FIRST LESSON Deuteronomy 32:36-39
36 For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free. 37Then he will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge, 38who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise up and help you; let them be your protection! 39“‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.’”
PSALM Psalm 118:19-29
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them; I will offer thanks to the LORD. 20 “This is the gate of the LORD; he who is righteous may enter.” 21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23 This is the LORD’S doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 On this day the LORD has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it. 25 Hosannah, LORD, hosannah! LORD, send us now success. 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; we bless you from the house of the LORD. 27 God is the LORD; he has shined upon us; form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar. 28 “You are my God, and I will thank you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.” 29 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his mercy endures forever.
SECOND LESSON Philippians 2:5–11
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
PROCESSIONAL GOSPEL John 12:12-19
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy, and peace, from God our heavenly Father and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This week for me is one of the most confusing Sundays in the liturgical year. In some ways it surprises me, in other ways it causes me to shake my head in disgust and still in other ways it doesn’t surprise me at all. In less than 7 days, Jesus is greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm, with a party in the streets as it were, and yet 5 days later the crowd reverses course and is stirred to lynch mob mentality shouting crucify Him. It has all the ear marks of a modern day political rally! Maybe, just maybe, Agent K from the movie Men in Black is more right than we’d like to admit.
Near the beginning of the movie, Agent K is trying to recruit Will Smith as an agent. Sitting in the park, Agent K says, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowd knew the conquering king had finally come and He was greeted with roaring enthusiasm. 5 days later the same crowd knew He was a criminal, had turned on Him and are now willing to be rid of Jesus. The whole earthly ministry of Jesus has come its climax.
One might even say that Jesus’ journey has finally come to its illogical conclusion. After three years of teaching and preaching, helping and healing, Jesus now arrives in the city of Jerusalem, and there He’s met by the screaming crowds. We still have a week to go in the season of Lent, but today marks the beginning of the end for Jesus.
It’s the beginning of the end, but you wouldn’t think so by listening to the people shouting out His name. “Jesus! Master! Jesus! Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” As we heard at the beginning of the service, the people actually threw their coats and jackets on the road for the donkey to walk upon; that’s how excited they were. It was a parade … a pageant… a victory celebration of the first order. What other, more recent, illustration could possibly help us understand the euphoric atmosphere of the day?
In 1991, I was flying home from the Middle East. We had just defeated Iraq and the famed Republican Guard and the campaign now known as Desert Storm was over. After more than 8 months of deployment, build-up, planning and war-time missions, those of us who were sent in first were now able to finally come home. Having joined the Air Force right after Vietnam and having served with Vietnam vets, I can recall vividly the stories they told of coming home from the war in Vietnam to angry mobs and protests. I can remember the pain on their faces when they talked about being spat upon and being called murders and baby killers. It was a painful, and embarrassing time in our nation’s history and one that lay heavy on the minds of those of us returning from war.
I can remember that plane ride home like it was yesterday. About an hour out, everyone on the plane became quiet. The ones who did talk only did in whispers. Everyone was wondering the same thing: will we be welcomed home like successful warriors or will we too be treated like our brothers-in-arms before us. We were asked to keep the shades down and we wouldn’t be allowed to leave the plane until the Customs folks were done. Furthermore, we were told that security around the base was tight because word had gotten out of our arrival. Our time on the ground before being allowed to deplane seemed like an eternity. Finally, we were told that it was time and we all braced ourselves for what was to come.
When they finally opened the door the crowd burst into a roar. They were screaming and shouting U-S-A. U-S-A. To our surprise, there was signs welcoming us home and as we reached the bottom of the stairs we were greeted with handshakes from the top brass and the dignitaries of the community. There were hugs from loved ones and co-workers. Within minutes we were all caught up in the celebration. Over the next few days we were given copies of videos taken of support rallies and parades that happened while we were gone. As we walked from the plane to the hanger the excitement was like electricity in the air. I think it must have been similar to this in Jerusalem, the day that Jesus arrived.
People were laughing, crying and hugging people they didn’t knows and all because Jesus the King had just ridden into town. What the people didn’t know is that the Pharisees were planning Jesus’ demise. They were looking for a way to stop His colossal ministry, and when they found it, they would seize Him. But what to do? His momentum was building; His popularity was growing by the hour. They were afraid of Him and as far as they were concerned, something had to be done to quell the crowd.
Ever the diplomates, the Pharisees approached Jesus and asked Him to settle down the raucous crowd. “Master, rebuke your disciples.” But behind their polite words and smiling faces, what they were really saying was, “Jesus, tell your people to just shut up!” We can’t have this noise. We can’t continue this party atmosphere, for this this is the holy city of Jerusalem and the Roman authorities might get upset.
In Luke’s account we read Jesus’ response. “Tell the people to be quiet?” If I did that, then the stones on the street would start to cry out loud.” I kind of wish He would have done it, tell the crowd to be quiet, just to see what cobblestones look like when they’re screaming! But the point Jesus made is obvious; the emotion and the ecstasy of His entry into Jerusalem were so powerful, even the stones in the road could feel it. That kind of faith is contagious! That kind of faith is dangerous. That’s why the Pharisees wanted it stopped and that’s why Jesus wouldn’t tell the people to subdue their joy.
It seems to me that the world has been telling the disciples of Jesus to shut up ever since. Oftentimes they do this in the most subtle and seemingly innocuous ways, but the effect is still the same. The people of God are constantly told, “Settle down, don’t be a fanatic, don’t share the enthusiasm of your faith; in fact, don’t even share your faith.” It’s offensive. It’s politically incorrect. It might offend people of other faiths. It’s socially inappropriate. Sadly, we believe them. The result is that now our witness has been silenced, and our passion for Jesus is gone. We’ve now become meek and therefore lukewarm disciples… no longer dangerous… no longer a threat to anyone.
The other day at pastor’s breakfast we were talking about the Kairos prison ministry and one of the pastor’s share about a practice they used in Campformation years ago that was very meaningful to him. He shared how he enjoyed watching the young confirmands work through the lessons and Bible, struggling to grasp — then watch how they finally came to really understand — the depth and breadth of God’s mercy for the first time. He shared how amazing it was to see them come to appreciate God’s work in their lives and God’s love for them. He counted it as such a privilege.
He finished his story by saying that on the last night of camp, the confirmands were invited to participate in a “say so.” That is, if they had really affirmed their Baptism and were ready to commit their lives to being a disciple of Jesus Christ, they are invited to stand up in front of the whole camp and say so. Maybe that’s part of our problem today. We’re seldom, if ever, challenged to really think and share with others God’s amazing work in our lives. We’ve bought into the whole “politically correct” nonsense that it’s inappropriate to share God’s grace and mercy with those around us. We’ve become comfortable with our Christian walk as being a private matter. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time we stand up and “say so.” It’s time we quit listening to those who simply want us to “Shut up! It’s time we quit listening to the world tell us that it’s better to keep our faith locked up inside.
My point is, we’ve listened to the voice of the Pharisees far too long. We’ve been duped into thinking that God’s grace is a private, personal matter, and that it shouldn’t be expressed in public. At the same time, we tolerate immorality because it’s socially inappropriate to hold people accountable for their sins. Dr. Frank Harrington says it this way: “It’s a little wink here, a little shrug there, a look the other way, and suddenly we find ourselves tolerating things and refusing to challenge behavior that’s clearly wrong.” I, for one, believe he’s correct.
We’re afraid, or ashamed, to tell anyone that it’s our faith that dictates how we live our lives. In short, Christians in general and Lutherans in particular have become silent about Jesus Christ. The world has told us to shut up, and we’ve said, “Okay.” Well, shame on us! I’m not suggesting that we become blatantly obnoxious; I’m simply suggesting that we become publicly honest about our love for our Savior.
How many times have you and I had the opportunity to tell someone about God’s forgiveness, and yet we remained silent? How frequently have we been tempted to say to someone, “I will pray for you,” but instead we said nothing? How often do we consider inviting a colleague or a neighbor to church, but then chicken out at the last moment? You see, those are our sins of omission. The season of Lent is a good time to challenge those sins. It’s also a good time for us to make a choice… to make a conscious decision not to be silent about news so great as this.
The stones we’ve held in our hands this Lenten season have represented our various kinds of sin. Today these stones stand for our sin of silence — the times we could have spoken a word of grace but didn’t. As you leave today, I encourage you to join me in laying these stones at the cross of Christ with the prayer that our passion for God will come alive. My prayer today is that our love for our Savior will become known to all. If we do that, then the stones can be silent and we can sing God’s praise. Thanks be to God.