The Sunday Sermon: Palm Sunday – March 25, 2018
Palm Sunday 2018 … So close to Easter. We’ve traveled so far again this Lenten season. Beginning with Ash Wednesday way back on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, this year. Five Sundays we’ve gathered here journeying each week closer to the cross, the grave, and ultimately to eternal life. This, the sixth Sunday, is Palm Sunday and we’ve already sung the traditional processional hymn. Our children, youth, and Chancel choir have processed, waving palms in memory of Jesus’ “triumphant entry” into Jerusalem so long ago, but so well remembered every year. And once again this year, I step into the pulpit at this time of proclamation to open our bible and read the, oh, so familiar Palm Sunday passage from … Genesis?!
Wait a minute … what? Chapter 8, no less? That’s not the creation story, or Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. Joseph isn’t until much later. And it’s certainly not about Jesus. Shouldn’t we be reading from Matthew 21, or Luke 19, or Mark 11? Even, maybe, John 12? Well … I promise you a reading from one of those a bit later. But for now, we open our bible – once again – to the Book of Genesis.
After two weeks in the prophetic writings, first in Micah and last week in Amos, we return to the story of Noah and his ark. The ark, the boat, the vehicle of deliverance that we’ve been traveling on for the past month, discovering why the waters are rising all around us and wondering how we might get them to subside, to decrease, recede.
Well, today they begin to. The waters are receding because we have re-learned from our prophets what is required of us: Justice, kindness, humility and righteousness – and we’re prepared to try again. And the waters are receding, we’re glimpsing one again the mountaintops, because on this day we commemorate a day on which Jesus, himself, sought out new lands, accepted his own true destiny, left the countryside, and entered the capital city of Jerusalem to share the love of God, not gold; the life of love, not fear; and the promise of hope, not despair. The waters are receding.
Listen now for the Word of God, first from the book of Genesis. Read Genesis 8:1-5. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God …
If you’ve allowed yourself to be led by my words and the movement of the Spirit through this past month and a half, these verses have got to sound good, to “feel” good, to you. We boarded the ark after we discovered (again) that we are not living up to our created purpose for being created in the image of God. We boarded so that we might rise above the treacherous waters of our own irresponsibility and indifference, if only for one hour a week.
On board, on deck, we heard once again from the prophet Micah what we should be doing: justice; what we should be loving: kindness; and how we should be walking: humbly. And from the prophet Amos we heard once again what should be happening in our world. Justice should be rolling down and righteousness should be flowing forth.
Today, this morning, we see land once again, a new land that holds new opportunities for us to try again to get it right. Just the “tops of the mountains” Genesis says this week. We’ve “bumped on the “mountains of Ararat” and we are glimpsing a “post-destruction” world with the opportunity to enter that world – our country, our city, our own lives – in new ways. And the cry goes up: “Land, ho!”
If you’ve allowed yourself to be led by my words and the movement of the Spirit through this past month and half, these verses have got to sound good, to “feel” good. (We’re so close to getting off this boat, Mary!)
The opening verse of Genesis, chapter eight, stands at the center of the middle section of the story of the flood, the story of Noah and the Ark. In the section before chapter eight, verse one, there is death and destruction until “only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark.” But, immediately after remembering Noah in verse one of our reading this morning, the waters begin to subside until everyone is able to leave the ark. Noah, his family, and all the animals will walk off this boat of deliverance, of salvation, and enter a liberated earth. There will be a new beginning, a new opportunity, a new possibility for humanity that begins when they do. And even more sensationally, there is a new commitment from this “Love-Harmony-Unity” that creates and re-creates it all, that which we most often call God, but that is always, always, so much more than we can even imagine. Something has changed in this “God.” And something has the chance to change in us. We’ll call it Resurrection. We’ll celebrate in on Easter.
But I get ahead of myself. New beginnings, new life, resurrected life is what next week is all about. This week is about our approach to it. We’re not riding in on a donkey. We’re floating in, seeing the mountain tops, bumping this morning on the mountains of Ararat. Aware that we are close to disembarking. The question we ask today, is the one we ask in one way or another on every Palm Sunday: Do we want to get off the boat? Do we really want to follow the Way of Jesus.
Listen now to this more familiar passage for this day: (As Jesus sat on the donkey) a very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, ”This is the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” MT 21:6-11
There’s one of our more familiar Palm Sunday passages. Whatever else lurks in the Gospel recordings of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (and this “parade” is found in all four Gospels), this is a story in which a guest to the city receives a gracious and generous welcome. At the very least, Jesus enters Jerusalem as a pilgrim of special standing, one the people see as a messenger from God. Through the shouts of “Hosanna,” most literally “Save, we beseech you!” and in the laying down of coats and branches in the road, it is obvious that those welcoming Jesus in Jerusalem on this day believe that Jesus’ arrival will surely bring blessings to Jerusalem and to its inhabitants.
But in the Gospel of Matthew that we just heard, “when he entered Jerusalem” the people of the city asked, “Who is this?” The crowds that have accompanied Jesus throughout Matthew’s Gospel identify him to the city’s inhabitants who have no previous experience of him. But as they do, as they identify Jesus as “the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee,” we get a sense that maybe they don’t really get it, either. Their understanding of Jesus, like the ancient Hebrews understanding of God, is in their heads, not their hearts. Their titles for Jesus, are not incorrect – prophet, Son of David, the one who comes in the name of the Lord. But there’s no clear sense that truly understand what he is doing or what is going to happen because he is now in their lives.
The city folk get caught up in the party, the parade, too, without really knowing what actions their words are supposed to lead to. They are simply celebrating the assumption that Jesus’ arrival will bring blessings to their city. He’s not Pontius Pilate, after all, that malevolent Governor of the Roman Empire. And he’s not a pawn of that Empire, like the Herod’s and even some of the other religious leaders that have been a part of your lives. He’s a healer and a wisdom teacher, one who gives preference to the lowly and the meek. Surely, they will be blessed and comforted now that he is here in their hometown. But, alas … as we experience Palm Sunday turning into Passion Sunday in the short hour we spend together this morning, we know that nothing could be further removed from the events that will happen this week. By the end of this week everything we know about life and love will change forever.
We stand “all hands on deck” hearing the long awaited cry of “Land, Ho!” We see the mountain tops, we feel the solid ground beneath us, we anticipate very soon disembarking. But, if we do, when we do, we cannot say “we didn’t really understand.” No, if we get off this boat, when we get off this boat … things must change. Easter will be nothing more than a sunrise (s-U-n rise), a day of dress up, church attendance, brunches, ham, and family if things don’t change in our lives.
It’s good to hear these verses, finally. It’s so comforting to see dry land. But it means change is upon us.
I’ll give you a little preview of next week. Because we know we are not all we were created to be, because we know where our refusal to accept responsibility has gotten us and the world, because we know what is required of us to set things right, and in keeping with the nautical themes of the past month, next week’s sermon title will be “All Ashore!” We’ll celebrate Easter with another reading from Genesis (and, I’m sure a more traditional Easter passage) and we’ll sing of new opportunities, new possibilities, new life. But … here’s the challenge laid out once again on Palm Sunday. A challenge I’ll bet none of you have ever heard from one of your Pastor’s before. I know you’ve never heard it from me, and I’m uneasy issuing it:
Don’t come back here next Sunday, Easter Sunday, unless you’re ready to get of the boat, to transform your life, and be a part of changing the world. I’ll extend that challenge to all of you who may be travelling next week and going to Easter worship at some other church: Don’t do it … unless you’re ready to change and to live the life God intended form the very beginning – Resurrection life. I issue that challenge to myself, too, and I promise you this: I won’t be here next Sunday our of any sense of obligation, because it’s my “job.” I will come here next Sunday ready to walk into a new life, together with all who are here.
I know we are ready. This whole Lenten season we’ve been preparing. Will we be willing?
Land Ho! The day is near. Let us journey together through the darkest days of our lives of Christian Faith this week . The daily video reflections so lovingly and faithfully produced by Matt Killion began this morning and will continue through Easter Sunday. We’ll gather on Maundy Thursday for worship, Communion, and the shrouding of our cross. And we’ll finish our preparations in the days that follow so that we will be ready to respond when the “All Ashore!” call goes out.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / March 25, 2018