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Based on the Scripture reading:
Luke 19:28-40

2010 March 28
Palm/Passion Sunday
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth F. Baily, Senior Pastor

Planning, Praising and Pondering Palms

Easter is fundamentally about God. Good Friday is essentially about Jesus. Palm Sunday though, on many levels, is about us. At least in Luke. Which is good news and bad news. Because it is still safe to tell stories about God and Jesus in church. But even including the first disciples, it has not been always inspiring to tell stories about us.

Nevertheless I'm about to highlight three ingredients in the historical story of Palm Sunday for us. And it is historical: two writers from beyond the Bible tell this tale. The three ingredients are planning, praising, and pondering. Let me tell you what I mean.

Josephus, the Roman historian, writes this about our story in his Antiquities: (Once) "there appeared Jesus, a wise man… a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of the people, who received the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following… and when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so."

Our Jerusalem story is real: six writers tell this tale.

But what is this tale?

Well, it is suffused with so much: church and state, rich and poor, faithful and officious. It's about power and vulnerability, danger, denial, injustice, lies, and truth. Only John has palms. Only Mark tells it hour by hour, day by day. All the Gospels begin with a procession --Back to top for the Magi, Mary, John the Baptist, and Jesus -- and all the gospels climax with another procession today. All of them bear truth.

Remember, for a moment, that the true story of our procession really began over 500 years before Jesus was born. It was rooted in the prophet Zechariah's writings about a true savior: "Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zech 9: 9) But that didn't happen. Because 332 years before Jesus was born, Alexander "the Great" came to Jerusalem after besieging and conquering Tyre and Gaza. He rode into his humbled cities on a war horse. And when he approached Jerusalem, instead of waiting for him to humble them and destroy their walls, the people there threw open their gates. I wonder what Jungians make of that? They threw open their gates to save their walls. By Jesus' time, there was the hope of the prophet, the trauma from the warrior, and the confusion over humility, so Jesus devised a plan.

We understand this plan especially when we focus on Luke. Now, remember, I'm just reporting what you can perfectly well read so don't blame me, but there are no palms in Luke. In fact, there are no leafy branches either. In fact, Jesus is not called Son of David here in Luke, "Hosanna" is not said, and, if I may go on, it's even a little blurry if Jesus' arrival is just four days before his trial. Twice Luke refers to Jesus' multiple days of teaching in the Temple, in chapters 19 and 21, and those who take the scriptures seriously see that Luke is a little different than the other Gospels.

Here is his central difference, though. More than half of Luke's story is about planning. Half of my sermon, too. More than half is getting ready. When they are ready, crowds do not cry out and wave branches or palms as I've just said. In fact, crowds do not do anything. Who does? Just the disciples. Just the disciples. Inspired by Second Kings 9:13, they throw their own garments on the road. Inspired by who-knows-what they actually lift Jesus onto the colt. Remembering Luke 13, when this journey began, a phrase from Jesus echoes in their ears: Back to top "You will not see me until you say 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' "

Amidst the crowds, only the disciples are part of the welcome, perhaps throwing open their doors because their walls have already crumbled. Others hear them, some multitude, and this multitude has a few representatives cry out: shut up. Rebuke your disciples. Luke is different, without question.

After five hundred years of symbolism, twenty-five years of a new Roman economic plan that had bankrupted most of the peasants, five years into the reign of Pontius Pilate, and many months after the beginning of his journey, Jesus rode into Jerusalem from Bethpage and Bethany with a plan. He rode in from the east, the direction of the rising sun, to counter Pilate's arrival from the west, where he lived in Roman luxury. Jesus planned to show the difference. Jesus planned to be different.

Now once this plan was in motion, we're told one essential thing about the disciples. They rejoiced and praised God. Just before this procession, they heard a story about how people who burry their talents will be judged, just after this procession Jesus will start crying, but right here, right now, they are rejoicing and praising God on the streets. I wonder what that was like?

Well, we have almost only one phrase to tell us. And it's not original. It's copied from when Jesus was born with a minor modification. They praise God by saying "Glory to God in the Highest and Peace in Heaven!" The angels said "on earth." The disciples say in heaven. And the multitude who hears these words demand silence, but Jesus says you can't silence the truth. Creation itself has a stake in this. Knock yourselves out, God is good, and peace is coming. I teach those who receive the truth with pleasure. Praise God.

Back to topWell, after the planning and the praising comes something to ponder. Something big.

As you can tell, it's important to see all the details of Palm Sunday, even without the palms. It's important to notice the differences between the four gospels and the two historians and ask what these differences mean. It's important to see what Jesus was up to and what the disciples were up to and then to ponder what we are up to. Because this story is about us. And so I offer this conclusion.

It's a story about a conversation that took place at Yale Divinity School about thirty years ago, when a learned professor had just made a presentation on the feeding of the five thousand. And Yale having more than one learned participant in presentations, all the New Testament specialists joined in wondering what had really happened at that meal way back then, and how many were really there, and if this was a miracle or a symbol or a sign or a myth. They considered whether fish were multiplied or shared. They discussed whether women and children were counted. What did the bread mean? They really pulled it apart.

After a good bit of wise analysis they turned to a theology professor named Paul Holmer, with whom I studied. After all the exegetes scrutinized the scriptures and debated their dimensions, someone turned to Holmer and asked what he thought of this text. And he said, "Well, I was just thinking that if Jesus could feed all of those people, maybe he could feed me."

There is a history to this day. But there is a lingering question, too. If Jesus could come to them, maybe he can come to us. If Jesus had a plan, integrating the best of prophecy and experience, maybe there is something we can make of our lives, too. Maybe God's story and our story are connected. No matter who we are, no matter where we have been. Maybe I can be a disciple, too. Maybe I can see him. And lift him on his vehicle of humility and thank God even if the crowd around me asks me to shut up and listen to him even when I don't understand exactly where all this is leading. And continue to love him, even on a cross. And give glory to God and make peace in heaven and on earth. Back to top Maybe he could feed me. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.


Sermon notes:

For four weeks in Lent. members of NHCC read a book together in preparation for Holy Week: The Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. It takes you much further than this sermon.

The YDS story about Paul Holmer comes from memory as well as now cited in Martin Copenhaver's portion of This Odd and Wondrous Calling.

Copyright © 2010 Kenneth F. Baily.  Used by permission.
http://www.nhcc.net/sermons/Sermon20100328.htm

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