Dr. Steve Lindsley
(Luke 19: 28-40)

Listen to the Word that God has spoken
Listen to the One who is close at hand
Listen to the Author of creation
Listen even if you don’t understand


Celebrations, if you think about it, are an act of defiance.

Here’s what I mean by that. Monday morning I called my Dad. It was his birthday, you see. Dad was born on the fourth day of the fourth month in 1944 at 4:40pm as the fourth son in the family. Every bit of that is true. What is also true is that my Dad is an amazing human and deserves celebration, so I called him.

Dad was out having breakfast with Mom and looking forward to his day. There was some yardwork in his future – Dad is truly in his element in our backyard in Raleigh. He was excited about having some neighbors and friends over for an outdoor happy hour, something he and Mom have not done much of for the past two years for obvious reasons. And the highlight of his day undoubtedly would be in the evening when my brother, sister-in-law and niece came over for dinner. Watching my Dad with his granddaughter is to witness perfect joy.

Dad was teeing up a day of celebration. And this is when the thought came to me. Birthdays, by design, acknowledge the passing of another year, of being one year older. Time moves in one direction and we all know where it’s heading eventually. But we celebrate anyway. We work in the yard, we gather with friends, we enjoy dinner with cherished ones. We wave a clenched fist in the face of death and relish in the moment.

Holidays, graduations, weddings, baptisms, awards banquets – all celebrations, all acts of defiance in their own way. We refuse to let things get us down. We know the road won’t always be easy. We celebrate anyway.

We see this no more clearly than in our scripture today – the recounting of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on what would be the last week of his life. It was a triumphant entry, we’ve been told, a celebration. And that it certainly was. But if we expand our view a bit, we see there’s a whole lot more going on here than we might initially think.

In the book The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem, a book I’ve invited you to read with me this coming Holy Week, renowned authors Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan reveal something about Palm Sunday that may come as a surprise to us:

Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a colt down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class. On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.

Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s procession proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’s crucifixion . . .

Two processions.

Now there is little doubt that Jesus and his followers were well aware of the procession happening on the other side of town. It was habitual, anytime Jerusalem swelled in size, which it certainly did during Passover, Rome would put their power on full display as if to say “do not mess around with us.” Jesus’ parade at the east was no accident. It was very intentional; a full-throated indictment against the powers of empire. Truth is, this Palm Sunday procession – what you and I did earlier in this service – was an act of protest. It was the very embodiment of celebration as an act of defiance.

Defiance of riding in on a colt rather than a majestic horse, almost mocking the imperial ritual. Defiance of waving and laying down cloaks and palm branches, instead of fancy rugs and expensive fabrics fitting for a king. Defiance of shouts of praise that merge ancient Hebrew prophetic texts with language normally reserved for the imperial powers of Rome:

Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!

Our Palm Sunday celebration, friends, is an act of defiance.

And acts of defiance rarely occur without pushback. There were grumblings among some in the mix that day, and we’re not told exactly why. Maybe they just didn’t like Jesus – they were Pharisees, after all. Although it should be noted that Pharisees have kind of gotten a bad rap over the years and are not the arch-enemy of Jesus as we sometimes make them out to be.

Maybe it wasn’t as much as they had something against Jesus as it was they starting getting a little uncomfortable with the whole scene, that the moment had gotten too political; that the whole “celebration as an act of defiance” was approaching some line or even had already crossed it. And they were worried about what that defiance might invoke. So they tell Jesus to tell the crowds to stop. Stop the singing. Stop the praise. Stop the celebration. Stop the shouting. Just stop!

And Jesus responds, “I tell you, if they were silent, even the stones would shout out!”

Some of you know that I lead music for various youth conferences – I’ll actually be doing one in Montreat this June. The songleading gig is an interesting one because, in a sense, the goal is to work yourself out of a job – to get to the point where the people own the song and don’t really need you anymore. So at the top of the week I introduce a song. I run through the chorus first, get that down; then later add the verses. Bridge comes after that. I teach it in units so they can pick up on it easily.

By the middle of the week they’re getting the hang of it – sometimes without realizing it the group changes a note in the chorus, or alters a cadence in the verse. It’s not intentional but what it means is that they’re beginning to claim the song as their own. Which is why I don’t correct them. And so by the end of the week, we get to the point where I could literally step back from the mic and put my guitar down in mid-song and the song would keep going – and in fact, I’ve actually done that a time or two, and it’s marvelous. The song doesn’t need me anymore. It is all theirs.

I sort of get that vibe with what Jesus says here about these stones. The Greek word here for “shout out” is krazo – an onomatopoeic term describing the piercing “caw” of a raven. Something that expresses deep emotions without words. The praise that the crowds had been singing that day – it wasn’t just their praise, was it? No, it was the praise of all creation, the deeply emotive “caw” of all in life about the source of that life.

And like a song that takes root, you can’t shut this praise down by simply silencing the ones who first gave it voice. The melody has become too ingrained. All of creation picks up on the reverberations. When Jesus says, “Even the stones would shout out,” he’s not being brazen or obnoxious. He’s acknowledging the persistence and resilience of that which our souls have wanted to express for so very long.

“Even the stones would shout out.” As cool as this is coming from Jesus, we have to acknowledge that he wasn’t the first one to say it. We have to go all the way back to the obscure prophet Habakkuk in the Old Testament; the prophet speaking to the powers-that-be, saying:

You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
The very stones (of your house) will cry out from the wall.

The prophet speaks figuratively about human constructs built to prop up unjust systems and how those structures will never stand for the long haul because even the very stones used in the walls will “caw” out in protests.

Think on this with me, Trinity: when we consider these stones, these stones that would otherwise refuse to be kept silent in our Palm Sunday celebration, in our little act of defiance; when we consider these stones as we begin our Holy Week journey:

What is it for us that cannot be silenced?
What must be said? What must be done?
What is important enough for us to step out on a limb for?
What truths are so powerful that they cry out at us even as some are silenced?
How can we shout with the stones?

I wonder if the name Bree Newsome rings a bell; the African-American woman who scaled the flagpole at the South Carolina state house in Columbia and removed the confederate flag that had flown there for nearly forty years. Bree’s act of civil disobedience, which took place in late June 2015, came out of the aftermath of the shooting of nine churchgoers at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston earlier that month. Following that horror, a group of activists decided it was time for the confederate flag to finally come down. All agreed it was important that it be done by a person of color, so Bree was selected, trained in climbing, and equipped with everything she’d need. On that day, she scaled the 30-foot flagpole shouting, “I come to get you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!” Celebration as an act of defiance.

We’ve probably seen videos of Bree from that day; maybe an interview with her afterwards. We’ve probably not seen or heard much about James Tyson, though. James, who is white, was also part of the local activist group. He was not trained in climbing for that day. He was not equipped with much of anything. All he was tasked with was standing at the bottom of the flagpole as Bree’s spotter and assisting her in any way he could. And as James stood there and Bree started climbing, he really wasn’t sure what that assistance might be.

Then James overheard, off to the side, a group of authorities, all white, talking about how to get Bree down. One suggested shooting her but others ruled that out. Finally one said, “I know what to do: taze the poll. Just taze the poll. That’ll get her down.” And they agreed this is what they would do.

And in that moment, as the group made their way over with taser in hand, James, standing at the bottom of the pole, knew exactly what he was there for that day, what his role would be: he placed his hand – his white hand – on the flagpole. And they didn’t taze it.

Now there is no doubt that Bree Newsome is the undisputed heroine here. She rightfully receives all the credit for her brave act. But we should not let what James Tyson did go unnoticed, the way he recognized in an instant the privilege he had and how he could best use it. So while Bree was engaged in celebration as an act of defiance, James found a way of shouting with the stones.

In her artwork, “Even the Stones Cry Out,” Rev. Lauren Wright Pittman depicts stones echoing the voice of God. As she describes it, “Down the sides of the image are the silencers’ in postures of quieting judgment. My hope was for the silencers to be completely visually enveloped and drowned out by the stones…..that their attempts at diminishing the truth would ultimately and always be in vain.”

Silencers, she calls them. I like that better than Pharisees. There will always be silencers. There will always be an undercurrent, an inertia that seeks to tamp down truth whenever it is spoken or lived out – to minimize, to undermine, to discount, to gaslight, to deny. And that plays with our minds, no doubt. Try as we might to forget the procession taking place on the other side of town, it’s always in the back of our minds, nagging at us, giving us that uneasy feeling in the pit of our stomach….

Which is why we must never forget that celebrations are an act of defiance; and that it’s not about whether there will be shouts and cries for justice and love and grace and hope, but whether we are willing to be part of their reverberations. And so as our Holy Week journey begins, beloved, I ask again:

What is it for us, Trinity, that cannot be silenced?
What must be said? What must be done?
What is important enough for us to step out on a limb for?
What truths are so powerful that they cry out at us even as some are silenced?
How can we shout with the stones?

In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!


[1] Habakkuk 2:10-11a

[2] https://www.trelliseducation.org/news/hands-on-the-pole

* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.