A sermon delivered by Keith Herron, Pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo., on March 28, 2010.
March 28, 2010
Like it or not, we can’t assume that folks know what’s going on this coming week or why it matters. A recent Barna Group survey revealed a dismal record of recognition about the significance of Easter among Americans. Recognizing that Easter was that day the Christian church claimed Jesus was resurrected from the dead is not known by more than half of those polled. Seven out of ten respondents thought Easter had something to do with religion or spirituality when they responded to an open-ended question about what Easter meant to them personally but only 42% tied Easter to the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. Maybe it’s an indication we have work to do!
Not surprising, from older to younger, the numbers fall off measuring each generation’s understanding of this simple point of the resurrection. It seems the majority know it has some vague connection to religion or spirituality but the specifics of it are really fading in a lot of people’s minds, said David Kinnaman, the president of the Barna Group.
Maybe things haven’t changed all that much so we poke fun at ourselves so the numbers don’t depress us. All around us are those who may or may not be connected to a faith community and who know something is up but don’t know exactly what. Some think of it as the community’s celebration of spring after a long, dark winter. Others see it as a time when families come together. Or maybe it’s just too much information that we cook in our brains without much success like the mother who approached me years ago with the question her preschooler asked her, Why did the Easter bunny kill the baby Jesus?
Perhaps beginning at the beginning should be worth our while this morning. From Sunday to Sunday in the coming week, we embrace what’s generally known as Holy Week. What that means is we’ll move deliberately through the week in holy rhythm to Jesus’ last week. It begins today, Palm Sunday, as we remember that day when Jesus mounted a sorrowful little burro and descended from the gently sloping trails leading down the Mount of Olives, across the lowly Kidron Valley, before rising to enter the gates leading to the Temple Mount which overlooks the entire countryside.
Heather Entrekin, my pastoral colleague across town at Prairie Baptist Church, explained the parade described today this way, On Palm Sunday, we recall a parade in which people proclaimed out loud, ˜I belong to this hope.’ The hope is God is about to move in a mighty way. Now they were not all on the same page about the particulars of the hope they cheered that day. But there was a deep hope that this man at the front of the parade, riding on a little donkey, feet dragging in the dust, might lead them, as God had promised, to a world where little children did not starve and terrorist did not plant bombs and nations did not occupy nations.
What’s important to remember about the parade was not the party atmosphere that surrounded it with all the festive singing and shouting, palm fronds and jackets being tossed on the ground … it’s the direction of the parade that mattered most. Keep in mind, this parade emptied out onto the Temple Mount at the very steps of Israel’s center of religious power in full view of the power system of the Temple.
Joining the parade was the easy part “ staying with Jesus through to the end was the tough part. The parade ended at the foot of the great Temple under the scrutiny of the Roman soldiers who were already twitchy because of the burgeoning crowds gathering for Passover. Jesus understood this parade was not idly marching in circles but was headed to the heart of the religious and government centers of power and there was the smell of death in the air. This was the price he was willing to pay by leaving home and the relative safety and security of the little villages surrounding the Sea of Galilee.
Today, if we’re to join the Jesus parade, we have to measure what it might cost us today as much as back then.
One of our Baptist heroes believed in this Jesus. His name was Clarence Jordan and he knew what it meant to join the Jesus parade. After graduating from college with a degree in agriculture, he studied in seminary and earned both his Masters and Doctorate degrees in New Testament Greek. Following World War II he moved back to rural south Georgia where he and another couple formed an interracial farming community comprised of both black and white poor folks who shared the work and their lives. They named their farm, Koinonia Farm, because koinonia means fellowship in Greek. It’s actually the kind of fellowship that ought to be found in every church, where everybody is welcome and the differences between us are worked at because we’re all one in Christ.
In the early 1950s Clarence approached his brother Robert (later a state senator and justice of the Georgia Supreme Court) to ask him to represent legally the Koinonia Farm. They were having trouble getting propane gas delivered for heating during the winter even though it was against the law not to deliver gas. Clarence thought Robert could help by making a phone call on their behalf. Robert, however, refused to help.
Clarence, I can’t do that. You know my political aspirations. Why, if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.
Clarence replied to his brother: We might lose everything, too, Bob.
It’s different for you.
Why is it different? I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church on the same Sunday, as boys. I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me the same question he did you. He asked me, ˜Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ And I said, ˜Yes.’ What did you say?
I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.
Could that point by any chance be ” the cross?
That’s right, Clarence. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.
Clarence took it further: Then I don’t believe you’re a disciple, Bob. You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer, not a disciple.
Brother Robert responded: Well now, if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldn’t have a church, would we?
The question is, Clarence said, ˜do you have a church?’
Even today the Jesus parade forms and there are so many who want to throw their cloaks down before him, but in the end, then like now, the parade-goers don’t stay with him all the way to the end, all the way to the cross, the point where it costs something few of us want to offer.
Let the river run
Let all the dreamers
Wake the nation
Come, the New Jerusalem
There’s always been a parade and it seems everyone’s in some kind of parade or another. But it matters which parade we’re in and where the parade is going. Palm Sunday is about a parade that leads to a cross and there aren’t many willing to stick with it all the way to the end.
After serving as bridge pastor at First Congregational Church of St. Louis, Missouri, during the past year, Herron moved recently to Lawrence, Kansas, where he will continue to minister in interim settings. He is author of Living a Narrative Life, Exploring the Power of Stories (Smyth & Helwys, 2019).