Signs

A Sermon for Palm Sunday; The Liturgy of the Palms: Luke 19:28-40, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, The Liturgy of the Word: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 23:1-49, Psalm 31:9-16

Today we have returned to the traditional Palm Sunday format. For the last several years we have not read the Passion, today we return to that tradition, sort of. I will continue to focus on the reading preceding the procession of Palms, our reenactment of Jesus triumphal entry. I choose to do this because this is a pivotal moment in our Lenten life, a time to reflect upon our reflections. We will have time to reflect on Jesus’ Passion, ~ ~ on Good Friday. Between today and then, you are invited to attend Blytheville’s Holy Week services, schedules are on the hall table. If you cannot you are invited to find ways you can observe this most holy of weeks; there are prayers for every day in Holy Week beginning on pg. 220 (BCP).

The week before last, as I was pondering these next 8 days Les Emmerson’s song Sign Sign Everywhere A Sign played on the radio sparking a thread of thoughts (Emmerson). Emmerson writes about all the rules that surround us. Rules that tell us

  • how to wear our hair;
  • that trespassers will be shot;
  • what we have to wear;
  • where we can and cannot watch, or sit, or eat;
  • that tell us we ain’t supposed to be here; and
  • that we don’t have the right membership.

All those signs remind me of Paul’s list of sins, the things we aren’t supposed to do. If you go looking you will find a list of Paul’s lists. There are lists of

  • sins,
  • sufferings,
  • trials,
  • credentials,
  • spiritual gifts,
  • outcomes of sin,
  • his sins,
  • his accomplishments, and

Given Paul’s background as a Pharisee, the origins of their teaching rules to help the Jewish people keep God’s law, his lists make sense, they could be helpful. Unfortunately, the rules of the Law became the ends in themselves for the Pharisees. I’m concerned Paul’s lists, especially of sins and vices, in our hands, have become ends in themselves. The focus is so much on do this don’t do that, where we can be and that we aren’t supposed to be there, that God’s everlasting, always, everywhere present forgiveness, grace, and love gets lost.

Since Christmas, actually, since Advent, we have been hearing stories of signs. Some stories are full of signs. Some stories are signs. Taken together it is clear God is up to something. This morning a crowd of fishermen, tax collectors, Samaritans, harlots, blind men, demoniacs, and cripples, a ragtag bunch of, pathetically unfit, long sick women, lepers, more cripples, and blind (Culpepper) and everyday people ignore the signs of their long history of occupation and oppression, the signs that tell them they cannot gather, that welcoming this itinerate rabbi, whose birth was announced by angels, and proclaimed by shepherds, who welcomes them, cleans them, raises their dead, and arrives on a colt, to chants of Hosanna, is a highly subversive act of treason (Tew). This morning we witness Jesus’ continuing resistance to the temptation to act in his own self-interest and choosing to follow the path given by divine vision, choosing to challenge religious and political power (Epperly).

Our world is as full of signs as Jesus’ world, and Emmerson’s worlds were. There are signs that tell us,

  • where to go,
  • what to do,
  • where we are welcome, and
  • to stay out.

We have our own signs, that tells others,

  • where to go,
  • what to do,
  • where they are welcome, and
  • to stay out.

There all sorts of signs, all sorts of expectations, all sorts of temptations to act for our own behalf. Like so many things acting our own behalf is a mix of decisions. Sometimes such a decision is a faithful thing, sometimes it is falling to temptation.

This week Joan Chittister wrote about the sixth step of Benedict of Nursia’s sixth-century program of spiritual development. It is “Be content with the lowest and most menial treatment,” meaning that life without expectations is a much happier place to be. More importantly, being content with the least allows you to be who you are, where you are — nothing more, and most importantly nothing less, (Chittister). Because as Jesus’ life and ministry, from Christmas to today, reveals, you are beloved children of God, who every day witness the signs of the peace of heaven right here on earth.

The last verse of the sign song is:

And the sign said, “Everybody welcome.
Come in, kneel down and pray”
But when they passed around the plate
at the end of it all
I didn’t have a penny to pay
So I got me a pen and a paper
and I made up my own little sign
I said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me.
I’m alive and doin’ fine.”

It is a curiously Lenten verse. You know Lent is a season of repentance. Our tendency is to think in terms of saying “sorry” or giving up some evil passion (like chocolate) or taking on some good act (like sending a bag of canned food to the food pantry) to make up for the sinful ones. All that misses the core meaning of the word which is to change direction. In the end, the sign ranter finds his contentment at the least, he discovers who he is, where he is, and he is thankful for it.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign; this is a week to ignore all the signs, the ones that exclude you and especially the ones that include you. This is a week to seek contentment; to be who you are, where you are. As the times of our lives are getting darker, this week will get darker and darker; today’s cries of “Halleluiahs” will become shouts of “Crucify him!” We will need all of who we are because as the darkness grows, we will be tempted to believe that the light is faltering. It is an opportune sign (Luke 4:13).


References

Chittister, Joan. “From Where I Stand – step-6-it-possible-be-contented-even-disappointments.” National Catholic Reporter. 10 4 2019. <ncronline.org/news/opinion/where-i-stand/step-6-it-possible-be-contented-even-disappointments>.

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Emmerson, Les. “Sign Sign Everywhere A Sign.” Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, n.d. 10 4 2019. <google.com/search>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 14 4 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Tew, Anna. “Protesters, Palm Sunday (C).” 14 4 2018. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/protesters-palm-sunday-c-april-14-2019>.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

 

 

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