*I had a problem with the recorder and unfortunately there is no audio for this sermon.
Luke 19.29-44 (NRSV)
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “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. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As 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, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
One of my friends asked the church I served to host a Spring Break Mission Trip for his High School youth group. He gave me the date of their Spring Break– I looked at the calendar and noticed their Spring Break and Holy Week were the same week.
I didn’t want to do it.
I couldn’t imagine combining a mission trip with everything that happens during Holy Week.
He promised it would work.
We wound up having an awesome and completely exhausting week … and even though it was more work than I ever could have imagined, having 40 High School kids at our Maundy Thursday Communion service made up for it.
For the last night of the mission trip, I planned a simple worship service to look back at the week and give thanks for the ways we noticed God at work over the past week. We reserved a pavilion right next to the lake at a state park … we would watch the sun set, pray, sing, read scripture, and then we would light candles as we shared how we had experienced God during the week.
I was looking forward to something quieter and slower and more contemplative after such a wild and exhausting week.
It was going to be a holy moment that would stick with us for a long time.
The pavilion was set up. The sun was setting. Everyone, even the guy in charge of the state park, gathered in a circle. We prayed. We sang. We read scripture. I introduced the candle-lighting part of the service.
It wasn’t anything like I imagined.
The first person stood up shared … and their candle wouldn’t light.
There was a lot of giggling.
Someone else shared something that was genuine, but also kind of funny.
People continued to share ways they had experienced God and the ways they had noticed God’s work in their lives and in the people we served … there was more laughing … the group got rowdier.
It was nothing like the contemplative … still … quiet service I imagined.
It was joyful.
It was raucous.
I remember driving home disappointed in how the service turned out. It wasn’t anything like the holy moment I expected it to be. A question crossed my mind. It was the kind of question that seems to be sparked by the Holy Spirit. “Who says holy moments have to be still and quiet and serious?” “Why couldn’t a holy moment be joyful or rowdy or even loud?”
Those questions challenged my understanding of holiness and holy moments.
I realized my expectations of what a holy moment is and isn’t almost caused me to miss one of the holiest things I have ever been a part of. What could be more holy than people who have just met each other and who have been giving their best efforts to love their neighbors, laughing together and celebrating God’s goodness?
There is a wider spectrum to holy moments than I ever imagined!
Today, on Palm Sunday, we start on our way through Holy Week – this week that is jam-packed with holy moments on the way to Easter and our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.
As we have studied Luke’s Gospel we have noticed so many holy moments. Jesus has brought the presence and goodness of God to so many people in so many ways. We have learned about all these people who have encountered Jesus and experienced God’s love and goodness breaking into their lives in powerful ways. Luke wants us to know something about these holy moments – some people recognize them and some people miss them.
As Jesus sat on that colt and made his way down the path from the Mount of Olives and toward Jerusalem, Luke tells us, “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, saying, ‘Blessed is the king that comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’”
The multitude of disciples recognized a holy moment as Jesus made his way to Jerusalem, at the same time they recognized and celebrated the holy moments they had witnessed long before this … they recognized Jesus’ deeds of power … the things Jesus said and did to share God’s grace and love. But there were also people there who seemed to have missed these holy moments. Luke says there were some Pharisees in that crowd who told Jesus he needed to tell his disciples to settle down. They were missing it!
When Jesus saw the city he wept.
He looked out over the symbolic heart … the symbolic center of his people’s religious and political and economic life and he wept because so many of the people there, “Did not recognize the time of their visitation from God.” So many people did not see Jesus as a living, breathing holy moment sent from God to reveal God’s presence … to embody God’s heart, to demonstrate God’s power, goodness, and grace. They missed the holy moment of God’s visitation in Jesus and they seemed to be missing the whole string of holy moments that followed him.
Luke doesn’t exactly say why the Pharisees wanted Jesus to stop his disciples from celebrating. I’m curious if they were missing this holy moment for the same reason I almost missed the holy moment at the end of that Holy Week mission trip?
Could their expectations of what is holy and what isn’t have blocked their view?
What if they couldn’t see how a humble and poor carpenter from some middle of nowhere town who gathered a crowd of rough and tumble, down and out, outcasts and other undesirables could be the one who was sent from God to save God’s people and make all things right?
Maybe they were expecting someone different?
Maybe they were expecting different methods?
Whatever it was, they were missing it.
Jesus shows us any moment can be a holy moment … Jesus shows us God’s goodness and power and grace and love and joy and holiness can break into our lives at any moment – so we better have our eyes open … we better be on our toes.
This week I came across a story of someone discovering holiness in an unexpected way.
In his book, “The Great Spiritual Migration,” Brian McLaren tells a story about a friend who had a stroke.
Brian’s friend was one of those guys who seems like they are good at everything. He was a gifted speaker … a talented musician … a pastor of a huge church. He was always speaking and leading music at retreats. It would be easy to be jealous of him.
One night Brian’s friend had a stroke in his sleep.
He woke up and couldn’t speak or move his right hand.
In an instant his career as a pastor, a speaker, and musician was gone.
Brian McLaren writes,
To pay the bills, he eventually got a job working as a crossing guard, and then at a grocery store, cleaning toilets, collapsing cardboard boxes, packing up expired but still good food and sending it to food pantries … after all he had lost, it would be easy for [him] to be bitter, and I don’t doubt that he had seasons of adjustment and grief that were painful in ways I can’t imagine. His old life, his glorious and successful and prestigious life, was over and now he found himself scrubbing toilets in a grocery store. Surely that kind of work doesn’t matter, doesn’t amount too much. Surely. But one day, as he cleaned out a urinal, [he] felt a voice speaking deep within him. “Urinal holy,” the voice said. “Toilet holy. Bathroom holy. Grocery store holy. Everything holy” (Brian McLaren, “The Great Spiritual Migration” pp. 196-198).
Jesus shows us that any moment and place can be holy because God can encounter us anywhere, anytime. Any moment can be holy because we can use it to love God and to love our neighbors, to work for God’s purposes, and yield ourselves to God’s will.
As we make our way through Holy Week, as we remember Jesus on his way to the cross … loving his disciples … washing their feet … giving up his life … watch for holy moments … these moments you never imagined could be holy, but you suddenly see God’s goodness and love breaking in.