On Not Leaving it to the Stones

On Not Leaving it to the Stones

Preached at a gathering of the Arkansas United Methodist Clergywomen

May 4,2017

Luke 19:37-40

This passage marks 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 system. 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. 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 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, so life-changing, so world-altering 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.

Now the liturgical nerds in the house may wonder why I chose a Palm Sunday passage to preach on in the middle of May. I did it because I want to talk about about who our Pharisees are today. Who are the people who want us to be quiet? Who are the people who keep us silent? Who prevents us from shouting out the Good News of Jesus Christ?

For all of us gathered here today, one of our answers to that question is – men. There. I said it. It is not bashing all men everywhere to acknowledge that some man somewhere has at one time or another interrupted us, talked over us, ignored our idea and claimed it as their own or subtly or not so subtly told us to sit down and shut up.  They complain to our boards or our bishops about our “tones” when they don’t like what we have to say. They tell us, “you’re too pretty to be a pastor” when what they mean is, “you can’t possibly command any authority.” There are, and will continue to be, men who want us to be quiet.

And then some of our Pharisees are our sisters. They are much more subtle in their efforts to silence.  They are the ones who criticize our hairstyle or tell us our shoes are inappropriate or that we’re showing too much cleavage.  Passive aggressively undermining our voices in the guise of helpful hints.

Sometimes our Pharisees are just society in general.  How many of you are natural born southerners? Then you probably grew up learning that you should not do or say anything that might agitate or anger anyone. All women may fall victim to this Pharisee, but Southern women are particularly at risk. We’re taught from a very young age not do or say anything that’s going to offend or upset people. Not talking religion or politics is right up there with not wearing white after Labor Day or putting dark meat in your chicken salad.

But can you really follow Jesus Christ if you never upset or anger anyone? I don’t think you can, and that is good news for chick preachers everywhere. Jesus upset plenty of people…of course, they killed him for it, so you want to be sure and pick your battles, but my point is that the model of discipleship for Christians is not a socially acceptable, impeccable host who made sure everyone was happy and comfortable.

That leads to our congregational Pharisees. The ones who hired us to keep them happy and comfortable, and don’t care for it when we challenge them and step on their toes. I have a member who, from time to time, tells me that I started preaching but then I got to meddlin’. He’s joking…sort of. The desire to keep the peace and our jobs can cause us to silence the voices we want to raise and settle for ones that won’t rock the boat.

Perhaps your Pharisee is your denomination.  While the issues of gay ordination and marriage are what is making news in the Methodist church right now, I’m sure there are a number of topics on which you may be encouraged, directly or indirectly, to keep your thoughts and your voice to yourself, lest you ruffle the feathers of the powers that be.

Every day, there are forces loose in this land that conspire to keep our voices from being heard. Because it is May 4th, I can’t help but think about the recently departed Carrie Fisher—someone who did not let the Pharisees or anyone else silence her. She spoke out about addiction and mental illness and misogyny and she never did it quietly or politely.  Carrie Fisher is my spirit animal.

And even though none of us are pop culture icons or Hollywood royalty, we do have a distinctive voice that needs to be heard. In a world where women’s voices continue to be silenced, we, the 11 percent of clergy in the United States who are female, we, who literally have a pulpit from which to speak cannot keep silent.

We must speak truth to power

We must cry out for justice

We must preach the practice of peace

We must exhort acceptance and welcome and hospitality

And when we are told that we are too loud or that our tone is unacceptable or that our voices are too abrasive, we must not adjust our volume or modulate our pitch or soften our sound. We must continue to proclaim the Good News   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.  And we are the people called to proclaim it. We are the women called to proclaim it. Our voices are the voices of authority. 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.

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