This sermon was delivered March 24, 2013 at Condon United Church of Christ. Listen to it here.
Getting off their private jets the executives, in their crisp white shirts and well-tailored Italian suits, were ushered to waiting black limousines for the journey to the downtown hotel.
Getting out of church, the people in their holey socks and their out-of-fashion Sunday-best, moved to the parking lot where they prepared to walk to the downtown hotel where the oil executives were meeting.
Arriving at the hotel, the executives were ushered into the lush room, where they were served a delectable meal topped off by the pastry chef himself serving the flaming dessert. As the executives, in their crisp white shirts and well-tailored Italian suits, lingered over coffee, they looked out the window. If they’d looked down they would’ve seen the ragtag church group arriving at the hotel.
Gathering in the church parking lot, the people, in their holey socks and their out-of-fashion Sunday best, ate sandwiches and grapes. Their meal was topped off as a Tupperware container of Aunt Ernestine’s homemade chocolate chip cookies was passed around.
As the churchfolk, and others who had joined them, began their walk downtown they held signs high and shouted, “Out of South Africa!” and “Hey Ho! Apartheid Got to Go!” They stopped at multiple Shell gas stations along the way to shame patrons who bought their gasoline from a business that perpetuated the racist apartheid system in a country far away.
Nearing the downtown hotel, the people, in their holey socks and out-of-fashion Sunday best, walked through canyons of skyscrapers where their singing and chants for justice echoed off banks and luxury hotels.
The executives, in their crisp white shirts and their well-tailored Italian suits, giving little thought to those far below, moved into the well-appointed meeting room. The oil executives met high above the people, in their holey socks and out-of-fashion Sunday best. The oil executives met faraway from the women and men and children in South Africa as they looked at financials and strategies. Profits and risks.
Immersed in power, they couldn’t imagine any rational reason to stop doing business in South Africa just because a few whiny churchfolk didn’t like apartheid. Far below on the street, the justice-seeking churchfolk and those who joined them, imagined a world where, in the words of the prophet Amos, “justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
And in the end, those who ate sandwiches and grapes topped off with Aunt Ernestine’s homemade chocolate chip cookies applied enough pressure on those who ate delectable meals topped off by the pastry chef himself serving the flaming dessert… In the end they applied enough pressure and changed the course of history.
The majority in South Africa and their justice-seeking allies around the world could not be silenced because they knew that even if they were silenced, the stones themselves would shout! In the end, they applied enough pressure and the racist system of apartheid fell.
Our gospel passage this morning is a rich tapestry with many layers of meaning. I suppose that’s a good thing as we hear this story in one form or another each year. It is a part of all four gospels. Most respected scholars believe that Mark was written first. The writers of the other gospels used Mark as a resource as they wrote their interpretation of Jesus’ life.
Luke has his perspective as do each of the other gospel writers. Sometimes the facts of the gospels vary. For example, did Jesus preach the sermon on the mount or on the plain? Did magi or shepherds visit young Jesus? And today, did the people wave palms or did they lay their cloaks along Jesus’ path as he entered Jerusalem? Or perhaps they did both.
Worrying — or worse, arguing — about factual details, however, can distract us from God’s voice. Either way, the details each gospel writer chose to include give us a hint of how he or she experienced God. An interesting aspect of Luke’s version is that those who cheer are already disciples of Jesus. That is, though it is more than the twelve apostles, the people of Jerusalem do not come running out to embrace and cheer on Jesus.
In fact, it is the religious leaders of Jerusalem who tell Jesus to silence his followers. Hear verse 39 again:
Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!” Luke 19:39 CEB
Jerusalem was believed in the Jewish tradition of the time, to be “the point of contact between heaven and earth.” (FOTW, loc. #5565) Here’s my point, or rather Luke’s point, the religious leaders in the holiest city were offended by the loud praise Jesus’ disciples were heaping on God. They were bothered by people praising God. In verse 37,
They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. Luke 19:37b CEB
And the religious leaders didn’t like it. They tell Jesus to tone down the rhetoric of his people. The people of Jerusalem — who did not come running out to greet the arriving Jesus — are unable to hear God’s voice through Jesus. The story for Luke, according to one scholar is “not about God’s kingdom but the reality against which Jesus proclaims God’s kingdom.” (FOTW, loc. #5585)
And, so, our Palm Sunday processional is about praising God in difficult times. It is about doing God’s work even when all those around us seek to hush us.
I think about the UCC’s brave action — the wider church’s voice of justice that spoke out early on behalf of our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers because they perceived it as where God calls this denomination.
I think about those who occupied Wall Street because they perceived the Spirit calling them to protest economic injustice, because they believed opportunities are for all of God’s people not just some.
Arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus is not greeted with accolades and joy from all. In fact, he rides a colt into a hotbed of resistance. That is bravery. That is listening to the luring voice of God even when there’s a risk. That is taking God seriously.
And, so, when the religious leaders tell Jesus to control his disciples, to quiet down their praise of God, he says, No. He tells them that even if his followers were quiet, the stones themselves would be shouting praise.
Though I don’t believe Jesus knew all the ins and outs of how the next week would play out for him, he knew that it’s risky to follow God’s will. But he also knew who to trust. He knew that that in the end, God’s extravagant love always wins.
And so, just as my story of the oil executives and the protesting churchfolk, offered two very different paths to the downtown hotel, the writer of Luke offers us a glimpse of two very different paths into Jerusalem.
Prefect Pontius Pilate, in the rigid and harsh uniform of an oppressor, entered Jerusalem accompanied by horses, chariots, and soldiers in gleaming armor. The Roman leader stayed in a palace and maintained his power with force and wealth.
I suspect that Pilate was focused on maintaining order as people flooded into Jerusalem for the Passover. He also probably was convinced that with the army he’d brought with him, he could — and would — maintain order. He could — and would — maintain the status quo of Roman oppression in Israel.
But on the other side of town, in an ordinary robe and sandals, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem riding a colt. His ragtag disciples are overcome with joy. They praise not him but God because of all that they have witnessed. They praise the One from whom all things flow. While in Jerusalem, Jesus will stay in a commoner’s home as a guest.
He was focused not on himself, not on keeping order but on God and he willingly followed the Divine claim on his life. He knew that whatever would come over the next week, that God’s extravagant love for him would win in the end.
Beginning this holy week, may we fully trust in the One who beckons us through difficult times. May we trust that despite betrayal, humiliation and torture, despite whatever may befall us, that God’s love remains with us.
May we reflect that love to everyone with whom we meet. May we seek God’s justice for all and love with abandon.