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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An Uncertain Pilgrimage

A Sermon for Palm Sunday:
            The Palms: Mark 11:1-11, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
            The Word: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:15-19                        The Passion: Mark 15:1-39, [40-47]

 We don’t often get to hear the two stories together. They are part of the same story within Mark’s Gospel story of Jesus’ unexpected journey to Golgotha. It just might raise awareness of the unexpected journey that you that we are on. It is a story fraught with mystery (Hoezee). It invites you to confess what is disturbingly mysterious in your life right now.

Jesus’ journey begins on a borrowed colt. Roman soldiers’ commandeered animals for their use, all the time (Keener and Walton). The promise to return the colt makes Jesus’ request different, so, we know this story is different (Perkins). Animals that have never been ridden are often preferred as dedications to God (Keener and Walton). It also reminds Jesus’ disciples of Zechariah’s return to Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9) which draws on Jacob’s last words to his sons assuring them the scepter, the staff of office will never leave Judah (Gen 49:10) (Harrelson; Gaventa and Petersen, Zech.). Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is deeply steeped in Israel’s history, full of promise.

The people are perhaps aware of the stories. Even if they are not, they shout “Hosanna” they shout “Save us” (Gaventa and Petersen Mark) they shout “Savior” (Lose). Their shouts express their hopes, pleas, dreams, needs, and expectations. They are worn out by continual occupations. They want to be welcomed as friends in the promised land. They hope to improve day to day life. There hasn’t much hope for a long, long time. So, they turn to Jesus.

Their expectations are also steeped in history. Throwing their garments in front of Jesus is a reflection of religious festivals and the army commanders throwing their cloaks on the bare steps for Jehu as he had been anointed King over Ahab (2 Kings 9:13) (Keener and Walton; Harrelson; Perkins)

We are used to this being a triumphal entry. But not so much for Mark. He avoids this sense by keeping the celebration on the road and out of the city (Perkins). A reason that at this early point in the story there is an air of uncertainty (Epperly).

When Jesus gets to Jerusalem he goes directly to the Temple, takes a look, and then goes to a nearby town because it is late in the day. This is a curious decision given all the effort to get there and it adds to the air of uncertainty. The next thing we hear is that Jesus is at the Temple. Temple is huge covering more than a quarter of Jerusalem (Keener and Walton). It is also prominent in the life of Jews. It is where God lives; it is the only place where you can offer required sacrifices. It is intended to be a house of prayer for everyone (Keener and Walton; Perkins). Jesus’ “house of prayer” is a reference to Isaiah’s proclamation that the foreigner, the eunuch, all those who choose to keep Sabbath and God’s ways, all those who love the name of the Lord, who are God’s servants God will bring to God’s holy mountain, give them a place, a name. God will make them joyful in God’s house of prayer, accepting their offerings and sacrifices because God’s is a house of prayer for all people. (Isaiah 56:3-7) (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson).

Unique to Mark is Jesus keeping anyone from carrying anything across the Temple grounds, probably meaning through the gentile court, which was open to anyone. Not much written about this verse. Still, it strongly suggests that Jesus has authority in/over the Temple (Perkins).

Our story ends with Jesus leaving the city at evening. The prior verse And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him (Mark 11:18). leaves the air of uncertainty even more uncertain.

As we heard, Jesus’ entry captures the hopes, pleas, dreams, needs, and expectations of a crowd of people who were worn out by occupation. What has worn you out? Where or to whom do we look to save us; to be our savior? Do we, like ancient Israel did, ask for a King “to fight our battles for us” (1 Samuel 8:20)?

Jesus and his disciples are not the only visitors in the Temple. It is Passover, Israel’s biggest festival. Jerusalem is crowded, they had to leave town to find lodgings. Would you leave home, journey across the county, the state, the country, the empire for a Holy Week or for an Easter pilgrimage (Perkins)? Jesus’ presence in the Temple assures you that you are welcome, there, or where ever you are, whoever you are, just as you are. It is an extension from Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the 1st Temple (2 Chron 6:32).

Bruce Epperly notes that Philippians invites us to look at our all our decision-making in terms of relationships rather than power (Epperly). Do you, do we seek salvation on our terms, or are we willing to be transformed by our relationship with God? Are we willing to acknowledge that Rome, or China, or Russia or whoever they are is not the threat to our lives? Are we ready to confess that we ~ are the threat to our lives (Lose)? Even as we seek safety from the many forms of harm others may do, or seek to do us, will we confront our own complicity in violence and injustice, so that our relationships with them may be healed? Will we accept the need for our own thoughts, known and unknown about other people, money, and social bounds to be transformed, so that we don’t give in to demonization and so that our relationships with the others may be healed (Epperly)?

Since the moment of our baptism, our confirmation we have been wandering through the wilderness. We call our journey many things. We seek all kinds of individual, social, physical, emotional, and spiritual forms of shalom to make us whole. We have just heard the story of one pilgrimage to a point of shalom. We have witnessed through holy writ the first step of the final commitment. Today begins Holy Week. Today you are invited to commit to entering the shadowed valley (Ps 23). The goal is freedom from the continual devilishly appealing whisper that You too can be like God. The uncertainty challenges our wisdom, our belief, our trust. Today the beginning of your pilgrimage is right here, right now.

 


References

Cox, Jason. Sacrifice, Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday (B). 25 3 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 25 3 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 11:1-11. 25 3 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lose, David. Palm/Passion B: Cries, Confusion, Compassion. 25 3 2018.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Ruge-Jones, Philip. Commentary on Mark 14:1-15:47. 25 3 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. GrandRapids: Academie Books, 1978.

 

 

A Grand Affair To That Uncomfortable Feeling

A sermon for Palm Sunday

Of the Psalms:  Matthew 21:1-11
Of the Word: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11,
Of the Passion: Matthew 26:14- 27:66

It is our tradition to read the Passion Gospel at the end of the service. The sermon is preached after the Gospel in the Liturgy of the Word.

 


You may recall that way back in the first week in February we went to celebrate my Dad’s 90th Birthday party. Everyone was there. All 5 children and spouses; 20 grandchildren and spouses and 10 + great grandkids; and an additional four cousins who live nearby and a some very close long – long time friends were there. There were so many folks there we actually had three different parties; one for friends where Dad lives, one for the rest of us who have birthdays in February, and there are a host of them, and finally the grand affair on Saturday night. And we all had a marvelous time.

That meant we were traveling on home Sunday the 5th. So, we were on the road for the 1st half of super bowl 51; no big deal, except that I follow the Falcons. We got home got unpacked found the game about halftime and the Falcons had this glorious 21 to 3 lead. And then I saw Julio Jones catch a stupendous touchdown pass, wonderful; we had a 28 to 3 lead. And then I made a mistake. I looked at the stats; and the Patriots led in every single category, except for the score. I instantly recalled the last three games; the Falcons had huge leads and had to hold on for dear life to win. I had this bad feeling; we had been here before especially in the last couple of years. And I had witnessed the Patriots’ propensity, for the inexplicable victory. You know the end of the story the Falcons lose 31 – 28; it was the biggest collapse in Super Bowl history.

This morning we started with a grand affair. It was not a re-enactment of Jesus Triumphal entry; it was more than that. It was an active remembrance of Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem and our role in that story. We felt all the glory, and the laud, and the honor. We are caught up in all the hope and promise. We are certain that the Son of Man is on the ascendency, and soon he will throw out corrupt Jewish officials, he will drive out the oppressive Roman Empire. We will be free.

After his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus’ first stop is the Temple. This makes sense; the Temple is God’s home on earth. When he gets there, he turns over all the bankers’ tables who are exchanging foreign coins for Jewish coins, so that Jewish pilgrims can buy sacrificial animals. And then he drives out everyone who is selling sacrificial animals, likely setting all the animals free.

We are used to hearing this called Jesus cleansing the Temple. But this is not so accurate because he doesn’t quote scripture about ritual defilement and cleansing. He cites Jeremiah (7:11) who is criticizing the people who after committing egregious acts of injustice run go hide in Temple, behind its rituals and sacrifices. Jesus does this as the Son of David, heir to the long-lost throne of Israel. It is interesting to note the officials do not express concerned with the disruption, of the banking and animal businesses. They don’t say anything at all. But on his way, out, Jesus heals the blind and the lame, who are usually prohibited from the Temple grounds just as they are excluded from Jewish society as a whole. But what gets the officials’ attention is the children shouting Hosanna to the Son of David (Matthew 21:15). Actually, this makes them angry. I actually suspect, it makes them very much afraid. Matthew writes Jesus abandons them … [and] spends the night in Bethany (Boring, Harrelson)

We have been here before; we have had that uncomfortable feeling, many years ago. [dark voice] We know prophecies of destruction, [darker voice] and we know what happened. [pause] [lighter voice] There are no such prophecies today, and shouts of Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest heaven! (NRSV Matthew 21:9) still, resonate in our ears. And yet … [long pause] that uneasiness hangs in the air. One wonders ~ what collapse ~ is about to befall us?


References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

Blind As We Are, We Can See

A sermon for the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday: Luke 19:28-40; 41-44

There are all these people surrounding Jesus. They are shouting, waving palm branches, throwing cloaks and branches on the ground in front of him. Jesus is riding a donkey; it has never been ridden before. We don’t know if the crowd knows. Luke’s audience knows, and they catch the sacred implications; the quiet reference to the Temple sacrificial cult rites.  (Fretheim). Luke’s audience knows Israel’s history. They know Solomon rode a donkey before he was crowned King. The know the story of Elisha sending a member of the company of prophets to anoint Jehu King.  That the army’s commanders spread their cloaks for him on the bare steps as they proclaim their acceptance of Jehu being anointed King (2 Kings 9:1, 13). Luke’s audience knows how foreign warriors and royals have entered occupied or conquered cities. They have seen, the Romans ride in majesty. (Brueggmann). The people catch the reference to Zechariah’s prophecy that Israel’s “… king comes to you; triumphant and victorious … humble and riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9) (Harrelson).

The crowd’s shouting

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!

is eerily similar to the Angel choir singing at Jesus birth (Luke 2:14) (Gaventa and Petersen). This return of the King is joyous and hope-filled; it is real; it is happening now.

Who cares if the Pharisees object! What else would you expect? That is all they ever do. King Jesus knows God is present; he knows the earth herself knows who he is, and supports his coming. The crowd knows Jesus’ entry recalls the ancient foreboding prophetic oracles of judgment; they know, he knows righteousness.  (Hab. 2:9) (Olive tree). Everything is great; everything is exactly what the people, who have for so long been looking for someone to fight their battles for them, would expect (1 Sam 8:20).

And then Jesus begins to cry, he weeps.  His lament is for Jerusalem, implicitly for all Israel, implicitly for them, the people in the crowd, possibly Luke’s audience.  And us? What is it that Jerusalem is missing? What is it that we are missing? Other memories begin to arise. Jesus’s lament sounds way too familiar to Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem all those years ago (Harrelson). And since Luke is writing after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 7o AD, this story sounds much too close to this calamity (Fretheim).  We should know, we heard it just a few weeks ago; Luke’s readers know, they would have just heard it; it wasn’t all that long ago that Jesus said something similar, how he wished to save Jerusalem, but they weren’t willing (Luke 13:31) (Brueggmann). How can a vision of Jerusalem’s destruction fit with her new king’s victorious entry?

Looking back, Luke knows and shares, how the city, Jerusalem, Israel, the people were blind to Jesus’ true identity, to God’s true presence (Fretheim). Although they could see their world, they were blind to the truth that confronted them. They could see, yet were blind.

So I am wondering, how we see, but don’t? I am wondering, how are we seeking someone to fight our battles, war-like and otherwise, for us? I’m wondering, what else Jesus’ lament, which now includes Shiloh, Flanders Field, Guadalcanal, Selma, Little Rock, Memphis, the Tet Offensive, Oklahoma City, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ferguson MO., Paris, and Flint Michigan, includes? I’m wondering, when I, when we ~ failed to see God’s presence.

The final verses of Blind to the Truth read:

Now there’s laws that we must live by
and they’re not the laws of man
Can’t you see the shadow
Can’t you see the shadow
that moves across this land
The future is upon us
and there’s so much we must do
And you know I can’t ignore it
and my friend neither can you

Unless you’re blind to the truth,
blind to the truth
And you can’t see nothing
You’re so blind to the truth,
blind to the truth
But the judgment day is coming   (Fogelberg).

 

However, we should not be despondent.  Luke’s image is complex, despondent, and hopeful, all at the same time. Times are frightening; but, all is not lost.  Yes, Jesus’ lament expresses grief over past losses and acceptance of losses to come. At the same time, there is also the expression of love for what could have been, and for what can be; what is to be. There is the revelation of divine energy to carry on.  Jesus’ lament includes love that is available to inspire us and energy that is available empower us, for the week to come and all time thereafter. Judgment is always just over the horizon, but the love of God is right here, right now, look and see. And, remember ~ Jesus heals all sorts of blindness (Mark 8:22-26, Mark 10:46-52, Matt. 9:27-31;20:29-34, Luke 18:34-53) (Sakenfeld).  So blind as we are, we can see (John 9:25).

 

References

Bruggemann, Walter. New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus. Vol. 1. n.d. 12 vols.

Fretheim, Terence E. INTERPRETATION Exodus. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Olivetree. Olivetree Cross Reference. n.d.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

 

 

We learn it from the figs

A sermon for Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:1-11 (Procession), Mark 11:12-14 (Eucharist Gospel), Mark 14:1 – 15:47) (Passion)

In my four years of high school, our football team won twelve games, six of those in one year. Save that one, the Home Coming parade was a grand affair, almost. Yes, there always were class floats, and there always were class beauty queens, and there always were cheer leaders, and there was even the occasional school club thing. Everyone was there, students, teachers, parents, some folks from prior classes, some younger siblings. Everyone cheered. Regardless of the celebratory cheers there was a sense of the inevitable. We knew what that evening’s results would be, it would not be pretty, and sometimes it could be ugly, once really ugly, 62 points ugly.

Waving our palms, parading in to “… sweet hosanna ring….”  feels a lot like those home coming parades. In one sense its full of expectations, finally all our long held hopes and dreams are going to be fulfilled. Shortly victory will be ours. Our enemy will be vanquished, and we will be free of oppression. Life will be as it is supposed to be. We will reign supreme. All those whom we long feared, will bow in submission to us.

So why this uneasy sense? So why does Jesus cursing a fig tree make the hair on the backs of our necks stand up?

It’s an odd little story, all of two verses. There are figs all around, Bethphage means house of unripe figs; Bethany means house of figs, (Sakenfeld, 2009) and where the whole Lazarus thing happens; and it got everyone’s attention. Figs or no figs, where is the story going?

Throughout scripture figs are a common prophetic parallel for Israel. Sometimes indicating peace and prosperity. (Sakenfeld, 2009) Though Jeremiah, Joel and Micah compare Israel to a fruitless fig tree.  (Petersen & Gavenat, 2010) Will there be prosperity or failure?

That it is not the season for figs perhaps foreshadows high expectations, of the so recent joyous welcome, and deep disappointment everyone silently fears. Israel’s prior fruitlessness preceded time of divine judgement. (Petersen & Gavenat, 2010) Is judgement at hand? Whose?

Jesus’ curse emphasizes the downward spiral of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. (Harrelson, 2003) And all this happens in the shadow of the Mount of Olives the site of the bitter battle between David and Absalom. And also the site of God’s ultimate victory revealed by Zechariah. (14:1ff) (Petersen & Gavenat, 2010)

Is this the time for final victory or yet another defeat? I wonder ~ I wonder.


References

Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.

Petersen, D. L., & Gavenat, B. R. (2010). New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press.

Sakenfeld, K. D. (2009). New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon.

A sermon for Palm Sunday

A sermon for Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:5-11, Psalm 31:9-16, Matthew 21:1-11, 12-17 *

It is the best Saturday Night Live bit ever, and its presented years before SNL was, years before TV was a glimmer in some scientist’s eye. Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem leaves no authority unscathed.

Ever since Jerusalem got conquered the first time, there is a tradition of the conquering king or general entering the city mounted on war horse and parading through the city, with troops behind, as a symbol of dominance. It’s common throughout the history; look at depictions of conquering forces, and most always there is a parade of some sort. I recall seeing photographs of German forces parading through Paris in WII. Jesus mocks it all. He enters Jerusalem; riding a donkey the colt of a donkey, (no he’s not riding two animals like a circus artist, that’s all a poetic structure Matthew muddles up). [i] However, he chooses Zechariah’s prophecy because of its reference to a king’s humble entry, a reflection of Jesus teaching about humility. The donkey also evokes the story of Solomon riding David’s mule to Gihon to be anointed King over Israel. [ii] The cloaks being spread before Jesus draws from the celebration of Jehu becoming king. [iii] The palms and tree branches are reminiscent images of Simon Maccabeus entry into Jerusalem after driving Antiochus Epiphanes [iv] from Jerusalem [v] and Judas Maccabeus purifying the Temple[vi]  by removing all foreign idols and so on. [vii] At one level, everything draws from Israel’s history seems to be, as Matthew says,  been spoken through the prophet. However, it’s also parity against the established order who shares the same history; even speak similar words, but whose behavior does not reflect the righteousness and justice God demands.

Immediately after entering Jerusalem, Jesus goes to the Temple and starts throwing tables and coin boxes around. We imagine Jesus totally disrupting the whole place. Not likely, one: the Temple complex is just too large, two: had he disrupted everything he would have been arrested on the spot; no government tolerates a disruption of the flow of tax dollars.  It’s also common for us to miss that the buyers are also driven out! [viii] So if this is not about dishonest bankers, what’s going on? The key is the phrase robbers den which is a place robbers / thieves retreat to,  it’s a place of safety. Jesus is referring to  Jeremiah’s charge [that was] directed against those who came to worship in the  Temple”  [ix] after returning from a day of thievery,  murder, adultery, swearing falsely, offerings to Baal, and going after other gods that you have not known, [x]  Douglas Hare writes:

The allusion to Jeremiah … suggests that the market represents to Jesus the secularization of the temple by worshipers (buyers and sellers) whose lives do not conform with their religious profession but who claim nonetheless to find security in their religiosity (“We are delivered!”). [xi]

 

Having made a mess of things, and made yet another parity of establishment behavior Jesus turns to the margins of society, by healing the blind and the lame. This healing does not allow them into the Temple, they are already there. It does demonstrate a proper work of the Temple, healing – restoring to wholeness and the extraordinary inclusiveness of God’s House. [xii]

The children get it, they sing about it, drawing attention to Jesus. The chief priests and scribes, a combination that ought to get our attention since they are not natural allies, take offense. So much so, they are drawn into a week long series of confrontations with Jesus.

A historical note: When Matthew writes his Gospel account, the Temple has already been destroyed by the Romans. There is no discussion about it being rebuilt. There is lots of discussion of what will take its place. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ humble entry, his reference to purifying the Temple, the proper use of the Temple, and the powers at be misuse of the Temple shift[s] the focus from the temple itself to the Lord of the temple. [xiii]  Jesus himself replaces the Temple as the locus of God’s presence. [xiv]

There are always two steps to homiletics: first is exegesis or the explanation of texts; most of the above. So we now have a more informed milieu of the context in which Matthew wrote, and in which his original audience received his gospel. The second step is to ask: So what? Hare notes that throughout history this story has given rise to fierce anti-Semitism that is grossly misplaced. He continues:

We are best served by taking the passage as challenging us to self-criticism. Does secularism invade our churches? Do we use our religion as a source of security instead of allowing ourselves to be remade by it? [xv]

We have journeyed with Jesus into Jerusalem for the last time. This week, we walk with him to Golgotha. It’s a time to shed all our pretenses, a time for naked truth, a time to discern do we see with eyes clouded by established values, do we speak, or not, with voices of exclusion, have we prepared praise for ourselves? or do we see, do we sing, with the delight of children, Hosanna, save us, Son of David.

 

* St Stephen’s extends the Gospel reading of the Procession into Jerusalem for the Liturgy of the Word, and end the day’s worship with the Passion Gospel.

 


[i] Douglas R.A. Hare, Interpretation, MATTHEW A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor, Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor, John Knox Press, LOUISVILLE, 1993 
[ii] 1 Kings 1:31
[iii] 2 Kings 9:13
[iv] Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature.
[v] 1 Macc 13:51
[vi] 2 MAcc 10:7
[vii] M. EUGENE BORING,  New Interpreters’ Bible, THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS
[viii] Hare, Ibib
       Boring, ibid
[ix] Boring, ibid
[x] Jeremiah 7:9
[xi] Hare, ibid
[xii] Hare, Boring
[xiii] Hare, ibid
[xiv] Boring, ibid
[xv] Hare, ibid

Triumphal Entry

If you have ever lived in a city when the President of the United States comes for a visit, you know you can’t miss it. It is big, there are all sorts of extra peripheral things going on. Anyone who is, or seeks to be any one, wrangles for an invitation. It is glorious, everything is cleaned and polished; we want to make a good impression.

It’s also a mess. Every predictable pattern is disrupted. I know folks who say best part of a presidential visit, is when the President leaves and life gets back to normal.

So, I wonder how we would receive a president, who flew in coach, rode public transportation around town, stayed in a room with twin queen beds, and went out for meals without a reservation, standing in the foyer with the rest of us. I wonder if we would even notice.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is an event worthy of scene 1. Much of it meaning comes from the fact that is more like scene 2, with a generous dose of parity thrown in.

And people do notice. The poor, oppressed, who suffer from injustice economic and judicial systems celebrate. Those in power are threatened and begin in earnest planning their deadly response.

What would a president who make a humble entry, that truthfully reflects presidential humility, have to do, to evoke both of the reactions we witness I Jerusalem this coming Sunday. I wonder who has the courage.