A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
March 25, 2018
University Baptist Church
The March for our Lives happened yesterday. Here and across the nation people took to the streets to protect children and other loved ones from the assault of weapons. Young people led the march while older folks respectfully stayed in the background. This was their moment. As Isaiah said, “A little Child shall lead them.” Our social media blew up with pictures and videos from across the country. Moving speeches, including one which had six minutes and 20 seconds of silence. A defiant young woman named Emma Gonzales stood her ground and told her truth. Not so much by words, but by her tear bathed posture of defiance.
The chants were “vote them out.”
Signs said, “Teach your parents well”
“I bare arms for hugs”
“Protect kids, not guns”
“Arm teachers with grants, not guns”
“Thoughts and prayers are not enough”
“If we are old enough be shot, we are old enough to have a say about being shot.”
I remember a protest song from my generation, “We are a gentle angry people and we are singing for our lives.”
This was not a march for glory. It was a march for protest and remembrance and to encourage politicians to do the right thing. But success is not based upon a policy change as much as it is a cultural change. That feels like, dare I say, a resurrection of sorts. These people did not die in vain if their deaths galvanize people to take back their country. There is a new moral center that cannot be denied. That’s what the 800 marches across the world were about yesterday. Vacationing politicians hope the momentum will fade. I say, don’t underestimate a people ignored and inspired.
This is a day when we remember a march on the capital of Israel. It had all the makings of a protest march. The people were fed up with the same old same old. They wanted a new day. They wanted to take their country back from the hands of the religious and political leaders who ruled with all the arms. The soldiers had the law on their side. They had the religious leaders in their pockets. They ruled by fear. If you stepped out of line, you would be crucified. On their way to Jerusalem, they saw the remnants of bodies that lined the streets—bodies of those who stepped out of line. They wanted to end this practice. They wanted to have their lives saved. What the people had was numbers. They had people who were brave enough to say revolutionary words like, “Hosanna to the son of David.” In other words, hail the anointed one. The real ruler. The people were heaven-bent on taking their city back. It was a glorious parade.
People waved branches and threw flowers. At the center of it was Jesus, riding on the back of a donkey (as the messiah was prophesied to do). People were shouting his name. Taunting the guards. They laughed, they sang, they danced. But Jesus looked uncomfortable. The bones of the donkey hurt his backside. He said almost nothing—maybe he bore a face of defiance. The only time he spoke was when the religious gatekeepers tried to silence the crowd. Jesus said, “You can’t stop this. Even if you did stop the crowd, the rocks and stones themselves would take up the chorus.” When he said this, the people responded in a frenzy of excitement. But Jesus knew something about the nature of worldly power. He knew that those in power can quickly up the ante, especially when the people go home and are divided. It’s hard to sustain glory. We know what happened.
The adoring fans disappear will quickly turn on him and change their words from Hosanna to crucify him in just a week’s time. What narrative did they listen to? What threat did the Romans lay on them? Maybe it was a different crowd by week’s end. A counter-protest. Maybe the people who cried, “crucify him” were paid to do so, or extorted with promises of peace. Intimidated by the end-of-the-week crowds and the threat of impending danger of it all, his best friends will betray him, fall asleep on him and eventually deny him. Glory is short-lived.
And yet, glory is what it is all about. Glory. What an odd and loaded word. It appears dozens of time in John’s Gospel. And it never means what we think of when we think of glory.
We think of someone who is glorified as someone who is a winner—someone worthy of praise. We reserve this word for rock stars and sports heroes. We think of the medal stand, the final four, the championship ring. We think of glorious events, a dedication of a baby and his family. We think of a sumptuous meal. Even a triumphant march.
But when Jesus points to glory, his glory has nothing to do with adoration or praise. In fact, the Biblical Jesus has very little patience with praise. He’d much rather see people’s lives change. Call that glory. People point at Jesus and forget that Jesus is pointing at the coming reign of God, where justice, peace, mercy and compassion reign. But it’s so much easier to look at you rather than that destination.
And that’s the paradox of the gospel.
The real glory comes from denying yourself. It’s the ultimate reversal. Death brings life.
When John talks about Jesus reaching his glory, he’s not talking about his baptism. He’s not talking about his miracles. He’s not talking about turning over the tables of the moneychangers. He’s not even talking about Palm Sunday. In John, Jesus reaches his glory when he is on the cross. Not in the procession or the resurrection, but the cross.
Jesus is tortured, stripped naked and then strung up on a cross. Maybe that’s where the saying comes from “in all his glory.”
Jesus says that when I’m lifted up in my glory you will understand. What will we understand? That the powers of this world will win? That there is more grief on the road ahead? That death will come to all of us if we follow Jesus? This is not what we signed up for. Or is it?
How do we hold these visions of glory in tension? The pomp and circumstance of Palm Sunday leads to the cross—something we’d just as soon avoid. Do we glorify either of these events too much? “Lift High the Cross the love of God proclaim,” we sing.
Others are like it with the triumphal imagery.
One of the Sacred Harp songs we sing is entitled Peace and Joy and we sing it really fast—so fast that the words get lost.
In the cross of Christ I glory,
Tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story,
Gathers ’round its head sublime.
When the woes of life o’ertake me,
Hopes deceive and fears annoy;
Never shall the cross forsake me,
Lo! it glows with peace and joy.
When the sun of bliss is beaming
Light and love upon my way;
From the cross the radiance streaming
Adds more luster to the day.
Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure,
By the cross are satisfied;
Peace is there that knows no measure,
Joys that from all time abide.
Jesus turned around the idea of glory. I think that’s why he was so uncomfortable on Palm Sunday. But luckily it’s not the end of the story.
This is going to be a tough week for Jesus and his community. The world will use its ultimate weapon to put down the movement. It will insult and scare the followers. But there is something undeniably powerful about the message. It will go underground until another generation of people, maybe the young among us will rediscover it. They will take it and they will lead us in a way that eschews glory. They lead in a way that lifts up the names of the dead and causes us to mourn, for in our mourning we find our common humanity. And when we remember our common humanity, that’s where change might become possible.
We Baby Boomers might have made this mess, or if we haven’t made it, we haven’t fought hard enough to oppose it. The Millenials are in their 20’s and even 30’s now. They grew up with computers and invented social media. They have children or soon will—sending them to schools with too many armed fellow students. The generation leading this march is Generation Z, and we are just learning of their power. We glorify them because we want leaders. I saw a sign that said “Emma for President”.
But I say don’t glorify them too much. For those glorified get crucified. I say work together so much that we don’t depend on one leader. I think that’s what Jesus was pointing to.
Little Andrew, you are part of the next generation. Maybe we’ll call it Generation A. We work so that your life will be one where you will be loved, supported, and affirmed. May you have abundant life and abundant opportunities. May the air be clean. May you revel in discovery. And when you get to have your own children, may you pass on the lessons you have learned that we cannot even imagine. I call that glory.
Sisters and brothers, Palm Sunday is a step on Jesus’ journey to glory. It leads us to the cross. But the cross is not the last word. We, who are the keepers of this story, recipients of a vision of a new and moral reality, we are the ones we have been waiting for. For we all point beyond the pointer and to true glory. So experience this week with all of its expectation, disappointment and shadows. Knowing all along that Easter is on its way and something new and glorious is waiting to be reborn in each of us.