READING Luke 19:28-48
[Jesus] he 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!”
Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.”
MESSAGE “Building That House of Prayer” James Renfrew, Teaching Elder
So many things to to preach about on Palm Sunday. But what is most important? What deserves our full attention and focus?
Of course there is the Palm Sunday parade. When Jesus came to the great city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday long ago a crowd of people lined the road. They were shouting and cheering, “Here comes Jesus, the Son of David the great king from long ago.” They were waving palm branches. They threw their coats on the road to greet him like a triumphant king. “Hosanna!” they shouted. “Hosanna!”. For Lily, Seth, Ellieana, all that they need to know is that we had a parade today, and they were in it! Not spectators watching from the sidewalk, but right in the middle of it!
You know, when they shouted that word, Hosanna, on the streets of Jerusalem, it lets us see that this is much more than a parade, it is everything that those people had ever hoped for when they heard that Jesus was coming into the city. That’s why they shouted “Hosanna”. They wanted to be helped, rescued and saved.
These people along the road to Jerusalem were shouting for Jesus to save them from almost everything you can think of: save us from war, from poverty, save us from sickness, save us from fear. Slaves were shouting save us, as they dreamed of freedom. Poor people were shouting save us, as they hoped for an end to hunger. Sick people were shouting save us, as they dreamed of the healing of disease and an end to the demons of the mind. They were all shouting save us, as they dreamed that their country would be liberated from the Roman soldiers who had taken it over. Perhaps only Jesus heard Judas when he quietly whispered, save me from myself.
Here’s another thing I could talk about. It’s not what they were shouting long ago. It’s what you were shouting when you waved your palms at the beginning of the service. Save me from the landlord who’s about to evict me. Save me from my boss, who treats me like dirt. Save me from my addiction, which tears away at my soul. Save me from a spouse who beats me. Save me from the violent world that we live in. Save us from ourselves, for we are destroying our own environment and future, with the garbage, the pollution, the wasting of irreplaceable resources.
And here’s another point I could raise: It’s not just what we wish and hope for; another aspect of Palm Sunday is your story about being saved. A boy is doing a very dangerous thing. He is climbing along the walls of the Genesee River gorge with a friend. Its great fun, acting like skilled mountain climbers, with the river flowing hundreds of feet below. All of the sudden, the rock he is holding onto with his hand crumbles, and he begins to slide down the wall of the gorge. “Help!” he shouts. I saw it happening. At the last second, his friend reaches over and grabs his hand. Saved!
Joe Camacho has a key to his house on a chain around his neck. Late one afternoon, one of the other kids in the church youth group grabs the key away from him, thinking it funny, runs off with it, hides it somewhere in the church building, and then runs home. The boy, begins to cry when someone asks him what is wrong. “Whenever I do anything wrong, my dad gets real angry with me. Its because he uses drugs. If I tell him that I’ve lost the key to our apartment, he might kill me this time. I’m afraid.” The other kids in the group help him look for the key. “Here it is!” one of them shouts. Saved!
I could also spend some time talking about those Pharisees. All those people shouting Hosanna gives those backwards-looking knuckleheads a headache. And they start complaining. It’s easy to criticize Pharisees, they always seem to get it wrong. Because this is a day to shout, not be quiet! But let’s admit the truth, sometimes we’re a lot like those Pharisees. God is trying to make something new happen, and all we can do is complain about it. Let’s remember the sound of the stones – the sound of God’s joy cannot be restrained.
I could spend a few minutes talking about that incredible moment when Jesus looks out over Jerusalem and starts crying, “If only you knew the things that make for peace, but for now they are hidden from your eyes”. My master’s thesis at Union Seminary began with this very verse, so you know I could spend hours and hours talking about it. I think Jesus is still on target all of these years later, as it seems to me that we are descending deeper and deeper into divisiveness, fear, and hatred, which so easily lead to violence. I thought we had exorcized many of these demons long ago, but they’re making a strong come-back. So on Palm Sunday I am urgently looking for signs of peace to invest myself in like never before.
Finally, I could talk about the last verse in this morning’s Palm Sunday reading. “Then Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” For me, today, it’s the most important part of the reading. It’s not just a joyful parade that we’re about today, it’s building up that house of prayer. A house of prayer is not just the words about our cares and worries, a house of prayer becomes a center of sustained prayerful living. Prayerful living is not just thinking about our own aches and pains, it is always thinking about others. A house prayer is not a selfish place that tries to keep others out, but a generous place that reaches out to everyone that it can. As near as our neighbors at the Food Pantry on April 12th, or the next name on the Prayer Chain, or the next friend receiving a prayer shawl, and as far from here as the most distant project supported by One Great Hour of Sharing. That’s what is drawing me closer to Jesus this morning. The “hosanna” gets my attention, but what I’m really drawn to is building up a house of prayer that sustains the “hosannas” into a way of life. Let’s build it. Let’s live in it. Let’s open its doors.