Emmanuel Baptist Church

275 State St.  Albany, NY 12210
(518) 465-5161

Click here for directions
 

A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation

Minister:  Rev. Kathy J. Donley

The Stones Would Shout

Rev. Kathy Donley

3/20/16

 

Scripture Lesson:  Luke 19:28-44

 

Note:  This sermon had a sound track which was sung by the congregation at the points indicated.  The sound track was the chorus of the anthem Then Will the Very Rocks Cry Out[1] by Gary McSpadden, Bill George, John W Thompson and Randy L Scruggs.

 

Darwin Minnesota is one of several towns which claims to have the largest ball of twine in the world.  It had a population of 350 at the time of the 2010 census.  Every August, the town and tourists celebrate Twine Ball Days.  There are events all day long with a parade at noon.  I understand that the parade is so short that when they’ve done the route once, they all go around again just to make it last longer. 

 

I wonder how Jesus’ parade compares that.  It was certainly longer.  He got the donkey a couple of miles outside of Jerusalem.  He didn’t need to go over the route twice.  But I wonder how many participants and spectators there were?  The city of Jerusalem would swell to four or five times its normal size during Passover, so there would have been a lot of people on the road with Jesus and his followers.  In my mind, there are a lot of people minding their own business.  There are families trying to get to Aunt Ruth’s for the big reunion, and more than a few political agitators who have had it with Rome and are willing to do just about anything to change the situation, and over there are members of the clergy wondering which of their colleagues they’ll run into at the pre-Passover ministerial workshops, and which ones they should try to avoid.  It seems to me that Jesus’ band might be swallowed up in the press of humanity making its way into the city. 

 

Except that they get the attention of some Pharisees.  They are making enough noise to be noticed.  Perhaps the Pharisees are afraid that they will attract Roman notice.  The Romans are on high alert already.  There have been 32 political riots in the last 5 years.  If Roman officials hear the what Jesus’ disciples are saying, they will come out in riot gear and ruin the festival for everyone.  So these Pharisees tell Jesus to make his people shut up.  And Jesus says, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout out.” 

 

Those words of Jesus are just one clue that there is more going on here than one might imagine.  These words might be a reminder that God is known in all of creation and not just by human beings.  John’s gospel says that God loves the world, the cosmos, so much that God sent God’s only Son.  In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul speaks of the groaning of the creation as it waits for redemption.  What is happening here on the road to Jerusalem, as Jesus draws near, is so important that if human beings keep quiet, the rocks will cry out.

 

Sound track

If we keep our voices silent,

All creation will rise and shout

If we fail to praise you, Abba,

          Then will the very rocks cry out.

 

The people are chanting “ Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”  which sounds familiar.  It recalls the song of the angels at Jesus’ birth.  It’s another clue that something epic is happening.  But the words are slightly different.  At his birth, the angels sang “Peace on earth.  Now the crowd says “Peace in heaven.  Why the change?  Perhaps the disciples want peace on a cosmic level. 

 

Or perhaps they recognize that peace is incredibly far from earth.  It may be that the response to the message and ministry of Jesus has been such that it has prevented peace from being realized on earth. The most that can be hoped for now is peace in heaven. The peace that the birth of Jesus was to usher into the world has not happened, not because God was unwilling or unable to pull it off, but because human beings have not received and acted on the message of Jesus.” [2]  Luke says that Jesus came near and wept over Jerusalem because it did not recognize the things that make for peace.

 

Sound track

If we keep our voices silent,

All creation will rise and shout

If we fail to praise you, Abba,

          Then will the very rocks cry out.

 

The disciples are also singing or chanting the words of psalm 118, which was the song you sang on the way into Jerusalem.  But again, they have changed the words slightly.  The psalm says “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”  They say “Blessed is the king who comes.”  They change the words to make a point.  They lay cloaks in the road because that’s the way you greet a king. 

 

Throughout his ministry, Jesus kept his identity as Messiah a secret.  In Luke 9, he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone who he was.  But now, they are shouting that he is king, in front of thousands of people, and even when asked, Jesus refuses to make them be quiet.  Why the shift?  Perhaps because he needed to correct the popular understanding of Messiah before he let people put that label on him.  He needed to demonstrate what good kings do for their people, how they handle their power.  But now that he was about to enter Jerusalem and face rejection, hostility, humiliation and death, the possibility of misunderstanding the nature of his messiahship was no longer an issue. Now that the time of his suffering and death drew near, he could expressly demonstrate that he indeed was the Messiah.”[3]

 

Those words about the stones crying out are a quotation from the prophet Habbakuk.  Habbakuk was one of Israel’s social justice prophets.  He called attention to the miscarriage of justice in the political, judicial and economic institutions in Judah and Jerusalem.  For Habbakuk, real-world politics were continually at odds with God’s just rule.

 

Habbakuk 2:9-11 says “Alas for you who get evil gain for your houses, setting your nest on high to be safe from the reach of harm!” You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. The very stones will cry out from the wall, and the beam will respond from the woodwork.”  This refers to a person who has exploited others for financial gain.  When that person builds a fortified house to protect himself from recriminations, Habbakuk says that the very stones and wood acquired unjustly to build the residence will take up the cry of the oppressed.  

 

The voice of the stones is the voice of protest against injustice.

 

Protest against injustice, consistent radical protest for the length of his ministry and now, once more, staging a prophetic sign, acting out a parable – this is the kind of liberating Messiah that Jesus is.  But his message of peace for everyone – including the lost and the last and the least – that message is threatening to those in power.  And so, his message created division, tension and crisis, which continues into our own time. 

 

Tom Mullen is a Quaker, a member of the Society of Friends, who are known for their non-violence and their determination to address large social and moral problems.  Writing about his denomination, he says “They work for peace – and if you really want to cause conflict, work for peace.”[4]  Dom Camara, who served in Archbishop in Brazil for 20 years, is known for saying “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”   Closer to home, we can just ask the folks who have been crying out for a living wage, ask them about peace and division.  But don’t ask them to keep silent any longer. 

 

Sound track

If we keep our voices silent,

All creation will rise and shout

If we fail to praise you, Abba,

         Then will the very rocks cry out.

 

On one side of Jerusalem that day, Jesus rode in with his band of disciples, proclaiming peace, redemption, and an end to injustice.  “Jesus came in as the king of fisherman, tax collectors, Samaritans, harlots, blind men, demoniacs and cripples.  In his crowd were women who leaped with joy, a Samaritan leper with a heart full of gratitude, a once-crippled woman who had been unable to stand up straight for 18 years and a once-blind beggar who had followed all the way from Jericho.”[5]  

 

On the other side of the city,  Pontius Pilate entered at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers.  With blaring trumpets, shining armor and powerful war horses, the massive display of military power was a show of force to intimidate the people and keep the Pax Romana, the peace which embodies the power, the glory, the violence of empire.

 

Perhaps we think that the Pax Romana died with the fall of the Roman Empire.  I suggest it did not.  We have only to watch the spectacle of politics in America to see the violence of empire and Jesus’ message continuing to create division. The pathways to glory still beckon. Power and might, greed and violence attract more attention and more converts than the path less traveled.   Christians in America are increasingly seeking more political, social and economic power.  On the right and on the left, we want a Messiah with power.  We want someone to fix this mess and we cry “Hosanna.  Save us!”  We set up a false choice between Jesus the conservative and Jesus the progressive.  Let us be very clear that Jesus is not a Democrat or Republican or even a Democratic Socialist.[6] 

 

Jesus is an unlikely Messiah, a non-violent king who lays down his life in love for his people.  When we understand that courageous love, then maybe we will begin to know the things that make for peace.

 

Until then,

 

 Sound track

If we keep our voices silent,

All creation will rise and shout

If we fail to praise you, Abba,

Then will the very rocks cry out.

 

 

 



[1] The full anthem may be heard here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MXJX9k7hp4

[2]Jirair Tashjian in his commentary at http://www.crivoice.org/lectionary/YearC/Clent6nt.html

[3] Jirair Tashjian in his commentary at http://www.crivoice.org/lectionary/YearC/Clent6nt.html

 

[4] Tom Mullen, Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences, (Richmond, IN:  Friends United Press, 1989),  p. 50

[5] This beautiful description of Jesus’ followers is from Alan Culpepper in The New Interpreters Bible, Vol. IX,  (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1995), p. 370

 

[6] Bob Cornwall at http://www.bobcornwall.com/2016/03/if-jesus-were-politician-lectionary.html

Home