David A. Davis
March 25, 2018
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Throughout this season of Lent here in the sanctuary on the Lord’s Day we have been pondering Luke’s recording of some of the conversations Jesus had along the Way from Galilee to Jerusalem. There was that conversation Jesus had in Capernaum with the friends of the Centurion when Jesus was amazed. And when Jesus noticed that the woman who had been sick for so long touched his clothes. And that awkward conversation with Mary and Martha when Jesus stayed for dinner. And then that painful conversation with rich ruler when Jesus disappointed him to the point of gut-wrenching grief because he told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. And last week, on Youth Sunday, Emily and Christian and Sarah so powerfully brought us in on the conversation between Jesus and Zacchaeus. This morning, this Palm Sunday, it’s another conversation, a familiar conversation. Jesus and the two disciples: “Go, into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.” Jesus and the Pharisees: “Teacher, order your disciples to stop. Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Jesus and those who were selling things in the temple: “My house shall be a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of robbers!” And then there’s the conversation Jesus has with himself. Somewhere along the way, just outside, just below, just near but still outside Jerusalem. The conversation Jesus has with himself.
[Luke 19:28-44 is read]
Jesus went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. But to get to the city from the Mt of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, he was going to have to go down before he went up. It wasn’t a long way but it was a bit of rugged way. So the colt, and some cloaks spread on the colt for him to sit, and then some cloaks tossed along the path. It was something of procession. Maybe less of a parade and more of a march, a kind of movement. Some shouts of praise are unleashed. The followers of Jesus cry out in loud voices about the deeds of power they had seen along the Way. Not quite “hosannas” in Luke. But a sounding off nonetheless with scripture. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Psalm 118). “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven.” Shouts like those of the angels who trumpeted his birth.
It was, according to Luke, the whole multitude of the disciples. You remember that Luke writes of the heavenly host filling the sky that night, Luke writes “And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host.” Here along the pathway down and then up to the city, Luke tells of “the whole multitude of the disciples.” That could have been twelve. Or maybe twelve plus Mary and Martha and Lazarus and the Centurion whose servant was healed and the woman whose hemorrhage finally stopped and Zacchaeus and maybe even, do you think maybe, the rich ruler? “The whole multitude….of the disciples.” That could be one of those biblical hidden expressions of humor or juxtaposition or oxymoron. Like when Jesus told the parable of the mustard seed and how that mustard seed becomes the “greatest….of shrubs.” “The whole multitude….of the disciples.” That could be Luke years later just rounding up. Like me when I tell folks I played high school football on Friday nights in Pittsburgh in front of ten thousand people, I’m sure if I ever have grandchildren that number will grow to at least twenty-five thousand!
“The whole multitude….of the disciples.” Maybe the irony of shouts to a king and folks trying to make a bit of pomp while the king rides on a colt was fairly obvious. The royal treatment of a meandering, winding procession from one hill to another with no army, no galloping horses, no striking stallion, no vast military parade, no chariots, just one young, awkward, weak-legged, stumbling colt. Maybe the absurdity of it all was just as plain as day. The Triumphal Entry and the whole multitude……of the disciples.
“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’” Scholars have varying opinions on the Pharisees’ motivation here. Maybe they were worried that all the shouts about a king would upset the Romans; a sort of in the moment political calculation. Or perhaps it reflects their sense of the growing threat to their own religious authority. Or maybe they’re just tired of hearing over and over again about all the great things Jesus has done. That’s the beauty and the wonder of scripture. You just don’t know why the Pharisees said it. It could have been that the whole scene, this whole “faux parade”, this procession with “the whole multitude….of the disciples”, that it looked a whole lot less like hundreds of thousands of kids marching and shaking their fists at the NRA and a whole lot more like a weak conga line at bad wedding reception. So the Pharisees shook their heads and turned away and said, “Teacher, please, please, just tell them to stop!”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” The stones would tell the same story. If these stones could talk, the stones would praise God joyfully. The stones would tell of all the deeds of power. Creation itself will start to sing. The mountains and the hills….shall burst into song, the trees of the field shall clap their hands. (Isaiah 55). The stones themselves will give the shout out! Because this, this inevitable act of praise and testimony that gives witness to the fullness of God’s love and the breadth of the gospel and the sure and certain promise of the coming realm of God, it is so much bigger than this multitude, so much more sure than these feeble shouts. The sure and certain promise is that one day, one day, “Thy kingdom shall come on earth, as it is in heaven.” So yes, these stones will start to sing.
You can continue to mock all those who do believe that “love wins” and that “there is more excellent way” and that “love is stronger than hate” but these stones will still sing about his dying love that will not let us go. You can tell a young African American athlete who dares to speak for justice and equality and asks questions about yet another unarmed African American man shot by police to “just shut up and dribble” but these stones will still sing about the flow of justice and stream of righteousness and the indisputable teaching of the One who emptied himself taking the form of the servant of all. You can tell all these kids to just go back to school, and stay in class, and get back in their rightful place, but these stones will still sing the refrains of a peaceable kingdom and of lions laying down with lambs and assault weapons turned into garden rakes and classrooms that are safe and no one hurting or destroying on all of God’s holy mountain. These stones will still sing about a God who so loved this blasted, broken world of ours that God sent God’s only Son, who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross—so that one day, one day, “Thy kingdom shall come on earth, as it is in heaven.” Yes, these stones will start to sing.
And then, when Jesus is just outside the city, just down the hill from the gate to the city, that’s when the conversation with himself comes. It is a conversation with himself while the rest of humankind is invited by Luke to listen in. That’s when Jesus weeps. “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” What comes next is Luke’s Jesus describing the destruction of Jerusalem; enemies, ramparts, crushed to the ground, not one stone left upon another. Gospel scholarship informs the reader of the unique sense of timing here. Jesus predicting what was to come. Luke writing about what has already happened; the fall of the city in the year 70. But chronology and time line take a back seat here to the symbolism of the city, of this city, being ravaged by war. Now, seemingly all by himself along the Way, between the Mt. of Olives and the city just up the hill. Jesus makes his last stop on the way to the cross. He looked up and saw the holy city once and forever devastated by violence, humanity’s never ending lust for violence. And Jesus wept
Nobody wants Jesus to weep on Palm Sunday. Thursday. Yes. In the garden. But not this day. Not today. “All Glory Laud and Honor”, “Hosanna in the highest”, palm branches. Yes! Tears, not so much. But it’s not just today. Jesus and his tears. They must come with a timelessness, and everday-ness. Hostility. Violence. Poverty. Oppression. Hate. War. The things that do not make for peace. It all never goes away. Some weeks, like this one, the shocking inevitability of it all smacks you right in the face. Of course Jesus weeps. This conversation Jesus had with himself along the Way comes with a haunting timelessness. A timelessness to both his tears and a timelessness to his exasperation in the face of humanity’s inability to grasp peace. “If you, even you, you and you and you…. even you” If you only knew. Jesus looked up at that city and all of humanity at the same time.
And he still goes. He goes up. He still goes up. Knowing right then and there that “you, even you” would never know the things that make for peace, he still goes up. He still rides on. Jesus is still going up; not just up to Jerusalem. He’s going up to the cross. His lament over humanity’s sinful lust for violence, that lament is on the way to the cross. He rides on. He still goes there. And he takes the very lowest part of the brokenness with him, the very darkest part of all the brokenness with him. He takes it, and he still goes. He goes up. He still goes up. He rides on. This Christ Jesus, who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself.” (Phil) . He still goes there. He reaches down and he takes it all, he takes all this, with him.
A few weeks ago I told you that I wasn’t willing to explain away that conversation Jesus had with the rich ruler because I was having a hard time remembering the last time I sacrificed anything, really sacrificed anything, for Christ and his kingdom. This Sunday, this Palm Sunday, I want you to know that I believe with all of my heart that Jesus died for my sins, that God’s forgiveness rests at the very heart of the gospel. That the grace of Jesus Christ redeems, sustains, and leads me absolutely every day of my life. But when I think this week of him stopping along the Way, when I ponder his tears caused by humanity’s inability to grasp the things that make for peace, and inability that only seems to magnify in one’s lifetime, when I think this week of him stopping along the Way to the cross, then I yearn to remember deep within my soul and to proclaim to you, that Jesus died for more than just me.
He kept going. He went up. And he took all of us, all of this, he took all of this with him. So that so that one day, one day, “Thy kingdom shall come on earth, as it is in heaven.”
© 2018 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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