Summary: Believers cannot remain silent about the grace of Jesus Christ for indivduals and for justice in this world.
March 13, 2005
Sermon by Rev. Dr. Sherry Parker
Trinity United Methodist Church
5th Sunday in Lent
Please note: Because I do not use notes when I preach, the text in the written sermon may vary slightly from the spoken sermon. My prayer is that in both my writing and my speaking the Holy Spirit works to make this message worthy of God’s purpose.
Scripture Text: Luke 19:29-40
Next week on Palm Sunday, we will remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It took three years for Jesus’ ministry to come to its illogical conclusion. After dealing with the skepticism and eventual hostility of religious leaders, Jesus was met with the joyous shouts of the people at the gates of Jerusalem. This entrance, however, was the beginning of the end. The crowds shouted "Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the One who comes in the name of the Lord!" It was a parade, a pageant with the branches of palms waving and the people flinging their coats down for Jesus to ride over. (Molin 2002)
Perhaps you’ve had the chance to be in the midst of a celebration something like this some time in your life, a spontaneous parade or a crowd filled with excitement. A friend of mine has told me of driving into the city of Detroit for the celebration when the Tigers won the world’s series in 1968. For a few hours, anyway, there was unity and celebration in the troubled city. Perhaps you were there when the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup. (You remember the Red Wings? You remember hockey?) I remember as a young woman experiencing the power of being a part of march in Washington, D.C. for women’s rights, thousands gathered at the Capitol Building steps.
And, of course, on the sidelines of these gatherings, there will always be those who are concerned about public order. It was the case, even as Jesus entered Jerusalem. A group of Pharisees approached him and said, as the NRSV translation reads, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." The language they used was very strong. "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" In other words, "Not only make them stop, but tell them what they are saying is wrong!" (Culpepper 1995, 369)
We know that the religious leaders were at that time looking for a way that they might bring Jesus down. In addition, it was not safe to have such commotion under the rule of the Romans. Soldiers might mistake the impromptu parade and the shouts as the beginnings of a dangerous mob or even a political uprising. In either case, the Pharisees wanted Jesus stop the commotion.
Jesus’ response was immediate, "If these people were silent, the stones would cry out." Now, the Pharisees had heard that phrase before. It is in the words of a minor prophet, Habakkuk. In Chapter 2, the prophet condemns those who gather power and wealth to themselves by evil ways and at the expense of others. Habakkuk says that judgment will come, even from their homes, "The very stones will cry out from the wall, and the plaster will respond from the woodwork." (Hab. 2:11) Jesus’ point was that the shouts of the crowd were a judgment against their plotting.
The news this week has brought us memories of another parade, another gathering. Forty years ago on March 7, 1965, a group of about 500 men and women set out from Brown Methodist Church in Selma, Alabama to march 50 miles to Montgomery, the state capital. They marched for the rights of African Americans to register to vote in Alabama. Gov. George Wallace called in the state police to stop the march. He said it was for the public’s safety. Two hundred police officers and volunteers met the 500 marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. With tear gas, whips and sticks the police drove the crowd back, beating protesters as the cameras of national news networks rolled. Seventeen people were hospitalized for injuries including fractured skulls and broken limbs. And in March 40 years ago there was an outcry from many in the people in the United States. "This has got to stop." (Information for "Bloody Sunday" comes from BBC News, the "On This Day" web link at bbc.co.uk)
The world tells the disciples of Jesus Christ to be quiet, to go home and let things be as they are. Sometimes the directive is subtly given. "Settle down, don’t be a fanatic about it. You’re not going to change the way things are." Sometimes disciples are told clearly and forcefully that their outspokenness for what is right and just is not welcome. On February 14th of this year Sister Dorothy Stang was assassinated by gunmen in a church along the Amazon River in Brazil. The offense of the 74-year-old nun was that she would not remain silent about illegal loggers and ranchers set on deforesting the rainforest and destroying the land of the people who live there. But rather than silencing the movement, her death has brought the plight of the people and forest to the world’s attention. (Buchanan 2005, 20) It seems that when the dignity and salvation of human beings are at stake, and people are silenced, even the stones will cry out.