The Way of Love, Palm/Passion Sunday sermon by Don Portwood March 20, 2005
It's palm/passion Sunday. And this year the story is told from Matthew's gospel. It's told in different ways by Mark and Luke..they all agree Jesus rode into Jerusalem, but in Mark they are waving leafy branches, in Luke, they are laying their cloaks on the ground.and here in Matthew they are both spreading their garments on the ground and cutting branches from the trees and spreading them on the ground. Matthew also provides us with this odd scene as he reads the scripture too literally, quoting Zechariah 9:9,
"Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." That's a poetic form of repetition, which Matthew took a little too literally. So he has the disciples bringing Jesus the donkey and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon.
But no matter how Jesus rode into town, the real question is, "What could possibly have possessed Jesus to head into Jerusalem?"
Jerusalem was the seat of religious and political power in Israel. He knew what he faced in Jerusalem, entering the belly of the beast, he knew what happened to criminals, heretics, he knew what the "keepers of the law" did to silence people. According to Matthew's gospel Jesus first started talking about crucifixion and the cross in chpt. 16.
"From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and be killed, and on the third day be raised." He talked of taking up your own cross and following him.
"So what could possibly have possessed Jesus to head into
The spirit of God. The way of love.
Jesus knew who he was.
Jesus knew who God was calling him to be.
He was willing to do what it takes to be faithful to that call. He knew where the way of love would lead.
Some even see in Jesus, another Passover sacrifice, a lamb led to the slaughter..
But I believe Jesus, filled with the Spirit of God was simply being faithful to the way of love.
It's palm/passion Sunday. And this year the story is told from Matthew's gospel. Most years when I preach on palm/passion Sunday and in the last years, I've stressed the passion part of passion Sunday. I think it was to make sure people were aware of the rest of the story, what happens on Thursday and Friday between Palm Sunday and Easter. We'll have services on both those evenings to continue the story, Thursday in the fellowship hall, and Friday here in the sanctuary with Minnehaha and SOL Spirit of the Lakes Churches. If you're not out of town or ill, be there to here more about the way of love.
In previous years, when working Palm/Passion sermons I've always imagined Jesus with his eyes so focused on what was ahead, that he didn't really pay much attention to the cheering crowd around him. He entered Jerusalem stoically. That image comes from the Hebrew scripture that is often used on Palm Sunday, from Isaiah 50, where Isaiah is talking about God's suffering servant.
In chapter 7, the suffering servant says, "For God helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint."
That's why I've often seen Jesus as riding in humbly, but with a far away look, indifferent or unaffected by the cheers of "Hosanna, blessed is the one in comes in God's name".
Ah, but I've learned from one of you over the years.
And this year.I imagined Jesus not just hearing the cheers, or acknowledging them with a wave of the hand, like the pope, but dancing to the shouts, to the song and leading the people in the dance.
Perhaps dance came to mind this year, because Guron danced so beautifully last week, or because we're having a folk dance after worship this afternoon, or from the Faith & Fellowship Group. We're reading the Secret Gospel of Thomas, by Elaine Pagels, in which she mentions another Gnostic gospel not in our Bible, The Acts of John. In that gospel, after the last supper on Thursday of Holy Week, instead of washing the disciples feet, Jesus leads the disciples in a dance.
And so our Jesus, in our triumphal entry, came in dancing and twirling, leading us in the dance with him. Lord of the dance.
We've had a processional entry in previous years, where we've waved palms and tried to sing a hymn, but this year I thought we needed a little Ray Charles and Gladys Knight singing Stevie Wonder's hit, Heaven Help Us All.
I wanted us to experience Jesus dancing into Jerusalem.
Dancing in the face of oppression.
Dancing in the face of death.
Dancing the way of love, because Jesus knew who he was and who God was calling him to be and he was willing to do what it takes to be faithful to that call, to dance the way of love.
But Jesus wasn't just dancing on our behalf..but inviting us into the dance, too.
Which raises the question for you, What's the entry into Jerusalem you are facing? What Jerusalem are you already struggling in? Where are you stirred up?
Where are you dancing in the face of Jerusalem,
in the face of death, oppression, depression, despair.
It wasn't by mistake that I chose Heaven Help Us All for us to dance to in our processional entry. Because I believe it's true. We both need Heaven's help..and by the grace of God, God is here to help us in our dances of love, healing, re-connection, life out of death. So Heaven helps us and Jesus leads us in the dance of love in the privacy of our homes, or Jesus leads us in dance, silent candlelit dance around Lake Harriet, in the quiet of a sanctuary, or in the sign-filled witness to the two - year anniversary of the war in Iraq this week. Dance as political resistance.
Pharisees of today in Jerusalem's in every state and Washington, D.C. - are making their plans, lining up the votes to add an amendment to the Constitution to keep the state from recognizing the love between two men or two women. We're talking about the way people love.
Even against the odds, against the literalists and the haters, Jesus leads us in the dance to heal, dance to resist...dance to be together..dance to celebrate the ultimate triumph, and reign of God.the way of love and
faithfulness to how God is trying to pour love into the world.
Heaven help us all to keep dancing the way of love. in the face of hatred, oppression, depression, despair. That's a dance everyone needs to know. Heaven help us all.