“Even the Stones Would Shout”
March 24, 2013
Here, in this space where we gather,
My hope is that each is touched by the Sacred — Not by my words,
But through the compassion shared.
May the Light of Life be yours.
Some weeks, it is a lot harder to do this than other weeks. Some weeks, I read the chosen text, I know exactly where I am going, I sit down and write and it’s done. Other weeks, like this one, I sit down and think, “What can I possibly say about Palm Sunday?” How many different ways can a person say, “They were excited about him coming to town for all the wrong reasons!” Especially in a church like Hope where some people question the predominant Easter message. The flip side of the dilemma is if I don’t talk about Palm Sunday, well, the walls themselves might shout it out.
What IS the message in the Palms for us today? Good question. It is a question I certainly struggled with this week.
I would like to step back, reflect on the larger picture, the picture painted in the Luke text read earlier by Mark Nelson. The story is the familiar story of Jesus coming into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, nothing very exciting in that so far. Jesus is a devout, religious man coming to town for the biggest religious celebration of the year. Not much of a suggestion of radical change in that. Or, we can step back even further, say to the big picture that is portrayed in the context of the entire collection of writings called the Bible. Then, we see this as a narrative that is a repeating theme. It is repeating a story of people who long to adhere to what they consider to be the fundamentally true way of getting things done.
This is a story about change. And people don’t, by and large, appreciate change.
When I was in the convenience store business, each time we bought a new store there was always an existing group of employees who needed to learn a new way of doing their job. They were used to the old ways of doing things and they wanted to keep doing things the same way. People are that way. They learn something, get it in their mind, and it becomes a huge roadblock, the resistance to doing that one thing differently is usually met with tremendous stubbornness.
The story that was read from Luke is about people wanting to do things the same old way and Jesus wanting to do things differently. These people, the people of Jerusalem of the first century, were a people used to political change happening in violent ways. Roman legionnaires were not known for leading nonviolent protests. John the Baptist’s head was literally served up on a platter because that is the way Herod’s daughter wanted it done. The resistance to Rome was not peaceful sit-ins. The people were used to confrontation and violence. I would even go so far as to say the Hebrew Scriptures are mostly about people struggling to do things differently – often in violent ways.
The story of Adam and Eve is about a changing relationship as people become aware of the Sacred presence that is with them and it includes sibling murder. Abraham is about changing his polytheistic ways and believing in one God of all and it includes the near murder of his son. Moses is about a struggle for change and includes violence. Story after story, in the Hebrew Scriptures, is about change through violence. As we look at those stories, it is important to note it is not just the people who are changing but it is God, or their story of who God is to them. The narrative shifts as their story of God is going through a transformation from a God of judgment that is at times cruel and vengeful to a God that loves justice, kindness and peace.
The people of Jerusalem who are clamoring for Jesus as he rides into town are cheering for what they hope will be a return of their kingdom to an heir of the throne of David. Or, another way to say that is, that the people are longing for a return to their set of fundamental beliefs or ways of doing things which they saw as a return to the ways of old. Just the kind of thing we see in so much of Christianity today.
Jesus, on the other hand, wants to continue the transformational process which we have seen taking place in the overarching story that is the entirety of the Bible. From the earliest accounts of God as a wrathful judge to later stories where God longs to be fair to all there is a continuing story of change.
There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus was genuinely angry over the “fundamentalism” that ran rampant during his lifetime. Fundamentalism is born out fear of change – a belief that if we only go back to the way things were, life will be better. Fundamentalists pick a spot on the time line and say here! This is where things were ‘right’ and contend that there can be no movement from that point. The problem with that is – no matter what point on the timeline that is chosen, it is as well a progression from a prior place of digging in the heals.
So, why have a fundamentalist discussion on Palm Sunday?
Because it is the emotional extremes that we so often see in fundamentalists, that were present in the people THAT day, that we also see in fundamentalism today, in many different religious settings. They wanted Jesus to lead the charge. They wanted the confrontation and it is their extremely emotional ways that then turn on Jesus when he chooses NOT to get caught up in the confrontation but chooses instead a new way of leading the people to change.
Fred Plumer, an author and writer on a website I look to frequently in referring to the bulk of Christian churches today writes, “It seems so ironic that people who are trying so hard to hold on to something that is no longer working, trying to keep things the way they have always been, are supposed to be representing a man who was a radical change agent in his own time. Not only was he advocating changes in his own religion, the entire Jesus message, the foundation of Christianity, has always been about change:
Repentance, forgiveness, conversion, transformation, love, resurrection, and taking on the spirit of Christ are ALL about change.
In fact, I would suggest that the whole sacred message of the Christian epic is about life and death and rebirth. It is about learning to die every day and being reborn…again and again as we grow spiritually. And in how many other religious stories from other traditions don’t we hear that same kind of teaching?
So, the palms we wave yet another year are one of those intentional reminders of even our own resistance to change. We are one small church stuck out on a peninsula but the attitudes here are different and can be contagious. Here, we are open to respecting life in many ways. Here, we have taken an important social justice stand about welcoming all. Here, we are about looking forward. We are about sharing the Sacred Essence of all that is with people who arrive in God’s presence from many different backgrounds. We can be about change and we can invite others to participate assuring them as we move into new areas of thought, we move together, clinging to one another in assurance and love.
Those are the praises of which we sing. The stones themselves are ready to shout in praise of a path to the Sacred One — open to all people. If we fail to share our passion, if we fail to cry out, the stones themselves will sing. We must silence those stones with our praise. Praise for a Sacred One — approachable by all, welcoming all. Here, that is real.
Blessings Friends, Amen