing God’s will faithfully no matter what that means for him. Yet even he, the Son of God, has to struggle (with blood sweat and tears) against the temptation to turn from God’s way and obey his own sense of self-preservation.

His disciples, however, may perhaps struggle within themselves but in the end they take the path of self and betray, desert and deny God’s obedient servant.

It may be that Judas has struggled for some time with disappointment, resentment and anger about the way Jesus says God wants things to be done. It just takes the incident of the woman, in his view, wasting expensive ointment on Jesus to send him over the edge and into betrayal for financial gain but also to satisfy his own desire for revenge or punishment.

It may be that the disciples struggle to stay awake praying as Jesus asked and they certainly intended to stand by him whatever happened. But their intentions are swept away when they are faced with real danger. The instinct for self-preservation kicks in and in Peter’s case leads to a total denial of Jesus.

It may be that the crowds of people who cheered Jesus into Jerusalem would have wanted to have him released to them instead of Barabbas. But they are all too easily “stirred up” by the chief priests to do the opposite – to call for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified.

In the end it’s only one Roman centurion who recognises and names Jesus as the Son of God. Perhaps from then on he began to learn obedience to the will of God and maybe later joined those who came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Lord of all.

There are many places in the world today where obedience to God’s will and the acknowledgment of Christ’s Lordship leads to persecution, torture and death. Many people have set their faces like flint to follow Jesus knowing where that may lead. Their vision of the Kingdom of God is strong and clear enough for them to be prepared to give everything in order to be part of it.

This Holy Week offers us time to reflect on our own commitment to the Kingdom of God and obedience to his will. It may be a time for taking note of anything that might lead us to compromise that commitment and obedience. Perhaps fear of insults or scorn stops us speaking out against public opinion and popular values. It may be that we obey too much the voices in and around us that encourage us to put ourselves first.

On Good Friday we may bring to the cross all those things that distract and harm us and on Easter Sunday we may with joy renew our commitment to God and the Lordship of Christ Jesus so that we may go in peace to love, obey and serve him alone.


Lord God, our heavenly Father, you raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to be Lord of all. Hear us as we pray in his name for the needs of this world and for our own concerns.

Let us pray for God’s church during this Holy Week that, imitating Christ’s obedience and humility, she may bring news of the salvation of God to all people.

Let us pray for the nations of this world and for their leaders that a desire for peace, justice and freedom will prove stronger than a desire for power with injustice and oppression.

Let us pray for the communities we represent in this church, our places of work and our homes that we may love and honour one another as God had blessed us.

Let us pray for those who are suffering or struggling with any kind of need that God may bring them the healing, peace, strength and comfort he knows they need from him.

Lord God, we offer you these prayers in the name of Jesus who suffered and died for us. We pray that through our prayers and through our lives you will reach out to all people and bring ever nearer the day when every tongue on earth will indeed proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. Amen.