Finding Your Place

March 28, 2021

Series: March 2021

Category: What Are You/We Up To

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Today's Scripture: Mark 11:1-11

Today's Sermon


"Finding Your Place"

Mark 11:1-11

1When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,


          Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

10       Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

          Hosanna in the highest heaven!”


11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

Finding Your Place

            Parades are an anthropologist’s dream, maybe it was a sociologist’s. Either way, the expert voice on NPR was describing how much you can about a culture simply by observing its parades.  Like other festivals, parades show what a culture values.  Think about that the next time you find yourself at a parade. What is getting paraded down Main Street, and what message does that send, consciously, or more interestingly unconsciously?  What is present and reinforced?  What is missing?

            There are many roles in a parade.  It’s not really a parade without the crowds, both the people who get there early because they love a good parade and want to find a good spot, and…the rest of us who are dragged along.  Children come for one reason, maybe to scramble after candy thrown their way, and adults perhaps for another.  There are the people who manage the crowds, law enforcement and volunteers.  There are the announcers, commentators giving voice to what’s happening.  Then, there are the performers in all their diversity, those who are there to make you laugh, those to impress with their artistry, those to make you remember something significant, those to….ride on little motorcycles.

People take their parades seriously.  When I was in high school, I was in a rock band and we played at this little town parade in rural Indiana.  More accurately, we played adjacent to the parade route…loudly.  At one point someone turned around, for they were watching the parade, not us, and just shouted, “Go home!”  We did not.  Those people were clear about what they were there to see.  Bring an anthropologist’s eye, the eye of someone who studies humans, or that of a sociologist’s, those who studies groups of people, next time you go to a parade.

            Today is Palm Sunday and we have talked over the years about what this particular procession, a parade if you will, means.  We’ve talked about how Jesus riding into Jerusalem to face his fate stands in contrast to the procession on the other side of town of the one who will execute his faith, Pontius Pilate, an ultimate display of power and might.  This year, I am not focused on the difference between the two parades, but rather the various roles within one gathering as a symbol for the roles we might being called to be in right now.  In this case, there were the faithful followers who procured the donkey; G.K. Chesterton wrote a famous poem from the point of view from donkey itself; there were those who waved the palm branches and those who laid their cloaks on the ground for the donkey and rider; there were true devotees and probably some curious onlookers; maybe some were dragged along; maybe there were spies in the crowd.

            I wonder where you find yourself in the procession.  I am acutely aware that I do not preach to a monolith, but a collection of people, each with their own experiences.  Preaching may not be any harder than what you do, but preaching is impossible.  What I mean by that is on any given day two people need to hear two totally different messages.  For example, if I am preaching on Jesus’ invitation to take up the cross and follow him, or the passage about Christ emptying himself and taking on the form of a slave, someone of great power and position might really need to hear a message of humility, of giving up one’s privilege, of becoming a servant.  Another person in the same room may have been told their whole life that they should be quiet, that they should not be so emotional, that they go along and not cause trouble.  They might need to hear that Christ is with them on their cross, that the resurrection is for them, and that one person’s emptiness actually makes room for another to fill their rightful position.  That’s true every Sunday.  The trick isn’t only for me to find the right things to say, it’s for you to figure out what you need to hear.  Do you need to be humbled, empowered, opened, assured, fortified, renewed, forgiven? It’s hard to find your place. 

            All throughout the season of Lent we have been asking, at Marcia McFee’s leading, what is Jesus up to.  Part of what he is up to in his ride into the holy city, in fact in his whole ministry, is giving people a chance to find their place in the world.  He usually spends his time with those who’ve been displaced, but the message goes for us all.  Where is Christ calling you to be at this moment?  Is it your time to be at the center walking down to the cheers of crowds, finally occupying a space that’s been usually reserved for others? This week, I was in my driveway and a couple of women were walking up our hill.  I waited at the top of the driveway because I didn’t have a mask and I wanted them to safely pass.  As I did, I heard one woman say to the other, “It’s such a fine line with girls because on the one hand you want them to be kind, but they’re always being rewarded for compliance, not causing trouble.  You want them to be kind, but you also want them to find their voice, their strength, their assertiveness.”  This is not a calculus I had to deal with at a young age. 

            Maybe you have had more than your share in the center of things.   Maybe it’s someone else’s turn, and it’s your turn to watch and listen.  I don’t know how many of you were at worship last week, outside in the parking lot for the confirmation class.  If you were you may have noticed something that happened during Will Tolmie’s sermon. An ambulance came down Tiburon Blvd. sirens blaring until it came within eyesight of what we were doing, and then it turn of its siren until it had passed the church and come to the next light. What if we went through life that attentive to the sacred activity that’s trying to happening around us and learned to be quiet so that sound could be heard?

            Maybe you are being called to provide safety and security for those whose presence is needed but whose presence is not safe?  I had a colleague featured in New York Magazinerecently for her struggles with COVID, well really for her struggles with COVID as an Asian American woman, and since then The New York Times to write about the gender and racial dimensions of that shooting. 

            Maybe you are being called to be the announcer, giving voice to what’s going on.  If so, what story are you telling, and from what point of view?  What are you highlighting and what might you be ignoring?  Many of us were vocal in how migrants were treated at the border before. Will we now be quiet because different people are in charge? 

            Is it your turn to be behind the scenes in a support role for a change?  Are you like one of the children who scramble after the candy that’s being tossed because you deserve something sweet (and you do!)? 

            There are as many roles as you can think of.  Really the only position in the Palm Sunday procession that is taken is savior, and that may be a message some need to hear as well.

            In addition to what your role is right now, it’s also worth revisiting what we’re cheering, because just like the content of a parade says a lot, what we cheer for is equally revealing.  I listened to a book this year about Christianity and violence by evangelical Brian Zahnd and he said something that I am not sure I agree with entirely, but it has stuck with me.  He quoted a saying his father passed down to him—the crowd is always wrong.[1]  Now, as I mentioned, I think there are some crowds that do get it right, but his point was that even in the best parades, the best causes, the best intentions, the best movements, huge groups of people can miss the point.  He makes the bold claim that this is the case at Palm Sunday, not just with respect to the attendees at Pilate’s procession, but with those to come and cheer on Jesus as well.  Perhaps in their desperation at their own oppression, some come to cheer Jesus as if he is Pilate, who’s come to conquer and take up arms.  The laying of the palm branches and cloaks are acts done for a military victory celebration.  Whether or not the crowd is actively engaging in irony or misses it altogether is not entirely clear.  Have we missed the irony that we who tout so much freedom are not free when 41,000 people in this country died from guns in the past year alone? [2]          

            This parade, this procession we commemorate is serious.  There is a place for you, a role to play, but assuming you’ll just stumble leaves too much to dangerous chance.  We must prayerfully consider this week, why we are going, what we are heralding, and who it is we are celebrating.  Amen.


[1] See Brian Zahnd, A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor's Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace