Monday, April 02, 2007

Palm to Passion Sunday

A Shell Ridge sermon by Rev. Greg Ledbetter, preached 4/1/2007
Palm/Passion Sunday: Gifts in the Wilderness

Sermon Texts: Luke 19:28-40 and Luke 22:14--23:56

Do you remember the book: “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum?

Well that was soooo 20 years ago. Now it should be: “All I ever needed to know I learned on Wikipedia.”

One of the most random facts that I discovered in my extensive research is that there was a German philosopher by the name of Shubert von Stricklebachar III who is associated with Montana … I’m not making this up … would Wikipedia lie? Well, let’s not go there.

I will note, however, that your state was originally a U.S. territory and gained statehood in 1889. A hot battle was fought between the towns of Anaconda and Helena as to which locale would be the state capital. Helena won the battle, but I’ll tell you what … if Helena had not gone through several judicious name changes over its early years, the state capital would have been in … Crabtown … then, and I’m not making this up … Pumpkinville … then Squashtown … finally the name “St. Helena” was suggested … the “St.” was dropped, the HelEna changed to HELLena (it was, after all, a pretty rough and ready western outpost) … and the name finally adopted … but beating out the other favored name, “Tomah”, by only two votes. Students, I hope you’re paying attention because their WILL be a quiz.

Paying attention … this seems to be a strong Biblical concern as well … we know of the disciples continuing struggle to pay attention and stay awake … Jesus reproaches them as they snooze in the Mount of Olive … “Why are you sleeping? Could you not stay awake with me one hour???”

For the next seven days, Christians are called to “pay attention” to the story as never before … to be attentive and awake and aware to the events and the characters and the dramatic movement in the story.

I so appreciate the combining of the Palms and the Passion on this one Sunday of the year. There’s a brief, but good explanation as to how that came about on the back of this morning’s bulletin. But I profoundly appreciate this holding together of the events of the last week of Jesus’ life … this reluctance to chop the story into bits as we so often do with Biblical texts … this desire that the “big picture” and the “whole story” be laid out before us, begging for our wakeful presence and our best attention.

If there is a downside it is that is that the primary text of the day takes nearly 15 minutes to read … and I do urge you to later today or during the week ahead take your Bibles and look up the reference in the bulletin and read and reread the full text. If you are like me you will note details that you may not ever remember reading before.

One of the purposes of this extended reading and the week that lies ahead is for us to find our place in the story … to let the story enter us so that we may enter into the drama that is larger than the story … the drama that continues in its own way to this very day.

There is always the daily push and pull between the events of the world we live in and our own natural self-protective desire to insulate ourselves from their pain … their reality.

When you read the complete text you will find that the story at its simplest tells of the lethal clash between governments that will tolerate no threats to their power … and of religions that can become remarkably ingrown and self-serving and self-interested and will lash out violently at attempts to change or reform them …

And as you read, you might pause every time you come to the characters in the story … ponder about these people … who are they … what are their dreams … their flaws … and can you see yourself in them? This is yet another form of lectio divina which is a thoughtful, sacred reading of the texts that invites to stop hovering over the surface of the text and to dive in.

Let yourself into the upper room where Jesus and his disciples share a last meal together … but it’s not a placid meal … there’s trouble brewing

Follow Jesus and his disciples into the Mount of Olives and enter into the agony of his prayer and see if you can remain more wakeful than the disciples …

Watch as a crowd, headed by Judas and bristling with clubs and swords comes to bear Jesus away.

See if you have the nerve to follow the crowd to the courtyard in the High Priests house where a fire is kindled and Peter lingers just close enough to the flickering light of the fire to be recognized three times … and to deny knowing Jesus three times.

And will you stand idly by while Jesus is mocked and beaten?

Perhaps you’ll try to follow the confusing political intrigue that causes Pilate to send Jesus to Herod and Herod to return the favor and the man to Pilate. And you can add your bewilderment to Pilate’s when he concedes to the crowd’s desire that Jesus be crucified.

And perhaps the most difficult journey you’ll ever make, if you have not turned and fled with many of Jesus’ male disciples, will be the journey to the place they called “The Skull” where Jesus was strung up between two criminals and, finally, died.

If you have paid close attention to the characters that have surrounded you as you made your way through the events of the story, you’ll notice that there are quiet figures who keep reappearing … they are women and they are not the “Daughters of Jerusalem” whom Jesus addresses, but women from Galilee … the women disciples who are so often and so easily overlooked … but when the events of that awful day are over, who is it that stands beside the cross unafraid to be affiliated with “the King of the Jews” … unafraid to minister to his broken body that had been laid in a borrowed tune.

Perhaps when we read a story and enter in and seek to pay attention, we do well to note those who don’t clamor for our attention, those who quietly persist, those who are faithful even in the face of danger.

Among the gospel writers, Luke, who is the author of this morning’s gospel texts, elevates the visibility and the status of women. When the others have fled and Jesus has died, who alone remains faithful? Male followers of Jesus take note: Luke says that it is the women who have followed Jesus from Galilee—one of Israel’s backwater regions.

Speaking of women from “backwater regions”, if you did not sleep through Montana State History you may remember the name: Jeanette Rankin. Jeanette Rankin is one of the most famous Montanans, though I’m sure not universally loved.

Jeannette Rankin was the daughter of a Montana cattle rancher and was the first woman in U.S. history elected to the United States House of Representatives and the first female member of Congress. She was—take careful note—a Republican and a lifelong pacifist. She was the only member of Congress to vote against United States entry into World War II and one of fifty to vote against World War I Additionally, she led resistance to the Vietnam War.

Are there any women from Montana here this morning who are registered voters? Well, you can thank Jeanette Rankin who fought for your right … but when she voted against U.S. entry into WWI, a number of her suffragist speaking engagements were canceled.

If it is the women who stand out in our reading of Montana history and in our reading of Luke’s gospel, if we are still in a state of awareness, paying close attention, we might ask ourselves: “Who is missing?” “What is the most populous group in Jerusalem that receives no mention, captures no attention, but who will surely suffer the most from the action their elders?

THE CHILDREN! … Where are the children???

Peeking out of doorways, hiding in the shadows, the children are always nearly mute witnesses to the actions of their elders that they will one day have spend the remainder of their adult lives paying for.

In the Old Testament we read that the “sins of the fathers are visited upon the children into the third and fourth generations”.

There must have been a mystical connection between the Iroquois and the ancient Israelis because the Iroquois Nation of North America lived by the belief that said:"In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations,"

Perhaps it was acting out of a similar belief that moved Jeanette Rankin to vote against war—any war—on behalf of the many future generations of children who would have to pay appalling tolls for their parents and grandparents inability to “seek peace and pursue it”, as the psalmist declared.

There was a young man who served as a Mormon missionary in Serbia in the late 1970’s. Some dozen years later, war broke out in the area. It was the early 90’s, and Yugoslavia splintered into warring factions with Serbs, Croatians and Bosnians hating and butchering each other. It broke the young Mormon missionary’s heart. The young man’s name was Kurt Bestor. What came to Kurt--haunted Kurt--were the faces of the children he had known. "Those children didn't hate anybody," he said. "They didn't care about who owned the land, or who had the power or the money. These are adult neuroses. They just wanted to have a mom and dad and a place to play …”

The song that welled up out of Bestor’s heart is called “The Prayer of the Children” … and the song asks its listeners if they are paying attention to pain of the children around them.

Can you hear the prayer of the children?

Can you feel the hearts of the children?

Can you hear the voice of the children?

And while the song is about Bosnia and Serbia and Croatia, the same song could be written about the children of Israel and Palestine whose faces we saw in our Lenten movie series … indeed, it is a song for ALL children who live their lives under the threat of danger and death because their elders have not yet learned how to live by the simple tenets of their faith.

[The Helena High School choir now sings]

The Prayer of the Children

Can you hear the prayer of the children
on bended knee, in the shadow of an unknown room?
Empty eyes with no more tears to cry
turning heavenward toward the light.
Cryin' Jesus help me
to see the mornin' light of one more day,
but if I should die before I wake,
I pray my soul to take.

Can you feel the hearts of the children
aching for home, for something of their very own.
Reaching hands with nothing to hold onto
but hope for a better day, a better day.
Cryin' Jesus help me
to feel the love again in my own land,
but if unknown roads lead away from home,
give me loving arms, 'way from harm.

Can you hear the voice of the children
softly pleading for silence in their shattered world?
Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate,
blood of the innocent on their hands.
Cryin' Jesus, help me
to feel the sun again upon my face?
For when darkness clears, I know you're near,
bringing peace again.

Dali čje te sve dječje molitve? (Serbian)

Can you hear the prayer of the children?

Dear friends, from California and from Montana, let us each and let us all dream and hope and pray and work for that new day where children many generations removed from ours can reap the sweet fruits of our labor and our love and not the bitter fruits of our warfare and our weakness.