Palm Sunday Service: Chain of Fools

Palm Sunday * March 24th, 2013 Preacher: Rev. Lucy Waechter Webb

We have been experimenting a bit at Summit lately with performing the scripture. There’s an actual name for this in biblical scholarship, it’s called performance criticism. Just like you can look at a biblical story and think about the historical elements or the literary pieces, we can also study these stories in scripture by performing them. We did this a little bit last week and we’re going to do this today again, because when actually perform a  enact a story, you see things and you hear things, and you begin to know things in a different kind of way by just performing them, acting them out, by living that story in our own space and context.

So we have two stories today, and they are both about foolishness.

The Apostle Paul writes about foolishness in his letter to the Corinthians – he says this:

From 1 Corinthians 1:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world? …

For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are…”

God chooses what is foolish. God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, God’s weakness stronger than human strength.

We know the story of Jesus born in manger, God in a stable was a foolish tale to the Jewish people who were expecting a different Messiah. That story was foolish then, but we see mangers every Christmas – the story of the stable… it’s just normal. In fact, it’s even a beautiful story now, not so scandalous.

Some of us have heard these stories so many times that they may not seem that foolish any more. What if the things God did and chose were not just foolish in Jesus time, but are still foolish?

May we enter into these two stories today: a story of carnival, and the story of Jesus on Palm Sunday, with this idea that Jesus is a fool by the world’s standards And what then does that mean about who we are, and how we enter this holy parade.

A story of Carnival:

A long time ago, in a country in Italy, there were some Christians who started this tradition of a big huge party. Each year, they held a huge costume party right before the season of Lent started. Now some of you may have heard that sometimes people give up eating meat for Lent. So because they also gave up meat during Lent, they called this party “Carne-vale” – which meant to put away the meat.

As time passed, this party, the carnival, grew, and many other countries and many other Christians would throw this party. In fact, in France, they had these huge gowns elaborate gowns and fancy masks they would wear to the party. They would have awesome food, and music and dancing all day and all night for this carnival every year.

Eventually, some of those countries in Europe that threw these parties started to sail to a place called the New World. They started to take boats across the ocean and live where we live now in America. Well some of those people found this little island in the Caribbean called Trinidad. And once they got there and set up their homes and towns, they started to bring slaves over from Africa and other parts of the world. It was a lot like the slaves that were brought here to the United States.

Now, the people from France who had moved to Trinidad still wanted to have their carnival. Just because you move to a new house doesn’t mean you don’t celebrate your birthday right? They still celebrated each year before the beginning of Lent with their parties and masks and costumes and dancing. It was truly spectacular!

Now, the people from Africa were also there with them in Trinidad, but their masters didn’t let them into the party. Do you think they let that stop them? No! They threw their own carnival, watching the tradition of their masters, they copied some of dances and masks, and costumes, but they also added their own ideas. Feathers were used in their homeland of Africa as a symbol of rising above problems and suffering, and so they began to put those in their masks and costumes. Not only did they have their own ideas about their costume, but they even began to make fun of their masters – poking fun of them while wearing masks and dancing around. Making a spectacle of them. It was as if, even just for a night, these slaves were free! The power of their master could not hold them down, and the poor slave was celebrating like a king!

Now, even though those slaves were freed several years later, that carnival is still celebrated to remember the struggle. The masks remind us that we are all the same, both Europeans and Africans, no matter our money or power or status. This foolish party, the mocking of masters, reminds us what can happen when the powerful do not care for the weak. Today – places like Trinidad, Brazil, New Orleans, and even still in Italy and France, people act like fools for a day at the carnival to remember this story, and to recognize that there are new powers and struggles we still name today.

The carnival proclaims that God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

 

Luke 19: 29-40

Before we begin our scripture story today, we’re going to set the scene: Jesus is about to enter the city of Jerusalem, after traveling throughout his ministry. He comes to the city at the beginning of Passover, which means there was another person of power that was also processing into town.

Pontius Pilate entered from the West side of the city, coming into the Jewish city of Jerusalem to make sure that the festival of the Passover did not get out of hand. The Romans knew the story of how the Hebrew people were delivered from Egypt, which was embarrassing for Egypt; they didn’t want the Roman empire to suffer the same history. And as kings and powerful government people did in the day, he entered the city proudly, with horses and chariots, robes, and shining military armor. This is the stage which Jesus enters.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives,

These two towns are just East of Jerusalem, so Jesus is entering on the opposite side of Pilate. Stage Right, Stage Left.

He sent two of the disciples, saying, “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.

A colt that has never been ridden means it is pure enough for to use for a sacred ritual. Something holy is about to happen. But notice it is not the royal horse, it is a simple draft animal, a  humble creature.

If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, “The Lord needs it.’”

So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them.

As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.”

Can you imagine the owners giving up a resource like this? Oh, the Lord needs it, sure go ahead and just take it. Who’s the Lord again? But the story doesn’t say anything about the owners reaction. They just leave.

Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.

Now, a colt is a baby donkey right. Donkeys are already smaller than horses, but this is a young one. Can you imagine Jesus sitting on it? With his feet kind of dragging along behind him? He must of looked pretty foolish.

As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.

People laid down their status literally before him. They divested a symbol of power, their coat, and put it on the unclean ground for this stable beast and foolish guy to walk all over. This could be an act of treason – you only show such reverence for a royalty!

As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

The King? This guy is a king? He’s not a king, he’s a poor carpenter with a lot of grand ideas who got lucky with a few healing stories. He better watch out because the real master is coming down the other side of the city. It’s almost like he’s trying to make fun of him.

Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”

You see – they were getting nervous for him. They saw the risk he was taking, they knew his claims were bold. He was facing the power of King Herod, the power of the city of Jerusalem, even the power of the Pharisees telling them to be quiet.

But he doesn’t pick a fight. His entry is one of peace, one that is truth-telling, one that reveals the inadequacy of the power the world thinks is in charge. God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Even if the disciples keep their mouth shut, even if they refuse to participate in this holy parade, this foolish carnival, the stones will rise up and God would raise up new voices to speak of the truth of God – it is that powerful.

And they couldn’t keep from singing…

“Oh when the Saints….”

Sing, dance, offer people costume, masks, palms, etc. parade around….

 

Sermon:

We are invited into this holy theater each year. This wild story of Jesus that during Holy Week just begins with this foolish entry into Jerusalem. There is more to come.

This guy, this Jesus, he is a fool. He has already been born of a lowly birth, he’s built a bad reputation for himself as one who will eat with robbers and hang out with unclean sick folk. And now, he walks into the city, at the beginning of Passover, on this silly animal – mocking the entry of the imperial powers coming in on the other side. Jesus you are actin’ a fool.

Have you caught what he’s done in this procession? Jesus takes the powers that the world defines as wise (remember Paul here), he takes the royal entry of Pilate, the military armor a sign of power, the beautiful horse, the fancy clothing, the acts of the people celebrating the king, and he flips them on their head. His walk on this donkey, from the opposite side of the city, wearing nothing both a simple commoner’s robe, no armor, no silk, and without words even he is claiming my God is bigger than all of that.

He shows us those powers and principalities do not have to rule over your life. Those rules of world, the ones that say you must take power by force, the ones that say you have nothing to contribute without an education, the ones that say you must be beautiful by our standards, those are not what will be life-giving to you, God uses what is weak. God’s foolishness is wiser than our wisdom.

I often find myself more invested in the stories of Easter and Christmas. Somehow transformed from being not just an observer or recipient of the story, but an actual participant in it. These sacred festival stories draw me in each year, but it is a terrifying prospect to look down the road of challenge, to see before you the events of struggle and pain that we know if Holy Week, and to understand our call to walk straight into them. To enter Jerusalem. To face the powers that bind us.

Now hear me when I say this is not a call to suffer for the sake of suffering, we are not called to inflict pain upon ourselves because it is somehow holy. But we are called not to walk away from the reality of the suffering happening right before our eyes. The pain and the struggle are present already, we need not create more. But we must find ourselves willing be see that pain, and to walk toward it, so that we can speak truth to power. So that we can resist the very thing that causes pain and suffering. So that we can understand the radical gift of love that comes in spite of suffering.

It is a foolish thing to do.

It is unthinkable to be willing to encounter the reality of the world with that much depth and that much gusto. And it is the triumphant humble way of being that Christ calls us into.

There is a long tradition of holy fools who walk this path with Jesus into Jerusalem and straight into the belly of the beast.

In Freedom School we talk about many holy fools, but Rosa Parks is one who foolishly sits on the bus resisting the power that told her she had to move.

The people of this church foolishly decided to openly love gay and lesbian folk in 1978 before there was any safety net of a reconciling network in the United Methodist Church.

Our very own students foolishly protested cheap OSU t-shirt prices to claim that people’s right to safe and fair work is more important.

When we act a holy fool, we might even be seen by our own friends as we churn the waters. Our family might catch wind that we were out speaking out or speaking up. It’s too risky. But discipleship requires that we take some risk, that we join the holy parade that proclaims not the powers and principalities of the world, but the power of God. And risky it is. For we know what happens on Good Friday.

Foolishness: to demonstrate the power of God, and reign of God’s kingdom.

At the end of the day, God doesn’t instruct us to build heaven on earth, we are called to kingdom of God on earth, to build the Beloved Community that is centered first on radical love. Which means by the wisdom of this world, we will look like fools as we do it.

I think on it’s best days, this Beloved Community, this kin-dom of God, will look a bit like the circus. Vibrant, colorful, diverse, full of talent and laughter and music and play. But like any good circus, it too has the sideshow. The place where we often think they keep the freaks of the world, the man with three arms, or the bearded lady. But really – the evolution of the sideshow was first, the place where those unwanted and unloved people were welcomed into a community, and given care and a way of life, during a time when the doctors wouldn’t even touch them.

At the circus all have a place. People are taming lions, and jumping through hoops of fire, and balancing on the tightrope; the risk for calamity and disaster is always pending.

But the concern for death is very low and they teeter on the high wire, they leap through the fire boldly, foolishly, because they know, they foolishly know, that life overcomes death. God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Finally, brothers and sisters, I want to close by circling back to a passage we read earlier in Lent. We read the one twice about Jesus saying I am like a mother hen who gathers her brood under her wings. Well that passage ends with Jesus telling those on the edge of Jerusalem, that they will not see him again (in the city) until the time comes when they will say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Well today is that day. Today is the day when Jesus returns, and the crowd yells out, “Blessed is the king!” “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” So too are we, blessed, when we join Jesus on this holy journey, in the foolish parade, to proclaim the power of God’s foolishness, and the victory of God’s weakness.

As you enter into Holy Week this week, I invite you to visit one of three new prayer stations around the room.

  • face painting – in the spirit of the Christian tradition of anointing, come and be anointed for this journey, because blessed is the one who comes in the name of Jesus.
  • knots– take a knot and consider a power that binds you or binds this world. A power that is not God’s power. Say a prayer over it, and untie that knot and you rest in God’s power.
  • labyrinth – as you walk in: consider a place of challenge that God is asking you to enter into – as you walk out: prayer for strength and courage to enter the struggle.