I know what you’re thinking. I know how in sync you all in this church are with the liturgical calendar. So you’re all thinking, “Bob just read the Palm Sunday passage, and that’s not until next Sunday.” And you’re right.
In fact, we will start next Sunday with this same reading, but it has become the custom of this church to do the entire passion story as a congregational participation drama on Palm Sunday. Everyone has a part to play. It is great fun and really meaningful and I hope you will join us.
So I wanted to look at this passage in a different light today as we wrap up our series, Stones for the Journey.
This passage is actually the beginning of the end of Jesus ministry on earth. People have gathered to welcome him to Jerusalem, and they are so excited. They’ve heard about the healings. They’ve heard about the miracles. And here was the man behind it all. They are shouting and singing and waving palms, and the whole thing makes the Pharisees very unhappy and very uncomfortable.
Because what Jesus is preaching and what Jesus is doing is really screwing up their agenda. He was messing with their system. He was messing with their structure. If you want an analogy for today, imagine that the Pharisees are the current seats of power in Washington, and that Jesus is Bernie Sanders (both good Jewish boys).
No matter what your politics, the analogy works. Here comes Bernie saying, “Free college! Better veterans benefits! Healthcare for everyone! Equal pay! Living wages!” and the powers that be in DC are like, “Whoa! Hang on. We have a system here. And that does not fit our system. You’re getting people all excited about these things that just won’t work within the system we’ve set up. You’re screwing it up.”
That’s how the Pharisees must have felt about Jesus. They had a system. They had rules. They had a lot of rules. And as long as people followed the rules, everything was fine. And then Jesus. And all of a sudden people were doing crazy things like helping people on the Sabbath and touching the untouchable. Women were talking to men who weren’t their husbands or close relatives, and people were starting to skip the ritual hand washings. It was messing up the system. More importantly, it was messing up the authority and the control of the Pharisees.
I kind of picture the Pharisees in this story a little bit like Kevin Bacon at the end of the movie Animal House. When everything has erupted into chaos, and people are running through the streets and stuff is blowing up and falling over, he just stands in the middle of it screaming, “All is well. Remain calm. Remain calm. All is well.”
I see the Pharisees doing that. The crowd is huge. The people are shouting and throwing stuff on the ground and waving their arms, and the Pharisees are whisper screaming, “SHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Be quiet! Stop it! You’re gonna ruin everything!”
And Jesus just says to them, “Give it up. Even if you could make these people be quiet. What I’m saying, what I’m doing is so amazing that even the stones are gonna shout about it.”
I can’t even imagine how frustrated the Pharisees were at that point. They SO wanted the people to be silent. They so wanted the people to stop singing his praises. They so wanted the people to stop buying in to what they saw as something he was selling.
This morning the reason I wanted to look at this passage is so we could figure out who or what our Pharisee is. Or perhaps our Pharisees are…we might have more than one.
What keeps us silent? What prevents us from shouting out the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Is it the Pharisee of societal norms? Society tells us not to talk about religion. Don’t talk about your beliefs. You might offend or upset someone. You might make someone angry. Southern women are particularly at risk for this Pharisee. We’re taught from a very young age not do or say anything that’s going to upset people.
Can you really follow Jesus Christ if you never upset or anger anyone? He certainly did. Not that I’m encouraging anyone to go out and start a fight, but admit if that’s your Pharisee. Do you keep silent about the Gospel of Jesus Christ because people in polite society don’t do such things?
Perhaps your Pharisee is fundamentalism. I know that for many of you, this is your Pharisee. Is your Pharisee the one that says I” grew up having religion shoved down my throat, and I’m still trying to heal the scars caused by Christians telling me who I’m supposed to be and what Christianity is and I won’t do that to someone else. I won’t do to them what was done to me.” But that’s no reason to keep silent. The message we have is something very different from the message you’re still trying to heal from. It’s not a message of damnation or exclusion or fear. It’s a message of welcome and grace and love. So if the Pharisee that is keeping you silent is the specter of fundamentalism, you can go ahead and shout.
Maybe your Pharisee is fear. Maybe you’re afraid if you start shouting Jesus Christ, people will think you’re one of those crazy religious nuts. We all know they’re out there, and we don’t want to be associated with them. So we stay silent.
Maybe if you’re like me, your Pharisee is Presbyterianism. When I was in high school, I was on my way to some youth event, and I asked one of the adults driving the van, “Why don’t we Presbyterians ever do anything about evangelism?” She couldn’t have looked more uncomfortable if I had shouted out a string of curse words. The response was one I’ve heard often, “We Presbyterians don’t do a lot of talking about what we believe. We show our faith with our actions.” That sounds good, but I have a lot of agnostic friends who go around acting like Christians—feeding the hungry, standing up for the powerless—that sort of thing. But they don’t believe in anything. They don’t have our story to tell.
We can come up with a lot of rationalizations as to why we keep silent. And, of course, there are times when do, indeed, need to keep silent.
In April, my husband and I are going to a fundraiser for the Harmony Health Clinic, a local clinic that serves the least of these. A really impressive woman I went to college with is the director of the clinic. Many of the event attendees will be Pakistani and Indian Hindus and Muslims. That would not be the place to say, “I’d like to tell you all about Jesus.”
Or when you’re with someone who has sunk into the pit of despair, who is grieving deeply and barely holding on. That is not the time to pat them on the back and tell them to just “give it to Jesus.” That is the time to simply hold the person’s hand and be present to their pain.
There are times when we should keep silent. But we find ways to stay silent all the time. We can come up with all sorts of reasons why shouldn’t shout our story out loud. And that’s too bad because we have such good news to tell. I have maintained, and I still maintain that if we were finding the right way to tell the story, people would be poking each other with forks to get in the door. That’s how good the news is. That God loved us before we even knew God. That Jesus Christ conquered death for us so that we might never be afraid. That there’s this wonderful things called grace and even when we screw up royally, we are welcomed home and loved and given the chance to try again.
That is some great news. So even if …even if the stones will cry out if we are silent. For the sake of this world, let’s not leave it to the stones.
–Rev. Anne Russ, March 13, 2016