Sunday’s sermon: Willing to WITNESS

Text used – Matthew 28:1-10

It began with a whisper –
     the whisper of the dawn
          as the sky barely began to lighten
          with the first rays of morning;
     the whisper of sandals on gravel
          and cloth brushing softly against cloth 
          as the women made their way to his tomb;
     the whisper of a Holy Spirit
          that is always on the move …
          even then …
               even now.

It grew into a murmur –
     the murmur of the earth
          as the garden around them began to awaken:
          birds, insects, and flowers yawning their faces
               to the rising sun;
     the murmur of the guards
          set to guard the tomb,
          guards who grumbled about their ridiculous mission …
          I mean, he was already dead, after all;
     the murmur of a Holy Spirit
          that is always moving with purpose …
          even then …
               even now.

It swiftly became a cry –
     the cry of the earth
          as it quaked and shook
          when heaven and earth collided in the presence of an angel;
     the cry of the women
          come to care for the body of their teacher, mentor, friend,
          women who found only an empty tomb …
               an empty tomb and a staggering message:
     the cry of a Holy Spirit,
          that ever-present, ever-dynamic Divine Disturber …
          even then …
               even now.

It crescendoed into a shockwave –
     a tremor of fear that shook the guards,
          guards terrified by their encounter
          with the miraculous … with the impossible … with the holy;
     a tremor of action that spurred the women on,
          on to share their good news – THE good news –
          with their friends …
               and their friends’ friends …
               and the whole wide earth;
     a tremor like the movement and work of the Holy Spirit
          that cannot help but leave us completely changed …
          even then …
               even now.

With great fear and excitement,  
     they hurried away from the tomb
          and ran to tell his disciples.[1]


  • Friends, throughout Lent this year, we’ve been exploring a variety of ways that our faith calls us to willingness.
    • Lots of those calls to willingness were call to difficult actions
      • Willing to forgive
      • Willing to accept, especially when our idea of fairness doesn’t match God’s
      • Willing to respond to God’s invitation to us
      • Willing to prepare for the word to which God calls us
      • Willing to welcome, especially those who are unlike us in any way … in every way
      • Willing to give God the honor and faithfulness that God requires
    • All of those calls to willingness are calls to actions – to things that we can do to live into the faith that we claim. But today’s Easter call to willingness is different. Today’s Easter call to willingness is all about going and telling. → about putting a voice to our faith while we also put feet and hands and hearts to our faith
      • Important because while we’re doing all of those things that we spent all of Lent talking about – forgiving and accepting and welcoming and responding and so on … If we’re doing all those things but we’re not sharing with people around us that we’re doing them because of our faith, we are neglecting a critical and essential element of that faith: the element of witness.
        • Directive given to the women – to Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (could be Lazarus’ sister Mary or another Mary traveling with them) … directive given to the women by the angel – text: Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’[2] → The directive is clear: “Now hurry, go and tell.” There are no nuances in the Greek here – no potential other translation, no connotations to these words, no cultural context that adds extra insight for us. Go. And. Tell. Plain and simple.
        • Directive echoed by the Risen Christ himself just a few moments later – text: With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”[3] → Same directive. Same words. Same clarity. Go. And. Tell. But this time from the One – the One who had taught them and led them and eaten with them and loved them … the One who was supposed to be dead, the One whose lifeless body they had been going to anoint as per the Jewish burial customs … the One who was miraculously, inexplicably, gloriously before them now .. the One, the Savior … Jesus, the Christ.
        • Directive that eventually ends Mt’s gospel with what we’ve come to call the Great Commission: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.  Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”[4] → Go and do. Go and tell. They go hand-in-hand.
  • But why? I mean, isn’t it enough that we just be good people? It is really our jobs to broadcast our faith? In a word … yes. Because Jesus said so! But beyond that, let’s think back to something we started talking about last week when we read our Palm Sunday passage.
    • Last week’s text: And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked.[5] → You might remember that I pointed out last week that Matthew’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was the only one that included the entire city in this reaction – “the whole city was stirred up.” And you might also remember what I said about the Greek here.
      • Gr. here is a little more severe than this particular translation lets on – Gr. = shake, agitate, tremble → Jesus has caused more than just a subtle buzz of whispered conversations with his entry into Jerusalem. He’s sent a tremor through the entire city.
      • Last week: pointed out that that Gr. “stirred up” – that word that described what happened to the whole city when Jesus entered it at the beginning of Holy Week – is the same word used to describe how the guards at the tomb “shook with fear” when the angel from the Lord came down to roll the stone away and reveal the empty tomb → So Matthew’s entire Holy Week narrative – from the very moment Jesus sets foot in Jerusalem until the moment the stone is rolled away – is bookended by the trembling of profound revelation.
    • But it isn’t just this particular narrative that’s affected by that trembling of profound revelation. That bookending isn’t just a pretty literary device meant to draw our attention for a moment before we focus anew on something else. That shockwave that Jesus’ appearance sent through the crowd when he came into Jerusalem … that shockwave that overtook the guards at the moment the stone was rolled back and the emptiness of the tomb was revealed … that same shockwave stretched down through the millennia into our very hearts, our very lives.
      • Shockwave of the movement and work of the Holy Spirit – the Divine Disturber, as my treasured Fun Nuns call Her
      • Shockwave of faith that cannot help but leave us changed
        • Change our actions in all the ways we’ve talked about throughout Lent → inspiring our willingness to live the life that Christ calls us to live
          • Life of compassion and mercy
          • Life of abundant grace and radical welcome
          • Life in which we consider the words and actions of Christ before we speak and act → story of my lanyard/WWJD
        • Scholar: The resurrection of Jesus is a total reordering of our world but is also an intimate promise of presence with us. The risen Christ comes alongside us and walks with us … as this encounter with Matthew conveys. The resurrection of Jesus not only signals the radical transformation of the world that the inbreaking reign of God brings, but also promises that the risen Christ can be with us in the everydayness of our ordinary lives.[6]
          • Reminds me of the blessing/prayer attributed to St. Patrick: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who things of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
    • Friends, the story of our faith is a story unlike any other. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about the Grand Story – the story of God working in and through God’s people throughout history, a story that finds its climax in a empty tomb and the simple, joy-filled greeting of a Risen Christ who brings overflowing grace to a world in need. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about our own stories of faith – the many and varied ways that God has indeed come alongside us in all the moments of our days, our mountaintop moments and our valley moments and also the everyday ordinary moments. The story of our faith is unlike any other, and it is a story that we are called to tell. If you have felt that shockwave – whether as a world-reordering tremor or even just a distant rumbling or a subtle hum – go and tell! If you have noticed the movings of the Holy Spirit in your life and in your world, go and tell! If you have felt the presence of Christ at all … if you have found Christ in any of the ways described by St. Patrick or any other ways he might have missed, go and tell! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Go and tell! Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Mt 28:8.

[2] Mt 28:5-7.

[3] Mt 28:8-10.

[4] Mt 28:16-20.

[5] Mt 21:10.

[6] Ruthanna B. Hooke. “Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10” from Working Preacher,

Sunday’s sermon: Willing to HONOR

Text used – Matthew 21:1-17

  • I feel like this morning’s sermon is brought to you by one of the classic Sesame Street songs: “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things doesn’t belong …” You see, today is Palm Sunday, and while all four gospels include a Palm Sunday narrative – some version of what they call Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into the city of Jerusalem in the week leading up to his arrest and crucifixion – all four gospels also tell a slightly different story.
    • Interestingly enough, Mt’s version contains nearly all of what we assume they all contain
      • Disciples sent for a beast for Jesus to ride on → Mt’s particularity: only one to mention “a donkey tied up and a colt with it”[1]
      • Cloaks tossed on the back of Jesus’ humble mount as well as on the road
      • Palm branches also tossed on the road
      • Another element unique to Mt’s telling: And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked.[2] → Matthew is the only one to bring the whole of the city of Jerusalem into the scene on this one. All the other gospel version of this scene include the crowd, and a few of them include the Pharisees being “stirred up,” but only Matthew’s Jesus causes such a commotion.
        • Gr. here is a little more severe than this particular translation lets on – Gr. = shake, agitate, tremble → Jesus has caused more than just a subtle buzz of whispered conversations with his entry into Jerusalem. He’s sent a tremor through the entire city.
          • Depicted in such a powerful and unescapable way in classic 1970s film depiction of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Supertar”


            • Song “Hosanna” covers Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem à crowd’s responses begin adoringly (“Hey JC, JC won’t you smile at me? He JC, JC you’re alright by me!”) → responses soon shift in tone … a shift echoed as the song slips in and out of a minor key (“Hey JC, JC won’t you fight for me? Hey JC, JC won’t you die for me?”)
            • Cinematography in the moment of that final question = perfect portrayal of a tremor → camera zooms in on Jesus’ face and freezes just for a heartbeat
              • Children on either side of Jesus = suspended in joyful smiles
              • Palm branches around Jesus = frozen in a blur, mid-wave
              • Jesus’ own face = momentarily fixed in an expression of worry and concern
          • Reason for that is another one of those cultural context pieces that we lose being so far removed from 1st century Jerusalem → Do you remember last week when we talked about how the Jews expected the Messiah to come as a military conqueror – someone to vanquish the Roman occupiers and return the people of Israel to their independence and their national glory? This triumphal entry of Jesus’ that we read about today was the kind of entry – the kind of fanfare and parade and implied authority – that would have invoked and enforced just such expectations.
            • Scholar: Ancient literature narrates numerous scenes whereby ruling elite figures – emperors, governors, kings, military generals – ceremonially enter a city. This entry ritual comprised: a previous military victory, honoring an elevated figure, crowds who welcomed and acclaimed the figure’s greatness, a religious ceremony, [and] a speech of welcome. … Jesus’ entry imitates this elite practice.[3]
          • But it’s not just the simple fact that Jesus was imitating this custom that caused those shockwaves throughout the whole city. It’s how Jesus imitated the custom … how he mirrored it and, more importantly, how he altered
            • Same scholar continues: Yet there are significant differences. Jesus rides not a war horse but an everyday beast of burden. Crowds of common folks welcome him. There are no speeches of welcome from elite leaders. He is not an elite figure. He is not authorized by the dominant ruling power. He represents God’s purposes, not Rome’s. However, imitation coexists with resistance.[4] → By weaving an element of commonness and humblenss into this cherished Roman custom, Jesus is both mocking those in power who put such stock in this kind of fanfare and condemning those who find their worth in such worldly acclaim.
          • Another really interesting aspect of this particular Gr. word – this word that describes how Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem caused the whole city to “tremble” → same word used to describe how the guards at the tomb “shook with fear” when the angel from the Lord came down to roll the stone away and reveal the empty tomb → So at least in Matthew’s version, this whole Holy Week narrative – from the very moment Jesus sets foot in Jerusalem until the moment the stone is rolled away – is bookended by the trembling of profound revelation.
  • This whole discussion also opens the door to the wider theme for our reading this morning and how it fits in with our Lenten series about the places where faith and willingness collide: being willing to honor.
    • Honor = theme that ushers Jesus and his disciples into the city → scene drenched in honor of all kinds
      • Honor the disciples show Jesus
        • Following his directions
        • Disciples = first to toss down their cloaks on the donkey’s back and on the road
      • Honor the crowds show Jesus
        • Following the disciples’ example → tossing down their cloaks
        • Tossing down their palm branches
        • Crying out with the treasured and reverent words of their own worship – words from Psalm 118: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest![5]
      • Parody of a parade of Roman honor
    • Honor = also the theme that transitions us from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to Jesus’ explosive entry into the temple – text: Then Jesus went into the temple and threw out all those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you’ve made it a hideout for crooks.”[6]
      • Incidentally, this is actually one of my favorite pictures that we get of Jesus because he’s so undeniably human here → For so many centuries, the Church focused almost exclusively on the Jesus’ divinity – on Jesus as God. But in the scenes where we get to meet Jesus as a man – when Jesus weeps, when Jesus needs to stop and rest, when Jesus eats with others, when Jesus gets angry – we are reminded that it is just as important that through Jesus, God took on everything it meant to be human including the emotions that sometimes cause us to struggle. God is with us even in our frustration … even in our anger … even in our desperation … because through Jesus, God has been there, too.
        • Important caveat: it’s all about what we do with that anger → Notice that Jesus didn’t cause harm to any of the people in the temple. He turned over their tables. He drove them out. But even in his anger, he didn’t hurt them.
      • Time for some more cultural nuance → This whole idea of there being buying and selling happening in the temple courtyard was not an uncommon practice in the slightest. Remember, the Judaism that Jesus and his followers and everyone else practiced at the time included various sacrifices that had to be made in the temple.
        • Sacrifices dictated by the seasons/festivals throughout the year
        • Sacrifices dictated by phases of life
        • Sacrifices dictated by types of sins for which people sought atonement
        • Doves/pigeons were particularly important → they were the “affordable sacrifice” for those who couldn’t bring a whole lamb or other such larger, more expensive sacrifice
        • Within the Jewish tradition and according to the Laws of Moses laid out in the book of Deuteronomy, the only place such sacrifices could be performed and offered was in the Temple … which is why the practice doesn’t continue today.
          • Final destruction of the Temple came at the hands of the Romans in 70 C.E.
      • Often we view Jesus’ actions here as a judgment on that murky place where commerce and church meet, especially in this day and age when capital is king and the greatest emphasis of society seems to be on accumulating more and more and more – more stuff, more wealth, more prestige. But I want to present you with a slightly nuanced version of that idea this morning. → idea built on the words of two scholars
        • First scholar: [Jesus’ second act] highlights and protests the temple economy as sustaining the temple leadership’s vast socio-political reach that maintains an elite-benefitting society.[7]
        • Second scholar: Jesus is portrayed as a prophet outraged at the failure of the Jewish religious leadership, because they practice injustices in the temple rather than being responsible leaders of Israel.[8]
        • So when I read this text, I hear a Jesus who less concerned with the buying and selling happening than he is for what is being done with those funds. The buying and selling is what’s required for the people of Israel to practice their faith in the way they’ve always been taught. But it’s what’s being done with the funds garnered from the sale of those offerings that has Jesus so angry. Instead of honoring their faith and God’s call to care for those around them who needed a hand, the religious leaders busied themselves with nitpicking the law. And when they weren’t doing that, they were cowtowing to the Roman occupiers, paying them much of the money from those temple financial transactions instead of using it to benefit those who were poor, those who were widowed or orphaned, those who were immigrants, and those who were ill or disabled among them.
          • See this played out in the rest of today’s reading: People who were blind and lame came to Jesus in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and legal experts saw the amazing things he was doing and the children shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were angry. They said to Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” “Yes,” he answered. “Haven’t you ever read, From the mouths of babies and infants you’ve arranged praise for yourself?”[9] → Instead of offering praise for these miracles of healing being performed right before their eyes – instead of offering God all praise and honor in such a profound moment – the chief priests and legal experts were angry.
            • Let their fear, their anger, their frustration, their doubt, and their disbelief distract them from the acts of God happening right in front of them → [MOVE STRAIGHT INTO “EXPLORING THE WORD TOGETHER” QUESTION: What distracts us from honoring God?]

[1] Mt 21:2.

[2] Mt 21:10 (emphasis added).

[3] Warren Carter. “Commentary on Matthew 12:1-17” from Working Preacher,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mt 21:9.

[6] Mt 21:12-13.

[7] Carter, Working Preacher.

[8] Eunjoo Mary Kim. “Matthew 21:12-13 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospel – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 147.

[9] Mt 21:14-16.