Monday, March 21, 2016

Palm Sunday Sermon

Gracious God, you are the source of life and love; Be present with us today in the Palms & in the Passion that your Word may inform our minds and your Spirit inflame our hearts; then send us out with that life and love and knowledge for all who seek you. Amen.

Holy Week began with peace and excitment.

His disciples and other followers – laying down garments of clothing, palm branches, shouting Hosanna! They were talking about peace.

You can sense the love that people had for Jesus and how the crowd was around him, expecting wonderful things; but there were others watching Jesus, those who feared his arrival. Some among the Jewish leadership were not convinced that Jesus was the messiah, some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop as he entered Jerusalem." Jesus answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out." The same Jesus who challenged authority in the villages, by the sea, out in the highways and byways had now come to Jerusalem.

It was not time to back down, even the stones would shout out… “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"

But that peace would not last long…For in that same week, there was another grand procession. This one began at the Roman Governor’s capital of Caesarea on the coast. Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, and his imperial cavalry had come to Jerusalem to reinforce the troops there. Pilate who oversaw Jerusalem and all of Israel for the Roman Empire, was there to make sure there was no trouble during the Jewish Passover. The entrance procession of Jesus into Jerusalem with shouts from the people of blessed is the king, would have made the Romans take notice.

The next day when Jesus threw the merchants out of the Temple, he would not only have angered the Jewish authorities who were looking for a way to arrest him, but also the Romans, who would want to quell the disturbance created by Jesus and his disciples. Jesus understood that through his actions, and the actions of his disciples and the crowd that he was confronting power and authority in a way that would change the world but also lead to his death…

As William Stringfellow wrote, “The real witness of Palm Sunday is not the parade or what the disciples or secular authorities saw; it is the encounter between Christ and the power of death.”

By Jesus own actions, it put him in the sights of the empire that would destroy anyone who would not live by their Pax Romana. Jesus confronted the power of death in the occupying imperial empire of Rome, centered in the holiest place, Jerusalem. As two authors put it, “The contrast is clear: Jesus versus Pilate, the nonviolence of the kingdom of God versus the violence of empire. Two arrivals, two entrances, two processions—and our Christian Lent is about repentance for being in the wrong one and preparation to abandon it for its alternative.” (Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan)

When Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him, it is a call to follow him not only in the triumphant entrance to Jerusalem, but throughout Holy Week from celebration, to betrayal, to abandonment, to the cross, to follow his way and not the way of Pilate and empire.

We are called to follow the one who came in the name of love and peace, who rode humbly on a donkey, who threw out the merchants so God’s house could be a house of prayer for all people. The one who confronted death with his life. We are challenged to repent of our allegiance to the way of prosperity and power and to once again follow the way of the cross. To shout out with the crowd and those stones: Hosanna! Blessed is the King! May Peace reign!

And our voices join many others…

They never imagined that this would happen to their families. How could it, in their affluent neighborhoods and well-funded schools? What did they miss? What could they have done? But it happened. Each of these families has buried a son or daughter who died of a heroin overdose. Now they have banded together in their grief to warn other families of the epidemic of heroin in their children's schools and to mobilize medical and legislative resources to deal with the issue of easy-to-obtain hallucinogens and opioids among kids. These parents are the very voice of "the stones crying out."

Their church was shattered by the murders last June: a young white racist, welcomed into their Wednesday evening Bible Study, suddenly stood and opened fire, killing nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The murderer sought to ignite a race war - but the church and community responded with forgiveness and grace instead of anger and vengeance. They came together in the spirit of Jesus, and his call for reconciliation and mercy. In their Christ-like response to the tragedy that struck their families and church, "the stones cry out."

They stand up for the invisible people, those pushed to the margins, those whose religion, culture and gender make them the scapegoats for a community's fears and anger. They work tirelessly and unceasingly - and stubbornly - to push back against the unjust laws and hateful rhetoric that condemn others to lives of endless poverty and dashed hopes. In their advocacy for the poor and displaced, the victimized and the forgotten, the "stones cry out." (Connections)

This Palm Sunday invites us to walk with Jesus on the road to Calvary and to raise our voices, shouting our Hosannas, crying out like those stones, bearing witness to the Jesus we follow.

For our Hosanna is not just a hymn happily sung at the beginning of the journey; our Hosanna is most beautifully intoned when we raise our voices in compassion, in the work of securing justice for all, in our selfless and generous efforts at reconciliation and peace. May we enter this Holy Week with hearts open to hearing the "stones" crying out for justice and mercy and peace in our own Jerusalems & the places of violence and hate with the Holy Spirit impelling us to add our own voices to theirs...

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"


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