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Palm Sunday: An Invitation to Live

a sermon based on Matthew 21:1-11
by Rev. Cindy Weber

William Hazlitt wrote that no young man believes that he will ever die, and the truth of the matter, I think, is that in some measure that is true of all of us. Intellectually we all know that we will die, but we do not really know it in the sense that the knowledge becomes part of us. We do not really know it in the sense of living as though it were true. On the contrary, we tend to live as though our lives would go on forever. We spend our lives like drunken sailors (Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, p. 226, adapted ).

In the book, Four Spirits, by Sara Jeter Naslun, Darl and Stella are talking:

“Do you know the average altitude for the flight of robins?” he asked.

A spurt of laughter flew from between Stella’s lips…”I don’t have the foggiest idea,” she said.

“About thirty inches.”

“What a waste!” she said. “To have the gift of flight and to fly so low.”

And that’s what we’re all scared of, isn’t it, having the gift of flight and yet flying so low, coming to the end of our lives and realizing that we lived like drunken sailors, coming to the end of our lives and realizing that most of what we’ve done is to play it safe, that we’ve only had a few moments when we’ve really shined, when we’ve really managed to hold on to what matters most.

10,000 Maniacs sing a song about these are the days to remember, never before and never since, I promise, will the whole world be warm as this, and as you see it you’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky, it’s true that you are touched by something that’ll grow and bloom in you.

And all of us have those shiny days to remember, or at the very least, those shiny moments when we’re flying high, embracing life for all it’s worth. Our culture would have us believe that those moments can be had through the accumulation of certain things, a certain kind of car, perhaps, or the right pair of blue jeans, or by joining the Army and being all that you can be, or by drinking Maxwell House coffee.

What we know in our hearts of hearts to be true, though is that the shiniest of moments are not the Maxwell House moments at all, but rather those moments when we’ve been able to lose ourselves somehow, to abandon our desires for bigger and better, to give something of ourselves away, to pour something of ourselves out, to take a risk, to speak up in spite of our trembly voices, to take a stand even when our knees are knocking.

As we read this morning’s scripture, we see Jesus heading into Jerusalem, purposefully, publicly. His triumphal entry, as it is often called, is not as triumphal as it is a sort of a street theater. On the same day that Jesus would have entered the city on his donkey of peace from the east, the Roman governor would have led a procession in from the west, accompanied by all the trappings of imperial power. Marcus Borg says, If the language is not too modern, his entry was a planned political demonstration, an appeal to Jerusalem to follow the path of peace, even as it proclaimed that his movement was the peace party in a generation headed for war. It also implied that the alternative of peace was still open (Jesus A New Vision, p. 174).

And the cleansing of the Temple, as we call it, was more like the shutting down of the Temple. I’ve heard that it could be likened to Daniel Berrigan breaking into the Pentagon and pouring blood on the draft files back in 60s. Jesus was taking on the domination system head on, not just one system, but several, political, social, religious, economic. And in the very seat of power, under the nose of the Roman guard. While they might have been able to ignore his actions while he was out there in the Galilean countryside, they couldn’t ignore him now. Jerusalem was a tinderbox this time of year, full of pilgrims who had come to celebrate the Passover, full of Roman soldiers brought in to keep the peace.

Jesus, of course, knew all this. Knew that his actions would not, could not be ignored. And that’s why, when I read these scriptures, I have this picture of him in my head, he’s leaning forward, always leaning forward, moving, moving, moving toward an inevitable confrontation.

There’s been a lot of talk over the last year about Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion, and specifically about why Jesus died. There are, of course, a lot of different ideas about that, but what I see most clearly is this: Jesus died because he exposed the powers. Jesus died because he confronted the injustices. Jesus died because he would not allow himself to be controlled by the expectations of his family, by the opinions of the public, by the norms of his culture. Jesus died because he would not allow himself to be controlled by the most intimidating, brutal symbol that the most powerful nation in the world could produce, the cross, designed by Rome to keep a nation in its place by publicly executing hundreds of people at one time, because he would not allow himself to be controlled by the fear of death. Indeed, he undercut the power of the cross to intimidate by inviting his disciples to embrace it. Take up your cross and follow me, he said. Don’t be afraid. Or maybe do be afraid, but don’t let your fear diminish you, don’t let your fear define you, don’t let your fear keep you from wholeheartedly, unobligedly pursuing the ways of life.

In the book, Four Spirits, again, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who some of you heard at a Baptist Peace Fellowship conference years ago, is lying in a Birmingham hospital bed after being injured by one of Bull Conners’ fire hoses during a series of civil rights demonstrations which have resulted in the incarceration of hundreds of black children. A little seven year old boy named Edmund comes to see Shuttlesworth, and the minister prays for him.

They opened their eyes, and Edmund says, “I didn’t let them put me in jail. I just ran off.”

“Did you?” Minister wrinkled his forehead. He stared hard but loving. “Then I got to tell you. Don’t be afraid of the jail. They can’t jail a soul. Your spirit—it remain free, body behind bars.”


“Next time, you go on to jail like a good boy.”

Jesus died because he knew that not only can they not jail a soul, they can’t kill one either, that there’s something way more important than just living.

“Those who try to make their life secure will lose it,” he said, “but those who lose their life will keep it.”

Henri Nouwen, talking about this scripture, says, The great paradox of life is that those who lose their lives will gain life. This paradox becomes visible in very ordinary situations. If we cling to our friends, we may lose them, but if we are non-possessive in our relationships, we will make many friends. If fame is what we seek and desire, it often vanishes as soon as we acquire it, but if we have no need to be known, we might be remembered long after our deaths. When we want to be in the centre, we easily end up on the margins, but when we are free enough to be wherever we must be, we often find ourselves in the centre. Giving away our lives for other is the greatest of all human acts. This will gain us our lives.

“Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.”

Walter Wink says that the phrase, make their life secure, is literally make around, referring to the setting out of a boundary or property line. Those who make around, those who live within a certain set of boundaries will never be able to truly live. But those who are willing to let loose, those who are willing to risk taking on some new ground, those who are able to figure out what’s worth dying for, and then pursue it with all their hearts, pour their lives into it, pour their lives out for it, those are the ones who, when all is said and done, will have really lived, will have really flown high.

Blessed is the One who comes of the name of the Lord! Blessed is the One who through death, invites us to live.  Hosanna in the Highest!

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