palm, Palm Sunday, tradition, repetition, meaning, relationships, God, church

Palm

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How many times, on a Palm Sunday, have you sat in a Church pew and listened to the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the donkey’s colt or on the donkey or on the donkey with the colt walking next to her – to not say straddling the 2 donkeys?

Every year, since I started attending Balboa Union Church, we have started the Palm Sunday service singing «Hosanna, Loud Hosanna» as the children of our church proudly, and chaotically, walk down the aisle waving palm branches.  Every Palm Sunday, our Call to Worship and responses and prayers have been based on Psalm 118, and, more often than not, we have sung «This is the Day»!

Every year, we torture you with the task of trying to bend a palm frond like origami to create the perfect cross that you could actually hang up in your home until Easter, instead of throwing it in the back seat and then trash when you clean out your car next week.  And you’re possibly secretly relieved, that at least in this church we fold the palm frond into a cross, which you can stick in your purse or your Bible, rather than leaving you uncomfortably holding a palm frond, or worse yet the palm branch, in your hand for the entire service, unsure what you are supposed to do with it and yet reluctant to put it down.

And when we got to the gospel reading this morning, we read, once again, the description, this year by the disciple Matthew, of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, knowing full well that next week’s reading will be his death and resurrection…  But, every Palm Sunday, we read the same story, some years from Luke, others from Mark or John, and then every third year, like this year, from Matthew.  Because, as you may have noticed, every gospel contains the story of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem…

Why so much emphasis on the tradition of a Palm Sunday?

Tradition. Is it an essential part of the Christian faith? Why do we attend a church based on Christian traditions such as Liturgy, The Church Calendar, Corporate Written Prayers, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday followed by a potluck and the Easter Egg Hunt for the kids, Christmas Eve service and the plethora of other traditions that have become an essential part of the Christian faith?  The traditions of our faith, such as the church calendar and the revised common lectionary which we share, should cause us to contemplate, reflect, and journey deeper into our faith day by day and year by year.

Now, some might object that «tradition» is merely dead orthodoxy: a Spirit-quenching fire extinguisher.  Some go as far as to say that tradition is simply shorthand for «having the form of religion but denying the power thereof.» Historian Jaroslav Pelikan quipped that «tradition is the living faith of the dead while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.» This evangelical suspicion of tradition and a yearning to live «simply by the Bible» go back as far as the Reformation.

«When scriptural passages become overly familiar, matters of rote, memorised prayers instead of living words, religion is paralysed and loses it capacity for transformation.»  [Matthew Fox, Foreword, Prayers of the Cosmos, HarperCollins 1990].

Yet, on the other hand, there is a mystic wonder of being connected and unified with millions of Christians around the world who are celebrating the same feast as us at the same time, praying the same or very similar prayers, reading the same Bible readings, and practicing the same practices. Tradition is a way to unite people to the past and future.  It not only enriches our corporate worship experience, but also deeply enhances our spiritual life and connectedness, if we let it.

 

The same way our daily habits do in our personal life: The good ones that build you up.  And the not so good habits, that tear you down.

Like tradition, the term “habit” refers to a settled or regular tendency or practice. A habit is something you do daily without thinking much about it.

More than 40 percent of the actions you perform each day aren’t actual decisions, but habits.  When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making.

It can be used in a negative way in reference to bad habits, such as “he has the bad habit of never following through”; in more Biblical terms, the habit of being “unfaithful.” But the term “habit” can also be used in a positive way, in reference to good exercise habits or good eating habits. Habits can be extremely useful and it would be impossible to run our lives without them. They automate many of the routine activities in our lives and free up our minds so that we are capable of concentrating on higher level activities.

The automatization of your actions free up energy that can be used focus to other tasks. If we had to consciously think about basic functions like walking or chewing our food or talking, we would have no mental ability available to perform other functions. «Walking by automatic processes allows us to be able to think about where we are going! This can work to your advantage!

 

You probably have a habit of waking at a certain time, brushing your teeth a certain way, and driving to work by the same route every day. Habits become such a part of your routine that they become who you are.

Do you want to be a different person? Just start a new habit!

For bad habits, you need to interrupt it and “install” a new one.  If you want to unlearn a bad habit, you need to make the familiar unfamiliar and the unfamiliar, familiar.  You need to develop a new «normal».  If you want to stop using processed sugar, you might decide to replace it with honey or stevia or an artificial sweetener.  Or you might simply choose no sugar or sweetener at all in your morning cup of coffee.  The first week, it tastes terrible: you may feel like gagging or spitting it out; the second week it becomes passable and within 3 months it becomes «normal».  You’ve made the unfamiliar, familiar.

If you have a life goal, it isn’t the goal itself that will help you reach your dreams, it is the habits that you form and follow while you are trying to get there.  It’s the habits of how you manage your money that will lead you to financial freedom, not how much money you earn.  Obviously, the more money you earn, the more money you will have to save and invest.  But if your habits are simply to spend everything you earn, the more you earn, the more you will spend.  It’s not until you change your money management habits that you will start to see a change in your financial situation, even if you are still earning the same amount of money.

So, what are your habits with respect to God and practicing God’s presence in your life? What are your habits for contemplating, reflecting and journeying deeper into your faith day by day and year by year?

Matthew 1:23 tells us:

“…and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

God has promised you His constant presence (Hebrews 13:5), but are you conscious of His presence every day? Do you practice his presence regularly?  A friend of mine suggested to me years ago that every morning when I arrived at the office, I should pause, and allow God to walk before me!  It was a game changer for me!

Psalm 118, which we read earlier in the service reminds us:

118 O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever.
Let Israel now say, that his mercy endureth for ever.
Let them now that fear the Lord say, that his mercy endureth for ever.
24 This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
28 Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee.
29 O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

How many times have you read or heard those words of Psalm 118, and let them fall on deaf ears? How many times have you sung «This is the Day» without letting the words reach your heart? How many times have they just been part of the tradition of Palm Sunday, rather than living words that draw you in to contemplate and reflect?  When have you allowed those words to take you into the presence of God, journeying deeper into your faith?

I want to invite you to make, actively go out and make this week different! They say the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result.  So today, I’m asking you to leave this service and respond differently.  I want you to choose to practice God’s presence, at least 5 times a day (yes, like the Muslims do – 5 times a day!):  when you wake up, at breakfast, at lunch, at dinner and just before you go to bed.  There are some of you who might say, well, I don’t know how to practice God’s presence or I don’t know how to meditate.

Let me ask you this:

  • Do you know how to worry?

“When you think about a problem over and over in your mind, that’s called worrying – or maybe you could call it meditating on the wrong thing! When you think about a word (like love or peace) or a phrase (like «I am loved») or a verse, over and over in your mind, that’s called meditation. So, if you know how to worry, you know how to meditate! (Taken from a quote by Rick Warren)

All I’m asking you to do is switch your attention from mulling over a particular problem that you have, and instead focus on this one little line from Psalm 118:

This is the day which the Lord hath made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

You could choose any verse, but I want you to choose this one:  It’s easy, I’m sure you know it, and it reminds you to be thankful and joyful.  And until Easter Sunday, I want you to practice the new habit of the presence of God in your life:  5 times a day, with this short line from a special traditional reading on Palm Sunday:

This is the day which the Lord hath made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

And repeat this short verse 3 times, 5 times a day.  That’s 15 times a day total.  Let’s practice saying this 3 times, so you can see exactly how many seconds this is going to take.

This is the day which the Lord hath made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.
This is the day which the Lord hath made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.
This is the day which the Lord hath made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

And maybe this will be the year, that the traditional readings lead you to contemplate, reflect, and journey deeper into your faith day by day.