This is part of the Palm Sunday Sermon delivered at St. Paul United Church of Christ, Old Blue Rock Road, on March 24, 2013.
When we celebrate Palm Sunday, we’re not just praising Jesus. Our call to faith is deeper than sitting in a cheering section on Jesus. We can’t support for Jesus without cheering on our sisters and brothers who struggle. By waving our palms in this parade, we’re cheering a system where all are given dignity and rights.
Here’s the thing – it’s risky. Jesus died for standing up for humanity and the humans he met. Jesus died because of the sins of broken systems. In many similar ways, we’ve seen these deaths in recent history. Martin Luther King Jr. died because he spoke to loudly on issues like civil rights, labor and the war. Dietrich Bonhoeffer died because he was outspoken against Hitler and the Nazis.
If any of us to really have the faith of Jesus, we’d have the faith that would put fear aside and put our neighbors front and center. Our lives would be at risk – from ridicule by our loved ones to arrests and death.
I wish I could have that level of faith that Jesus had – the kind that would stand up for radical love and grace no matter what the cost. But I worry what others will think. The let the fear of “what will people think of me if I voice my opinions” get in my way. What will people think of me if I attend a rally or protest or parade… It’s not that I don’t stand up for what I believe, it’s just that I’ll lower my voice a bit if I know I’ll offend others. It’s scary to be as bold as Jesus.
But boldness and justice is an imperative part of our faith. I know that justice is reoccurring theme in Scriptures. Some form of the Hebrew word for justice, mishpat, is used over 400 times in the Hebrew scriptures. The faith of the prophets who stood for love and justice was the faith of Jesus. He carried that radical love and boldness into the future by advocating for the marginalized.
Looking at the repeated mention of justice in scripture would indicate to me justice is a part of our call as Christians. So how do we look at justice issues as a faith community, especially as a faith community of diverse theological and political views? Our first and most important step is dialogue. It’s trying to understand why our neighbors believe what they believe and try to figure out if we are called to advocate for the marginalized. While we may not agree as a full community, we are still journeying together to find out what we can do to give dignity to all of God’s children.
Yes, we are called to feed and house and clothed, but we’re not called JUST to feed and house and clothe. Through Jesus the Christ, God has called us to stand up to the powers that be to create just ways of living. I’ve often used the illustration of mission and mercy as pulling people out of a fast running river. Justice is going upstream to find out why they fell in the river to begin with. Most of us have found our place at the bottom of this stream pulling people out. But what if we traveled together upstream to find out why people have fallen into the river and maybe even do something about it?
And If we had the faith of the prophets and the faith of Jesus to be radically loving and just, who would we stand up for in our society? Much like they took care of the widows and orphans, is our call to stand up for the single mom who can’t afford childcare? Just like they called for the Israelites to take care of the aliens, are we called to take care of immigrants in our land? Just like the Just like Jesus cured those with leprosy, are we called to advocate for those with HIV/AIDS or other stigmatized illnesses? Just like Jesus had a grassroots protest on the other side of Jerusalem, are we called to protest systems that oppress?
Celebrating Palm Sunday means supporting Jesus’ stand against oppressive systems. It means more than hosannas and yippees. It’s standing on the side of justice and risking who we are to stand for the greater good. So when we wave the palms, we’re not only supporting Jesus, we supporting Jesus’ way of loving others at a cost.
As we face the most intense part of Lent – Holy Week – how will we reflect on the powerful love and courageous steps of Jesus? In what ways can we love, advocate and serve radically? In what ways can we be bold in our faith? If we are willing, let us pick up the palm leaves not only to honor our redeemer, but to stand with him as he shares the love of God with all he meets.