A sermon for 29 March 2015 – Palm Sunday
DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!
Click here to read scripture first: http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/mark/passage/?q=mark+11:1-19
Everyone loves a parade, right? At least I hope that’s how each of you felt about our little march around the sanctuary during our first hymn this morning. I know it’s not easy to hold a hymnal, wave a palm branch, sing, and walk around without bumping into the person in front of you – or worse yet, an empty pew! But you gave it a try, so good job! . . . Parades. All the pageantry. The excitement. The drama. Sometimes parades include special costumes and certain music. Customs particular to that culture – like the annual Holland Fest parade back home in Wisconsin when in Dutch attire folks get out to scrub the streets at the front end of the parade – making way for all the fun yet to come. Do you remember as a kid how fun it was to be at parades when they threw candy and other treats out to the crowds? Sometimes it was more fun to be in the parade tossing things out and watching all the excited little children scramble for whatever they could find. I hope you’ve had such fun at parades! . . . A few of you have mentioned parades you’ve witnessed and parades you’ve been in. Mardi Gras in New Orleans – that’s all I’m going to say about that. . . . The parade of a long line of civil servants when one of their own has fallen. Marches for one cause or another that mean the world to you. Even cars trailing behind a hearse as you make your way to your beloved’s grave. All are sorts of parades.
In the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in a few different kinds of parades. Two were last week at my continuing education class at Kanuga in North Carolina. I was there for the first intensive week of Spiritual Direction Training and the formal lectures of the class were about Celtic Christian Spirituality, with its particular love of the land and attention to nature. On the eve of the Spring Equinox, March 21, we all were invited to celebrate the beginning of this new season of re-birth after the long, dark, waiting of winter. All 70some of us got in line behind one another to silently walk a labyrinth – that ancient tool for meditative prayer where step by step we go into the center as we seek to shed that which keeps us from faithful discipleship. At the center we stand open to illumination from God until again, step by step, we make our way back out of the labyrinth to live in union with God’s will for the world. . . . There we were: on the eve of the re-birth of our whole world in a parade into and out of a labyrinth to let go of whatever winter we’ve experienced in our lives and open ourselves to the new beginnings God is bringing to life in us all. The morning after that, we found ourselves again in a long line behind one another. Our morning meditation was an invitation to walk in silence outside like that – one after the other – listening to the sounds of God’s beautiful creation; listening for whatever message of harmony God had for each of us that morning. Listening, as we literally paraded one after another, listening for the wisdom of all the saints. For in that line it was as if we were walking behind them – learning from those who had gone before how we can be faithful today. . . . They were two pretty amazing parades.
I heard of another kind of parade the weekend prior when I went to go scout out the sisters at Sacred Heart Monastery which will be the site of an overnight worship field trip in June for any church member or friend who would like to attend. In meeting with one of the sisters there that weekend, she shared a bit about her work in the early 1980s. She had been off at another monastery trying to find herself when she received word she was to come back home to Sacred Heart. Their diocese was receiving about two dozen overseas refugees and the sister was to come back to organize ministry with them. Somewhere around her fifth fairly-sheltered decade in this world, her work with those refugees brought her face to face with a parade of the Ku Klux Klan. A long line of bitterness that would not see the image of God in the face of all others. It’s the kind of parade that runs shivers up and down our spines just to think about it.
The biblical account doesn’t record them both, but history verifies that two parades were taking place that day Jesus was entering the city. From the west, in came Pontius Pilate. One commentator describes the scene of that parade well. He writes: “When the governor Pilate comes into Jerusalem, he enters the city from the west with an excessive show of military pomp and circumstance” (Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, 2014, Wolfgang H. Stahlberg, p. 338). Supposedly Pilate didn’t like being in Jerusalem with their provincial ways and religious fervor. But Rome required he be there for all three of the annual Jewish pilgrimages to Jerusalem – especially for this one at Passover, when the people of God gathered to celebrate God’s historic liberation of them from the cruel, unjust experience of domination by Egypt. As the local agent of Rome, Pilate had to be present for Passover in Jerusalem to ensure those Jews didn’t get any funny ideas again about throwing off the chains of foreign occupation. So: in parades Pilate with an impressive cavalry and foot soldiers all around. Clip-clop go the sounds of hundreds of horseshoes with military commands and drum beats to keep everyone in step. The commentator writes: “Pilate represents the emperor himself, the ‘son of god,’ ‘lord of all,’ and ‘savior of the world.’ His entry into Jerusalem is clearly a demonstration of the ever-present Roman power” (Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, 2014, Wolfgang H. Stahlberg, p. 338, 340).
And then, from the East. He had traveled the five days’ walk from the Galilee with his faithful disciples. They might have thought they just were going into Jerusalem as they were to do three times every year for the annual Jewish pilgrimages of Passover, Shavuot (or Weeks), and Sukkot (of the Festival of Tents or Booths). They all knew what was happening on the other side of the city. Jesus and his followers were faithful Jews. How often had they seen or at least heard the pomp and circumstance of Rome’s figurehead? If they were attuned at all to what Jesus had been saying – three times now – they might not have been celebrating as much as they ended up doing. Something in the way the gospel of Mark tells this story gives us a clue into their hopes. As Jesus makes his own parade into town down that steep, curvy path from the Mount of Olives right through the city gate unto the Temple mount, Mark records that “those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’” (Mark 11:9-10). Ooohhh! Shivers, shivers, shivers should be running up and down our spines as we hear these shouts. For hosanna: the literally translation being: help now or save us now?! (Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, 2014, Shively T.J. Smith, p. 341). These folks are crying out for the long-awaited ancestor of their great King David to establish the unified throne in Jerusalem once again. At least that seems clear from the way the gospel of Mark records the scene, what with their shouts of blessing for the coming kingdom of their ancestor David and their save us. Save us now! . . . It’s a very dangerous parade to hail the one entering from the opposite side of the city – the one parading not in all the pomp and circumstance of immense military might. But the one humbly accepting his path of self-giving love for the life of all the world.
It begs the question: which parade will we follow? Which parade do we follow? . . . His is going to lead to a cross first because the powers of this world won’t easily be outdone. They’ll hang him up and expect it all to be over, this talk of unity and grace and catching the glimmer of God in every God-created and God-cherished human being. They’re hoping for an end to people coming together to live lives that give glory not to the emperor but to our Divine Creator. The powers of this world thought they could do away with any sort of hope in lives of freedom to be precious temples of the Holy Spirit who follow the very same pattern of giving of self for the good and benefit of another. They thought on that cross they’d snuffed Love out so that you and I would fall in line behind them. Join their parade of control through fear and might and addiction to more. . . . It’s a dangerous parade this Jesus makes on his way to revealing the One LORD in full. . . . From that young colt, with a smile on his lips and a glimmer in his eye, he whispers to us all: “Come. Get in line. Won’t you follow me?”
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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