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Apr 05, 2020

Let Him In

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: April 2020

Category: Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:1-11

1When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 

5   “Tell the daughter of Zion, 

     Look, your king is coming to you, 

      humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 

6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, 

     “Hosanna to the Son of David! 

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

     Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 

10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

 Let Him In

This is obviously not how you’re used to seeing me when I preach.  You can see I’m ring a robe or collar.  Of course, these are not essential.  I wear them because they help remind me as well as you, what we’re doing when we worship.  I did have a chance to grab this when I thought we might be asked to shelter at home.  This is one of my favorite stoles, with these wonderful three-dimensional scenes sown into it.  From time to time, people ask me about the symbolism of stoles.  Among the explanations, there is some thought that they mirror some of the adornments of the ancients priests, and if you read about the adornments of the ancient priests, you will see a striking similarity to the adornments of the Tabernacle, the movable house for God before the Temple was built.  So, when we put these on, we become, or rather we remind ourselves that we too are movable houses for the divine.  Now, there is an image for you.

In this tradition we profess what we call “the priesthood of all believers.”  In other words, we are all priests, all of us have the vocation of being movable dwellings for God.  Princeton Professor Kenda Creasy Dean uses the language of God-bearers to speak to this in her book, The Godbearing Life.  The term Godbearer, theotokos in Greek, was early used to apply only to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Dean, like mystics before her, recognizes that each of us carries God around within us, that each of us has the potential to birth God into the world.  That too is quite an image for us. 

What if we all woke up today recognized we’re all pregnant?  That’s not a shelter in place joke, but would we laugh…like Sarah laughed?  Don’t let literalism let you off the hook of your spiritual calling.  Do you remember when Nicodemus couldn’t get his head around Jesus’ teaching that you had to be born from above or born again or born again from above?  He tried to figure out how he could return to the womb.  That’s because this belongs to the poetic, and you don’t get your head around the poetic; you let poetic wrap around your heart. 

We are all carrying things these days.  I wonder what you’re carrying around.  I will resist the temptation to offer a list and risk projecting onto you what you may not be feeling or fail to acknowledge what you are.  The important thing is that you take note of what you’re walking with and how it shapes what you put out into the world.  This is not a call to be positive.  It’s a call to be in touch and to be honest.  Imagine if we understood, no we grasped, the reality that no matter what we’re carrying, we have chance to deliver something divine into the world.  Each feeling can become a bridge to a blessing offered to the world.  If you are sad or grieving or otherwise hurting, that pain can be a bridge to compassion.  You can bear God, you can bear Christ in the world through compassion.  If you are frustrated or even angry at what you are seeing, that anger, rightly channeled can become a bridge to the seeking of justice.  You bear God, you bear Christ in the world through justice.  If you have found joy or peace, that can be a bridge to hope.  You bear God, you bear Christ in the world through well-placed hope.

Every shadow has a light to reveal, even as we hunker down to hide from the threat of approaching disease, even encroaching death. 

Today’s gospel story features Jesus approaching or encroaching upon the holy city where death awaits him.  We call today “Palm Sunday,” and we typically celebrate it by waving branches and shouting Hosanna, drawing on Older and Newer Testament passages about the receiving of royalty.  This year, we are prohibited from gathering, barred from joining a crowd, because doing so would put the very crowd in danger.  This plays right into a question that comes up each year about the original Palm Sunday.  Was it a great crowd in terms of size, or was it just a few stragglers, told in satire form, great in its biting contrast to the type of procession that accompanied Pontius Pilate on the other side of the tracks?  One procession was carried by healing, forgiveness, restorative justice, nonviolence, and eternal life, while the other wounding and intimidation, vengeance, punishment, coercion and the threat of death. 

 Most year, it is easy for us, totally safe for us, to show up ritually alongside the road, to wave our palms and sing our songs, to take pictures of our children who are too cute waving the branches.  I’ll never forget on of my family’s first Palm Sundays here.  Our son was just a toddler and I looked up to see him coming down the center aisle being led by the hand by Bethany and Camie’s son Ben.  So is has been for generations, the slightly older leading the slightly younger. 

These days, we do line up in our own ways to cheer sacrificial love and leadership.  We’ve seen such qualities process into the heart of the battle these past days.  You can name the stories as well as can I.  There’s the 72-year-old Italian Priest Don Giuseppe Beradelli who gave up his ventilator, a ventilator purchased for him by his parish, to a younger patient who needed it.  Father Beradelli died that he might live.[1]  Also in Italy—so many stories come from there since they were hit so early and so hard—that stunning display of the Italian Air Force flying in formation toward a single plane representing the invading virus accompanied through loudspeaker by Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma, which means “let no one sleep” and just as the lyrics peak with the phrase, “we will overcome,” the formation, representing the country, breaks up and streaks the colors of the flag across the sky.  Now we can wonder about these works of art, or patriotism, when more practical works of preparation or public health might do more to prevent loss of human life, but let us not draw false dichotomies for if the human spirit dies than there is nothing left to save.

It’s amazing to watch people save others, in so many ways, just as we bear God in so many ways.  There is a little church in Atlanta whose pastor I know.  They had an abandoned room on their campus and a women’s ministry with a vision to start a sewing ministry for refugees to give them a marketable skill.  The pastor recently told the story of his mother-in-law downsizing to a retirement community.  Being a master seamstress herself, she donated all of her fabric to them.  Then the virus came and now these refugee women are sewing masks for us.  Though they may not be able to be used in hospitals, they may be of help to help the average person from inadvertently spreading a contagion they did or didn’t know they had.  Just as we don’t always know we’re bearing something divine, we also are unaware of disease we carry and spread. 

There are police in Spain who patrol to keep people in quarantine, but regularly get out with guitar to serenade the people, in attempt to contain the virus but spread whatever modicum of calm and hope they can muster from within.  I saw a similar scene in a place I’ve now forgotten, where the police gleefully performed that catchy delight of children all over the world  “baby shark” to try and signal to them they were going to be all right if they just stayed inside.

 There are the doctors and nurses walking toward the virus while we are trying to hide from it, which is our job right now.  Their job is risking their wellbeing for ours, including those in this very congregation, some who have offered to come out of retirement to join the effort.  There are the images of medical personnel donning trash bags secured with duct tape and swim goggles because that’s all they have.  There are those who clean the hospitals, less dramatic but still so important.  There are those cheering medical staffs at shift changes in large cities.  There are those who keep our society going who get far less fanfare—sanitation workers, grocery store workers and the entire workforce that constitutes the supply chain, delivery drivers and teachers, for whom those of us doing homeschooling have newfound respect.  There are companies converting their production to make the supplies and equipment we need.  There’s the CEO of Columbia sportswear who reduced his salary to $10,000 so his workers could continue to be paid. 

And yet, behind many of these heroic acts are systemic failures, or at least systemic questions that must be addressed.  In this land of plenty, of excess, why were we not more prepared when we were warned this could happen?  Why do we not have enough ventilators and hospital beds, not to mention masks and gowns?  And why is the first question many people ask, “Am I sick?” but the second, “Can I afford to go to the doctor?”  This is not just about some distant other.  This is me.  I’m not talking about coronavirus, but a few years ago, I experienced what thankfully turned out to be muscle spasms, but they were muscle spasms in my chest.  What did I do?  I drove toward the hospital, but I stopped short and pulled into a nearby parking lot where I started searching on my phone first signs and symptoms of a heart attack or arrythmia and second the cost of an emergency room visit.  I went, and everything turned out to be okay, and I walked out with over $1,000 out of pocket expense.  I have insurance.  I have a job.  What about the millions in this country who are worse off than am I?

And what will happen to the children—not like mine who has parents who can trade off doing his homeschooling and who have the background and equipment to do so—children whose families cannot afford that much less the private tutors some are hiring, expensive software programs and so forth?  And, why are medical staff wearing trash bags in the first place.  That’s not just heroic; that’s a problem.  That’s unacceptable.  And why is the pay discrepancy so great among workers in the first place.  Have you noticed that many of those we have deemed essential workers are among the most poorly paid and treated in our economy and society?  It is good we applaud them and praise them online.  It would be also be good if we actually began to value them and pay them as if we did. 

At Palm Sunday Jesus wasn’t trying to ride into peoples’ hearts.  He was trying to ride into their city, their power center, where common life is ordered.  If this ordeal has shown us anything, it has shown us what has always been so, that our life is held in common.  You may not feel ready to ask some of the more difficult questions raised by this moment.  If you truly do let Jesus into your heart, in time you won’t be able to avoid asking those questions.  Jesus prompts us to ask those questions.  So, my word to you today is let him in.  Let him in so that we might be born again, not just as persons, but as a people.  Let him in.  Let him in, not just to your heart, but the heart of the city.  Let him in so that our systems are is infused with the Spirit of Christ as much as our personal devotionals.  Let him in so that we might not only be a burying people, but a God bearing one.  Let him in, and what’s more go out and line the streets to meet him, shouting “Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Amen.

-Pause in quiet-

Introduce activity for people to lay cuttings/palms outside their doors.

 Amen.

[1] https://twitter.com/JamesMartinSJ/status/1242249120489897986