Palm Sunday 2005
The Christ who changes lives
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Jesus has always aroused powerful reactions in people. We’ve just heard how there were those who greeted him a king with palm branches, the symbols of victory. We then heard how his opponents succeeded in doing away with him, bringing his life on earth to a sudden and undignified end. Jesus did not resist them – instead, he showed that his way was not that of an earthly king. Rather, his was the lonely path of non-resistance and self-sacrifice. As he had once said, he came not to be served but to serve; and to give his life to ransom the world from sin.
Jesus’ life of service and self-sacrifice has always had its opponents, as well as those whose own lives have been changed by that of Jesus. I want now to tell you about two people in more recent times, in whom Jesus provoked responses which were very different from each other. Listen first to some words by Josef Goebbels, Nazi propagandist, writing about Hitler.
“The Fuhrer is a man totally attuned to antiquity. He hates Christianity, because it has crippled all that is noble in humanity. According to Schopenhauer, Christianity and syphilis have made humanity unhappy and unfree. What a difference between the benevolent, smiling Zeus and the pain-wracked, crucified Christ. The ancient peoples’ view of God was also much nobler and more humane than the Christians’. What a difference between a gloomy cathedral and a light, airy ancient temple … The Fuhrer cannot relate to the Gothic mind. He hates gloom and brooding mysticism. He wants clarity, light, beauty. And these are the ideals of life in our time. In this respect, the Fuhrer is a totally modern man.”
I’m sure you do not need me to remind you of the consequences of an ideology which rejected Christ, and all that he stood for in the way of compassion, service of others, and self-sacrifice.
Secondly, a contrast: a remarkable story which has recently shown America – and indeed the world – the power of Christ to change lives. Eight days ago a woman called Ashley Smith had been taken hostage in Duluth, Georgia, by a man called Brian Nichols. He had already shot and killed a judge and a Federal agent, and two other people. After having talked with him for a while, Mrs Smith asked if she could read from a book called The Purpose Driven Life, by a Californian minister called Rick Warren. She opened it at the chapter for the day – 33 – in which she found the words , “We serve God by serving others. The world defines greatness in terms of power, prestige, possessions, position. If you can demand service from others, you’ve arrived. In our self-serving culture with its ‘me first’ mentality, acting like a servant is not a popular concept”.
Something about those words – and about the way Ashley Smith had treated him – as a person, not as an ogre – moved Nichols. She told him he could even be God’s servant, telling other people in prison about Jesus. He let her go, and gave himself up.
As we have seen, there have always been those who have rejected Christ, and those who heard his call. The message of Holy Week and Easter is that Christ can change people’s lives – but only if they allow his words to take root within their hearts. It’s never too late: even the criminal, on the cross next to Jesus, was promised a place in Paradise.
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