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March 24, 2013 - Luke 19.28-40 (Palm Sunday)

“Can’t Keep Them Quiet!”

Luke 19.28-40

March 24, 2013

 

After he 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.”

 

A great general enters the city of Jerusalem in the spring of AD 30. He has just been appointed the governor of the whole Levant, including all of Judea. His grand procession takes two hours to enter the Holy City. At the head of the parade are a thousand legionnaires followed by four hundred recent captives bound in chains as a sign of his military prowess. Then through the city gate, as drums beat and trumpets blare, rides the grand commander on a pure white warhorse. He is arrayed in silver armor. He rides his horse into the heart of the city, riding him up the steps of Herod’s great temple. He dismounts and makes an hour-long oration, after the manner of Cicero, telling these captive Jews how fortunate they are at last to be under the just, orderly government of Rome.

 

Then, as the climax of the grand day, the general makes a small offering at the altar of Apollo, just to show these Jews who is in charge, just to prove to them who is God.

 

Three years later, in the spring, there is another triumphal procession in a quite different mode.  Here comes a rabbi, followed by only a dozen of his bedraggled, country bumpkin followers, welcomed not by joyful throngs but only by a gang of children who wave palm branches and shout, “Hosanna!” He rides not on a fine charger but rather bounces in on the back of a fuzzy donkey. He is an unemployed, homeless young man who has no army and no captives to show off his power. His name is Jesus of Nazareth.

 

Jesus parades into Jerusalem just to prove to them who is God.

 

Of course, all this has a very tragic ending, because at the end of the week, the shouts change.  But we’ll get to that later.

At last Jesus makes his promised move on Jerusalem. Most of his ministry has been out in the hinterland, out in Galilee. Now he enters the capital city. Jesus is welcomed, not by the city dignitaries but rather by children waving palm branches. Those who welcome Jesus work themselves into a frenzy. Their exuberance is evident as they shout, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"

Did they say "king"? They have turned a procession with a Galilean rabbi bouncing in on the back of a donkey into a royal victory parade.

It is more than the religious leaders can take. They are outraged at the blasphemy, the impudence. "Tell your fanatical followers to shut up!" they say, or words to that effect. Jesus responds, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout."

Palm/Passion Sunday is one of the most "political" Sundays of the year. On this day there is a question before the church: "Who is in charge? Who rules?"

The little children shout that the new "king" is Jesus.

Several years ago on Palm Sunday after the palm branches had been distributed to all the children and the choir was in place in the narthex preparing to process with the children on the first hymn, someone said, "Quiet! Children, quiet! The service is beginning!"

Don't you find it curious that Jesus said, in effect, "Children, shout! Rocks, start screaming!"

As Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, bouncing in on the back of a donkey, his followers and admirers clip palm branches from the trees, waving them as he comes before them. This waving of palm branches is a sign of welcome and hospitality. Many in the crowd began to shout, "Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna, to the king!"

Jesus' critics are obviously unnerved by this political demonstration. They have worked out an arrangement between the faith of Israel and the power of Imperial Rome. They do not want the common political fanatics to disrupt the alliance that they have constructed. So Jesus' critics say, "Tell your people to shut up." They want Jesus to tame the outburst, to tone down the uproar. During Jesus' earthly life, it is estimated by scholars that there were at least 60 armed rebellions against the Roman occupation forces. People waving palm branches and shouting was a threatening sign, particularly when they were shouting that there was a new king in town.

Upon receiving the demand that he tell his followers to be quiet, Jesus says something interesting on that first Palm Sunday: "I tell you if you could quiet down these people, the very stones would shout."

There is something about Jesus that can make even a rock want to shout.

Jesus had gotten this sort of thinking from the Hebrew Scriptures where trees clap their hands for joy, the hills skip into a dance, the waves cry out, and the mountains shout. The Bible teaches that matter can sing.

Have you ever wanted to escape to the peace and quiet of nature and go camp out?  That’s a myth.  Every time I camped out in the woods, I lost sleep because of how loud nature is. I have never understood those folk who go out into the wilderness seeking "some peace and quiet." Nature is alive with sound. Long before daylight, the creatures begin calling to one another. Throughout the night, there are various cries, rustling and scuffling in the wilderness. No way you could shut up all that noise up.

One of our great hymns sings, "The heavens are telling the glory of God." This God has made even the material universe to sing, to speak up, to testify.   Even the rocks sing.  They have a story to tell.  Listen to the stones.  Hear the rocks.

What stories are the rocks around here going to tell?

I think of the great rock carving of those national leaders that we think of as heroes.  No, not Rushmore.  Although those rocks really do say something.  I’m thinking of Stone Mountain, Georgia.  Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are forever carved into that giant mountainside.  What does that rock cry out?  Does it perhaps cry out that a certain group of people or sore losers?  Does it perhaps cry out about the sin of racism?

Stones will bear witness when we are silent.  Sometime during that week, the Pharisees got the children to be quiet, and then the started screaming - for Barabbas. 

There is a church in Birmingham, Alabama called McCoy United Methodist Church. Well, it's not a church anymore. It's just an empty building. McCoy lost nearly all of its members more than a decade ago, and the building was basically given to the City of Birmingham. McCoy sits there, on the street corner, a real Gothic testimony. But a testimony to what? McCoy was one of the most active and vital churches in their Conference. But the neighborhood changed racially and the congregation of McCoy was unable to change with it. At one point, guards were placed at the door to keep African Americans from entering McCoy. It was even said that one of the Birmingham bombings during the 1960s was planned by a couple of men in a downstairs Sunday school room in McCoy.

But now McCoy church is closed. And what do those stones say? Today they say to me that God is not nice to churches who are disobedient, who refuse to be faithful to the commands of Christ. That's what the stones say.[1]

Those who want to keep a lid on things, those who have a stake in the status quo and the present order, always try to keep things quiet. They don't like noise and commotion. When Jesus entered into Jerusalem, he was entering the town as a king, a new ruler, an adversary who threatened the throne. Children, the least and the lowest, the powerless in society, began to praise and shout hosanna, something that really threatened the powers that be. "Be quiet!" said the authorities. And Jesus said, "If you silenced them, even the stones would shout."

Many times I have seen parents bring little children into the church service, saying to them, "Hush, now. Quiet down. Now is the time for church voices." I am sure that they think of "church voices" as low, soft-sounding voices, but here Jesus defends his followers with their raucous outburst. Here Jesus says that if his followers were silent, even the stones would shout. That would imply that "church voices," being the voices of Jesus' followers, need to be loud, abrasive, raucous voices.

Does Jesus not say, "Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, shall make me ashamed of him"? Does Jesus not say that they would drag us before princes and in the courts and we would not know what to say, but the Holy Spirit would tell us what to say and give us words to shout?

It appears to be the nature of this God to have a witness, to enable testimony. Little children on Palm Sunday looked at Jesus and saw who he really was. He was coming into town to take charge. He was riding in on the back of a donkey to rule. And they shouted that their deliverance was at hand. And when these little witnesses were threatened and intimidated, Jesus defiantly replied that even if the powers that be were successful in shutting them up, the very stones would cry out.   And they do. 

It is the nature of this God always to have a witness, always to raise the dead, always to have somebody to testify and tell the story. There are people in this congregation who think they are not good at public speaking. There are people right here who are shy, reserved, and self-effacing. And yet, the Holy Spirit has given you some good words to say, and by the power of God, despite resistance, you have stood up and testified. You have been a witness. I'm not calling you a "stone" but I am saying that your testimony is in itself proof of the power of God to have God's word spoken to a disbelieving world. Jesus said that he could make even the stones to shout if the shouting people around him were silent. What would a stone say when it shouts? What would be its witness? [2]

The loudest cry from a stone came a week later, when it was blown off its hinges, but that is next week’s sermon.

Unfortunately, the end to this story of Palm Sunday is about the cries of the people and not the stones.  The stones stay true to Jesus, but the cries of the people betray Christ into the hands of the enemy.  Jesus is killed.  He is crucified.  One minute Jesus and his disciples are celebrating the Passover meal, the next minute, the world is turned upside down.  The stones speak the truth even when one of his own betrays him with a kiss and the crowds call for Barabbas.  Jesus went through all of this so that you and I could have a place at this table, to remember his sacrifice.



[1] Willimon, Will: from Pulpit Resource, March 28, 2010.

[2] Copious sections inspired by Willimon in Pulpit Resource, March 28, 2010.