Palm Sunday - Rev. Louis Timberlake

Palm Sunday
Luke 19:28-40
Louis Timberlake
March 20, 2016

Luke 19:28-40 “After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, 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. 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.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As 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, saying, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! 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.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’ 

Do we have any soccer fans in here? Personally, I’m not a big soccer guy, though my freshman roommate at Davidson was a soccer player from the Cayman Islands. Great guy, but he liked it really warm in the dorm room. He’d set the thermostat to like 80 degrees and then be bundled up on a wool blanket. It was like living in a sauna at times. Anyways, while I’m not a big soccer fan, I do tend to pay attention during the World Cup. It’s just exciting. So many nations coming together, the passion of soccer fans in so many countries. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was particularly captivating to me. Y’all remember that one, don’t you? I KNOW you remember the vuvuzelas. During the World Cup, that low level hum, like a swarm of bees, was everywhere. What if we did Palm Sunday processionals with a bunch of vuvuzelas?

The other thing you may remember from the 2010 World Cup was the Coca Cola advertising campaign. They used the song Wavin’ Flag by the Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan and it basically became the theme song of the World Cup that year. There was actually an official anthem and an official song, because apparently they needed both, but neither became as popular as Wavin’ Flag. There were at least twenty other bilingual versions of the song, making it an international hit. Of course, they had to change the lyrics a little bit, because the original song is not about soccer.

But, I was thinking about that song this past week as we prepared for Palm Sunday. The song is all about liberation, about hope. And that’s exactly what Palm Sunday is about. That’s what waving the palms is all about. It’s about celebrating the hope and liberation that Jesus offers.

You know, ever before Wavin’ Flag became an international hit through the World Cup, it was actually performed by a group of Canadian artists to raise money and awareness for victims of the earthquake in Haiti. I want to show you that version this morning, particularly if you’ve never heard the song. It’s not enough to talk about the song, I think you need to hear it.

(Online readers can watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nB7L1BIDELc)

I love that song. A powerful song expresses something that you can’t fully put into words. There’s a sense of hope, of freedom. That song is all about liberation, about being a part of the change our world needs. It’s about the celebration of what can be.

And that’s what Palm Sunday is all about. Let me share the passage with you for this morning.

It’s interesting, the passage we read today is the version of Palm Sunday that doesn’t actually contain the palm branches. In Matthew, Mark, and John, people wave branches. Luke skips that part. But, I’m going to cheat a little bit this morning. We’re going to keep the palm branches in the story.

You know, the palm branch isn’t unique to this story. It was a symbol of hope, of freedom, of victory, throughout the ancient world. So, for the people to wave palm branches as Jesus comes into the city is basically to proclaim that this is the person in which we find hope, the one who will deliver us. This is our king, our Lord.

It’s actually major political statement. The Pharisees cried out for Jesus to tell the people to stop because they were concerned for their lives and for the other Jewish people. This type of procession was something you’d see for a major ruler or conqueror. So, the Pharisees were afraid that the Romans, who ruled Judea at this time, would see this as an act of rebellion–as a threat to their authority.

But, it’s not your normal procession. Typically, the ruler would ride a war horse (something powerful). But Jesus rides a young donkey, signifying that the kingdom that He is ushering in is different from the typical kingdom.

The people get this. They get that Jesus represents something different from the rulers they have known. They get that His is a different type of kingdom. He is the symbol, the ambassador of what they have been seeking. Hope, freedom, justice. And they celebrate it. They want to be a part of it. So, they take up the palm branches. They shout, “Blessed is the king, who comes in the name of the Lord.”

The palm branches are a statement. In waving the branches, they are proclaiming their commitment to Jesus. It’s similar to the way that flags have been used throughout history to represent a commitment and declaration.

At one time, when battles were fought with armies on large battlefields, flags guided the soldiers. There was so much commotion that the flag served as a signal, the officers used them to direct troops. Soldiers rallied around them. The soldier that carried the flag, the color bearer, had to be incredibly brave. They were often targeted by enemies, because of their importance for troop communication and morale. A flag represents the identity of a nation, the collective identity of its citizens. When you wave a flag, you are saying something about yourself. You are taking a stand.

Palm Sunday is about waving your flag. Except, on Palm Sunday, we wave a different sort of flag. We wave a flag that isn’t connected to any country or political leader. We wave a flag that isn’t about where we were born or the language we speak. On Palm Sunday, we wave a flag that signifies a commitment greater than any other.

Stanley Hauerwas is one of the most renowned theologians of this century. At one point, Time Magazine named him “America’s Best Theologian.” His response was “best is not a theological category.” He’s a retired professor at Duke, I missed having him as my professor by one year. But, anyone familiar with Hauerwas knows that one of his regular rants is about the presence of national flags in a church sanctuary. You don’t want him as your guest preacher on 4th of July weekend or Memorial Day weekend. Because, in his cantankerous old way, he will lambast a church for featuring the American flag in the Sanctuary. And, his reasoning is that it causes identity confusion. Is our worship about our Christian identity or our national identity?

Now, many of us may not feel quite as strongly as Dr. Hauerwas about the flag in the sanctuary, but he makes an interesting point. Do we struggle sometimes to juggle our various commitments? Do we struggle, at times, with a bit of identity confusion? 

The Apostle Paul, an early Christian missionary and writer of many of the letters in the New Testament, wrote this in a letter to a group of people called the Galatians:

“In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Now, Paul isn’t saying that we aren’t unique people. He isn’t saying that culture, gender, nationality, etc aren’t a part of our identity. We are unique individuals, created that way by God. But, what Paul is saying is that our identity in Christ, as people who have been baptized and made a commitment to live in relationship with the God revealed in Jesus, that identity is greater than anything else. That is our primary identity and everything else is secondary.

Palm Sunday is about remembering who we are. As we look towards Easter, we remember that we are the people that wave those palm branches. We are the people that proclaim that hope is found in the God who comes to us riding on a donkey. The God whose kingdom is one of peace and justice, not violence and oppression. And so, as we are reminded of our identity, or as we discover that identity for the first time, we must decide whether we will take up that flag. Whether we will wave the flag of the gospel, the good news that God desires for each one of us and all of Creation, all that is broken, to be made whole. That God is at work in our world and in our lives.

What does it mean to wave that flag? You know, I love the last line of this passage. Jesus says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Now, that line is not is permission to remain silent. It’s not saying, “don’t worry about waving your flag, because the rocks and the trees will handle it for you.” No, he’s saying that the need is so great, that even the rocks cry out in recognition that the hope of the world is found in Christ. So, what does it mean to wave that flag?

It may mean different things to different people, but here’s what waving that flag means to me. It means showing mercy in meeting the immediate needs of people, while seeking greater justice in the way our society functions, so that less people end up in those situations in the first place. It means loving people with such passion and humility that people talk about it. So that people know that the source of that love is something greater than ourselves. It means forgiving others when some would think that forgiveness is impossible. It means pushing past pride and pain to seek reconciliation with others. It means advocating for those that cannot advocate for themselves and caring for those that cannot care for themselves.

Waving that flag means being light and hope in the midst of darkness and despair. And it means pointing to the true source of light and hope, the God revealed in Jesus. Who lived among us, faced the same difficulties and suffering, taught us how to love, and then showed us how to love. The one who, as we will celebrate next week, claimed victory over death itself.

Over this next week, as we move from the table, to the cross, to the tomb, may we prepare ourselves to wave the flag of the Risen Christ.

Discussion Questions

  • Did you see the video of the song? What did you think?
  • How is Palm Sunday about hope and freedom?
  • Describe the hope and freedom that Jesus offers.
  • What does it mean, to you, to wave the flag of the gospel?
  • What are some specific ways that we, as individuals and as a church, can wave the flag of the gospel?