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Be a voice of love in a hateful wilderness

wild flowers inside old work boots, we are called to put ourselves in the shoes of others

Sermon by Rev. Joel Crouse

Sunday of the Passion

Palm Sunday

March 24, 2024

Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Philippians 2: 5-11

Mark 11: 1-11

And so, here we have arrived, on the last day of sun before the storm. Palm Sunday is like the part in the disaster movie where life is still normal, people are still singing “Happy Birthday,” celebrating at restaurants, making vacation plans. And yet, we the viewer, know that the weird newsclip on the TV isn’t just a blip, or the guy coughing next to them isn’t just sick, or the fighter jet flying overhead isn’t on a training mission. We’ve been there – remember four years ago, when we heard about a virus in Wuhan, when we thought it was just another cough? We’ve been those people. But this time, on Palm Sunday, if we transported back to stand among that jubilation, we would know. We would know what’s coming.

That’s why we can never truly bask in the celebration of Palm Sunday. But we should try. Imagine being those people in Jerusalem who have been hearing about a travelling preacher and teacher who heals the sick and soothes the stranger. Some people say he is not just a preacher but a king. Some people whisper he has come to free the poor and oppressed. And finally, he has arrived at the gates of the city.

And what does he do? He asks for a colt, not a stallion, to carry him into the city. The people are jubilant. Could this humble guy really be the Messiah everyone is talking about? When they listen to his word, they hear him speak against tyranny and for justice. He travels with friends from many places. They are in awe. They put palms on his path and cheer his journey into the heart of the city. Who doesn’t love a party for a good cause?

What would we see with our knowledge, standing in that crowd? A crowd to make a memory in a city the size of Jerusalem would have to be large and diverse and noisy. All through Jesus’s journey, he had been attracting people from all walks of life,; of course they filled the streets of Jerusalem. That is the point, and the gift, of Palm Sunday: no one in the parade looks the same or tells the same story. We have all come to our faith and our beliefs with different backgrounds and by different routes. And yet, in this moment, on this day, standing in the crowd, all we see is unity.

There would be people craning their necks to get a look. Others squeezing through to reach out to Jesus as he passed. People breaking out in chants and songs. A glorious, noisy, happy crowd honouring a man well-deserving of being honoured.

But, what else do we see, with our knowing eyes? We see the frowning man in the crowd with his arms crossed, who refuses to sing; he leans down and says something scornfully to his neighbor beside him. We see the woman who cracks an unkind joke about the dirty sandals on this supposed king’s feet, and the shabby colt upon which he rides. We see the spy for the religious leaders, watching closely, yet not participating, then scurrying away.

We see what we so often see in our own world, on our own Facebook and Instagram feeds -- how quickly a sneer or an insult can suddenly shift the whole tone of the conversation, how easily a question lobbed to cause confusion and spread misinformation can spark conspiracy.

We see how quickly that happens in our own day and age - humans have not changed that much - for all our education and ability to search facts, the vehicle for misinformation has become even more effective. Consider the current conspiracy thinking around Kate Middleton, which seems on its surface to be frivolous entertainment on Twitter. Most likely, she is recovering from surgery, as had been said, and will appear next week for Easter service. But there have been manipulated pictures and questionable videos and a lack of disclosure about her medical issues - as is her right - that have made even people who don't care about what the royals are up to, jump on the conspiracy bandwagon. That's a larger issue for us: what is real and what is not? How do we properly fact-check? How can we be discerning? What happens when significant pictures are manipulated - for instance in the Middle East or Ukraine? (My journalist partner would point out here that it was the professional media who first identified the royal picture as having been altered and told newspapers not to run it; The Globe and Mail also has a detailed process for checking photoshopping and AI in photographs.)

Imagine if Jesus appeared today in the crowd, what conspiracies might spread about him - even faster than they did among the crowd in Jerusalem. The gospel doesn't just guide us to be loving and kind, it coaches us to be discerning. We are called to question the source of information, to think critically about what people say, "must be, or has always been," to frame our response against what the gospel would say is right. If Jesus is our guide through this, he set the example over and over again of questioning authority, debating assumed truths, searching for clear answers. That is as much the journey of faith as any other path.

And so, standing in the crowd in Jerusalem, we might listen closely, and think for ourselves. "Who is this Jesus guy anyway?" you hear someone ask. Well, who do we know him to be? "Maybe the religious leaders are right about him?" someone else asks. Yet we know, all along his journey to Jerusalem he has engaged with leaders; what do we understand about these exchanges? When we know context, when we search our own beliefs and reasoning, instead of being swept up in the mob, in any mob, the answers almost always become clearer.

But back in Jerusalem, we don't see that happening. The happy, noisy crowd is beginning its journey to an angry, judging mob.

We see Judas, scowling in back of those disciples travelling with Jesus. And we know how a rash choice made of greed and selfishness can wreak terrible harm. We know that harm can come from the inside as much as from the outside.

We know what is coming. Yet what does the knowledge grant us? The power to stop what is to come? Can we change the mind of the scornful man with a good argument? Can we help the woman see the rich world that Jesus is describing? Can we turn the spy? Can we stop Judas? We can try. Maybe they will listen. But the mob will turn. We will be a voice of love in a hateful wilderness.

And that, we would realize, is our job. Standing in the crowd, watching Jesus pass by, knowing all that he has been, all that he has done, and the lessons he has taught, we understand that this is the reason for the gospel: to be the voice of love when the world needs it. So yes, it falls to us, standing in this crowd on Palm Sunday, and in every crowd, to shake hands with the scornful, show generosity to the petty, and offer forgiveness to the selfish.

That is what we learn standing in the crowd on Palm Sunday, watching it become a mob. If we are not the voice of love, then what chance do we have? And so, Jesus will ride past, the colt plodding on the palms thrown before it, and the world will cheer. And we will know. And our actions are to be a response to that knowledge, each and every day.


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