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Psalm 118

Good morning, church. Please go with me to Psalm 118. If you’d like to use one of our Bibles, you can just raise your hand, and we’ll get one to you.

Praise God for Palm Sunday, for the holiness of it all. Do you want to be saved from anything today? That’s what people were shouting at Jesus on his way into Jerusalem: Lord, save us! That’s what Hosanna means: Lord, save us we pray. Save us.

They wanted to be saved, which makes me wonder: from what? Sometimes needs are obvious. When someone is shouting from the third story of a burning building, you don’t have to stop and ask why—but people laying their clothes in the street shouting save us? What in their lives felt so oppressive that they would run out to the road east of the city and spread their clothes on the ground, paving the road in cloth and palm leaves, shouting for Jesus to save them? And in asking the question of them, we should ask it of ourselves: from what do we want to be saved today?

As a reader of the scriptures, I’m always trying to find my place in them; as your pastor, I’m trying to find your place in the story and bring you there. I’ll tell you this morning, if we are anyone in the story of palm Sunday, we are either the people with our faces to the ground begging to be saved, or we aren’t in the story at all.

I think the possibility of not being anywhere in this story should alarm us. Think about Jesus showing up and changing the world and you’re not even a part of the story. When Jesus talks about hell the most common analogy he uses is not fire, but “the outer dark”—quoting Isaiah. When the sun went down, if you hadn’t made it back into Jerusalem, the gates would have been shut against you. What brings people out into the dark? I think we always picture violence, but I think most of all the outer dark is purposeless, and so, so lonely, and I’ve known many people who seem to be lost that way. What do you need to be saved from today?

The last time Jesus was in Judea, the rulers of the synagogue swore to kill him if he ever came back. I’m sure a good number of people thought he had come back to challenge them, but before Jesus rode into Jerusalem on top of people’s clothes and palm branches, he was in Bethany with two of his friends who were grieving loss, and he raised a man from the dead. He stood outside of the tomb and simply called out to him to come alive again and he did. That’s why he came to Jerusalem that day, to call people out of death and make them new.

Some people would have come out of the city that day to see a man who could raise the dead. I imagine at least some people in the crowd were there because they wanted a revolution—like Peter, who brought a sword to a feast meant to celebrate God’s ability to deliver us. I’ve never lived under foreign rule, but I see people the world over willing to give their lives to live freely, or even just to change the status quo. Some people wanted to be saved from what I would call oppression, or just exhaustion. Some were sick and wanted to be healed. Some were grieving loss. There are so many reasons, so many things from which we want to be saved.

There’s a part of each of us that longs to be saved from ourselves, too. I know, in my honest moments, I’ve made mistakes that are irreparable. There are incurable fault lines in the landscape of my life because of things I’ve done and things which have been done to me. If I’m shouting to Jesus to come save me today, I want him to save my past, present, and future. I want to be made new.

So whatever the motivations of this crowd, whatever they wanted to be saved from, “The whole world,” John writes, runs out to see Jesus come into the city, and they’re singing this psalm. Let’s read it together again, Psalm 118—I’m going to read vs. 1 and 2, then jump to verse 19. [Psalm 118:1-2, 14-29] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly.

God’s love endures forever. The passage opens on a procession. Open the gates of righteousness, the gates of the city, the gates of the temple. People are going up to the temple in Jerusalem singing this psalm. This is a moment of celebration. A lot of people think this psalm was written to celebrate the completion of the temple, back when the kingdom of Israel was a military and economic power in the region. They held their heads high, and there were a lot of things to celebrate.

The psalms were the hymns of the people of God for generations, and this has been the prayerbook of the people of God for thousands of years. These songs have been sung, and read, and prayed over and over again. And repetition matters to meaning. Choruses, refrains—meaning changes with context and grows with repetition.

The way I listen to music drives my wife crazy. I love listening to new stuff, so I’m always searching through Spotify for some musician or some genera I haven’t found before. But—this is what drives Annie crazy—when I find something I like, I’ll put it on repeat. Right now it’s Billie Eilish—and I don’t care what you think, Rachael. I’ll listen to the same album, sometimes even the same song, over and over again, usually for about six months. I think it’s because I came of age with CD’s and vinyl. It took effort to change the album, and so I just got used to listening to a single album on repeat usually until Annie drives somewhere with me, and after one time through the album she would just grab the CD, or grab my phone and change it—she doesn’t even ask anymore. She was more polite when we were dating, now, fourteen years later, the long con has been accomplished.

The first time you hear a song you love, it surprises you—you notice the big moments, the rhythms. The second and third times you start noticing everything else about it. What I love is memorizing it to where I can sing it, or pick the lyrics apart in my mind, get a sense of the songwriter through it.

One of the great questions of life is how to make love endure, or even find it in the first place. The singers write songs, the writers write screenplays, but most of the time you can’t write love in a play or a song. That song and that play would have to last for generations. Most of the time in the songs and the movies, you get warm fuzzies. When I first read this psalm as a child, that’s what I took away. Warm fuzzies. It’s nice, knowing God loves me. I’ve been singing Jesus Loves Me to our daughter. I want her to know, too.

There have been moments in my life where the love of God has been repeated, like a song, like a refrain, and it gained meaning. I remember when I first really gained a sense of how broken I was, when I first called out like they do in the psalm and asked God to save me. I remember crying my eyes out with my face to the ground in gratitude that God would love someone like me. I feel that same way most days with my wife. I don’t deserve her, yet she stays and she loves me, and in that she teaches me of the steadfast love of God.

I remember a conversation I had right outside of our door with Russell, if you knew him, it was Sunday and I was walking through the door. He called over and said, “Pastor, can I ask you a question?” And I can be impatient, I didn’t really want to stop, but he looked up at me with tears in his eyes and asked me, “Why does God hate me?” And that day the meaning of this psalm changed for me. Sin has made life so hard, but God doesn’t hate you. Any of you. His love endures all things, it endures forever. It doesn’t matter, all the things you’ve done or what you’ve wasted, he loves you.

What would this psalm have meant in Jesus’ day, as people are singing it and laying their cloaks in the road? They thought Jesus had come to set them free from Rome, from sickness, from hunger, and he did, but it was even deeper than that. His love for these people was eternal. He would die, not just to set them free from sickness and oppression, but to free us from our own sin, our own mistakes and brokenness in order to live life with him everlastingly.

“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” the psalmist writes, and he meant when he wrote it that king David had been rejected by Israel and yet became the foundation of it. But in Christ this prophecy finds its true fulfillment. We rejected Jesus, but his steadfast love of us would be a foundation for us to build our lives upon. The cornerstone of a building bears the weight of the whole structure. Experienced builders would not have accepted any kind of flaw, and yet. As Christ is building his church, one by one with each of us, as he saves us, as he forgives and welcomes us, in spite of our flaws, in spite of our failures, one by one all the stones other builders would have rejected become a part of his church.

God’s love endures forever, and God’s salvation is always present. God’s salvation is always present. All of Israel poured out of Jerusalem that day and laid their cloaks on the ground to pave the way of the Lord, because they thought, after lifetimes and generations, the salvation of God had finally come. They sang the psalm because they knew they were seeing the fulfillment of the promise of salvation through the line of David.

That’s why they threw the palms down. Palms were a symbol of Jerusalem, and because of Jerusalem, King David and his descendants. They were welcoming, not just a king, but a true king. Not a puppet of Rome, but the son of David. Pouring out of the city to see him, singing, shouting hosanna. They knew the salvation they had been waiting for had finally come. But what I want you to know this morning is that the salvation of the Lord is always present.

Let me ask you, I think about this a lot—what does the life and death of Jesus Christ, nearly 2000 years ago, mean for New Orleans today? Our faith teaches us Jesus is alive today and he’s with us today, so do we still believe he’s here to save us? William Faulkner, the great author who lived for years a few blocks from here, once said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” The salvation of God is not a past event, neither is it future. We aren’t waiting for his salvation. We’ve already been given every spiritual gift in the heavenly realms. God’s salvation is always present.

I don’t mean the world is perfect. I don’t mean Christians are exempt from sin or trouble in the world. What I mean is that this Psalm has always been true and it’s always been answered. In every age, for every people, for each individual who has taken the time to read and pray it, God has been our salvation. It’s mysterious and marvelously true. “The Lord is my strength; he has become my salvation.” God’s salvation is always present. The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.

I’ll ask again, what do you need to be saved from today? If you need to be saved from your own sin and brokenness, God’s salvation is present tense, today in your life. It’s mysterious and marvelously true. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Sing hosanna with your face to the earth, and I promise you God will answer, no matter how many cracks and imperfections you have, he’s well able to build.

I’ve seen him heal the sick and change the trajectories of people’s lives. People who were on the outside, in the outer dark, have been brought into loving family. And his salvation is not just spiritual. I’ve seen addicts go into recovery and live abundantly. I’ve seen injustice turned back and oppression overturned while his people sang psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. I’ve seen captives set free and good news preached to the poor. I’ve seen the poor filled at a feast and the rich walk away empty but rejoicing. God’s salvation is present here today.

On palm Sunday, the people of Israel opened up the gates of the city, the gates of the temple, and Jesus, the prince of peace came in to heal them, to teach them truth, to forgive them, to die in their place. He stands ready to do the same for you today, whatever the need and whatever the enemy. He can be your strength and become your salvation.

Annie asked me this week as I was writing the sermon for this week, why we still celebrate Palm Sunday. We celebrate still because his work is still being done in our hearts and minds, our lives and communities. He’s still calling people up out of tombs. It’s still miraculous.

God’s love endures forever, God’s salvation is always present, and that means God is worthy of our hope. Palm Sunday, in the end, is an outpouring of hope. Hope of salvation, a hope to love and be loved, and hope is the collective groaning of all creation longing to be free from fallenness. Hope is that part of our souls which dares to believe good might triumph over evil in the end and things might turn out all right, even in times when the outlook is bleak, hope is able to believe in storylines which end in peace and joy.

All of those people who poured out of Jerusalem and laid their clothes in the dust as Jesus made his way to the temple to worship the Father, they had hope. Hope that one day they would find peace, and not the stifled peace of Rome, but the beautiful, freeing peace of the Lord as he draws all creatures to thriving in him. They had hope their sons and daughters, like my daughter, would be healed of sickness. Lord, save us, we pray. Hope that Jesus could turn back death and let them see their families again, which is a hope of redemption, redemption meaning to be wrapped up in family, they were hoping for a day when they wouldn’t need to be so alone. Lord, save us, we pray. Hope for peace, no more war, no more conflict, old men playing with children in the streets of the city.

Jesus is worthy of our hope. Any other king coming down that road might have received a similar greeting, but no other king would be worthy of it. In Christ you can be forgiven. In Christ the dead are raised to be with us again. Jesus heals every sickness in the end and makes every sad thing come untrue. Jesus is worthy of our hope. His love endures, and his salvation is always present.

Jake is going to come and lead us in a time of response. I’m going to stand in the back. If you need hope this morning, if you’re longing for steadfast love, or if you would put your face to the ground and say “Lord, save us, we pray,” come seek him this morning. When we seek him, he always makes sure he is found.

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