2022 APRIL 10 “Open the Gates of Righteousness”

Reading   Psalm 118:19-29   Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

 Message   “Open the Gates of Righteousness      Rev. Renfrew

      Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.

Palm Sunday is the day when we stand at that gate, a gate that has been shut, locked, and impassible for a long time, and the gate is opening! Let’s step through, waving palm branches and shouting for joy!

It’s very clear that those who witnessed Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, those who were in the parade shouting “hosanna”, the crowd that was swept up in all of the commotion,  immediately thought of Psalm 118. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Luke even quotes from Psalm 188 in his story about the day.

But the key verse for preaching this morning is verse one in the psalm: Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.

I love the photo on the cover of the bulletin. That little girl is looking through the gate to see what is on the other side. I wonder what the girl sees through those wooden slats?

      Open to me gates of righteousness. To grasp the beauty and joy of this verse you have to know which gate it is that I’m talking about. Is it the gate into your garden, the gate into your backyard, or the gate to your pasture? On Palm Sunday, it’s much more than those gates!  So much more than that!

The gate mentioned in Psalm 118, as Luke reflects on it, refer to the gates of Jerusalem. The gates are also symbolic. But it helps to start with an actual gate. There are examples in the bulletin. A boy behind a locked gate, a boy reaching up to open a farm gate, a photo showing refugees eager to find safety on the other side of a gate. And the photo on the cover of a child looking through the gate to see what’s on the other side.

What does your gate look like? Heavy-duty stainless steel, chain-link, creaky old wooden slats, chicken wire? Standing at that gate, the gate you imagine, what are you hoping to find on the other side? A lucky break after a series of disasters?  A good test result from your doctor?  Some warm spring days after a long winter?  Signs of a war coming to an end? So many things could be on the other side of your gate.

The psalm goes bold here, it says that what is on the other side of the gate is nothing less than righteousness. On the other side of the gate that is opening today, righteousness, for you and many others!

Does anyone know what righteousness is? Anyone here ever seen the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”? I won’t try to describe the details of the movie, except that one point the high school secretary declares that everyone in the school, except the infuriated principal, knows that Ferris Bueller is a “righteous dude”. A “righteous dude”. I’d like that said about me, and maybe you would wish for that, too, for others to describe you as a righteous dude. In a world of greed and violence, wouldn’t it be awesome if you and I, our whole church would become known as righteous dudes.

Righteous dudes at the Byron Presbyterian Church collecting food and other necessities of life for hungry people nearby and all around the world, helping families escaping violence build new homes through the YWCA and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Righteous dudes filling the church kitchen with volunteers to put on a delicious meal. Righteous dudes filling fish banks for One Great Hour of Sharing helping people all over the world who live in unimaginable distress.

Righteousness has to do with making right decisions in the course of life, and when you add “eousness” to “right” it must mean being right not just in an occasional moment, but finding yourself in a state of being; a state of generosity, a peaceful and kind way of interacting with many others.

Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them. This is what I especially love about Palm Sunday. It’s not looking through the gate, and imagining what could be, it’s actually walking through the gate. I think that might be the point at which many people striving for faith stumble. The gate opens, but we hesitate to walk through it. We may not like much of what happens in the world around us these days, but when the gate actually opens, when Jesus calls us forward to embrace new life, we stay put, right where we are. Afraid, stubborn, confused, we hang back.

So when we participate in the part of Palm Sunday that children love, waving palms and processing around the church shouting hosanna, it’s not to be a happy spectacle, it’s to train and encourage us to walk through the actual gate, instead of hanging back.

      Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. There’s a also a small picture in the bulletin showing an open gate. The picture shows a gate in a simple picket fence, and it’s wide open, waiting for you to walk through, the whole world before you, filled with hope and opportunity. Go through that gate, waving your palms, and shouting “hosanna!”

We Believe    
We believe that a single word can open the gate, that a single word can shake the foundations of complacency, that a single word can transform the world! Today that word is “hosanna”, but tomorrow the word may be something else, like “love” or “hope” or “peace”. But today the word is “hosanna”, and as we shout the word many things are set in motion, as far away as the other side of the planet, and as close by as right here. A single word, Hosanna! opens the gate.   Amen!

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