Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is finally finished this morning. After three years of preaching, teaching, healing, and helping others, Jesus arrives today in Jerusalem. He comes to Jerusalem just as he foretold to the disciples; he comes to fulfill his destiny as Messiah and Savior. His arrival marks the beginning of the last week in Lent – Holy Week – and the beginning of his journey to Calvary. As we listen to the story from Luke’s gospel we wouldn’t think it was the beginning of the end. The people are shouting Jesus’ name with: “Hosanna!” “Blessed is He who comes!” “Glory to the King!” Sounds like a big celebration, a happy day. People are lining the street, throwing their coats and palm branches down for Jesus to walk on. This is a parade, a pageant, a victory celebration.
Some of you know that we are originally from the Kansas City area. Last October our Kansas City Royals brought home the World Series trophy. It is estimated that over half-a-million people lined the streets of downtown Kansas City to join in the parade and cheer for the players. Some of my family were part of that crowd and shared pictures of the exuberant joy of being part of that event. We’ve been gone from that area for thirty years and yet I still feel connected as a fan and I was as excited as everyone else for their incredible win. Watching the parade on television and hearing about it from my family, made me feel as if I were there in the middle of it all. I can imagine that the level of excitement that day in Jerusalem was kind of like that in Kansas City.
People were cheering and laughing and crying; they were hugging people they didn’t even know. And all of this excitement was for the King Jesus who just rode into town after three years of incredible ministry. The people had heard about Jesus and all that he had done; they were excited about his triumph. What the excited crowd did not know was that there was already a plot to put an end to Jesus and his ministry; there were people determined to rob him of his victories. The Pharisees have been trying to catch Jesus for a long time and as he comes into Jerusalem, they see his threat growing stronger. They plan to bring him down as soon as the opportunity presents itself, but they must be careful – particularly now with this huge crowd of supporters cheering him on. So, what are they to do? Howe can they calm this demonstration and take some of the attention off Jesus? Being the diplomats they are, they approach Jesus and ask him to settle the people down:
“Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” What they were really saying is: Tell these people to shut up! We can’t have all this noise and commotion; we can’t have this party atmosphere. This is the holy city of Jerusalem.
Jesus gives them a surprising response that they can’t begin to fully comprehend. “Tell the people to be quiet? Why, if I did that, then the stones on the street would start to cry out.” The point Jesus was making is that the emotion and the ecstasy people were feeling over 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 refused to tell the people to subdue their joy.
It seems like the world has been telling the followers of Christ to shut up ever since. Now they do it in relatively subtle and innocuous ways, but the effect is still the same. We often hear: Settle down, don’t be such a fanatic about your faith. In fact, it’s probably better if you just keep your faith to yourself.” Sharing your faith has become offensive, politically incorrect, or socially inappropriate. We hear this stuff and we believe it. The result is that the Christian witness has been silenced and our passion for Jesus is gone. We’ve become lukewarm disciples – no longer dangerous…no longer a threat to anyone, least of all the devil. Our passion is no longer powerful enough that even the stones in the road feel the excitement.
Many of you probably had a church camp experience when you were students. I have often heard people talk about how meaningful camp was for them and many confess that camp is where they first gave their hearts to Jesus. I have been involved as clergy in many different camp experiences across the state and I am always blessed by the students and amazed at the number who stand up and confess their faith and go home from camp fired up for Jesus. Unfortunately, enthusiasm for church camp is not universally shared. I know of a pastor who discourages students from attending church camp. He has been known to tell students that their camp experience is nonsense. “You’ve been baptized. You’ve been confirmed. You don’t need any of that charismatic stuff.” Now, I know this pastor has the good intention of emphasizing sound theological principles and solid Christian education over what may or may not be a quality religious experience at camp. But, what the students hear is: “Shut up! We don’t need to hear that stuff around church. Just keep your faith quiet and don’t tell anybody you found Jesus at a camp fire.” I think that’s sad.
The point is this: the contemporary church has listened to the voices of the Pharisees for too long. We have come to believe that God’s grace is private, personal, and ought not to be expressed in public. At the same time, we tolerate immorality because it is not socially acceptable to ask people to be accountable for their sins. Rev. Dr. Frank Harrington says this: “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 is clearly wrong.” We are afraid or ashamed to tell anyone that it is our faith that dictates how we live our lives. We have been led to believe that it is unconstitutional for a politician to allow his/her faith to inform their policy positions. It often seems that a person’s faith has little to do with the way a person runs a business. In short, Christians in general and Methodists 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!
Now, I am not suggesting that we hit the streets and become blatantly obnoxious; we don’t need to be hitting people over the head with our Bibles. I am suggesting that we become publicly honest about our love for Jesus. How many times have you and I had the opportunity to tell someone about God’s forgiveness, and yet remained silent? How often are we tempted to say to someone, “I will pray for you,” but instead we say nothing? How many times do we consider inviting a colleague, a friend, or a neighbor to church, but then chicken out at the last minute? These are our sins of omission, our sins of silence.
Lent is a great time to challenge those sins. It calls us to make a choice – to make a conscious decision not to be silent anymore. We have the greatest news ever to share…How selfish are we to keep it to ourselves? We must be bold and contagious and dangerous. This morning the stone in your hand represents our sin of silence. This stone stands for the times we could have spoken a word of grace but did not. It is for the moments we did not speak love. I invite you to come to the cross this morning and leave this stone behind…Let it ignite a passion in you to let the love of Christ be known to all. Let us leave the stones here to be silent as we cry out: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[Message and series inspired by “Journey of Stones” by Steven Molin. © 2002,
CSS Publishing Company, Lima, OH.]