Luke 19:28-28
Palm Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Deliver us from cold hearts and wandering thoughts, that with steady minds and burning zeal we may worship you in spirit and in truth.

He stood in the Washington DC Metro Station on a cold January morning playing six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed music. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried on his meeting.

4 minutes later a woman threw the money in his case and, without stopping, continued to walk. 6 minutes later, a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and moved on. After 10 minutes, a 3 year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. Other children paused like this, but every parent forced them on.

After nearly an hour, he finished playing, having collected $32 and no applause. No one knew that this violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

If we do not have a moment to stop, listen, and reflect on one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments .... How many other gifts from God are we failing to notice?

My fear as we begin another Holy Week is that we are walking past the remarkable beauty and wonder of Jesus Christ once again without really paying attention. We’re just spending a few extra hours going to church on Good Friday, but we’re not really stopping to reflect, to be grateful, to be changed by the beauty of One, who had enormous power and relinquished it for the greater good of empowering others.

Hear the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem from Luke Gospel:

[Jesus] went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he had come near Bethphage 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." 41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But they are hidden from your eyes. 43 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. 44 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." 45 Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; 46 and he said, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer'; but you have made it a den of robbers." 47 Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard. (The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.)

The Palm Sunday story ushers us into Holy Week and the mystery of God’s abundant goodness – that God in human flesh came to liberate us from the death of power-brokering to the life of power-giving. Jesus had achieved a multitude of followers, praising God and calling him King. He did not deny his kingship. In fact, when the Pharisees challenged him to silence his followers, who were shouting, “Blessed is the King!” he said, “If these were quiet, the stones would cry out.” Palm Sunday is a stone-shouting day of gladness!

Luke’s Gospel is the only one that records this line about shouting stones and it ties in beautifully with our Stewardship theme for the year. But notice that Jesus also speaks of the stones being overturned by the people’s inability to recognize their time of visitation by God. Jesus wept over that. He wept over the brokenness of the city, over all the people he came to save, who could not see that he was their peace.

That reminds me of a great song, sung by our Seekers of Peace choir at our charter service, “Jesus weeps over the world today as we struggle to be free for we do not know the things that make for peace. And we do not see that He is our peace. He breaks down walls that divide us. He is our peace. He makes us one. He is the Prince of Peace.”

How many kings, emperors, queens, presidents, prime ministers do you know who gather the cheering, enchanted crowds and then weep? With Jesus, kingship, leadership is re-defined. Christ’s Kingship is the opposite of empire-building. Empire values power, superiority, triumph, even contempt. Jesus’ kingship takes on weakness in exchange for the empowerment of others. King Jesus values service over superiority. The Prince of Peace believes there is no triumph over others, only triumph when we achieve peace with others. Jesus’ kingship is about compassion for others, not contempt for others.

So how does this kind of leadership look in the 21st Century? People with power like us who call ourselves followers of Christ, are charged to pay attention to the weak, even at our own expense. So we choose to be generous and poorer so the 80% of the world’s population who are impoverished may become richer. That’s what we have done with our Lenten Challenge. That’s what we will do with our One Great Hour of Sharing. That what we will continue to do as we reach out in generous giving of our time and material wealth as a 20% + benevolent church. And we might even, as we grow in solidarity with the poor, stop moaning so much about our declining standard of living, and get on with solving the problem of world hunger.

How does following this King Jesus play out in the 21st Century? We who have much to say, stop talking and focus on listening to others. We who are literate care that 70% of the world is illiterate. We who have adequate health care are concerned for those with inadequate healthcare. We who have computers must remember that we are one in a hundred around the globe.

Those who are in the majority must listen to minorities and hold their opinions in high regard. This Prince of Peace brings down judgment on both Democrats and Republicans for their behavior in the last week. There is no reason to clap and cheer when close to half of your colleagues in the House of Representatives are gravely concerned and disappointed. But even in disagreement and threat, there is no absolutely no reason to spit, slap the images of leaders, or do anything else degrading toward people on the other side of a complicated and unpredictable issue.

The way of Christ is to think more highly of others than you think of yourself. Those who are superior find ways to serve rather than lording over others their strength, using their strength to increase the strength of others, to elevate others. There is no room for pompous attitudes of triumph. There is no triumph when there is no peace.

In the movie, Invictus, we see Nelson Mandela taking over as President of South Africa and then going against the judgment of his family, his friends, his colleagues, all his own people, the native Africans who have been abused, in order to give power and dignity to the very people, the white Afrikaners who had imprisoned him unjustly for twenty-six years. President Mandela wanted to make sure there was no simple transfer of power from whites to blacks. No, he was setting a new course of respect for both sides. He knew there was no triumph for the majority,the Black South Africans, at the expense of the white South Africans. The title, Invictus is from a poem. The Latin word means “Unconquered” Unconquered by the abuse of power over him for 26 years. Unconquered by the public’s expectation that he would use power against those who used it against him.

Unconquered. That’s who Jesus is, willing to relinquish power for the sake of others, willing to stand up for justice for others, willing to sacrifice his life and yet ultimately unconquered, thanks to be God. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” the people shout. Leaders who come in the name of the Lord, in the spirit of the Lord are people of compassion, not contempt. Jesus’s compassion leads him to weep over the city, longing for the people to understand what makes for peace.

Yet, he asserts himself against injustice – those who are taking advantage of people in the temple, but it is out of compassion for the poor, who are coming to make their offerings in the temple. Those who were making money off them are akin to credit card companies luring in naive college students. They were similar to those who hire immigrant farm workers and then entrap them with low wages, unfair housing costs and the temptation of easy debt. It was not just that they were selling things in the temple, but that they were robbing people unfairly.

Jesus is not against making money wisely and justly. In the parable of the pounds which precedes this entry into Jerusalem, Jesus has the master of the story chastising the one who did not use his money to make more money. But Jesus is relentless in telling stories about the disaster of loving money, thinking yourself better than others, not forgiving, and being ungrateful for what you’ve been given. After the parables of the lost in chapter 15, Jesus tells story after story which challenge us – those of us who do have more and think too much of ourselves, are unforgiving, and ungrateful. Read Luke 15 to the end this week, in preparation for Easter. Understand who Jesus is and who he calls you to be.

When Jesus comes into Jerusalem and his followers cheer “Peace in heaven and glory in highest heaven!” These are the words first proclaimed by the angels at his birth. Then He challenges and teaches in the temple and all are spellbound by what he is saying. But the leaders, those whose power and authority is threatened by the presence of one who understands power differently, are looking for ways to kill him. And it only take five days to find a way. Jesus is prepared to be taken and is nonetheless unconquered. In his inner being, he was more than a conqueror. He was a peace-maker. And Jesus demonstrates by his willing sacrifice, by his weakness, what real strength is.

Will our lives reflect the inner strength of this Jesus? Do we dare take time to reflect on what we see in his life and teachings, as well as his sacrificial death? Or will we rush past the beauty of the greatest One on earth, God incarnate, imagining him to be a simple beggar in the street?

Open our eyes, Lord and guide our reflections this Holy week. May we who wave palm branches on Sunday be willing to keep following You on the Thursdays and Fridays of life, when the temptation to betray and deny is overwhelming. Dying and rising with You, may we live as your courageous kingdom people even now, working out our salvation with fear and trembling, yet knowing that it is always your Spirit at work in us to will your will and live according to your way.