Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday: Even These Stones Will Cry Out

READ LUKE 19:29–40 (CEB)

All over the world this morning, Christians are reading this text. This is Palm Sunday. On this Sunday we remember the last time Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem. In the span of the next week, a lot would happen:
  • Jesus would take the Last Supper with His disciples.
  • He would pray with them in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • He would be arrested and killed.
  • Next week, we will remember and celebrate His resurrection.
The Triumphal Entry (as it has been called) was an ironic moment in history. On the one hand, we grieve that Jesus had to travel the road that would lead to His death. On the other hand, we are so grateful that Jesus made that trip! So, this morning, as we worship, we sing songs of praise—thanking God for this tremendous sacrifice. We acknowledge at the same time our sin that made that tremendous sacrifice necessary in the first place.

There are some songs that are just so good that it's hard not to sing along when they come on in the car. That was the case for one man who lives in Montreal. He was recently listening to radio when C+C Music Factory's 1990 hit "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" came on while he was driving. He began to sing along. Presumably with some enthusiasm, if you are familiar with the song. But he quickly noticed police lights behind him. At first, he thought the police car simply wanted to pass him. But then, he heard the call on the speaker: “Please go to the right side.” He stopped his car, and four police officers came toward his car—two on each side. They asked him if he screamed. He said, “No, I was just singing.”

Montreal has varying bylaws depending on the neighborhood. The police that day felt that this case fell under the category of "Noise resulting from cries, clamors, singing, altercations or cursing and any other form of uproar." Those actions are prohibited in that part of the city. It earned the guy a $118 ticket!

An NPR article told this story. I love the way they concluded their story. They simply asked the Montreal Police, through this article: “How do you not sing to this song?” That’s a great question! There are some songs that are just so good, it is impossible not to sing along!

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the last time, the crowds couldn’t help but sing out praises to Him. “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens!” And when some Pharisees heard their song, they told Jesus to quiet His disciples. And I love Jesus’ response: “If they were silent, these stones would shout!”

This often-overlooked part of the Triumphal Entry narrative reminds us of something very important. All of creation is involved in the redemptive story of God. Genesis says the sin that caused Adam and Eve to leave the Garden caused the earth to produce thorns and thistles. Isaiah sings of a reign of peace on earth. A time when cows and bears will graze together. The lion and the lamb will lie down side by side. Matthew says a special star appeared to announce Jesus’ birth. And when Jesus died, the earth shuddered and rocks cracked. And all the synoptic gospels agree that when Jesus was put on the cross, for three hours there was an eclipse of the sun.

All this dramatic language reminds us about something that we sometimes forget. All life is from God. The whole universe shares together: blessings and curses, life and death. In the final reign of God, Romans tells us:
The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Romans 8:21)
So, Jesus’ words should not surprise us. If these disciples were quiet, even these stones would cry out. All of creation was anxiously awaiting God’s gift!

Nothing can stand in the way of God’s coming kingdom. If these disciples were quiet, even these stones would shout! What an incredible testimony to the powerful and unstoppable momentum of God’s Kingdom. There were some who shouted with joy as Jesus came into the city. There were others who stood with scowls on their faces—ready to do anything to stop Him. Boy did they try to stop Him! A week later, some of those scowling people would demand Jesus’ death!

Nevertheless, as we will celebrate next Sunday, not even death could stop the momentum of God’s Kingdom. I think sometimes we forget just how powerful and unstoppable God’s Kingdom really is. I sometimes find it comical (and sad) how people of faith sometimes lament the “dying” of the church. You’ve probably heard similar statements:
  • “This church is not as strong as it once was.”
  • “Fewer people go to church today than in any other time in history.”
  • “I wish we could go back to the time when the church was growing and expanding and making a difference!”
Folks who make such statements are completely unaware of the unstoppable momentum of God’s Kingdom. The church is growing faster and wider today than during any other time in human history! But there has been a shift in the church’s so-called “center.” The global church stopped being predominantly western in the 1980s. Seventy percent of Christians now live in the non-western world. In 1900, there were only 11.7 million Christians in all of Africa. By 2025, there will be over 1 billion Christians in Africa. There are more Presbyterians in Ghana than there are in Scotland, where that denomination was born! There are more members of Churches of Christ in Africa than in America!

Guess which country is boasting the fastest growth rate among Christians on this planet. Iran! There are about 800,000 followers of Jesus in Iran! More Christians attend church in China every Sunday than in all of “Christian” Europe! In 1970, there were no legally functioning churches in China. Today, there are 80–120 million Christians in China.

Folks, the momentum of God’s Kingdom is absolutely unstoppable. God’s reign is expanding faster today than it ever has. God’s reign is expanding farther today than it ever has. And the way I see it, that is what this Triumphal Entry story is all about. Nothing could stop Jesus. The upset Pharisees, the crowds who demanded His crucifixion, the Jewish leaders, the Roman executioners. Not even death could slow down what God wanted to do in this world!

I think we need to keep that in mind. Sometimes we put unrealistic burdens on ourselves: It’s up to us to fix the world! Our mission as a church is not to fix all of the problems of the world. Our mission is not even to fix all of the problems of this church! Our mission is to join God in what God is already doing all around us!

Church, God is doing some pretty amazing things! We live in a world that says the problem of mental illness is just too big to solve. This week some leaders of this church met with other leaders of this city over lunch. They are beginning to lay the groundwork for a facility in East Texas that will help people with mental illness! The church is leading the way in those conversations!

We live in a world that says racism is just a problem we will always have with us. There has been a group of Christians meeting every month for the past two years to address the issue of racism in this city. We are planning events for white and African American citizens of this city join hands and work together. We are being open and honest with each other about our fears. We are becoming friends! The church is leading the way in those conversations.

We live in a world that is divided and polarized. We are divided economically, racially, politically. Sometimes those divisions even carry over into religion. But several months ago, a charismatic Hispanic church came and asked us if they could use our building. We don’t look alike. We don’t worship in the same way. We may not even believe all of the same things. But we rejoice that the name of Jesus is being proclaimed by those brothers and sisters every week in our chapel!

We are thankful for Christ Episcopal Church downtown that allows us to use their building for the Gathering! The church is pushing against those powerful divisive forces in our world!

What other problems are there that the world says are just too big to tackle?
  • Terrorism?
  • Sex Trafficking?
  • Hunger?
I could spend the next hour talking to you about ways in which God is already using the church to tackle those enormous issues! Brothers and sisters, this is an exciting time to be a follower of Jesus Christ! The question of our time is not “What is God doing?” The question of our time is “How can I participate and join the King who comes in the name of the Lord?”

Luke tells us:
  • He brings peace in heaven.
  • He brings glory in the highest heavens.
As we look around, we see that He also brings redemption and salvation to this earth. God’s Kingdom will grow and expand with or without us. Please join me in praying for God to open up our eyes to see clearly where He might be calling us to join His mission.

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