Passage: Luke 19:28-40
Date: April 01, 2007
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
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I have been thinking a lot about the road Jesus traveled. A road from Jericho, past Bethany, to the Mt. of Olives, and from there he could see the city of Jerusalem. I have walked on that road. I have looked at the walls of Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives. Probably some of you have too. The places mentioned in Luke are there. There are roads, and there is dust, and there are stones. You might imagine what it would feel like to walk that road barefoot or in sandals. The road really exists.
But there is more to that road. There is what it represents. That road is the way of Jesus. That road is a way into the heart of a powerful culture. That road is a way that challenges everything it passes. It's the way of resistance. It's the road of justice. It's the way of peace. It is a road of righteousness, and healing, and repentance. Luke says that when Jesus saw Jerusalem for the first time that day, from that road, from the Mt. of Olives, that he wept.
I can understand crying while looking at the road into Jerusalem. Maybe for some of the same reasons that Jesus did. Maybe for some new and different ones. I can understand crying while looking at the road into Jerusalem. I can also understand crying while looking at the road into Baghdad. Or the road into Niamey in Niger or into Johannesburg: cities in Africa that struggle with famine and AIDS. Throughout Lent in Adult Education classes we have been hearing about places in Africa that bring tears. I can understand crying on the road into Washington DC, or Salem, Oregon, depending on the day, and what was going on there.
Luke says that people spread their garments on the road as Jesus rode along.
Nowhere does Luke mention palms. So here's your April fools joke: you thought it was Palm Sunday, but, there are really NO palms in the Bible story! It says coats. Not palms. April fool!
So if you're wondering what's the deal with these palm branches: It's John's Gospel that describes palms. Matthew and Mark just say that people cut branches. But in Luke the palm branches are nowhere to be found. So what's the difference between a road covered with palm branches, and a road covered with coats? A lot.
The difference is in what is implied - about the meaning of the road.
Palms have more nationalistic overtones than coats. In 1 Maccabees, Palestine had been under foreign rule and a series of Jewish military actions defeated the occupying force, and liberated the land. According to 1 Maccabees 13:49-53, part of the Roman Catholic Apocryphal books of the Bible, Jewish people waved palms in the temple, as symbols of independence, and, as it says, "a great enemy had been crushed".
Cloaks on the roadway, by contrast, are a traditional gesture of welcome for a new king. Cloaks are referred to in 2 Kings 9 at the coronation of a new king. Citizens, rather than rebels, acknowledge their new ruler. These coats are not rebellion, but rather a description of the inevitable, divinely inspired leader of the future. It's a more peaceful gesture - at least on the surface. This is just the way things are. Which is of course far more radical if you are NOT really a king. It would not sit well with the king in power.But it probably would be seen as more laughable than anything. Like powerless kids play acting with grandma's old coats. Unless of course, there really was TRUTH in it!
Maybe Luke is suggesting a less violent, but much more confident way of proclaiming the truth of who Jesus is, and what the future is about. Is Luke suggesting that the community of Jesus resist violent rebellion, in favor of persistent survival over the long haul?
And do you see - that it doesn't really matter what actually happened on that road 2000 years ago? We don't need to do scientific study to figure out if it was actually palm branches, or coats, or both. That's not where the TRUTH of this is. The truth is that Jesus on that road challenged everything and everybody. And people who saw it, and people who remembered it, and people who told the story later, like people in John's community or Luke's, found somewhat different meanings in it. But in every case it was a challenge to every one of them. And it challenges us, if we have ears to hear it's truth. It challenges any place we see injustice.
Let's try to hear the truth of this text, set next to some history...
Did you know that the Sunday after Martin Luther King's death was Palm Sunday? The Rev. William Simpson jr., the pastor of Front Street United Methodist Church in Burlington, N.C., remembers that day: "On the Sunday following King's death, Palm Sunday, 1968, I stepped into the pulpit with a heightened sense of urgency and responsibility. I had chosen Luke 9:51 as a text, "He set his face toward Jerusalem". Martin Luther King was in the last Lent of the earthly mission to which God had called him. People assumed King's primary mission was to free African-Americans from oppression, but the truth was that he sought to free all people, from the bondage of evil attitudes and actions". So said Rev. Simpson.
And what happened then? Well, four weeks after the April 4 murder of King, Ralph Abernathy led a group of marchers to Washington D.C. It was the opening of the Poor People's Campaign. They had a vision for a place called...anyone remember...anyone...a place called "Resurrection City".
The mission of Resurrection City was to focus the world's attention on poverty, and putting an end to poverty. But only 2-3 weeks into the campaign there was an impression that it was a failing cause. The world did not want to focus on poverty. There was bad publicity and bad weather. Thousands of people were frustrated. Resurrection City was torn down on June 24, 1968.
Roger Wilkins was the nephew of Roy Wilkins of the NAACP. Roger worked for the U.S. Justice Department. He said this about it: "Right after Resurrection City was emptied out, I was told to go to 14th and U. When I got there the intersection was filled with volatile young people who clearly wanted to start a riot. On the back of a flatbed truck was young Jesse Jackson, 26 years old, and he was preaching. He was saying, "I am somebody. If you're somebody, you don't riot. Say after me, "I am somebody"." What Jesse was doing was preaching the riot out of those people. He was preaching, really, pride. He kept on preaching. He was talking quite a risk, ‘cause to preach nonviolence to a group of kids who wanted to tear the place down was taking a risk..."
Marian Wright Edelman said this: "When Resurrection City was done, I never thought about giving up. I thought about how do I get up and figure out a new way to keep going. I don't think anyone ever has the right to give up on children, or on the poor. The needs remain...None of us had King's eloquence and certainly not his goodness, but in our own ways, with our hands and our limited visions, we can try and craft together his dream."
Well, now coming back into the present day, I think that is the challenge of Luke's gospel, for us, on this Palm Sunday too. How do we figure out ways to keep traveling the road on which Jesus leads us.
What does it mean for Jesus to travel a road covered in coats? What does it mean that some people wanted to wave palm branches? What does it mean that both stories are in the Bible? How can we be the community God intends?
How can we address the needs of poverty and injustice in our world? How can we really honor soldiers fighting in Iraq? How do we respond to overtures in the Oregon legislature about civil rights for gay couples? What can we do about 30% of Roosevelt students that are homeless in our own city? How can we address payday loans? On and on it goes...
And how can we be community in the midst of all that, when we don't all agree on many of these things? How can we keep the palms of our hands open to one another? How can we ALL gather around this table - in the MIDST of all that is not right? How can we touch one another palm to palm, heart to heart, in ways that are good and right and respectful and true?
Hear the words of a more ancient Martin Luther:
"This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, net rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on.
This is not the end, but it IS the road.
All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified."
These are not only ancient words. They are words for us. They are baptismal words.
Both Jim Moiso and Lisa Stine were baptized on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is a traditional time for infant baptism at the end of the Lenten journey. Next Sunday we will baptize one member of the confirmation class. He will drown in that font, and be reborn. He will die to all sin and be born to life in Christ. That's what the sign of baptism is a witness to. And then he will go back to his life and eventually make a few mistakes. Because baptism is not the end. It too is the road.
But baptism bears witness to a reality that transcends all we see around us. Baptism and the Lord's table proclaim the end while we are still on the road. And we are called to be a part of what God is doing.
If we are silent, the very stones on the road will cry out it's message. And even as the stones proclaim God's glory, one stone - will be rolled back from a tomb. One grave will be empty. And the promise of everlasting life WILL be revealed.