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April 14, 2019

“Counting on God: Greater Than”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Luke 19.28-40

Philippians 2.5-11

April 14, 2019

As Lent comes to a close, we can reflect on how we have examined our lives these past forty days, and how we have grown closer to God. Perhaps you chose a spiritual practice that guided you through the wilderness of Lent. Maybe you gave up something that separates you from God. Through our scripture passages we have seen how we can count on God, even in the hard times. For the last few weeks we have examined how, no matter where we are in our journey, God is waiting for us, eager for us to return. Are we the coin or the woman searching? Are we the younger son who spends all of our inheritance, or the older son who feels neglected? Are we Judas, misunderstanding the oil spilled carelessly on Jesus feet, or the woman at his feet, attempting to understand and prepare for his death? My guess is we have been a combination of all of these throughout the forty days. Our goal is that no matter where we are, no matter what path we take, we always find God in that journey.

Today, Palm Sunday, is that fork in the road – a chance to ask ourselves again where we see ourselves in the grand story. There is joy and there is sorrow. There is celebration and there is sadness. We can be one of these things, or all of these emotions, all at once.

Jesus had just finished telling the disciples the parable of the talents, which expresses another parable of generous gift giving and the anxiety and misuse of gifts by the people. Now, Jesus is in a place where he has traveled just outside of Jerusalem and can probably see the temple and the walls of the city. He instructs the disciples – very specifically – to find a colt, which will be tied up. He gives them a patented response. As editor Jill Duffield writes, he gives “deposit, payment, and collateral.”

Every Gospel tells this story – yet not everyone tells the same. Here we find a quieter party. Only the disciples seem to be chiming in and celebrating. This isn’t a parade that people joined in, so much as a Jesus flash mob that left everyone in the city standing around nervously. There were no branches, there were no hosannas.[1] The people walked Jesus in, chanted, and headed out.

The branches are not found in this passage, but are found in other Gospels. Why do we wave them? The branches would have been easily accessible and were a way of worshiping a king – someone worthy of praise. This past Sunday I took some palm branches to the Rejoicing Spirits worship service. I was a week early in lectionary, but figured since the kids wouldn’t be meeting for Palm Sunday, we could easily wave our palms a week early without saying the “H” word.[2] Afterwards, I packed the cut branches into my van and went home. The next morning, I loaded my bags into the van and was met with an unholy stench. Less than twenty-four hours later the branches had begun to wreak. They were temporary. After waving at the Christ, they had already lost their purpose. They began to smell suspiciously of the sourness of the week that comes after Palm Sunday.

Jesus speaks of peace. This is a peace that he mentions on earth and a peace that happens in heaven. Yet, we are in between this peace.[3] Palm Sunday is the “in between.” Isn’t this our own experience? Raise your hand if you think our world has peace. How can we live in the in between? I love Ann Weems poem about living the in between of Palm Sunday:

“We’re good at planning! Give us a task force and a project and we’re off and running! No trouble at all! Going to the village and finding the colt, even negotiating with the owners is right down our alley. And how we love a parade!...It’s between the parades that we don’t do so well. From Sunday to Sunday we forget our hosannas. Between parades the stones will have to shout because we don’t.”[4]

The Pharisees, ever the Pharisees, speak out. They wonder why this Jesus flash mob is happening. Jesus tells them that even if no one else was willing to wave branches and shout hosanna and do a little dance down the streets of Jerusalem, the rocks would. The most sedentary part of creation would shout, would dance, would flash mob for Jesus. Even the rocks would see Jesus is greater than anyone can imagine.

Even the rocks see it. Even the rocks know that there is unrest in our world. As we enter holy week we can see the sinful ways all over – the people asking Jesus to be crucified, the Roman government going along with it, crucifying because Jesus dared to question the status quo. We can easily look at the actions in Holy Week, at the crucifixion, and point and call it evil. Yet, more covert evil actions happen all the time. How often do we participate in a system, passively, because “that’s just the way it is”? Hannah Arendt considers this the “banality of evil.” Whenever we say, “I’m just doing my job…Who am I to question my leader or my pastor or my legislator? It’s too risky? Who am I to change things?” we are allowing a sinful system to continue.[5] How do we address evil in our world? How do we live in this in between time? The answer seems to be found in the Philippians passage. We hear a bit of mindfulness from Jesus. Paul writes to the Philippians and is giving them his own summary. As author Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “This is Paul’s birth narrative, his passion narrative, and his ascension narrative all rolled into one.”[6] He wraps it all up very succinctly like a short creed.

We are reminded to have the mindset of Jesus. As we enter holy week, what does that mean? How do we enter this holy time? When we emerge on the other side, will we forget what we have learned these forty days? Will we cash in our wilderness time and forget what temptation and evil look like? Barbara Brown Taylor, again, writes: “…we are free as Jesus to decide how we will spend our energy: on self-protection or self-donation, on saving ourselves (and our religious institutions) or giving ourselves away?”[7] We have options for how we will move ahead. We have options for how we will live as Christians, as people of God, as members of Hanover Presbyterian Church, as people who work at the college, who work in the community, who seek a better place for our brothers and sisters in the world.

Our reading ends here. Yet, we know it goes on. We know that Jesus will eat with the disciples – what we have forever ritualized as the Lord’s Supper and celebrate on Maundy Thursday. We know that he will walk the Via Dolorosa, what we have named the stations of the cross, which is now memorialized in Jerusalem with small rocks along the marketplace – nearly forgotten by the hubbub of buying and selling. This is symbolic of our own lives – how lost we can become when the mindset of Jesus is pushed aside to a smaller part of our lives instead of one in the forefront.

Yet, before Jesus reaches the great meal and is arrested, he pauses, and he weeps. He has this social-emotional moment. There are so many assumptions about this – that Jesus is crying for Jerusalem, that he is crying for the people, that he is crying over sin and death. That is probably all true. Maybe it is also true that he is scared. Maybe it is also true that he is overwhelmed. All we know is that this passage has two words: Jesus wept. It is the shortest passage in the Bible, yet it is packed with so much that we do not know. We know that Jesus cried, and that sometimes we cannot understand why we are crying, let alone our Savior. Whatever hesitations or concerns or tears were shed in that place, Jesus went on. He continued on, because Palm Sunday is not the end. It is merely the beginning. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: C (Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1994), 166.

[2] The “H” word is Hallelujah – a word that is never uttered during Lent, and I even shiver to type it in the season.

[3] William G. Carter, “Luke 19.28-40” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 154.

[4] Ann Weems, “Between Parades” in Kneeling in Jerusalem (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992), 69.

[5] Melissa Florer-Bixler, “Reflections on the lectionary” in Christian Century (March 267, 2019) Vol. 136, No. 7, p. 21.

[6] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Luke 19.28-40” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 171.

[7] Ibid., 173.