Year C, Palm Sunday
March 20, 2016
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
You know the scene. What a spectacle. Jesus was mocking a grand procession. HE didn’t ride a warhorse, but a young donkey. There were no heralds or brass bands or marching legions, but “a whole multitude of disciples” praising God joyfully. That is our Savior, our God, right there in the thick of it, thumbing His Holy nose at Rome and her collaborators, very, very conscious of what they might do to Him, what they did to so many who, like Him, challenged to legitimacy and sanctity of the Empire.
If there is one thing that I hope to convey to you all, if there is one core message in all that I pray and do it is that our religious life matters. It has to matter. It has to matter to the world around us, to the people we share this world with, to our community, to the places we call our home. If it doesn’t, if our religious life ends at that red door, if it doesn’t inform if not transform your economic and political and relational consciousness then all of this is a waste of time, or worse, it is simply a moralistic, therapeutic deism, a selfish practice of narcissistic navel gazing that draws us away from the heart of Christianity. The purpose of Christianity is to restore right relationship with God, and we do that by engaging God, worshiping, praying, all the spiritual works we have been given. And we do that by engaging the world, in making the world into the place that God gave us before all hell, truly, broke loose. The Fall. Our divorce from God. Love God and love neighbor. The Great Commandment. We read it each Sunday in Lent. That is what following Jesus means.
Jesus triumphantly, comically, defiantly rode into Jerusalem to make a point. His point? It was all wrong. His society was morally, politically, economically corrupt. The leaders of Israel sold themselves to an Imperial conqueror for their own gain. Moral authority no longer belonged to the Temple. Poverty and oppression were the order of the day for many of His countrymen. The nation was an empty shell, a shadow of their Chosen-ness of God.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem demonstrating that our faith, our beliefs, our inner worlds and relationships with God are inseparable from our behavior. You can’t love actually God and oppress the poor. Not really. You might think you do, but you don’t. You can’t claim to be a faithful person if your faith only moves your heart. True faith moves your heart and moves your mind and moves your body to align your whole self with that which is right and good and joyful.
Things are not good right now in our country. It, all of it, is out of balance. Wealth is too concentrated. Temperatures are too high. Rain is falling too hard or not at all. Violence is too common in our political process. Violence! It was common against African American voters a generation ago, and those very same tentacles of fear and hate are wrapping themselves around all of us, again, and in the open daylight, not just in the shadows of our minds where it has always lurked.
Now that might sound like I am talking about politics. That is because I am. We must, if we are to be faithful disciples of Jesus. He spoke and acted politically constantly. This week, Holy Week, is the final campaign of Jesus, taking His righteous fight to the belly of the beast. He was killed by the state because he was a direct threat to the state. He contested the authority of everyone! The money changers. Herod. The Sanhedrin. The Pharisees and scribes. The High Priest. The Roman proconsul, even Caesar himself. And He was nailed to that Cross by the Roman occupiers at the behest of His own people because the immensity of Jesus Christ’s moral authority not only threatened but entirely overshadowed the temporal authority of all of them. The heartbeat of God beating in Jesus Christ’s chest was an irreconcilable threat to the powers that be on every level; moral, ethical, spiritual, economic and yes, political. Jesus knew that as He mounted that donkey, and He knew that as He went forward, as He taunted them, as He pointed out the obvious corruption of it all, He knew that it would enrage the principalities and powers. He knew that it would force their hand to use the primitive, blunt tools of violence that all governments eventually slip into when their legitimacy is righteously questioned. And when the state brought the hammer down on those nails, love won, not hate. Love won, not wealth. Love won, not power in this world. Love won. It was a heartbreaking victory, the emptying of Himself, being obedient to the point of death even death on a Cross, a tragedy that it needed to come to that. But love won, and this teaches us that love always wins when our love is brought to bear, when our love is enacted in the world. When our love and our faith is not hidden under a bushel, NO! but is shone from the street corner, in the market place, at your kitchen table filling out your ballot. Love wins, but only when we make the effort. Only when we make it matter.
Our faith HAS TO MATTER. It has to inform our behavior and engagement in the world. Jesus led His friends, His disciples to imprisonment and death over what was right. And He calls us to the same. And you don’t have to start on the top of the barricade. We all have different things to offer our community in the service of God. But ignoring it is not an option. Saying “I’m not interested in politics” is not an option. That’s the easy path and Jesus never lays out an easy path for us. Saying, “It upsets me too much” is not an option. The hate and discontent in our politics should be upsetting because it is upsetting. Terrible things are happening in our world being done on our behalf by people in power by our consent. From fencing off sheltered areas under the Washington Street bridge to denying the reality of climate change to using fear and hatred kindled by racial oppression to continuing wars that have lasted 15 years, fought in our name for our benefit. And we in this room benefit from all of that more than most. Our faith has to matter. It has to propel us to take the risks that need taking. It is Palm Sunday. The question to us truly is: What would Jesus do? If He were here with us, what would He do? Ponder that question, and do likewise. We need to shout louder than the stones. AMEN.