A Sermon for 20 March 2016 – Palm Sunday
A reading from the gospel of Luke 19:28-48. Listen for God’s word to us.
“After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?’ just say this, “The Lord needs it.’ ” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
A reading from the prophet Isaiah 50:4-9a. Listen for God’s word to us.
“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
We started this service with that beloved reading according to the gospel of Luke of that first Palm Procession down the Mount of Olives, through the garden of Gethsemane, and into the city of Jerusalem right through the Temple gate. And just in case we don’t see you again this week, let me remind you that Jesus is about to get into great big trouble! Trouble that will bring on for him what the prophet Isaiah once wrote about. . . . What a blessed day, Palm Sunday, to rehearse the story of his coming into Jerusalem. I guess we could call it triumphant – though at this point in the story, he’s really not triumphed over anything yet. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus just has welcomed into the fold Zacchaeus. It might have been one of the last straws for the religious leaders of the day because, according to the gospel of Luke, Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. And he was very rich. But he wanted to see Jesus so he climbed up a tree. Much to everyone’s shock, Jesus called Zacchaeus outta the tree and sat with him at table in his house. . . . Jesus really is starting to meddle. It all was clear before – who was in what place. Tax collectors were out. Unclean as they mingled with the Romans. And not to mention despised for all too often overcharging for their own gain. In the eyes of Jesus’ people, no one’s much lower than a chief tax collector. . . . But “he too is a son of Abraham,” Jesus declares. “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). If those in religious leadership had no reason to be furious with him before, as Jesus sits at table with Zacchaeus, now they most certainly do!
And he doesn’t stop there! He should’ve stayed out of the city. Kept his mouth shut – as some Pharisees warn when the crowd is going crazy shouting “Blessed! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38). . . . We all do our best to make sense of things. And the gospel of Luke’s got a certain understanding. Here alone the story goes that the crowds shout “blessed is the king . . . peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.” . . . This is the gospel writer who alone tells of the night of his birth. Remember at Christmas when we heard of angels singing to the shepherds? It was the in-breaking of a new kingdom. “Glory to God in the highest heaven,” they proclaimed. “And on earth, peace among those who God favors!” (Luke 2:14). . . . We miss it because words like king. Peace – often these are common for us when we think about Christ. . . . But it’s believed there was another procession into the city that week. Passover was when all the Jewish pilgrims would flock to Jerusalem. It was time to celebrate their freedom from captivity. The way God made when they were slaves in Egypt. With a merciful hand the LORD their God passed over each home marked with the blood of the lamb – the sign of the covenant. Later that night, their sandals on, their cloaks ready – the people of God escaped captivity behind the mighty staff of Moses. . . . Passover in Jerusalem was the annual reminder that God had set them free! . . . So, just to make sure they didn’t get any revolutionary ideas, each year at Passover, Rome made sure they were ready. Pilate came parading into the city too. Strong. Royal. On a warhorse, surrounded by Roman soldiers, spears in hand. As a sign of the Roman Empire – an extension of Caesar, Rome’s king – they were there to keep PEACE (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2; H. Stephen Shoemaker, p. 153). . . . The kingdoms indeed are clashing!
On one side we have Pilate, Rome’s right-hand man, ready by force to overtake any who get outta line. That’s what peace looked like for Rome. Fear, intimidation, domination, force: that’s the way in the kingdom of Rome, the way of the world. . . . Now don’t get me wrong: the Pax Romana, or the Peace of Rome, brought with it many good things. Travel suddenly was secure – possible even – on roadways Rome built all over the empire. After all, they had to have a way to move their army around. So it may not have been for the best of intentions, but still it brought movement all over the Empire for almost anyone – and in relative ease and safety. The potential for commerce boomed. Which probably was a good thing for common folks, because Rome had to have some way to pay for it all. Heavy taxes were laid upon the people – for some a crushingly cruel amount. And Rome wasn’t interested in letting you file for an extension if you thought you were going to miss the April 15th deadline. With ruthless force, Rome ensured peace. If followers of God aren’t careful, they too will mistake such ways as acceptable. It appeared as if the end justified the means. Being so deceptively sweet, such ways easily ensnare.
And in more ways than one. In the gospel of Luke’s telling of the story alone, some of the Pharisees are present as Jesus parades into the city. They’re not necessarily adversarial towards Jesus; just insistent. They want the ruckus stopped. It reads as if they represent the voice of fear. You know: that part of us that doesn’t want the boat rocked. Those voices in us that clutch us and keep us from seeking truth. That power that overtakes until we cannot act on faith. . . . Fear is a major force, played upon by any empire wanting to keep folks quiet. The threat of the cross was real in Jesus’ day. It represented execution by the state for any sort of crime against them – including inciting allegiance to One higher than the Emperor. Crosses dotted the land as a fearful threat to stay in line. Maybe these Pharisees know exactly how much trouble Jesus is in for as his followers hail him king and shout out about God’s way of peace. It’s possible they are the very same leaders who’ve warned him once before as he approached the city – sending word to him to stay away because Herod wanted him dead (Luke 13:31-35). . . . No matter. Jesus tells them God’s way will prevail; for if his followers were silent, “the stones would shout out” (Luke 19:40). No matter the pressure; creation bows only to one King.
It’s we people who quickly forget. The gospel of Luke’s telling of the story alone reminds us even further. For it reports that when Jesus rounded the bend – a bit closer to Jerusalem – he wept over it bitterly. . . . As in the days of old when prophets like Zechariah had warned against living according to the ways of force. When Habakkuk had prophesied that those unjustly betraying God’s Law and God’s people would not last long. As in the days when God’s people fell into living the ways of the world instead of being according to the ethic of Love; Jesus weeps over what it all has become. The peace he knows – the peace he brings is so very different than the enforced peace he sees. The same kind of peace we often see that benefits some and greatly diminishes others. . . . One commentator seeks to explain God’s very different kind of peace by writing: “’Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven’ is more than a song of heavenly rest and hope in the world to come. It is about the ‘kingdom of the heavens,’ as (the gospel of) Matthew called it, which has drawn near in Jesus to challenge and change the kingdoms of this world” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2; H. Stephen Shoemaker, p. 155). . . . O yes! Jesus is about to get into some very big trouble. He’s about to alienate everyone.
But why? Why does he seem to seek out the conflict? Didn’t his parents school him in not rocking the boat? Why won’t he tell his disciples to pipe down a bit – everyone’s listening? Why couldn’t he leave well enough alone – stay outta Jerusalem all together. Or at least keep a low profile and just celebrate Passover dutifully along with everybody else. Why’s he got to seemingly go looking for trouble? Which the gospel of Luke indicates he does as he heads from his Palm Parade directly into the Temple. Imagine the scene as he starts pushing out the Temple peddlers. More ruckus! Even if they just were doing their job in reference to providing proper sacrifices in remembrance to God. It’s not like it was the first time and it certainly will not be the last time the people of God have it bobbled, and what was to be a good and holy thing got turned all inside out and upside down. The church can heed the warning that too quickly can we make the worship of God about something else entirely: our gain, our entertainment, our right thought or feeling over everything else. . . . Why would you march right into Jerusalem, with a whole crowd singing your praises, only to incur further wrath as every interaction from here forward just infuriates the religious leaders even as it threatens the powers of this world?
Because he trusts another Way. For he embodies a very different kind of God. If Rome wants to portray peace as something kept by intimidation and force and even death to any challengers; then Jesus knows a prevailing power. We’d do well to remember. The gospel of Luke emphasizes – especially at the end – that Jesus represents a different kind of King. Here from the cross Jesus readily gives up his spirit. It’s an ultimate act of love – a willing sign of trust. No “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani” is here, as in the gospels of Matthew and Mark when the crucified Christ questions why God has forsaken him. . . . This king is of a different kingdom – the kingdom of true peace. Freedom. Shalom. And this Christ shall be victorious over any other power. For God’s ways of justice, mercy, everlasting love shall demolish all other ways forever – though maybe I’ve given too much of next Sunday away. . . .
“Blessed??? Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!??? Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!???” . . . Hold on . . . because all the other ways are going to do everything they can to put an end to this Way. . . . Hold on: it’s a rough ride on the way to resurrection . . .
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2016 (All rights reserved.)