First Congregational Church
April 13, 2014
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
George Burns once said, “The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.” I say, “This morning’s sermon should be fantastic!”
It was Palm Sunday but because of a sore throat, 5-year-old Little Ole stayed home from church with a sitter. When the family returned home, they were carrying several palm fronds. Little Ole asked them what they were for. "People put them on the ground and waved them in the air as Jesus walked by," Big Ole told him. "Wouldn't you know it," Little Ole fumed, "the one Sunday I don't go and he shows up."
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Thank you, Shelby. This is such a beloved passage, probably because it connects us to our childhoods, but there are some parts that are rather hard to “take in.” The first one deals with the colt, or as some translations say, a donkey and the disciple cattle-rustlers. The “hard part to take in” is anyone who would be willing to allow their livestock to be taken, simply because “the Lord needs it.” It had to be the working of the Holy Spirit that made such an event even possible, considering it’s connection to the prophecy in Zechariah, written some 500 years before that first Palm Sunday. The second difficult part “hard part” is how the Rolling Stones have been able to have such a long career. (The stones will cry out.)
The messages this Lent have centered around the idea of brokenness: in people, in life, in trust and faithfulness, justice and even things so common and everyday as bread. In most cases, I’ve hoped - prayed, the important points have centered not as much on the brokenness, but on how Christ restores the brokenness - then in his death and now in his resurrection.
It isn’t too far to get an idea of “broken majesty” if we think about people like Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his family, Anna Karenina, John F. Kennedy or Judy Garland. You may come up with other words that can link all those names, but one that comes to mind first, for me, was that of tragedy. There is tragedy, certainly, when we think of Jesus’ death, but our passage for this morning is one of many that demonstrates Jesus turning brokenness into victory and restores majesty - not to tragedy - but to blessing.
I think our human nature is to focus on the first part of the passage and the parade. Maybe it is “easy” to overlook the last part of today’s passage, about the stones crying out if the disciples don’t praise God, because there is a sort of sadness that underlies it. It’s sort of like this very day, Palm Sunday, and how much easier it is to focus on the hoopla, rather than the counterpart to this day, Passion Sunday, the part that deliberately turns toward the ugliness of the cross.
We don’t like the ugliness of the cross, the brutality of how Jesus was treated, and dare I say, that for many, it is politically incorrect to cause us to look at that part of the Bible and our history. But just because something is hard, doesn’t mean we should avoid it. In fact, going closer to the cross, especially during Holy Week, helps us to see not just the hard, horrible parts, but helps us to see the love and the mercy in the grace that came from Jesus that whole weekend. Most of us would rather skip Holy Week and go right to Easter. But when we do that, we miss the parts that bind us to Christ and each other in a way that is not possible by any other means.
Our passage paints the picture of a moment in time when Jesus could have changed history. He could have shushed the disciples, he could have taken the other road, the one that didn’t lead away from the Mount of Olives, he could have avoided going to Jerusalem altogether. But with a certain majestic carriage, he faced the path before him, perhaps in part to encourage us, when we are faced with “hard situations,” to do the same.
Perhaps more than anything else, we have this history to remind us that what looks broken may not mean it is broken, but a path or event to something greater than we can imagine. It doesn’t make the traveling of the path or the unfolding of the event any less ugly - or beautiful. It is a simple testament to the power of God, in us and through us, when we are willing to go where God leads us. Even as the royal Son of God, it wasn’t above Jesus to ask for God’s help in traversing that path, nor should it be above us. So let us pray.
God of all - the beautiful, the ugly, the easy and the hard - we are grateful that you gave us yourself - in Christ - to draw us closer to you - for all of eternity. In the days ahead, when we may be tempted to turn away from the hard or difficult parts of Jesus’ last week, help us to boldly look at him and all he went through, that we can learn the way of following him - not just in being resurrected to life with you, but going through all that which makes us real and majestic - as brothers and sisters of Jesus - the Christ. And all his brothers and sisters say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.