After he had said this, [Jesus] went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it.'" So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" They said, "The Lord needs it." Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!" Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”"
Pastor Marc's sermon on Palm Sunday (April 14, 2019) on Luke 19:28-40. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
Did you notice, while standing in the narthex, that our reading from the gospel according to Luke doesn’t mention palm branches at all? Now, if you’re a regular attendee of Palm Sunday, you sort of expect having a palm branch given to you along with a worship bulletin. But if this is your first Palm Sunday or if Luke’s version of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is the only one you know, then our blessing of palms today might feel a little odd. Nothing in our gospel reading mentioned foliage or branches. Instead, Luke couldn’t stop talking about cloaks. Cloaks are one of those pieces of clothing that we don’t see often but they are making a comeback. They’re worn like a coat but they’re lose and they hang at our shoulders. Cloaks can be really fun, with a hood, pockets, and sometimes are brightly colored. And in Jesus’ day, if you could afford to own a coat, you really owned a cloak. These outer garments were the default clothing people wore as they wandered around Jerusalem’s marketplace. They were everywhere and they became, for Luke, the primary item people used to show just how important Jesus was. Cloaks were used to create a saddle for Jesus and people threw them onto the road to welcome Jesus as he passed. If we treated our coats and out jackets today like we do our palms, we could insist that the blessing of the palms really should be a blessing of our jackets. And instead of waving our palms branches above our heads as we entered the sanctuary, we could have swung our jackets wildly and with abandon. Or, if we were looking for something a little bit more authentic, we could throw our jackets onto the floor and let everyone walk on them. Both of these kinds of garment traditions might make us a bit uncomfortable as we worry about being smacked in the face by a faithfully swung leather jacket or upset that our favorite hoodie might have tons of people stepping on it. None of these are, of course, things I’m going to ask you to do. But when we spend time with those words and phrases of today’s gospel that, for us, seem to be a bit different, a bit unique, and even a little bit off, we discover our odd-ball piece of Jesus’ story that God wants each of us to make as our own.
Because when we notice our odd-ball piece of scripture, there’s a good chance the people around us don’t see that verse in the same exact way. They might be able to see why it’s a bit off. But that word from God doesn’t necessarily speak to them in the same way it speaks to you. They don’t find themselves struggling with it. They’re not super interested in asking questions about it. They can move on to the very next sentence in their Bible reading while we just can’t. And when that’s happened, we’ve discovered a word or a phrase or an entire biblical story that God wants us to chew on. God wants us to ask questions, to do research, and to spend time trying to figure out why we can’t get this odd-ball piece of Scripture out of hearts and minds. Sometimes, this process of questioning, of spending time with the story, can take years or even a lifetime as the intensity of the words fade in and out of our lives. And overtime, the odd-ball bits of Scripture sort of morph into an odd-ball moment of awe, as we ponder everything we can about it. The more we sit with it, the more we notice, and the more we keep our odd-ball pieces of scripture close to us, we one day notice how that part of God’s story has suddenly become part or ours. The texts we encounter in the Bible are not meant to be read Sunday morning and then forgotten during brunch. They are, instead, meant to linger within us - giving us an opportunity to experience what it’s like to live with God’s Word. Our living with the text doesn’t always mean we’ll know exactly what it means. And it doesn’t mean that our reasons for sitting with it will always remain the same. When we end up living with part of God’s story, there’s a good chance we couldn’t share with those around us exactly why this one piece of Scripture speaks so deeply to us. Yet when we let our odd-ball texts of Scripture sit in our hearts and hang out in minds, we end up integrating God’s word into our own.
I can’t personally imagine being so caught up in a parade that it feels completely right to toss my favorite jacket onto the road so that someone else could walk on it. And I’m pretty sure, if I knew that was expected of me, I would leave my beloved red Ocean City hoodie or my fake leather jacket at home and replace them with something hanging right outside my office on the clothing racks for our Trash and Treasure rummage sale. Now, I know what Jesus was doing as he entered the city of Jerusalem. His followers were busy creating a scrappy, unsophisticated, and small version of a Roman military parade that was used to welcome victorious generals and emperors into the cities they came to visit. In fact, it’s possible that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate and his legion of Roman soldiers were being welcome and celebrated in the exact same way on the other side of town. Only one of those parades was revealing God’s truth while the other was celebrating the image of truth, power, strength, and victory as we always imagine it to be. Yet even the disciples were unaware of what Jesus was about to do. Even though I know what happens next in Jesus’ story, I’m still left wondering what it would take for me to take off my jacket and place it on the ground as a way to welcome Jesus’ divine gift of love that truly knows no bound. That’s one of my personal reasons why the story of Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem is something I still chew on. It’s a story that asks me to reflect on the love I already know; to examine the love I’ve already received; to recognize the gift that I’ve already been given because I’ve encountered Jesus and I know Jesus knows me. Yet, when Jesus shows up - whether in the face of a stranger, of the oppressed, of those who are hurting, those who are afraid, or those who have no home or no home to return to - what will I do when I find myself caught up in the parade Jesus is already marching in?
When you find a piece of scripture that’s a bit odd, a bit off, and one that makes you want to gnaw on it - just chew. Because that’s a sign that you’ve already stepped into Jesus’ story - and God has already started the process of making His story your own.
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