Sunday, March 18, 2018

It's Not the Splash - It's the Ripples (Sermon)

“It’s Not the Splash – It’s the Ripples”
Luke 19:29-40  
Allen Huff
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church

29When [Jesus] had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “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. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34They said, “The Lord needs it.
35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road
37As 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, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”
40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (NRSV)

         The liturgical observance of Palm Sunday includes leafy branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” In Jesus’ day that word and those branches were reserved for momentous, big splash occasions like national celebrations and ticker-tape parades. And we do tend to imagine Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem as a magnificent splash, don’t we?
         Luke, the gospel to the poor and marginalized, presents a more understated account. He doesn’t even mention the nationalistic symbol of leafy branches, only cloaks laid on the roadway. Luke does say that Jesus’ disciples – a small band of powerless misfits – shout Hosanna, a word used to welcome conquering heroes. And their hero arrives not on a great steed, but astride an unbroken colt whose value seems suspect because its owners barely blink an eye when a couple of strangers borrow it without permission.
         Because the scene lacks spectacle and sensationalism, reporters would have chosen to cover the public execution of those two thieves who stole something of greater value than some scrawny colt. Watching two men nailed to crosses writhing in pain – now that’s entertainment! Forget the veracity of the news and the reporters’ lack of objectivity, nothing sells ad copy like nationalism draped in fear and vengeance.
         In Luke, God’s arrivals tend to be quiet gurgles rather than eye-popping splashes. Remember, the birth of Jesus is a lonely whisper through the bare branches of winter. Sure, some shepherds describe a heavenly host of angels, but who knows what they really saw? And who trusts shepherds, anyway? According to Luke, then, the king trotting into Jerusalem was born to parents who were shown all the hospitality offered to your average barnyard animal.
         Our contemporary culture is addicted to big splashes. Believers and non-believers alike expect experiences of God to be sensational and overwhelming, because only then can they be convincing and real.
I hear Luke saying, No, the story’s not about some triumphalistic splash. It’s about the things that happen out of sight. It’s about the mystery at work in the deep darkness just before the dawn a few days later. It’s about bread broken and eyes opened. It’s about things we would no more expect than we would expect rocks to start talking.
         Written years after the first Easter, the gospels aren’t great splashes. They’re ripples. That’s why Luke doesn’t end his story with the resurrection of Jesus but continues on with the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. I think Luke wants us to see that the arrival of Jesus doesn’t end with his birth, his entry into Jerusalem, or even with his resurrection. The arrival of God in Jesus Christ continues. Luke wants us to watch, and to feel, the ripples continuing to spread from generation to generation.
How many of you experienced parents cringed when your children begged for some kind of pet? If you did, you might have done so because you suspected that all your kids had in mind was the splash – that momentary newness that wears off as soon as your kids realize that the dog, or cat, or hamster must be cared for day after day. But you wise parents probably went ahead and got the critter because you knew that it wasn’t about the splash. It’s about the rippling lessons of relationship with and responsibility for something other than one’s own self.
         You and I are ripples from the splash that began in the beginning when the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Yes, the Word becomes flesh and lives among us, but even this enfleshed Word is part of the ripples God set in motion long before.
         As Jesus’ colt descends the Mount of Olives and clip-clops into the City of David, a cluster of disciples feels those ripples spreading into their hearts. They, in turn, send ripples into the air with their shouts of Hosanna! They send ripples into the earth by spreading their cloaks on the ground. These ripples lap against the stony shores of Pharisee hearts, and they can’t handle it.
         “Rabbi!” they say. “Calm your people down!”
         Too late! says Jesus. They’re just ripples from the God-splash that happened billions of years ago. Even these ancient rocks are ripples, he says, and you can’t shut them up.
         Where are the places that holiness laps against the shores of your heart?
Where are you being shown the rippling presence of Jesus in your life and the lives of those around you?
While some of those revelations may arrive as breath-taking events, they’re probably fairly subtle things, instances that occur in the nooks and crannies of your life. You may know them as ripples of eternity because they don’t happen for your sake alone. And they’re much more than some beautiful sunrise or bird’s nest. They’re the teasing little moments that push the ripples of love and compassion outward from you and into and for the world.
It seems to me that learning to relinquish our lust for the big splash helps us to experience the transforming blessings of the ripples.
         Big-splash conversions are badges of honor in evangelical circles. And I’ve become skeptical of the way dramatic, individual experiences are used. They tend to become standards for authenticity. Years ago, I heard a young missionary say, “We’re out there trying to get people saved.” The young man had splashed his way out of addiction, and I celebrate that with him. But his personal experience imposed a no splash/no salvation dogma on his target audience.
         I don’t recall a splash. And I’m convinced that faith doesn’t begin when we say “yes” to Jesus. That’s just one moment in God’s ongoing work in the Creation. Our faith is about participating in the ripples of yeses that continue throughout our lives. It’s about the forgiveness we give and receive, the cups of cold water we offer to those in need, the visits we make to those who are lonely, the prayers we pray with those who suffer. It’s on such down-to-earth colts that Jesus steals into our hearts and rides through our lives and into the world.
         In early January many folks find themselves depressed after having put so much into the Christmas splash. But Christmas is about the ripples. It’s about the day-to-day reality of Jesus’ life. The same is true for Easter. While we make special plans for that day, our celebrations remind us that we are ripples of resurrection. We are called to the steady work of walking from Capernaum to Jerusalem to Emmaus, from Damascus, to Rome, to Wittenburg, from Sudan, to Selma, to Parkland. And we’re called to remain grateful, generous, and hopeful through it all.
Enjoy the splashes when and where you can. But may your lives be ceaseless ripples of love, fresh reminders of the constantly and gently arriving presence of God’s Word made flesh.