During this Season of Lent, we have been challenged to explore “A Way Other Than Our Own.” This Palm Sunday, we recount how Jesus was led back to Jerusalem, first for a welcome of palms and hosannas, but then ultimately, to a way of costly love and sacrifice. Using Dr. Seuss’ book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” this inter-generational service invites us to consider the many surprising ways and places we may travel if we allow God to lead us.
“When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
This morning, we celebrate Palm Sunday. And our children have been invited to stay with us for the whole service. Many churches hold inter-generational worship services that are more interactive and include movement and conversation throughout.
And we’ve been incorporating one or two of these each year here at Calvary.
Palm Sunday always seems like a good day for this since many versions of today’s scripture lesson tell us that it is the children who shout their “Hosannas” and remind us to see and welcome Jesus in a new kind of way. So, too, this morning- the children lead us and can show us how, by welcoming them, we also welcome Jesus among us.
In fact, just a few chapters before today’s scripture lesson, Jesus says in Matthew 18, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matt 18:5).
And so, in that spirit, as we move into the part of worship that can be the hardest to sit through, for both children and adults alike, I invite us to engage in the sermon in a different kind of way, as sort of a dialogue. If you were here last Palm Sunday, this will feel familiar to you. There will be moments within the sermon, where I will pose a set of questions, and then you all will have a conversation with those around you, sitting in the pews near you. We encourage children to talk with your parents or siblings, for the youth in the balcony to talk to each other. Choir members, talk with someone next to you. Adults if you’re sitting far from anyone else in your pew, you’re encouraged to sit a little closer to someone, introduce yourself if you don’t know their name, and have a conversation.
Now, we also know that for some of you, at least for this particular season of your life, church is a place and a time to come and sit quietly and anonymously, and the last thing you want to do is talk to someone else. If that’s you, we get that. You’re welcome here, too. When we say all are welcome; we really try to mean it. So, right there in your bulletin, we’ve included the questions we’ll be discussing. And you can write or draw your response without sharing with another person if that’s what you’d rather do.
But for the others of you, please take a risk, and engage with someone you may or may not know. After each set of questions, I’ll give you some time to talk, not a whole lot but some, and you’ll know when it’s time to come back together because the organ will ring a chime.
And this morning, the sermon actually begins with a story- a story that may be familiar to some of you. This story is written by an imperfect man, but he was a poet and you might even call him a preacher who had the audience of children and their adults alike with his playfulness and often profound themes.
So, listen, with the ears of your heart as I read Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss.
So, as we consider these two stories that we’ve heard today – the story of Palm Sunday where Jesus goes to Jerusalem and this story by Dr. Seuss: Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, here’s a good warm up question to get you talking:
(1) If you could go anywhere you wanted – in the world or in the universe, real or imaginary (like found in a book), and time and money were not a factor – where would you go and why?
There are some places that are just so dear and special to us, maybe they hold wonderful memories; maybe they hold great promise and possibility; maybe they represent excitement and adventure to us, and we just want to experience this place.
These are the places we want to go. Places are important because they can shape how life unfolds for us.
In Dr. Seuss’ book, it seems like you can go anywhere and do anything. And in some ways, that’s true, especially when we talk with our young people- children & youth- we want you to dream big and take on the world. And know that one day, indeed, you can and will move mountains.
But this book, Oh the Places You’ll Go is pretty individualistic. It’s just about you and your journey- what you can do, where you can go.
And while there is some of that in life: we ultimately make our own decisions; we have free-will; we can choose which direction and roads we will take, as people of faith, we challenge that notion a bit. Because life is not lived alone, nor was it meant to be.
We are created for and intended to live in community, to have others who are on this journey with us – our families, our friends, a family of faith, people who encourage us, listen and help us find our way, people who point us in the right direction when we feel lost. Sometimes who we are with is just as important as where we are going.
And so, the second question to discuss is this:
(2) Who is a part of your “community”? Who in your past or in your present has helped you decide where to go and how to live? Do you have an example of when you wanted to go one way, but decided to go another way because of these people who have shaped and influenced your life?
Share with one another for few moments about these people, and then we’ll come back together.
So, maybe some of you named teachers or pastors or parents or grandparents. These people we named in our lives, they’re important to us. They often help us decide where to go, don’t they?
And just as we consult and lean on other people to help us along the way, I would hope that we would also consult with and lean on God. For God is always with us, no matter where we find ourselves, be it, like in the book, in the Waiting Place or in a slump or even when we feel alone, God is with us.
And not only is God with us, God is leading us and calling us to places where we perhaps could not even imagine going.
This entire Season of Lent, our theme has been “A Way Other Than Our Own.”
And we’ve been using the book of devotions by Walter Brueggemann with the same title in our small groups. Brueggemann encourages us each day to step out of our comfort zones, to look beyond our safety nets, and to see and follow where God may be leading us.
He says, (quote) “We are on the road again! As followers of Jesus, we are on the road again in Lent, walking the way of obedience to Jerusalem for the big showdown with the authorities of church and state. It turns out, every time, to be a hazardous journey, full of toils and snares, potholes and adversaries, ending in a rigged trial. But women and men [children & youth] of faith are always on the road again, departing safe places, running risks, and hoping for well-being on the journey,” end quote (pg 4).
God calls us to a new way of being, and Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week all of this is in preparation for the transformation of Easter.
I often think about Jesus, on Palm Sunday, entering Jerusalem, and wonder, where else would he have rather been? Because we know that today, he is welcomed. People greet him with palms and hosannas. But that doesn’t last for long. In fact, by the end of the week, just five days from now, people turn against him.
Jesus knew that this was coming- that the welcome parade would fizzle out and turn into an angry mob, that in the midst of this great joy, he would end up feeling hopeless and alone. So, why does Jesus go any way, into Jerusalem, knowing what eventually awaits him?
He goes because that is where God leads. This particular way would require costly love and great sacrifice. But Jesus goes because it is there, in that hopeless and alone and scary place that God can do the hard but healing work of transformation.
Oftentimes, God calls us to this way as well- the way of love and sacrifice; obedience and justice.
So our last set of questions for discussion for this morning is this:
(3) Where is God leading and calling you? What places or experiences might God want us to explore? What are some things we can do this week and throughout our lives to follow in the way of Jesus?
Maybe for some of you, God is leading you to someone who sits all alone at recess and to extend friendship to them.
Maybe God is calling some of you to short term or long term mission service, to help those in great need and to be changed by that experience.
Maybe God is calling some of you to give more of your time or your talents to an organization that helps break cycles of poverty or combats systemic injustices.
Friends, today we celebrate Palm Sunday. The palms today signify a welcome of Jesus into our lives. The word hosanna means “save us” and acknowledges that we need God and must rely on God fully in our lives. And the cloaks placed on the ground, they were a form of sacrifice, often the only cloaks that these peasant people would have had.
And we are called to all these things- to welcome Jesus, to rely on God, and yes, even to give of ourselves in ways that are hard and costly.
We as fragile human beings are often drawn to safety, and comfort, power, and security. But God calls us beyond that, to love, to justice, to peace, and to mercy. And what we find when we follow in the ways of God are far greater and so much more meaningful and life-giving than when we insist on our own way.
“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” if only, we trust, obey, and follow God! We may even find love, and light, and hope in a hopeless place.
Thanks to be God, Amen.