Scriptures: Luke 19:29-40
(Based on Journey of Stones: A Sermon Series for Lent and Easter by Steven Molin)
As we continue with our sermon series, we now come to Palm/Passion Sunday. The journey is coming to its illogical conclusion. After three years of teaching and preaching and helping and healing, Jesus arrives in the city of Jerusalem, and there he is met by the screaming crowds. We've still a week to go in the season of Lent, but today marks the beginning of the end for Jesus.
It's the beginning of the end, but you wouldn't think so by listening to the people shouting his name. “Jesus! Master! Jesus! Hosanna! Jesus! We love you! Blessed is the Son of David!” The people there actually threw their coats and jackets on the road for Jesus to walk on.
In case you don't know, that was originally for royalty, so that they didn't step on the dirty ground. Later on, chauvinists decided to make it a matter of etiquette, so if there is a puddle in front of a woman, a man would throw his cloak down so she didn't have to walk on the wet and grimy ground.
So they threw their coats and jackets on the road. That's how excited they were. It had become a parade, a pageant. You might even say a victory celebration of the first order. It seemed like they were finally recognizing who Jesus was. Remember, this is something that had been an issue throughout his ministry, with people not recognizing who he was. He would occasionally ask, “Who do people say that I am?” It wasn't just the one time with Peter and the other disciples.
What kind of contemporary illustration could possibly help us understand this? The first thing that came to my mind was college football. Now I admit, I'm not an Iowa or an Iowa State fan. I haven't watched any of their games. (Sorry, you can stone me later.) But I did go to University of Nebraska – Lincoln and University of Tennessee – Knoxville. And the University of Tennessee – Knoxville has probably some of the most rabid fans I've ever seen.
You go there and fill the 102,000-seat stadium, up so high that some of the people in the top rows are actually using portable TVs and radios so they can get the replays and actually see what's going on in the field. But they're there anyway, yelling and screaming, trying to overwhelm the opponents with noise, so that they can't even hear their own quarterback yelling out commands, cheering on their team anytime there's a score or even a first down.
And boy, if you get a championship – we've all seen clips where people go and they tear down goalposts. Now goalposts – at least the ones that I'm familiar with – are made of metal and they're set in concrete. It takes a bit of effort to pull down the goalposts. And yet, they do it. That's pretty excited, at least if you ask me.
This day, these people in Jerusalem seem to have been like that. They were laughing, crying, and hugging people that maybe they did not know, all because Jesus the King had just ridden into town. That was fulfilling a prophecy, by the way, about the king riding in on a colt or donkey that had not been ridden.
What the people did not know is the the Pharisees were already planning Jesus' demise. They were looking for a way to stop his ministry, and when they found it, they would seize him. But they were in a quandary about what to do. His momentum was building. His popularity was growing by the hour. They figured something had to be done to quell the crowd.
Ever diplomatic, the Pharisees approached Jesus and asked him to settle the raucous crowd down. “Master, rebuke your disciples.” That's what the text says. But behind their polite words and maybe even smiling faces, what they were really saying was, “Jesus, tell your people to shut up!”
They're saying, We can't have this noise. We can't continue this party atmosphere. This might draw unwanted attention. This is the holy city of Jerusalem, and we're about to have one of our holiest of festivals. You can't disturb the solemnity of this occasion with this party-going crowd. That's what the Pharisees were insinuating.
I would note, as an aside, that it's not all that different in a lot of churches today. We Presbyterians are sometimes called God's Frozen Chosen. In my office, I have a couple of different pictures of Jesus laughing.
One of those, a print of a woodcut, at one of the churches I served, I temporarily had put it up on a wall in the sanctuary, when the picture that had been there, that had been donated by someone in the church, was taken back by the family after the person died. After a couple of weeks, I actually was asked to take it down, because it made people uncomfortable, seeing Jesus laughing. I guess that Jesus is always supposed to be solemn and sort of ascetic and head-in-the-clouds. Very religious.
But Jesus gives his response to those people. “Tell the people to be quiet?” Jesus said, “Why, if I did that, then the stones on the street would start to cry out loud.” You know, I kind of wish he would have done it, just to see what cobblestones look like when they're screaming.
The point, though, that Jesus made, is obvious. The emotion and the ecstasy of his entry into Jerusalem were so powerful, even the stones in the road could feel it. That kind of faith is contagious. It gets other people worked up. That kind of faith is dangerous. That's why the Pharisees wanted it stopped. And that is why Jesus would not tell the people to subdue their joy.
It seems to me that the world has been telling the disciples of Jesus to shut up ever since. Oh, they do this in the most subtle and seemingly innocuous ways, but the effect is still the same. The people of God are constantly told, “Settle down, don't be a fanatic, don't share the enthusiasm of your faith. In fact, don't even share your faith in public.” It's offensive. It's politically incorrect. It's socially inappropriate. Keep them separate, they tell us. You can have your little one-hour-a-week enclave, but don't bring it out to where I can see it and hear it.
And unfortunately we believe them. The result is that now our witness has been silenced, and our passion for Jesus seems to be gone. Now we are lukewarm disciples, no longer dangerous, no longer a threat to anyone – and no longer pleasing Jesus. In Revelation, when he talks about disciples, he says to the church at Laodicea, “You are neither hot nor cold but lukewarm, so I vomit you out of my mouth.” It's a very strong term that's used, to show his utter distaste with those who are lukewarm. It's a shame, as well, because then the next generation doesn't see the importance and urgency of our faith.
When I was at the church I served in Michigan, just like the presybtery here, where they have Camp Wyoming, they had a presbytery camp. Every year they had summer camps for kids, including one called Fine Arts Camp, and for three years I served as a chaplain there during the Fine Arts camp week. I had the privilege of also giving Christian Education, and watching these kids not just enjoy themselves with music and crafts and things like that, but also learn about Jesus and get excited about Jesus. And the counselors were wonderful.
How many of you had a campfire experience, or a summer camp experience,where you first came to know Jesus or rededicated yourself to Jesus or something like that? (Hmm, I guess we have a bunch of non-camp-goers here. That's all right.) It's a time when young people commit their lives to Jesus. Then them come back, and they're excited. And frequently, we don't know what to do with them. Sometimes, we may even quash their excitement.
When I was in high school, my senior year I went to something called Youth Triennium. It's an international Presbyterian event where every presbytery gets to send youth delegates. They meet at Purdue University, and it's a week-long event. I have to tell you, worshiping with five to seven thousand other teenagers and going to seminars can be really invigorating and exciting.
The theme for the year I was at Triennium was baptism. And frankly, when I came back, I wanted to be re-baptized. As a pastor and an adult, I understand now the reasons why we don't re-baptize in the Presbyterian church. Baptism is like the new circumcision. We're part of the family of God already and we have Confirmation to allow us to affirm our faith in public before the congregation. We don't need to have water poured over our heads.
But there are ways to say that that are better than others. The pastor at the church that I had been sent from as a delegate did not handle it well and went ballistic, saying things like “You think God's mark and Spirit didn't work the first time and you need it again?” I was a teenager, excited about Jesus, asking for something that would allow me to publicly show how much I wanted to be his disciple.
And instead of providing a venue, she didn't just shut it down, she stomped on it. I'm not afraid to say that we left that church shortly after that and went to a different church that was more accepting on things. But it was a shame, to quash the Spirit. It even tells us in the Scriptures, “Don't quench the Spirit.”
So what's point of my rather long story? We have listened to the Pharisees' voice for too long. We have come to believe that God's grace is a private, personal matter, and it ought not to be expressed in public. At the same time, we tolerate immorality because it is not socially appropriate to make people accountable for their sins. Dr. Frank Harrington says it this way: “It's a little wink here, a little shrug there, a look the other way, and suddenly we find ourselves tolerating things and refusing to challenge behavior that is clearly wrong.”
I believe he's correct. We are afraid or ashamed to tell anyone that it is our faith that dictates how we live our lives. The cancel culture of today will take that opportunity to try to make you some sort of fringe fanatic. All you have to do is watch any of the Senate investigations, not just of judicial cabinets, but Cabinet candidates, anybody that might have any kind of position of public service. They do it even to us as well, frequently in places of business, within the schools, particularly the secondary schools. We're afraid.
In short, Christians in general, and I believe Presbyterians in particular, have become silent about Jesus Christ. We try to tell them the gospel by … being nice, doing good. Not that that's something we don't want to do, we do, and Paul says we shouldn't get tired of doing it. But that's not how we share about who Jesus Christ is and what he has done.
The world has told us to shut up, and we've said, “Okay.” Well, shame on us! I am not suggesting that we become blatantly obnoxious. I've told stories about the time when my wife and I were out for a walk in New Jersey, and somebody who was out handing out tracts interrupted our very nice evening with one of those questions about “If you were to die tonight, do you know if you would go to heaven?”
I've also shared about how my father had a “baptism of fire” when he was away from the family, and when he came back, for about six months you could guarantee he would say, “Hi, I'm Roland Evans, do you know the Lord?” That turns people off, and we don't want to be that way. But I am suggesting that we become publicly honest about our love for our Savior. Peter says, “You must be ready to defend the hope that is within you.”
How many times have you and I had the opportunity to tell someone about God's forgiveness, and yet we remained silent? How frequently have we been tempted to say to someone, “I will pray for you,” but instead we said nothing? Or we even said, “I'll pray for you,” and then walked off, when we could have taken that moment to actually pray for them. How often do we consider inviting a colleague or a neighbor to church, but then chicken out at the last moment?
Those are our sins of omission. The season of Lent is a good time to challenge those sins. But please remember, it calls us to make a choice, to make a conscious decision not to be silent about news so great as the gospel.
Today, may these stones that you hold stand for our sin of silence – those times we could have spoken a word of grace, but did not. As we lay them at the cross of Christ, may our passion come alive. May our love for the Savior become known to all. If we do that, then the stones can be silent, and we can sing praise.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.