“Rediscovering Who We Are: A Piercing Faith”
Luke 19: 28-40 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ April 14, 2019
There seems to be a diverse array of welcomes that we offer one another today. There is the wave – offered to someone at a distance, waving at someone across the room, perhaps someone we might not even know thanking them for letting us into the flow of traffic. There is the handshake offered to someone as a gesture of welcome – perhaps greeting them as they come into church, into your home. There are more intimate greetings as well. The ½ hug or ‘man-hug’ as many call it – one hand shaking and the other hugging. And there is full hug – a full gesture of embrace from one to the other.
This morning’s text records the most powerful welcome given to Jesus throughout his entire ministry. It was the greeting re-enacted this morning with our palms and streamers as we remembered the crowds welcoming Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem, embracing Jesus fully, proclaiming him as their King and Lord of their lives. First Century processions for dignitaries were familiar celebrations in the day. To read 1st Century historian Josephus’ accounts of such occurrences would be to take a step back into the glory and majesty of those moments. The crowds of Jerusalem greeted and worshipped Alexander the Great as he entered Jerusalem or Marc Antony as he entered Ephesus. These were acts of worship and praise declaring them as glorious, victorious… as Lord. This was the case in this morning’s text; however, it was for the itinerant Rabbi Jesus whose 3-year ministry had caused an incredible stir. And so, the pilgrims who were returning to Jerusalem for the Passover’s festival of liberation greeted the one who would liberate them and bring in the Kingdom of God. The spread their coats on the ground to make a sacred path; they tore palm branches from the trees and waved them in delight; they sung hymns of acclamation from the book of Psalms and they shouted “Hosanna” ~ praise God; for the time of God, the hopes and fears of all the years, had finally come!
And what the people greeted was not just Jesus, but rather what his movement was ushering in. The people greeted the awaited…the longed for…the arrival of God’s peace now birthing through Jesus’ Way. There is a profound juxtaposition for us that occurs in Jesus’ arrival when we connect it with the Christmas story. When we think back to the Christmas story, Jesus also arrives…he is born into the world and what do we hear being sung? The angels are singing of Jesus’ arrival being that which brings “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14). And we love to sing the many angelic Christmas songs don’t we? Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Angels We Have Heard on High, and all the rest. Christmas is that season in our faith when we open the mangers in our hearts and receive God’s gift of peace being born. The responsive side of that song is our response to God’s gift, which occurs today on Palm Sunday. Did you notice what the people proclaim? After Jesus’ ministry…after people came to know who he was…after people began to follow and proclaim him as King and Lord, the people respond back to the angel’s chorus of “peace on earth” with our own voices. The text says they proclaim “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” In 1st Century culture, there was an understanding of God’s location being in the heavens. God sent peace from the heavens and the angels sang “peace on earth” and we now receive it fully and echo back “peace in heaven”. What a glorious hymn of life: the angels singing “peace on earth” and our echoing refrain “peace in heaven”. Peace on earth…peace in heaven…peace on earth…peace in heaven. This is the moment! And people could not help but stop and praise God for what God was doing.
It is the age-old challenge though. The acquisition of peace continues to be the unsolvable problem to this day. How does one receive peace…live peace….create peace? The powerful Roman Empire created something that they argued as peace…it brought stability; it brought order. We continue to Romanize our approaches towards war rather than following Jesus’ Way. Our world continues to initiate war in order to bring stability to a region ~ in search of peace; some own handguns for protection ~ to maintain peace; we celebrate competitive attitudes of ‘winning at all costs’ ~ and we wonder where peace is to be found. And we continue to ponder what makes for peace. The question from this text is found in how we join the refrain of the angelic chorus and echo back “peace in heaven”? A classmate of mine years ago in seminary recounted long drawn out debates with his father whose company had ties to a firearm and ammunition manufacturing company. He debated with his father on the ethics of his company’s partnership. His father argued back that his career allowed him to support him to become a pastor and work for God’s peace. What allowed them to find a common dimension was a quotation from ethicist Stanley Hauerwas who said: “we will never have peace on earth until we can quiet the wars within our own hearts”. Peace on earth…peace in heaven.
And those wise words, calling us to quiet the wars within our own hearts, are why there is yet another kind of greeting that I did not yet mention. Historians tell us that this greeting was initiated at the first Palm Sunday service. The greeting I refer to is the ‘passing of the peace’ that we use as our words of departure each Sunday. One says: ‘may the peace of Christ be with you’ and the other responds ‘and also with you’. Those words that we offer to one another are the words of God’s people singing back the Christmas angels’ chorus of ‘peace on earth’ as we echo ‘peace in heaven’ when we truly greet one another with the peace of Christ…when we truly love and forgive one another with the peace of Christ…when our lives truly sing with the peace of Christ.
Singing out with the peace of Christ is what Jesus was speaking about when he said that if the crowds were silent, “then the very stones would cry out”. It was a sense that all of creation was going to sing with the kind of peace that links us together as God’s children…that connects us forgiven and blessed…that calls us together in a common mission ~ the mission that Jesus started that continues in us now. And that is what inspires our final movement of the Lenten season ~ as we have been ‘Rediscovering Who We Are’ / focusing on our faith. We have considered the faith dimensions of trust, love, patience, joy, and death. This morning, our final consideration is how a dimension of our lived faith is to be loud, how we are to be noisy, raucous Christians, how we are to live with a piercingly loud raucous faith. That’s not easy to do, though. We are generally quiet, reserved people. Quiet, caring, demure Christians we are. I believe that this text calls us to reconsider this bashful demeamour. A brief story…A month back, I presided for a city person’s funeral. Much of his identity was as a rock musician and the church ladies and Steve, who was our funeral host, will remember the volume. There was this moment that occurred during the beginning of the slideshow. We were beginning to enjoy pictures of this man’s life and hear some of his favourite songs… and a person in the crowd loudly shouted out “turn up the music!” Initially, it seemed out of character…to hear someone yelling out in church…but what was really happening was a call for us to proclaim the deceased’s life loudly… with pride and integrity. Jesus said “if these were quiet, even the stones would shout out!” Part of our faith is living loudly and proudly as followers of Jesus. It is about having a piercingly loud faith in those moments that are called for.
Luke’s version of the Palm Sunday reading begins assuming that we have in mind the teachings that Jesus had previously offered. It begins: “after he had said this…”. There are two teachings in the previous chapter. The story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector and the parable of the ten pounds. Zacchaeus was in collaboration with Rome in his role as a tax collector. Not a respectable career representing Revenue Canada, but rather one that would mercilessly cause people to go into slavery. This teaching gave us the challenging words: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God…(and Zacchaeus’ response) “then who can be saved?” It was the reality of what happens when we put all our value and worth in our earthly possessions and a call to put our value in the heavenly. The parable of the ten pounds is the wisdom story of the master and his slaves. The master goes away entrusting some of his wealth to the servants to invest. To the ones who invest, as risky as it was, he is delighted. To the one who hid the wealth away, the Master pronounces an angry judgement. As followers of Jesus, we are taught not to be weighed down by the ways of the world; we are called to use what we have been given…giving it away. We are to live a piercingly loud faith! A faith that receives Jesus at the parade side, that waves the palm branches and proclaims him as Lord by the various dimensions of our living.
I wonder what a ‘piercingly loud faith’ would look like for you? For me? Would it look like door knocking and asking people about their faith? Maybe…but my sense is that it will be found in the highly personal ways that we live out our faith. Our buying decisions…our voting decisions…the sharing of our time and talents…sharing our faith…how we engage in community…how we speak up…how we show up…how we encourage…how we welcome Jesus at the parade’s edge in our living. May we have the piercingly loud faith of the disciples as we walk into this Holy Week and beyond.