Sermon Remix: Palm Sunday 2016

Awhile ago I was keeping up with the “sermon remix” and posting the thoughts from the Sermon on Sunday afternoons so that they could be used in a different way. I don’t know if I’ll be able to remix the sermon for a blog post every week, but I’d like to bring back the idea, because often there are links that go with the sermon, and often it’s helpful to see in a different way. Enjoy!


You may have heard of the enneagram before, if not, here’s a brief description: The Enneagram comes from two greek words ennea meaning nine and gramma meaning drawn (like gram, like a picto gram)

The enneagram is a model of human personality types that all link together to form one complete whole. Each type is very complex. Some ministers like to study the enneagram to understand ourselves and other people, and businesses leaders also use it to study human interaction. 

In the enneagram, each number is given a name. It’s different, depending on the writer, but here is the general idea: 

1 is the reformer

2 is the helper

3 is the achiever

4 is the individualist

5 is the investigator

6 is the loyalist

7 is the enthusiast

8 is the challenger and

9 is the peacemaker

We have to be careful not to label people as only these things, but often peoples’ number does seem to be their great strength. Of course our great strengths also often exhibit a shadow side or weakness associated with that very strength.

In the enneagram, I’m a 7… the “enthusiast.” This may not come as a surprise to you. “Sevens”  get excited about many things. We like to be happy and see others happy. We like parties. I fit the typology of a seven in many many ways, but the reason i’m bringing it up here is because one of the hallmarks of the type seven personality is that last part — we like parties and celebrations. Palm Sunday is a party… Easter is also a party.

We started the service today with a party. The celebration of loud hosannas and the waving of the palm branches. Next week we’ll say “He is Risen!” There’s so much that happens in between: Jesus is betrayed by his best friends. He’s beaten. Stripped. Nailed. It’s too much. We just heard a wonderful dramatic reading where we remember that there is an entire crowd of people shouting and demanding Jesus’s crucifixion. “Crucify him” we shouted. Weren’t we just shouting Hosanna a few moments before? 

So, you see: we can’t go from party to party. We might want to go from party to party, but if we do that to the Christian story, if we go from the shouts of loud “Hosanna!” to the shouts of “He is Risen!” without taking time to hear the shouts of “crucify him.”

I started by telling you about my personality type because I think that that when it comes to this part of the story, we are all sevens, we all would much prefer to skip over this dark part of the story because it’s so difficult. 

For us to consider, I’ve laid out three challenges to focusing on what happens between Palm Sunday and Easter and then three solutions. Let’s take them one at a time. 

Problem: We feel helpless in the face of violence: I think this is a good reason to want to avoid this story. We should be uneasy with violence and torture. In fact, isn’t it true that sometimes we’ve become so accustomed to violence that we’re desensitized to it? The story should make us feel queasy and sick. The problem is that sometimes we feel helpless in the face of violence. We feel that there’s nothing we can do about it. We become passive.

Solution: Non-violent action.  We can’t and we shouldn’t fight violence with more violence. It never works. We know that. Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, all of them fought violence with non-violent action. They were hardly passive, but they refused to fight violence with more violence. When we’re confronted with violence, it should make us uncomfortable, but not helpless. I saw a snippet this week that said, somewhat provocatively, that the last place Christians should be on Palm Sunday is Church. Instead, we should be out in the world, spreading the message of nonviolent action and peace. Cesar Chavez said “the first principle of nonviolent action is that of non cooperation with everything humiliating.” Who is humiliated in our world, and why? What action is God calling us to take?

Something to think about.

Problem: We focus too much on our own guiltiness when we think about the cross, and it leads to more inaction  So much of the discussion about this part of the story focuses on our guiltiness. We are not perfect. We fall short. Many of us have heard angry sermons about how we are the crowd that shouts “Crucify him!”  We’ve heard that Jesus’s death is our fault. To that, I say “yes and no.” Yes, it is true, that we all fall short of perfection. It’s a good and healthy thing to ask for forgiveness when we make mistakes. But it’s also true that we are made in God’s image. A Rabbi colleague in San Antonio taught me about the story of the two pockets. The teaching comes from Rabbi Simcha Bunem. It was said of Reb Simcha Bunem that he carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one he wrote: Bishvili nivra ha-olam—“for my sake the world was created.” On the other he wrote: V’anokhi afar v’efer”—“I am but dust and ashes.” He would take out one slip of paper or the other as necessary, as a reminder to himself.  When we focus on the passion we remember the “I am but dust and ashes” part, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else: 

Solution: Remember what’s in your other pocket. For your sake the world was created.  

Problem: We don’t understand what happened on the cross.  When we think about it, our conclusions don’t square with our intuition. Many of us have heard some version of the story that goes like this: because humanity is so awful and sinful, God had to send Jesus, his only perfect son to die as a punishment for all of humanity, so that we didn’t have to be punished. God punished Jesus on our behalf, as sort of a substitution. In fact, one of the theories of atonement is called the substitutionary theory. The difficult thing to accept about this substitutionary theory of atonement, at least for me, is that it is extremely violent and it makes God violent and blood thirsty. Do we really think that God is like that? The idea that Jesus Christ is a bridge between human beings and God is central to Christian belief.  I believe, though, that understanding the exact means by which Jesus saves us is beyond the scope of what we need to bear as Christ followers. The church, for over two thousand years has been wrestling with it. How could we know for sure exactly how it works? The fact that the question “How does God save us?” is not necessarily for us to answer should not give us permission to skip over the cross, tempting as it is. 

Solution: Don’t demand answers. Be content with mystery. Our intuition and the holy spirit help us here.  We don’t need to know exactly how it all works. We can surrender to the truth that we’re not clear on exactly how the atonement works. If we have a need to satisfy an intellectual curiosity, we can do that with study and conversation. At a faith level, we trust in many things that sometimes are difficult to hold together as one complete whole. God loves us. Christ points the way to God. Christ’s painful death and torture is awful and painful. God is grieved by the crucifixion of Christ. I love the way our PCUSA brief statement of faith puts it:

Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition,  Jesus was crucified,  suffering the depths of human pain and giving his life for the sins of the world.  God raised this Jesus from the dead,  vindicating his sinless life, breaking the power of sin and evil,  delivering us from death to life eternal. Amen.

Question for reflection: What is the most challenging part of moving from party to party for you? What is the solution? 

Links of Interest: 

Palm Sunday Sermon, Nadia Bolz-Weber  I am indebted to this sermon for helping me with the outline and format of mine.

The Enneagram Basics 

Methods of Non-Violent Resistance (check out #20!) 

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