Right Praise

April 14, 2019

Series: April 2019

Category: Palm Sunday

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Luke 19:28-40

28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it'" 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" 34They said, "The Lord needs it." 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying,

"Blessed is the king

who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven,

and glory in the highest heaven!"


39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." 40He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.


“Choose Your Own Adventure”

          I am really dating myself with my sermon title.  Choose Your Own Adventure books were big when I was growing up.  If you’re not familiar with them, you don’t read through these books linearly.  At certain junctures, you get to make choices for the characters, and you turn to different sections of the book according to the choices you make.  For me, it almost always led to me having my fingers all stuck in different places so I could play out every possibility.

          I’m not ready to do a complete sermon in that manner, but I will begin today by giving you a choice.  Would you first like to hear about Sara Brouwer’s pre-Palm Sunday worship ritual, or would you like me to lead a discussion about Christian orthodoxy?  We’ll have a show of hands.

Okay, who would like to hear about Sarah Brouwer’s pre-Palm Sunday worship routine?

Who would like a discussion of Christian orthodoxy?

How surprising that you would want to hear about the pre-Palm Sunday worship routine of someone you have never met over a discussion of orthodoxy.

Brouwer, if you’re wondering, is The Rev. Sarah Brouwer.  She’s one of the pastors at Westminster Presbyterian in Minneapolis and we are in a preaching cohort together.  She has this routine every year on Palm Sunday—so she’s already done it no doubt today in her study.  She watches a video of a choir singing the Palm Sunday anthem, “Ride on King Jesus!”  This is the clergy equivalent of the pregame speech, the Notre Dame football team hitting the sing on the locker room door that says, “Play Like a Champion Today,” right before they go out to lose.

I decided I could use a little inspiration and so recently I sat down searched for the video.  Here’s the first result that comes up:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFutmRxmtKk (play for a bit).  Not bad is it?  Upbeat, stirring even.  Well that’s not the version Brouwer listens to.  You have to scroll down a bit when you search on YouTube.  This is the version she listens to.  The video is a little grainy, but it does not disappoint.  In particular, watch the music director.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etGrFu6dyAE  I could watch that all morning.  In past years, both Bethany and I have pointed out that there were likely two processions into town that day, one of Jesus and one of Pilate, the ruler of the region, one on a donkey and one in a full military procession, two competing displays and understandings of power. 

          We’ve analyzed it, make theological assertions about it, wondered if Jesus’ entry was a satirical performance piece, a critique on Pilate, the empire, and the religious establishment that had cozied to it.  What we haven’t done is celebrate it like that (referring to video).  That’s unadulterated, unbridled joy.  I don’t play this video for you as entertainment.  That’s problematic culturally.  I play it for you as a witness, a witness to what this day means.  It’s no surprise in many an African-American churches, where people come from generations of oppression, the notion of Jesus riding into the power center, to face his execution and then get up in victory is proclaimed as precisely that, a victory.  Finally, a win, a long-overdue win, and a promise of a win to come.  Those who may look like the ones who were defeated may look a little more reserved and reflective in their commemoration.

          Make no mistake, though, this is a victory.  I don’t even think you have to believe Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was triumphal in any traditional sense.  It may well have been small.  I assume it was dwarfed by Pilate’s military brigade.  If any in Pilate’s company did know of Jesus’ ride, they might well have mocked it.  Do those who line up to wave palm branches and cheer on this day not know it, or do they not care.  There’s a certain spiritual fortitude that says you can laugh at me and my people, you can denigrate who we are and our traditions, you can try and degrade our dignity, but we’re going to sing and dance anyway because there’s a joy we’re tapped into that you’re too shallow to reach.  No amount of worldly riches or power can help you drill down deep enough to reach what we’re drawing from. 

          This kind of dancing you saw a moment ago says you cannot control me or my body.  You can try and crush my soul, but I will wiggle right out of your grasp.  When I look at that video, I can’t help but think of David in 2nd Samuel, David who it says, “danced before the Lord with all his might” (2 Sam. 6:14).  Do you know how the people responded to David’s dancing.  They didn’t like it.  It was too provocative.  It was not properly modest.  I think what really bothered them, even though they might not realize it themselves, was that they couldn’t control it.  No human or human institution can confine the Spirit when the Spirit wants to move.  When you try and control it, or this week kill it, dancing is going to break out. 

Those who did cheered earnestly that day when Jesus rode into town, knew something.  They may not have known exactly how it was going to play out, but on one level they knew who was riding, what he stood for, and what it meant not just for them but for all creation.  They knew it bodily and so they cheered, “Hosanna!” which just means “Praise!”  Praise!

Which brings us to orthodoxy, our finger in the other choice—we could have done these in either order, just watch.  I bet if I asked what “orthodox” means, many of us would say, “right belief” or “right thinking.”  We’d be wrong.  I was wrong.  Cynthia Bourgeault, in her book, “Encountering the Wisdom Jesus,” points out what is clear if you know the simplest Greek.  The roots of the word are right there for us to see.  “Ortho” means “right,” but “doxy” which comes from the Greek “doxa,” from which we get “doxology,” means “praise.”  To be orthodox is not to believe the right things, not to think the right things; it is to praise the right things.

When I was in seminary, our theology professor told us, “If you want to know what someone believes, don’t ask them what they believe.  They know what they’re supposed to say.  If you really want to know, listen to them pray.”  If you want to know what someone stands for, what they’re about, the content of their character, don’t ask them—people know how to answer—watch what they cheer for.  Watch what they praise.  Watch it in yourself.  There are a whole lot of people cheering for things that look nothing like Jesus, what he taught, or how he lived.

Today the church makes clear who it praises.  Hosanna! Jesus, king of kings, Jesus who showed his love for all by taking the side of those who got the worst end of the deal, those who were pushed aside, those who were outcast and dehumanized, those who did not have what others had and were blamed for it, those who made mistakes but had a desire to change, and those who had a heart that wanted to join something that imagined the world a different way.  This one deserves praise so much that if we fail to give it, if we fail to be orthodox, the stones will cry out in our stead.  The truth is so cosmic, universal, that creation itself knows it.  Look outside, it’s proclaiming glory as we speak.  There’s room in the choir.  The question is will you stick with another song or will you join in the chorus of “Ride on King Jesus!”  It’s up to you.  You can choose your own adventure.  Amen.