Sermon: Do we, like the disciples, fully realize what Palm Sunday means?
Scripture: Luke 19:28-40
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: April 14, 2019
This morning’s sermon title is not what it was originally. I sent the original title to the people who send out the E-Pistle each week and they wrote back, “This is way too political and will stir people up. We suggest changing it. Please explain the meaning of this!” What was the title that was so controversial? I originally entitled this message as, “What do Jerusalem and Charlottesville Have in Common?”
Yes, it’s rather arresting and will cause you to sit up a bit and pay attention. Yes, it captures what is really going on in our text this morning as we have forgotten the gravity and controversy the Triumphal Entry represented and caused. It was the time in human history when two opposing forces came face to face and the people present were left to choose which direction they would go. On one hand, there were the forces of hate, separation, and oppression. On the other hand, riding down the hill on a young donkey is Jesus who represents the Force of love, light, inclusion, and reconciliation. When those forces came together in Charlottesville, Virginia, the situation got volatile and ugly. It was a highly charged political situation. We tend to forget it was no less as volatile and ugly the week Jesus paid a visit to Jerusalem. We tend to forget that Jerusalem was set on the edge of exploding into a riot the entire week we call Holy Week. You see, Jesus was coming home to the Holy City and claiming what was his. His presence and message were revolutionary, incendiary and challenged the Jewish religious system, the Roman legal system and the way the larger culture treated one another; indeed, the first thing he did was enter into the Temple area and start flipping tables of the moneychangers because their expression of their Jewish faith had become so off track. So, I’ve changed the title to make it more palatable for people. Today, I will build my words around the whether or not we truly understand Palm Sunday any better than the first disciples. Hear the Word of the Lord from Luke’s Gospel!
28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethpage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 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. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 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, 38 saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Let’s unpack what Jerusalem was like when Jesus entered the Holy City. Just like today, there were people who split into groups based on interpretations of faith, politics, economics and who “your people” were and where you were from. You had your groups of religious conservatives and progressives. There was the vast divide between the financial haves and have-nots just like there is today; even in the first century there were those “1-percenters” and then the rest of us. Politically, even one of Jesus’ disciples, Judas, was thought to be a member of a highly nationalistic group, the Zealots, who wanted to overthrow the Roman government and rule of the day. In the first century, there was rampant national, ethnic, physical, and religious discrimination between those who were in the “out group” as compared to the Divinely loved ones of the purity “in group.” Just like today, there were back room deals and powerbrokers who made decisions for their own personal gain that affected the overall unsuspecting masses. Some things in human nature and behavior never change I suppose. And though human behavior and nature may not change, we come this Palm Sunday and are reminded that there is another way to live our lives in a mixed-up-muddled-up world. He calls us to be humble, revolutionary leaders for change and transformation in the world.
On Palm Sunday, we often come with over-sentimentalized notions of Jesus coming into Jerusalem for the final week of his life. This morning, I want to evolve our thinking a bit on this Palm Sunday event and see it from a different angle from what we are accustomed. If we listen to the text, we will discover how Jesus was ushering in a revolutionary alternative for living in community.
The first understanding we need to remember about Palm Sunday is that Jesus’ descent from Mount Olives is an overtly political declaration. We see his procession as a parade like we view the Fourth of July or Veterans Day when in reality, his entrance into the city was more along the lines of the march through Selma. It was not a parade remembering past glories; Jesus’ coming on a colt was an act of social, political, and religious disobedience in the eyes of his contemporaries. In today’s twelve verses, there are at least three clues as to Jesus’ political statement of purpose for the people. There is the reference to the prophet Zephaniah, a psalm of victory over one’s enemies, and a reference from the prophet Habakkuk about how the very stones of the ground cannot maintain their silence in the presence of God’s anointed. The Jews always understood that the Messiah was to approach Jerusalem from the east coming down the Mt. Olives to reclaim Jerusalem. The spreading of palm branches and cloaks were indicative of how the crowds perceived Jesus: He was the new king. He was the new leader.
Stephen Shoemaker cites biblical scholars who remark that on that Palm Sunday there were two processions into Jerusalem. He writes, “From the west came Pilate draped in the gaudy glory of imperial power: horses, chariots, and gleaming armor. He moved in with the Roman army at the beginning of Passover week to make sure nothing got out of hand. Insurrection was in the air with the memory of God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. From the east came another procession, a commoner’s procession: Jesus in ordinary robe riding on a young donkey. The careful preparations suggest that Jesus has planned a highly ritualized symbolic prophetic act (described in)…the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9–10, the coming of a new kind of king, a king of peace who will dismantle the weaponry of war.”
Shoemaker then goes on to say that there are two choices in front of the people: Pax Christior Pax Romana. He says, “Our challenge is to show how the gospel of the kingdom has political implications but transcends our everyday political loyalties.” In other words, Beloved, if we take the gospel we actually profess and then actually live like it will make a difference in the world, our collective Kingdom living can and will change the broken structures of our communities.
Today our nation is faced with the battles between Pax Republican or Pax Democrat. More often than not, our politics shapes our faith rather than our faith really shaping our politics and collective civitas. Our Palm Sunday text reminds us that just as in Jesus’ time, we are still being called into the realm of a third way and that’s the way of Pax Christi. Whatever our personal political loyalties are, we are still to live out our faith, literally enflesh our faith, as though it transcends political loyalties to one party or another. The church in the first through fourth centuries was a part of creating huge religious, cultural, and political changes in the world. In our own lifetimes, we have seen how the church was the revolutionary actor in claiming civil rights for our brothers and sisters of color. In our own lifetime, we have witnessed how the underground church caused what’s been termed, “The Velvet Revolution,” which brought down oppressive political and military powers of the Cold War. Jesus descending the mountain was his way of starting a revolutionary event of both present and eternal consequences.
Church, do we live with that same passionate spirit for transformation or have we grown too comfortable with the status quo? What is driving our culture and behavior at the moment? Are our loyalties tied to economic, military, or nationalistic gains of one party or another or our decisions being influenced by the cultural, spiritual, economic declaration that we serve one Lord, Jesus the Christ? It does not matter how you and I vote in any election if we have not first expressed our cultural concerns as citizens of Jesus’ Kingdom in our world right now.
Beloved, Jesus demonstrated to us on Palm Sunday how we are to live in our world today. We are to base our civics and express our personal and collective civitas, not with the planks of the Republican or Democratic platforms but on the ethics and planks that make up our Christ-Following platform found in Matthew 5-7 in what we call the Beatitudes! Christ’s revolution for establishing the reign of God begins when we live and actually believe –
…blessed are the poor in spirit, for there is the kingdom of heaven.
…blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
…blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
…blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, for they will be filled.
…blessed are the merciful, the they will receive mercy.
…blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
…blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
…blessed are those who are persecuted for doing the right thing for God, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
…blessed are you who are persecuted and reviled for standing up for what Jesus believes in and stands up for because your reward is great in the kingdom of heaven.
Beloved, are you ready to be a revolutionary like Jesus was and turn the world upside down for God? Shall you live under Pax Christior Pax Americana? Let’s start a movement, shall we? Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15thAvenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2009-10-12). Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 5617-5622). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2009-10-12). Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 5631-5632). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.