Saturday, April 8, 2017

Palm Sunday Ain't What We Thought

photo by Kate Dixon / flickr

Palm Sunday is one of their great days of the Church. We pass out palms and remember that sunny day when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem for a last and final time. The crowds lined the roads and it looked like a glorious time for God’s people. So Palm Sunday begins a week called Holy. He will leave the celebration, move into the temple—see how they had desecrated everything. Selling, laughing, making money in God’s house. Remember he ran off the money changers. And you know what happened. When you touch people’s pocketbooks—it is a dangerous thing. Politicians know they cannot talk about raising taxes. We all salivate. The officials turned against Jesus. And for them this cleansing of their temple was the final straw. They met in secret to begin to plot his demise.

This will be followed by a week where Jesus says goodbye to those he loved. He would break the bread and pass cup. He would wash their feet. And he would go out into the Garden of Gethsemane praying, praying that he would not have to die. “Take this cup from me,” he moaned. He rose from his knees to be kissed by Judas, arrested by Roman soldiers. He would be beaten the whole night long. And before the Roman governor he would be sentenced to death. And so on Friday of that long dreary week—we see him drag a splintered cross up the hill and we know what happened there. Dr. Fosdick preached a great sermon called: The Sin of Palm Sunday. He said the crowd that welcomed him on Palm Sunday crucified him on Friday. The same people.

But let us go back to that Sunday morning when the people lined the street and waited for the king to come. I have discovered two sounds on Palm Sunday.

And here they are. First—the crowds, the palm branches, the alleluia. Joy and laughter and celebration. The king was coming. And who wouldn’t throw their coats on the road for him to ride? They got so carried away they tore branches off trees. And he came in on a donkey. Some remembered that when the king would come  riding in he would be victorious. He would change everything. Nothing would be left untouched. He would throw Rome and all the other rascals out.
Three gospels tell the story. And here we find the first sound. "Alleluia! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!" Those that lined the roads waved their palm branches wildly.

There was a second sound. And few heard it over the crowds and their yelling. The second
photo by Christ Phillips / flickr
sound is so quiet most missed it that sunny day. What was the sound? Listen. It’s quiet but it is real. Listen. Clip-clop. Clip-clop. Clip-Clop. It is the sound of the donkey’s feet that Jesus rode in on. Clip-clop. Clip-Clop. Clip-Clop. 

Most everyone there missed it. They wanted a King to straighten out everything that was wrong. Make the country great again. He would do it—they thought. This Jesus riding in on a donkey. 

They had forgotten that when the King rode into town on a horse—it always meant power and victory.  It was time to overthrow everything which was wrong—and that was a whole lot.

But the crowd didn’t know. Jesus came in—not on a horse—but the clip-clop of a donkey. They had forgotten the prophecy. When the King comes he will ride in not on a stallion but on a donkey and it will usher in a time of great peace to all. And one of the reasons they turned away and the crowd became ugly is that he was not the king they expected. They mis-read the message. No war. No house-cleaning from top to bottom.  No throwing the rascals out. This king came in so quiet they didn’t get the message at all. Now they were not quiet. But he was. 

There are two sounds for the church and for the world and for you and me. The first sound is: tough. We’ll show them. It is divisive. Pitting one group after another. Showing everybody who’s really in charge of this outfit. That why they waved their palm branches. This is why they really did not know who he was.

So much of the church from its beginning until today—has no idea about this Jesus. It’s all dancing girls and strobe lights and rah-rah-rah. If we give them what they want—oh, they’ll come back again and again and again. We will be successful. As if success could only be defined by rah-rah and Go team. Number One. Numero Uno. Number one.Winners—always. He’ll make us rich and prosperous and make everything we hate right. That’s the first sound of Palm Sunday.

But they turned away because they did not realize what that other sound: clip-clop meant. Not the circus. Not the band. None of that. So quiet we miss it too, so often. The one that rides the donkey brings peace. Peace to all the children—especially in Syria. Peace to the
photo by Birgit Kulbe / flickr
hungry and homeless and the weak. Peace to someone  like that man lying by the pool for 38 years. Peace to that woman of the streets. And peace even to little old Zaccheus that cheated others every April 15th. And that’s not half as exciting as the rah-rahs and the dancing girls. 

Mount Zion is a time of transition. No preacher Just all this parade of substitutes—and some of them old, old. And Palm Sunday ought to teach us a lesson. He never gives us what we want…he brings always what we need. And the rah-rah crowd may be loud—but that is not the sound of this King. We want to pack the house. We want success. Not to worry about the budget. We all do, don’t we. 

He brings no sword. In fact in the Garden when they came to arrest him—Peter took a sword and lopped off one of the soldier’s ears. Jesus said. Stop. He healed this soldier—his enemy. His way was not the way of the world.

This success gospel which is on all the air waves today—promises everything.  Come on down and accept Jesus and you’ll get a job. A friend of mine took her little girl to a Revival meeting in Louisiana. And as the Evangelist gave the Invitation he said: “Come on down here and meet Jesus.” And my friend’s little girl stood up on the pew looked around and said loudly, “Where? Where is Jesus?”Good question. Where? A good job. Your marriage will come back together and you will be able, in time to join the country club. Mostly these poreachers are all slick. Mostly men. Lot of hair. Moussed for the most part. Smiling a Colgate smile. With a  beautiful blonde wife always. And the couple leave the front door to get in their Mercedes or BMW and drive off to the Sunday buffet at the country club. Come on down here and you can have what I have. What’s wrong with this picture? The little girl was right. Where?

A friend of mine was asked to speak in one of these hot-shot churches. And when he went in the preacher told him, “Keep it positive. We don’t want any downers here. That’s not what they came for.” And my friend said when he walked down the aisle there were no Christian symbols of any kind. No Table with Bread and Wine. No stained glass windows. No baptistry. He asked the preacher: “Where’s the cross?” “We don’t have a cross. It is a negative sign. We are appealing to the millennials and the boomers.” You can almost hear the swishing of Palm Branches and the rah-rahs. 

But that other sounds is the heart of Palm Sunday. Clip-clop…clip…clop. He brings a whole lot more than a good job and a fine house and a big car. Not this Jesus. He brings peace—but that peace —not a sword—and it comes by way of a cross. That is the centerpiece of who he was. He told them there toward the end, “ Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. What if on this day the poor and homeless would feel welcomed in the church. What if some Muslim or Hispanic scared to leave the house saw Jesus’ smile as he did that morning on the road. Smiling just smiling not asking anything else. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Clip-clop. clip-clop.

Dr. Claude Broach was a wonderful Baptist preacher in Charlotte, North Carolina. He tells about a young boy who heard the circus was coming to town. He saw the posters and wanted to go so badly. But they had little money and so saved up. He saved up for weeks. He finally had the price of admission. And on the day the circus was to come to town, he went early. He put his dollar in his overall pouch. He stood there a long time, in town, waiting, waiting for the parade. Finally in the distance he heard the band start. And they came marching down the street. And then there were dancing girls with batons and animals and circus barkers and wonderful sights. And the boy just stood there goggle-eyed. And at the end of the line there came this clown, doing funny tricks. And as the clown came by the young man he took from his overall pouch  his dollar bill and handed it to the clown. The boy turned and went home. It was over. He thought. He had come to see a circus and he had only seen a parade. 

The best was yet to come and he had missed it all. I wonder, things being as they are—if we will miss it too.

(This sermon  will be preached at the Mount Zion Presbyterian Church, Sandy Springs, SC, April 9, 2017)

--Roger Lovette /

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