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From Crying Stones to Sleeping Disciples

A sermon by Michael Cheuk, Minister, University Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Va.

Luke 19:28-40, Luke 22:39-46

It must have been quite a sight, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that Sunday.  From the images that have been burned into most of our memories from movies and Easter pageants, we envision Jesus coming in as a conquering hero, with crowds lining the road into Jerusalem waving palm branches, laying down coats along the path, singing, chanting, shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Can we imagine the excitement?  For some of us, it conjures up memories of our troops coming home victorious after World War II, showered with ticker tape and the shouts of street-lined crowds.  Perhaps it was like that at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  As Jesus entered the gates and made his way deeper into the city, more and more people jumped on the bandwagon to cheer him on, to follow Jesus, to be a part of history in the making.  It must have been quite a sight.

But not everyone was excited.  The Pharisees and the powerful religious leaders were less than thrilled.  “Stupid crowds,” they thought, “don’t they know that Roman officials and soldiers are all over the city this week?”  Each year when the crowds thronged to Jerusalem for the Passover, inevitably there were insurrection attempts.  It was almost as if remembering the liberation from Egypt made some people hunger for liberation from the Romans.  So every year around Passover, Rome would send extra troops into Jerusalem, and they would parade into the city with their stallions and chariots, followed by legions of heavily armored soldiers–waves and waves of them, with their spears and swords.  It was a not-so-subtle reminder by the occupying force to show who was really in charge.

But could the folks in the crowd take the hint?  No!  Here they were shouting: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Everyone knew that there was only one king, and his name was Caesar.  But the crowds didn’t care, and that made Rome very nervous.  Like “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, when 600 civil rights workers marched out of Selma, AL, this was a powder keg waiting to explode. 

“Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” scolded the Pharisees, “Tell them to shut up, and stop making this racket!”  But Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these people keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”  What a strange saying, the stones will cry out.  Stones don’t cry out or shout.  That would be miracle.  No, stones just lay there, silent.  But Jesus seemed to be suggesting that what was going on that day was a God thing, and that the whole creation would join in welcoming this Messiah.  Mere human beings cannot slow down the work of God, much less stop it.  Jesus himself could not contain his disciples’ excitement and celebration as he headed into Jerusalem.  So the crowds marched on, singing, waving branches, shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”  It must have been quite a sight.

But upon closer examination, one could see that this wasn’t an ordinary kingly procession.  This “king’s” entourage consisted not of “The Strong, the Proud, the Marines;” it consisted of children and women, prostitutes and tax collectors.  There were also the recently healed lame, blind, diseased, and dead.  This whole crowd of disciples joyfully praised God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.  What a ragtag group of people ushering in a Messiah, a King!  It must have been quite a sight.

Furthermore, this wasn’t a usual king.  A king would ride in on a stallion or in a chariot, but this “king” came mounted on a young donkey.  Donkeys are beasts of burden; they are farm animals, not fighting machines.  So, instead of rolling into the city in a Humvee or an M1 Abrams tank, this king came mounted on a Cub Cadet riding lawn mower!  It must have been quite a sight.

But if you looked even closer, you would also see that this king had tears running down his cheeks.  In chapter 19, verse 41, Luke recorded that as Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.  Only twice do the Gospels depict Jesus weeping: once for his dead friend Lazarus in John 11:35, and now for his beloved city of Jerusalem, Mt. Zion.  On this mountain, the temple of God stood; on this mountain, David established his kingdom; and on this mountain, today Jesus saw utter devastation and destruction.  And sure enough, about forty years later, the temple was destroyed and from the ruins of the overturned stones, people cried out “God is dead.”  It must have been quite a sight.

This king weeps for Jerusalem.  But perhaps also, this king weeps because he knows that the crowds who are so quick to jump on the bandwagon now, will be just as quick to jump off the bandwagon in a couple of days.  This king weeps because he knows that even his disciples will desert him.  This king weeps because he knows that in five days, on another mountain–the Mount of Olives–his closest friends will not even be able to stay awake to watch and pray. 

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.

You know what it’s like when you’re afraid but you can’t put your finger on it   and you can’t relax … can’t sleep … can’t rest … can’t find any place where you feel safe

On reaching the place, Jesus said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

Imagine being under threat because of your politics … because of your beliefs … because of your color … because of your creed … because of where you were born.

Jesus withdrew about a stone’s throw from them . . .

It’s hard to face the future when everything ahead seems dark and filled with pain and hate.  There’s no other feeling quite like fear for making you feel isolated and utterly alone.

. . . knelt down and prayed.

If you look at the news there’s fear on everyone’s face … fear of the future … fear of no hope … fear of nothing getting better.

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.”

Everyone’s looking for a way out looking for an escape clause … looking for a hope … for a future … for a promise … looking for a scapegoat.

“Yet not my will but yours be done.”

Imagine that what you dread most isn’t just a far-off threat or a nightmare … but it’s real and it’s imminent … and it’s the fear of war … of poverty … of hunger … of disease … of death,   and the fear is so tangible that you can almost taste it.

An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

For so many people around our planet that fear is something they live with every day of their lives … something they wake with, sleep with, breathe in, feed on …   something they can’t shake off because it’s real and it’s happening to them.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.

For the rest of us who live in a stable country, in our comfortable homes, we too know fear.  We worry and fret over our relationships … our finances … our jobs … our families and over the constant changes of our modern culture.

“Why are you sleeping?” he asked them.

We too know what it’s like to feel betrayed, to be let down, sold out, double-crossed and conspired against.  We know the pain of being left alone, standing in the clearing with people we thought we could trust the most, watching as we’re betrayed by the ones we love . . .

“Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

In a garden when Jesus once faced fear and dread, we too are present.  We face the uncertainties of our future or else we sleep, shutting our eyes to the fears of others.

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives and his disciples followed him.

Sometimes the hardest paths to walk start with the ordinary and the mundane.

On reaching the place Jesus said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

Jesus knows that we are weak; Jesus knows that we will fail.

Jesus withdrew about a stone’s throw from them . . .

Jesus faced what was to come alone, with only God to hear his cry.

. . . knelt down and prayed.

Jesus knelt alone, broken and humble before God.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.”

There was real fear of the unknown, fear of what God wanted him to be.

“Yet not my will but yours be done.”

Jesus accepted God’s will, placing his body into God’s hands

as Jesus would soon place his spirit.

An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.

God met Jesus—because Jesus was willing

God provided strength for the way through—but not a way out

And being in anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Right through his body he felt the fear,

Right through his body he felt the pain,

Right through his body he felt what was to come.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.

Surrounded by the faithless, Jesus was deserted.

Why are you sleeping?” he asked them.  “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

It is hard to stand with those in pain

Because of our own fear.

We fail to stand firm,

We fail to take the cup,

And yet . . . we want to be willing.[1]

We in this room are no different from Jesus’ disciples.  We too are a ragtag group of people – flawed, broken, sorrowful and in need of healing.  Like them, it is easy to jump on Jesus’ bandwagon when things are going well according to our own plans.  During those times, it is easy for us to cry out with the stones: “Hosanna!  Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”  But when things are tough, and we are gripped with the fear of the unknown, will we stand firm, will we take the cup as Jesus did?  Or will we be like his closest disciples that night on the Mount of Olives, lying on the ground like stones, silent and asleep?  What is the greater miracle . . . crying stones or sleeping disciples waking from their slumber?

Jesus our king invites us to stay awake and watch, and to get up and follow.  He invites us to follow him up to one more mountain, Mt. Calvary, where he will face the cross.  That is the journey of Holy Week: the journey of this king’s suffering and death for our sake, for our sin, and for our redemption.  Will we journey with this unlikely king to the end?  Will we follow Jesus to the cross, our cross?  Jesus invites us to do so and watch.  It will be quite a sight.  Amen.

[1] Adapted from Alternative Worship: Resources from and for the Emerging Church, compiled by Jonny Baker and Doug Gay (Baker Publishing, 2004), 109-112.