Good morning! Our children’s choir sang again this morning and oh my gosh. They were adorable! I need to get the video off of someone’s phone. In the meantime, here is my Palm Sunday sermon! Enjoy …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
March 29, 2015
Telling The Dramatic Story Of God’s Love
I spent last week in Connecticut helping my father and his students open their annual All School Musical, a production of The Secret Garden.
My dad’s shows are always quite the production. From rented costumes, to wigs and makeup, to scenery that flies in and out with the pull of a rope, to lights that spin with the flip of a button, to professional headshots displayed in the lobby, to wireless microphones worn by every lead and chorus member with a solo throughout the show, no detail is left untouched. In fact, this year I found myself at Home Depot the day before opening night looking for replacement light bulbs for the lights on the sides of the aisle seats in the theater so that every aisle light was illuminated when the house lights dimmed the next day.
Now you see where I get it from.
So you can see why, by the time Bruce arrived in Connecticut five days into my trip, I greeted him with a very enthusiastic, “I just had a GREAT idea for Maundy Thursday!”
Without waiting for the inevitable “Oh no, not again” response that I knew was coming, I started chattering away about a dramatic lighting effect on the altar that would change midway through the service to note the paradigm shift between the Last Supper and the Passion Narrative. I even pointed out that my dad had spare lights that he was not using this year that I was sure he could gladly lend us.
Bruce took a deep breath, patted me on the head and said, “Why don’t you sleep on that.”
The next day, I was presenting a workshop at a conference when I asked my clergy friend Jon – who shares my love of all things overly dramatic – what he thought of the idea. He thought it was brilliant.
Well, that was all that I needed.
I ran back into the theater that night and told Bruce that Jon agreed with me and that we needed to get our gears turning. I was so distracted by the ideas that were floating around in my head that I did not notice Bruce take his phone out until he got a text a few minutes later and started laughing. Apparently he had sent Jon a text saying, “Thanks a lot for encouraging Sarah on this dramatic lighting idea. Do you know how much work this is going to be?”
Jon responded: “Do you know what else took a lot of work? Dying on the cross.”
I do not think Bruce responded.
Much to the dismay of the people around me who tend to get caught in the crossfires of my “great ideas,” we are approaching the most dramatic week in the Christian year. This week is the reason that we all gather in the first place. As we hear the story of Jesus’ death later this week, we will enter a three-day period of waiting for the resurrection; this is the only time in the Christian year that we are able to live out a story of our faith in real time.
Cue the dramatic lighting.
Let’s look at the Palm Sunday story. Jesus certainly did not slip into Jerusalem unnoticed. His entry is often described as “triumphal”. He rode a donkey into the city; people laid down their cloaks and palm branches on the road and shouted “Hosanna!” as he entered Jerusalem. This was a parade of pronounced proportions and should be honored as such in the church, right? Don’t think that the thought never crossed my mind that we should march a donkey down the aisle as we handed out palms during our opening hymn this morning.
(Because that would have been great on the new carpet.)
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was very calculated on his part. He had arranged for a colt to be tied up in the village just ahead of him, he was very clear in his instructions to his disciples to get the colt and his entry was timed so that there would be bystanders around to witness this event. But there was more going on than what we just see on the surface.
First of all, there were political implications to what Jesus was doing. He began this charade at the Mount of Olives, which was the location that people expected the final battle for Jerusalem’s liberation to begin. He then entered the city of Jerusalem and experienced what can only be described as a military procession; people cheered for him, spread cloaks and palms before him as a symbol of honor and worshiped him like a national hero.
But here is the thing: In the Gospel of Mark, we are told that Jesus rode a colt into Jerusalem, not even a full-grown donkey. And Jesus did not carry weapons with him; in fact, all that was on the donkey with him were a few cloaks that people had taken off themselves and put on the colt, not even regal blankets made to fit the colt.
So picture this: Jesus – a fully-grown man – was riding a colt with mismatched cloaks on it. Jesus’ feet were likely dragging along the ground as he rode this small animal. He was unarmed and did not display any kind of governmental paraphernalia as he paraded through the streets of Jerusalem.
There was something a bit tongue and cheek to what Jesus was doing. He was challenging the social order by taking part in something that typically brought great honor and integrity to the participant, but by adding a little bit of mockery to it.
Now you know that I tend to stay as far away from politics as I possibly can when I am standing behind the pulpit, but I think that there is a real lesson for us to learn from what Jesus did in this story and how it is told in this gospel. And honestly – I am not really even talking about national or international political battles, either. I am talking about the lives that we lead every single day. I am talking about how we interact with our families, with our friends and with the people in our communities. I am talking about how we choose to spend our time and our money, how we talk to people and the choices that we make daily.
We all get caught up in what the society we are living in tells us to do. At some point throughout our lives, we will conform to the culture that surrounds us, because that is what everybody else does. We do what the people around us are doing so that we do not stand out in the crowd. We try to keep up with other people and their families, even if that means we are stretched physically, emotionally and financially because that is what we are “supposed” to do. We set our expectations based on the expectations of others. We lose sight of who we are because we get sucked into who everybody else is.
And all of this turns us away from God.
Friends, this is when our lives start to become chaotic.
But time and time again, Jesus taught us that we do not have to live our lives this way. Jesus showed us that we can stand out in a crowd, that we can go against the grain of society, that we can be who we are, who we want to be and who God created us to be. Jesus showed us that we can lead the lives that we want to lead, not the lives that the people around us lead.
We cannot get so caught up in our societies and our structures and our expectations that we overlook who God created us to be and who God is calling us to be. We cannot get so caught up in the drama of this world that we forget the boldly dramatic ways that God is working in our lives. We have to let go of the chaos that distracts us and simply live into God’s call, even if that means going against what everyone else around us is doing.
I think that as we remember the Palm Sunday story, we are not only called to shout “Hosanna!” and lay down our cloaks and our palm branches in front of Jesus, but we are also called to ride that colt into Jerusalem ourselves. We are called to live in to who we are, we are called to stand up against the structures and societies that turn us away from God and we are called to humbles ourselves in front of ourselves, in front of others and in front of God.
That is what Jesus did that day.
Our stories should be inspired by God; not simply by the world around us.
Today, on Palm Sunday, I invite you not only to celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, but also to celebrate how God is calling us to create that dramatic moment in our lives today.
Let us celebrate the fact that we do not have to let the rest of the world define who are and the lives that we lead. Let us not forget that we can – and should – be who we are. We can calm the chaos of our lives and simply live into the person that God is calling us to be and we can start that right now.
This week we will gather around a table and share a meal that Jesus gave to us the night before he died. Then we will hear the powerful narrative of his final moments and his death on the cross. And then we will wait. We will wait for that Easter morning, we will wait for that moment in time where God’s love won over evil and we will wait for that blessed assurance once again that by grace, Jesus rose from the grave and by grace we are all saved.
Everything else does not matter.
Jesus’ tongue and cheek entry into Jerusalem tells a powerful story about how one man resisted the society he was living in and told the dramatic story of God’s love in a way that changed the world.
How will our stories be told? How will they change the world?
Thanks be to God!