“Taking it to the Streets”
A Sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
April 5, 2009
University Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN
We know the story so well. Go and get a colt that has not been ridden. Bring it to Jesus. He rides on it like a king entering into the city. So what if the donkey had never been ridden. It’s not the point. The people are so excited. They throw down palms to make a carpet of green for Jesus. It was the closest they could come to a red carpet. The people shouted about what a great day it was. And it was a great day. It was an inspiring day. It was a fine celebration. Wouldn’t it be great if the celebration could last forever?
We know it didn’t. In just a few days, Jesus would be betrayed by one of his closest friends. One of his other friends would deny that he knew him not once, not twice but three times. He would be tried on pent-up charges. What were his crimes? Blasphemy—declaring himself the son of God?; Insurrection? Being of the wrong belief system at the wrong time and in the wrong company? Saying one too many provocative things?
What scared people so much about Jesus? Was it that he was not to be defined by other’s views of righteousness? Was it that he was welcoming and affirming of the outcasts? Was it that he was not a person of violence? Was it that he did not tow the party line when it came to righteousness? Was it that he was downright audacious, scandalous, charismatic, and radically earthy? Was it that he didn’t like fancy clothes and preferred to walk around in bare feet? For this and so much more, he would be beaten and executed by week’s end.
Couldn’t we just focus on the good memories—like that great meal, like the green carpet entrance? Like the people shouting good things, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.” Which is the ancient way of saying “you so totally rock.” Let’s focus on that. Let’s take that to the streets. But we can’t ignore the fact that people shouted crucify him from those same streets. Were they the same people? And if we were to take to the streets, what would we say? Could we sustain the vision for a day, let alone a week? What will it take for us to live committed lives? Are we willing to back up our ideals with action? That’s the word for us.
My friends, weather aside, it is a good day to take it to the streets. I stopped by the Purple Onion this past week and mentioned to the owner that this weekend was Palm Sunday. He said, “Oh it’s that day you do that cool procession. I like watching it every year.” From the outside, it looks like a parade. But what’s behind it? That’s the question. To what are we committed to? How will we stand up and be counted? Where do we spend our time? Where do we utilize our great talent? What portion of our treasure goes toward making this expression of our faith come alive in this place and all the people it touches? What does the parade mean?
The disciples on Palm Sunday took to the streets and celebrated not only Jesus but the worldview that embraced hope, compassion and commitment. The church has ever since, in our own flawed way, tried to live up to the Palm Sunday ideal of proclaiming in the streets what we know in our hearts. And if we are to be true to our ideals, that proclamation needs to last beyond the procession. We need to take to the streets our very lives as transformed people, willing to live faithful lives under God’s guidance and sustained by a healing and healthy community. That’s something worth marching for.
And to do this, we need to know to what we are committed. By what truths do we live? What keeps us up at night because it is good and hopeful news? How can we support one another when they are down? How can we be the community that pushes the envelope not just for pushing’s sake, but so that our minds and hearts can be open and so that we can understand and celebrate a different aspect of God’s character in this world.
It’s all about what you are committed to. That’s where the rubber hits the road. Think about this:
Anyone can join a parade. But it takes commitment to actually follow Jesus. And if you follow the story to the week’s end, all of Jesus’ disciples fell away. They ran away and hid. The only person at the cross and at the grave in all four gospels was Mary Magdalene. And she was the first one to see the resurrection, too. That was one of her rewards for staying the course. And she gave it back to us as a model for faithfulness.
Since we’re talking about parades, think about this. Anyone can protest and throw rocks through windows, like at the RNC or the G8 Summit. But it takes commitment to live a nonviolent lifestyle, resisting the temptation to respond to violence with violence. It takes commitment and a spiritual transformation to really live it out and sustain a movement when the odds are stacked so high against us. But nonviolence gives a lasting change. Jim Wallis said at Baptist Peace Fellowship conference several years ago, “Protesting is good. Organizing is better.”
The cross is a symbol of violence and Jesus’ resurrection was a way of saying that the implements of violence have their limitations. For God will triumph over even the deadliest of weapons, if the committed community, God’s hands and feet take their resurrected selves into the streets and live lives of nonviolence permeated by compassion and justice.
Anyone can read the Bible. But it takes commitment to live by the truth, be transformed by the truth, and not only imagine a world of peace, justice, and truth as we have been exploring this year, but also to make it come to fruition in our own small way. We know that the Bible by itself is not the word of God. But when the Bible is read with the Holy Spirit as the guide and the community as the wounding board, we find the words of God for our lives.
Anyone can come to lunch and I’m glad you are all here. But it takes commitment to make this expression of the body of Christ live and thrive. I have filled out my forms and I am looking forward to adding them to the mix of this church community. As we take to the streets of this aisle, we will show our commitment to living in the resurrected reality of committed Christians.
Anyone can share a meal. But it takes commitment to see a meal as a symbol of new life and God’s continuing covenant with all of us. It takes commitment to not only be nourished by the food but to have the communal aspect strengthen you for the journey ahead and realize that part of that journey is to live a life transformed so that our portion of the world can be transformed. Alone it’s just food. Together with committed and faithful people, it’s life-giving resurrection-recognizing and hope-inducing nourishment for our souls and the soul of our enlarging community.
Anyone can serve a meal at Loaves and Fishes, and I’m glad so many of us do that. But it takes commitment to look at systematic change that addresses hunger, poverty and homelessness.
Anyone can speak out about racism and sexism and homo-prejudice. But it takes commitment to confront a family member about their closed-mindedness. Speaking the truth in love can be a hard thing even with those we love.
And while we’re on the subject, let’s give a shout out to the Iowa Supreme Court. Anyone can select a judge, but it takes commitment for those judges to stand up to religious bigotry and say that each person has the right not to be discriminated against. In 19 days or less, there will be hundreds of same-sex couples legally married. IN IOWA!! The soonest opponents can vote on a constitutional amendment to ban it is in four years, after thousands of couples have been legally married. Maybe Minnesota will take its lead from Iowa!! Imagine that! How’s that for holy humor?
Anyone can friend someone on Facebook. But relationships and real friendships take commitment. It takes commitment to being more than just fair-weather friends. True committed friendships are with us through the thick and the thin and are great expressions of our faithfulness.
As most of you know, I make maple syrup. It’s fun. At least for me. But anyone can hang out by a fire for hours on end and smell up the house. My friend Jim Anderson from Connecticut gave me this line for today’s sermon, “As Jesus shed his blood so that we may have eternal life, so doth the maple tree give up its sap so we may enjoy the perfect waffle.” But in the end it’s really not about the syrup. It’s about the process. It’s about spending time with people around a fire, laughing, dreaming, getting all funky and smoky, and enjoying the excitement of spring. It’s also getting to share the syrup with people and seeing the looks on their faces when they taste the real thing. That’s why I’m a bit obsessed with it, because it’s a sweet treasure that continually renews my soul as people are transported to a sweet place and knowing that I had a little something to do with it. But it takes commitment by me, my family, my neighbors, my friends, even the fire department. But oh the reward…
What would it take for us to sustain our commitment beyond the convenient times? We need to remember the exuberance and excitement of Palm Sunday, especially in the bleak times. When people take to the streets, they are putting themselves out there as a force to be reckoned with. That sounds like the church I know and love.
In God’s time the crucifixion is never the last word for the Christian. It is the last, desperate pathetic attempt of the world to exercise its authority, but it is not redemption. That only happens on Easter. And the resurrected community of which we are a part is bold enough to take our transformation out into the streets together so that we can continue to live transformed lives in a hopefully transforming community.
So as you remember these palms that you have in your hands and that you pick up from the floor, remember that they were waved by the crowds because they saw Jesus as a revolutionary. And he was one, indeed. But his revolution was not a violent one. It was a revolution of the heart and the mind. It was a higher revolution. And it was ultimately a more effective revolution.
So as you take these palms, remember that they are signs that you are part of a revolutionary movement. It is a movement of minds and hearts. And it will ultimately change the world.
And remember that anyone can wave palms. But it takes commitment to remember and live by the truth of God. And the truth of God is best lived out in community. May we sustain this community as it has sustained us, so that together as committed people we can bring light to our lives and light to a city, nation and world in need. And may we take this new commitment not only to this table here, but into the streets. May our hope and our commitment to God’s peace, God’s justice, God’s truth, God’s creativity and God’s freedom enliven and resurrect in us a bit of that audacious God-inspired hope that was there on that first Palm Sunday.