Note: I preached a version of this sermon on April 15, 2019 (Palm Sunday, Year C) at Messiah Lutheran Church in Wauconda, Illinois
This week Deacon Pam Roncal told me a story about a visit she made to some men in immigration detention in McHenry County. Deacon Pam heads the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants, an organization that visits and advocates for people in immigration detention and their families. Detained immigrants are often held in local jails, and they have fewer constitutional protections than people held on criminal charges. But one right they have is access to pastoral care, which ICDI provides.
These three men were devout believers, all from Latin America. So Pam was talking to them about God and prayer. She told me that the men had a very traditional understanding, for their religious culture, of the will of God. Since everything that happens is the will of God, the task for believers is to accept God’s will. So when we pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” it means that we should accept God’s will on earth as we know it is done in heaven.
Deacon Pam didn’t argue, but she put it a different way. She said another way to look at the prayer is that “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” means “give us the courage and strength to do your will on earth as the angels always do your will in heaven.”
The men were silent, and then the oldest one spoke up: ‘If we were to pray like that, it would change everything.”
“Give us the courage to do your will on earth, as your angels always do your will in heaven.”
Today Jesus enters Jerusalem. It is the end of a long journey–chapters and chapters–in Luke’s Gospel. He has set his face toward the holy city, he has said that it is impossible for a prophet to be killed anywhere else, he has wept over it, he has been warned of it. And now he is there.
And in Luke’s Gospel it is a homecoming of sorts. Jesus is born in Bethlehem in Judea, near to Jerusalem, before the Holy Family returned to Nazareth in Galilee to the north. And at Jesus’s birth, a messenger brings news to the shepherds in the fields, and a multitude of the heavenly host acclaims him with the song “glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace and goodwill to all whom God favors.” Jesus is taken to the Temple in Jerusalem, he is presented there and Simeon the priest and Anna the prophet proclaim him the one who was coming.
Now, today, Jesus returns. This time there are no angels to acclaim him. Instead, Gods will is done on earth by a new “multitude”–it’s the same word–of the disciples who go with him. Jesus even sends some followers to steal a colt for him to ride, explaining to the masters (“lords” in Greek) that the Lord needs it. A bigger Lord, a more important Lord in a world organized by hierarchies. I imagine them waving a clipboard as they say it.
And as the crowd nears Jerusalem, they should hosannas, blessing the King who comes in the name of the Lord, and proclaiming peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven. A multitude on earth echoes back the song of praise from the multitude of heaven.
This is a dramatic and dangerous moment. Jerusalem is the holy city, the city of David, but it already has a king–a ruler named Herod. And Herod is kept on the throne by a foreign army, a Gentile army commanded by the brutal prefect Pontius Pilate.
The Pharisees close to Jesus have already warned Jesus about Herod. We often her the Pharisees opposed to Jesus, but they were on the same side of a divide with Herod on the other. Herod had already killed John the Baptist. And Jesus knew that Pilate had massacred some Jews and mingled their blood in the sacrifices of the Temple, both a crime against humanity and a sacrilege against God. The Holy City is a dangerous place. The men who run it do not play around.
And so very reasonably, the Pharisees among the disciples ask Jesus to hush the crowd. Dial it back a notch. Don’t attract attention. Don’t make a scene. Don’t draw a violent response from the men who are ready to do violence in defense of their power.
Jesus doesn’t really agree or disagree. He says something interesting: “if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us the courage to do your will as the angels–and even the stones, if they have to–are always doing your will.
Over the next week we will worship around Jesus with a special intensity. Every gathering of Word and Sacrament is a gathering around Jesus made present for us. Every song and prayer is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God in his name. But in these next days we will experience his washing of feet, his institution of the Sacrament of his body and blood, his arrest and trial, his agony and death, his lying in the tomb, and his triumphant rising. Everything he does and says in those hours shatters the world and puts it together in a new way.
But today I want us to linger on that multitude that has the courage to call out its praises in a moment of terror. I want us to hear their voices.
They lived in a world where the restraints on the powerful were very few. And our world becomes more and more like theirs. The limits on the power of the mighty over the weak are slipping away in our world, too. The rights of vulnerable people are being reduced to paper rules. Those who rule are finding ways to insulate themselves from any accountability–here and in many countries around the world.
Jesus does not enter this world, or this holy city, as a violent revolutionary or a conquering general. He offers his followers no visible protection and no obvious victory. He enters this world where power alone rules, and where morality, law, and justice are just bedtime stories we tell to hide the truth, as a very different kind of King.
And his followers–then, and at the tomb, and in the days and centuries that follow, down to today–need courage. Courage to do God’s will on earth as the angels always do God’s will in heaven. Courage to sing and not let any stone take our place. Courage to be seen and heard and counted in disreputable company. Courage to pray so that everything might change.