Sermon: Sticks and Stones

01 April 2007

The Rev. Jennifer Whipple
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)
April 1, 2007

Palm Sunday

Sticks and Stones 

Luke 19:28-40

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

My brother is four years older than I am, and we didn’t get along all that well until I was about 12-years-old.  So I used to have to use some of those “kiddo cliché sayings” quite a bit.  At any given time on any given day you could hear me exclaiming something like the following.  “I’m rubber, and you’re glue.  Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks back on you.”  Or the one that we all know and love… “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.”  Yup…that was me.  And I wish I could say that those words were true. Because although we didn’t get along so well I wanted nothing more than for him to like me and include me in the things that he did.  I wanted nothing more than to be a part of the things that he was a part of and for him to accept me.  So when those names did come out of his mouth, because I was the frustrating and, yes at times even annoying little sister (I know it’s hard to believe…), those names did hurt.  Perhaps it was my own insecurity or my own fear—a fear of not being  loved-- of not being accepted, so instead of bouncing off they really hurt. 

We have spoken a lot during this Lenten Season about fear and how we should look to God to alleviate our fears, to keep us safe and protected, to keep us from feeling those intense hurts as much as possible…that we should be not afraid.  Yet, as I thought about this morning, about what to say that is new on this Palm Sunday…after hearing or hearing about 28 years worth of Palm Sunday sermons myself, I thought about the one main fear I have as we head into this Holy Week.  You see we have spent time celebrating with the crowd as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the young colt.  We have spent time shouting “Hosanna” which means “Save us – we pray!” and parading with palms.  We have thought about the one who came to make all things new, the one who came in the name of the Lord to bring about a new way of life.  All of these things are wonderful, and yet we know what is to come in the next week. 

I remember spending time when I was younger on the celebration piece of things on Palm Sunday but not so much the looking forward into this week and its events.  Every year on Palm Sunday growing up the entire congregation sang an anthem known as “The Palms.”  It spoke of the pomp and circumstance of Jesus entering Jerusalem , riding on a young donkey, as the people who had gathered to see him spread their cloaks out before him and waved palm branches.  The words to the song proclaimed, “Hosanna!  Glory to God!  Glory to him who comes bringing salvation!”  And we join with that chorus again on this Palm Sunday.  We shout Hosanna to God!  We shout the good stuff…we so want to be the people who accept Jesus and walk with Jesus throughout this coming Holy Week.  We so want to continue our shouts of praise even knowing what is to come.

For we now know that Jesus will enter the Temple and cleanse it, overturning the tables and throwing the money collectors out the door and that a woman named Mary will anoint him with expensive oil much to the dismay of his disciples.  We know that he will spend time with his disciples and teach them more about service by washing their feet.  We know that Judas will make a deal with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus and turn him in for 30 silver coins.  We know that Jesus will be betrayed and deserted on the night he sat down to celebrate the Passover Feast and his Last Supper with the people whom he not only called disciples but also friends.  We know that he will be brought to trial, found guilty of being a phony king according to those who would raise their voices to shout “Crucify Him!”  And we know that he will be told to carry his cross to Calvary where he will die crying out for God to forgive the people who nailed him to that cross both with their words and actions.  Those are the stories we look toward this week.  And as morbid and difficult as they are to think about or imagine, we must understand the intensity of them before we can truly understand the amazing blessing of next Sunday’s Easter celebration…a blessing the enormity of which is difficult to put into words.  A blessing that means our forgiveness.

So the fear that I spoke about earlier is a fear attached to one lingering question…Who would I have been?  Who would any of us have been in that crowd so long ago?  Although I hope that I would be among those who celebrated upon Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and then followed and walked with him through his last week and the amazing journey to the tomb to find the stone rolled away, I must admit I am a people pleaser and always have been.  I have tried my hardest throughout my life to steer as clear away from conflict as I could and grew up going along with what others thought was best, trying to fulfill others’ expectations.  So would my cheers and Hosannas, my palm-waving, have turned into jeers and curses?  Would I have walked faithfully with Jesus to Calvary or would I have succumbed to the pressure and the knowledge that Jesus was not the kind of king that people awaited?  Would I have stood with the crowd as they called him the names – Son of God, Son of Man, King of the Jews -- that during his trial were taunts that led to his death sentence?  Would I have followed through on my faith or would I have been with the crowd screaming “Crucify Him!”? 

The idea of even imagining those things means to see this account from both sides…to stand with the crowd who had been oppressed by the Roman Army, who expected that this King, the one for whom they had cut and waved palm branches and laid down cloaks as signs of his nobility and justice, would save them from social & political oppression.  That Jesus would not bring about peace by riding on a donkey and telling people how to live, but that he would bring about peace by force, which seemed to be second nature not only then but also in our world today.  That Jesus would not save them by allowing them to humiliate him and die for them, but by standing up for them and exacting revenge against those in power. 

On the other hand to stand with some of the people in the crowd that day who had been oppressed by the Roman Army meant to watch Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a young donkey instead of a horse or chariot like the mighty warriors past and to see the differences between him and other powerful figures.  To cut down palm branches and wave them, because they realized that Jesus was not noble and powerful as the world might define, but because he was of a different more special breed.  To follow Jesus as he cleared out the Temple and taught those important lessons the last week of his earthly life…to hear the words of the greatest commandment – love God and others as you would be loved yourselves -- and to realize that for Jesus loving others was the true way to peace.  To have realized that Jesus made the journey to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover – a festival of pilgrimage to a holy place… a festival in which God’s saving acts and redemption were celebrated, and in Jesus’ case the ultimate act of salvation was foreshadowed.  To have walked with him through the trial and to Calvary , to stand with him until the end.

No matter which side they would end up on people waved the sticks from the Palm Trees, those branches, to celebrate the entrance of this new kind of king into Jerusalem .  And after the disciples and others continued to proclaim Jesus as their Lord and the religious leaders told them to stop, Jesus said, “surely even if these were silent the stones would shout out!”  They all knew in some way…in the depths of their being…that something was about to happen, something that would change them and history forever, something that would go beyond names – hurtful or not – and beyond sticks & stones…something unimaginable and awful and miraculous and blessed.  So as we leave with our palms this day we are challenged to see them as a reminder to stay aware of what is to happen this week…to leave today not only in anticipation of grocery lists and family gatherings, of what will happen next Sunday as Easter arrives-- but rather to reflect on the events of that last week of Jesus’ earthly life in order to increase our awareness and appreciation of the abundant blessing of Salvation we will celebrate.  As we leave with our palms today we begin this Holy Week with a new awareness proclaiming, “Hosanna!  Glory to God!  Glory to him who comes bringing OUR salvation!”  Amen.   


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