This is the sermon I preached at Bethel and Camp Springs UMC today. I began the service with a hymn, the first scripture reading, and the first page of my sermon, the palm section, down in front, from the nave. Then we finished the hymn, and I gave the children’s sermon. After some lectionary readings, I then preached the passion section of my sermon. I wanted to have both parts, but I had struggled with holding them together in the same situation. Not my best, but from my heart. (It is the words of the Lord anyway, not mine.)
Jesus says the stones will cry out, because praises must be sung, and they must sing out now.
Jesus enters Jerusalem at the beginning of the week of Passover as the central focus of a triumphant procession. The crowds called out: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
They are crying these praises because they know that this is their Lord. This is the greater crowd of disciples, the crowd that followed Jesus because he had been teaching that the Kingdom of God was coming. And they are celebrating.
Exciting words from a carpenter raised in Nazareth.
But with the crowd of disciples were the others, the ones who went and watched Jesus from a distance, who did not have hearts that were open to hear God’s Word. The Pharisees complained to Jesus. Jesus is in the midst of this procession, the center and focus of the procession entering Jerusalem, and the pharisaic hecklers (possibly afraid of the consequences from the occupying roman forces) are still ordering him to control the mob in the throes of celebration.
Jesus has a good comeback: “If they shut up, the rocks would shout.” [HA] Clearly the Pharisees don’t get it. Granted, the crowd probably doesn’t either. Do they really know what they are celebrating?
Do they know what will be happening before the week is done?
They surely don’t know what is going to happen next Sunday. No one in the crowd has a clue just how much truth is being cried out.
Five days later, after Jesus had routed the thieves from the temple, after question after question after question from the Pharisees, after the plotting began, after days at the temple preaching, and nights praying at the Mount of Olives, after Jesus had shared the Passover meal with his apostles, Jesus
Oh how quickly the tables turn.
Jesus entered the city triumphantly, and now he will be led back into the city, as a prisoner bound in chains in the darkness of night.
Betrayed by his disciple Judas and misunderstood even by his faithful disciples. Jesus is seemingly alone. By all human standards, he is alone. His disciples, those whom he had chosen and who walked with him for three years still now do not understand how his kingdom will come. They are still itching for a fight, even though they do not know how to wield a sword, so instead of killing a man as an outnumbered group, one manages only to cut off an ear of a slave. But Jesus says that it is not the time for this, [STOP] this is not right, and Jesus heals the man’s ear. I imagine that if the slave had been killed, Jesus still would have healed him, giving the chief priests additional reasons to bring Jesus to trial for heresy.
The chief priests are scared.
They are still worried about the consequences of this man they do not understand. Fear engulfs them because this is something they have not encountered before. We can all understand their fear.
We can understand their fear because we have all been in the same place they were in. Of course we are not part of a ruling class of priests that have command of the worship and laws of the community, but we have all had surprising and uncomfortable things happen to us. They were not always bad.
We have been afraid when we held our newly born children in our arms for the first time, trying to cope with how we were going to be the parents we wanted to be.
We have been afraid when on the job we have been given a responsibility that we don’t really understand, and now have the well being of others in our control.
We have been afraid when we have left the place we knew, either for a short vacation or in moving to a new town, and found ourselves in a part of town that we did not know, or feel comfortable in.
We have been led to defend ourselves and those we love in the face of danger or times of confusion and conflict. In these times, our most natural response is to defend our position of what we know in the face of the unknown, and like us, the chief priests were defending their positions and institutions.
But along with their fear, they were acting out of guilt. They held this guilt as they attempted to cover up their actions away from the people who followed them. They are guilty of hiding from the eyes of their people, as they cover up their actions from those that followed their lead in worship.
Why else would they bribe one of Jesus’ followers to give him up where he prayed and come after him not only in the middle of the night in the dark, but with weapons and a riot squad?
They are treating the man who preached peace and unity as a thug and brigand. They are treating him this way because of their own fear and guilt, the guilt that they had over their heads because they were afraid of the populace that filled their temple every day, and filled their pockets with money. They are afraid of what the people would say or do if they saw Jesus being arrested. Not without reason: if the disciples are able to start havoc with a single sword, a mob of worshippers could overtake the few who police the temple.
In the midst of the chaos Jesus still is able to remain calm and speak the truth in the midst of the terror surrounding him.
This is why he came to pray, out in the quiet places. He came to be with his Father, to pray and to receive the instruction that he needed to continue on to the next step.
Jesus may not have known exactly what the next step was, but he did know that he was about to suffer. In the midst of this coming suffering, Jesus sought out a time of prayer and silence, to be able to face what the fearful crowd was about to do to him.
Even so, Jesus did have a deep and prayerful relationship with the Father, and we know that he responded in faith to the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is through this relationship that Jesus is able to have the strength to remain calm and respond with grace to the impulsive violence of his disciples, to the grief and sleep his disciples succumb to.
The disciples screw up so many times, and yet Jesus refuses to do anything but tell them the truth.
Yes, Peter, you will deny me.
No, do not fight any more.
This is my body which is given for you.
As Jesus speaks the truth in love, we are called to listen to the truth he preaches.
Even in the time of trials, when it seems that there is no point of our existence but to be mistreated and reviled, we are called to submit to our Father’s will. It may seem impossible, and at times it will prove very nearly impossible. You may need to follow Jesus’ example and escape to a quiet place to pray for deliverance or strength to carry through the trials. There is no guarantee that you will be kept from attack. Jesus was arrested, beaten, mocked, and crucified while he was in perfect alignment with the Father’s will.
We must be prepared for the same treatment as we follow in his footsteps, and as we continue in the time of trial, we follow him to bring about his kingdom.
Jesus calls us to discipleship in his actions.
Follow me to the time of trial.
Follow me in releasing the cares of what others think of you.
Follow me into the world.