Thursday, February 16, 2012

God is Home

God is Home from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Luke 19:29-40
As Jesus came to Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he gave two disciples a task. He said, “Go into the village over there, when you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If someone asks, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say, ‘Its master needs it.’” Those who had been sent found it exactly as he had said.

As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

They replied, “Its master needs it.” They brought it to Jesus, threw their clothes on the colt, and lifted Jesus onto it. As Jesus rode along, they spread their clothes on the road.

As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. They said,

“Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”

Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!”

He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”

This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

We are not at the gates of Jerusalem just yet. We’re on the Mount of Olives, near Bethphage and Bethany, and our Lord is looking forward to Jerusalem. We’ve been on this journey alongside the disciples for quite some time, and we’re seen great things along the way. Things that can only be acts of God, performed before our eyes. So we look down the mountain at Jerusalem, the cultural home of Israel.

We see this text’s Jerusalem through the mixture of passages we’ve pulled together to celebrate Palm Sunday, but the Hosannas and Palm Fronds we so often associate with that holiday come from other gospels, and are not present here. Lacking those favorite images, my first instinct is to deconstruct the Palm-Sunday narrative we’ve all heard a hundred times and find out what Luke has to say about all this “triumphal entry” stuff. Then I want to take this text specifically and break it down into its components. My natural inclination is to vivisect this Living Word, and see what it’s made of. But that’s exegesis, not preaching.

So we’ve got this text, an ingredient in the Palm Sunday mixture, and Jesus seems to play a very passive role here. We’ve got a little direction in the first half, and a little dialogue in the second, but the rest of the action is done by the disciples. They go to the nearby village, they untie the colt, they bring it back to Jesus, they set him on the colt, they spread their clothes along the ground while Jesus, carried downhill by gravity and supported by an animal they borrowed from the nearest town, just rides along.

But we’re headed for Jerusalem. God’s activity is less overt in this passage. But we’re looking down from the Mount of Olives, and God is taking us to Jerusalem. From here, we begin a relentless drive to the cross, gathering the momentum we will need as we walk down the hill with our eyes on the gates of Jerusalem.

We’re not at the gates of Jerusalem, as we are in other Gospels’ accounts, we’re at a crossroads. “As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen.” We’re approaching the road leading down the mountain, and we see our spiritual home, the whole city of Jerusalem laid out before us, and we can look back, figuratively, and see everything that God has done for us. All the mighty things that we have seen, that have shown us that God is active in our world. We look back and see our whole history, from Creation to Egypt to the Promised Land, from Monarchs to the Divided Kingdom to the Exile. From a birth in Bethlehem to a baptism in the Jordan, to parables and miracles and wonders beyond words. When we look back and see that, we can look forward to Jerusalem and know that the redemptive moment is at hand. Though we are living in an occupied land, we look back, this time literally, and see this man Jesus, Jesus who is our redeemer, Jesus who has enacted all of the mighty works we have seen. We look back and see Jesus, and we know that it is God who leads us to Jerusalem.

The disciples can’t keep it inside them, they have to celebrate what they have seen, what they see now. “Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heavens.” Listen y’all, God’s coming home! God is going down to Jerusalem to be with us, to be our home! We’ve wandered in Canaan with Abraham and Jacob, we were slaves in Egypt with the ancient Israelites, we wandered the wilderness with Moses, we carved out a place for ourselves in the land God promised us, only to be taken away from it and carried into exile in Babylon. We may count ourselves as righteous, saying we’ve followed the law and deserve the land that was promised to us, but even released from Babylon, we’ve been in exile for our whole lives. Even out from under Pharaoh’s lash, we are slaves to our own sinfulness. We have consistently distanced ourselves from our God, but now we get to go home, because God is here, this man right behind me.

I know this man behind me just looks like a man on a colt, but he’s not just a man. This is the Lord! God’s coming home, we’re going to be home again! We’re going to be with God again! And when that’s what is see laid out before us, how can we stay silent? “Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”

Then the Pharisees step out of the crowd.

We’ve grown accustomed to the image of Jesus parading through the streets of Jerusalem with droves of people on either side cheering him on, but in this section of Luke, the only crowd mentioned is “the whole throng of [Jesus’s] disciples.” So these Pharisees can only come from the multitude that has been following Jesus.

These aren’t just off-duty priests, as are so often depicted in the cartoon versions of this story we saw as children in Vacation Bible School. Fred Craddock connects these Pharisees with those that warned Jesus about Herod’s plot to kill Jesus. They even acknowledge his authority by calling him “Teacher.” It’s entirely possible that these Pharisees are following Jesus, maybe not as disciples, but they don’t seem to want to interfere with Jesus’s mission, they just want him to do it quietly.

And what a good place for those among us who are Presbyterian to stand. Here are the educated Elite of the Jewish community telling a bunch of rowdy Galileans to maybe try keeping it down a little bit. You can still do your proclamation, just don’t shout about it where the Romans can hear you. Don’t shout it where the high priests can hear you, whisper it politely, decently, orderly, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!”

But can it be stopped? Some stories need to be told. Some stories are not content to bridge the gap between book covers. Some news must make itself heard, must leap off the pages on which it is printed and take hold of those who know it, compelling them to tell us that God is coming home. God is coming home to be with us, her children. Nevermind all the ways that we have resisted, rebelled, mutinied against God. God is not meeting us halfway, God is bridging the full distance to make his home among us. God is coming to Jerusalem, to reclaim the people as God’s own, because their master has need of them.

So we can imagine Jesus, with Pharisees pleading for reverent silence that won’t offended anybody, looking over the crowd of boisterous disciples. These disciples have got it right, and I hear Jesus’s voice swell with a little bit of pride at the followers who understand the importance of what is happening around them. “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”

Stones, as a rule, don’t shout. It’s not in their nature, so far as I can tell. My experience of stones is, at its most poetic, that they are silent witnesses to our histories and struggles. Silent witnesses, barely participating in the world around them, being acted upon, rather than acting themselves, because they’re just rocks.

We can allegorize Jesus’s pronouncement, the stones wouldn’t actually shout, that’s contrary to their nature! Just so the disciples silence in this manner is contrary to their nature. But if you want to see something happen contrary to what we’ve seen before, Jesus is the right place to look. The lame walk, the blind see, the sick are healed, and the dead live. Mighty things are done, and both we and the disciples before us have seen them happen. If these are possible for Jesus, I take him at his word when he says that the stones will shout. Some stories need to be told, and the story that God has come to redeem all of creation is one of those stories that cannot be silenced.

So Jesus tells us, “if they were silent, the stones would shout.” Because the Gospel is irrepressible. God’s story will get told, and it’s our decision as to whether or not we choose to participate in the telling. But with or without us, the good news of God will be spread.

God is active in this passage, driving us down from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem. The disciples are witnessing to what God has actively done before them. We cannot help but cry out with joy, driven like a flock before our Lord, witnessing to what God has done for us, what God is doing to us, and what God will do through us. This is a story that even a stone could shout, but we have the joy and privilege of proclaiming this Gospel, that God chooses to make God’s home here, with us. The Gospel that when Jesus looks down the mountain at Jerusalem, he also sees the next hill, where he will be crucified. The Gospel that doesn’t conclude in Jerusalem, but merely transitions there. The Gospel that God will be our home, through the redemptive power of both the cross and the empty tomb. With this Gospel in our hearts, how can we possibly be silent.

Focus: When we see what God has done, the nature of who we are compels us to proclaim the Gospel
Function: To remind people of the joy of being a redeemed people.

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