April 2

Going Public- Palm Sunday 2023

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 21:1–11

Click here to hear just the sermon

Is it time to go public?

Look around at the parade. A throng has gathered, to worship the Christ. Some are holding palm branches, and waving them. There are musicians, lifting voice and heart in praise. Children have their place as well.

We cannot see everything clearly. Is he riding one beast (Mark\Luke) or two at once (Matthew)? Was the parade his choice, or did we just come of our own volition? What is the point of this public display, this pyrrhic victory when we can foresee Friday? Why was transportation left to the last minute—doesn’t anybody plan anymore? Everything is in a cocked hat, at sixes and sevens, in confusion.

Is this really a time to go public?

Jesus meets us today in the public realm, in the city, in the heart of our actual life, smack in the middle of it all. Picture his entrance into Jerusalem—amid confusion, riding on the humblest beast, acclaimed by those who will later crucify him, a lone figure, in a small city, in a forgotten time. Humble is his public appearance.

“He who believes in Christ must find riches in poverty, honor in dishonor, joy in sorrow, life in death, and hold fast to them in that faith which clings to the Word and expects such things.” (Luther). repeat

And today? In our cities of urban might, air travel, commuter congestion, teeming business, overweening human achievement—utterly humble in comparison is the Christ of Bethpage, carried on a donkey, who appears with nothing to commend himself—except the preaching of his Word. Nothing to support him. Except. Preaching. Nothing but the preaching of the Word.

It is risky to go public.

For several summers as a lifeguard in far off land and a far- away time, along a beautiful long glacially cut Finger Lake, I watched boys and girls at summer camp meet and get acquainted and then become friends. And then sometimes, well, become more than friends. And then, sometimes with a mixture of reluctance, dread, excitement and worry they would declare their attachment and hold hands and go public. We see the same thing on an afternoon walk at Boston University, along Commonwealth Avenue in the springtime. Hand in hand, two by two, making a statement, going public, going public, going public. A risky business.

Going public is a risky business. Going public is risky.

This Lent we have considered faith and life. We have learned from the cautions of Augustine of Hippo:

He taught us, face God by fully facing yourselves.

He taught us, love God with fierce, physical, muscled, sensuous, jealous, eager, personal love.

He taught us, you are what you read.

He taught us, freedom of the will requires the freeing of the will.

He taught us, the city of God is not merely the city of man with the volume turned up. It is history and mystery. If you can depart college with some appreciation for both, the years will not have been in vain.

Going public with the gospel of love and forgiveness is risky business. Going public with concerns about our time is risky business. Going public about one’s identity and sexuality is risky business. Going public about death is risky business. Private struggles can be hard enough. Think what happens when they become public.

Long ago in another setting, twenty-five years ago, we started broadcasting our worship service on a small radio station, and had our first written response, some weeks later, two pages of kind eloquence, penned

longhand. I grant this one did not expand our congregation immediately because he wrote from the County Jail. He was in the slammer, the hoosegow, the calaboose, the pokey, the big house, the gray bar hotel, in stir, up the river, doing time, behind bars, jailed, imprisoned—but… aren’t we all, one way or another. Aren’t we all to some measure, doing time in our own private self-made cell block? It’s risky to go public. You just don’t know who might respond, do you?

An energetic couple wants to expand their business. So, they place their stock for public purchase to raise the capital they need, the IPO goes out on Monday and they are capitalized by Friday—and thereby risk their control of the company, their future solvency, their own wellbeing. Is it time to go public, and take a measure of risk?

Forty years ago, a phone call came to the parsonage at 2am. A young father of four, a local businessman, was closing up his restaurant business for the night and wanted to talk. The two men met at 2:30am in the church itself, right down in the front of the sanctuary. He was as agitated a man as you have seen before or since. He asked to smoke, and, anxious and confused himself, the pastor allowed it. He was known in the church board meetings—he arrived late and spoke loudly. Though he was one of the leaders, he was a private person. But that night he decided to go public with his besetting problem. It was destroying his business and his health. That night he risked going public, and so crossed from death to life. He spoke to somebody. He confessed. He went public. And, by grace, he found a new and good life. He became a new man. Saved. But it took the risk of speaking, of self-disclosure, of, well…going public.

Meanwhile, back at the Mount of Olives, Jesus is riding through his time and ours. He rides, and, as he rides, he evokes, then and now, a spirit of mystery, holiness, awe, wonder and heartfelt hosannas. Why does he risk the public hour? Will he risk death, rather than be untrue to his calling? Why does he appeal to a public that will not hear? Why does he approach religious leaders who will not listen? Even today, the public realm does not need to recognize him, if he is inconvenient. He is still on the donkey today. Nobody has to go to church. It’s not like jury duty, where once every three years you get summoned. No. Nobody is required to go to church. But everybody is invited. Not required, but invited.

Is this any time to go public?

Have we deeply understood the meaning of this morning? God has gone public today, with a lavish and happy love. God has gone public today, coming and coming, standing in the heart of life arms wide and saying: “Here I am. Love me.” God has gone public—behold the risk, behold the risk of rejection, behold the danger, behold the cost, behold the power, behold the glory, behold the Living Christ!—gone public in order to redeem us. This is a personal, public appearance. This is Palm Sunday.

God does not holler advice from a comfortable distance.

God does not wage war by pressing buttons and drinking vodka as death arrives by missile hours away.

God does not even stay sheltered in the comfortable confines of a religious tradition. God does not depend on our religious traditions, as meaningful as they may be. Not on Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday, God goes public.

God gives us freedom from fear, freedom from death, freedom from slavery to time, freedom from identity worries, freedom from guilt, freedom from a joyless heavy conscience. And what one of us would not want what God gives—a happy heart, a glad face, a clear conscience? Today, in Jerusalem, God goes public.

And in Boston, so may we, beginning today.

We have been willing to attend the concert but not buy the series. We have been willing to audit the course but not register and be graded. We have been willing to sit in the stands but not put on the uniform. We have been willing to hear the sermon but not to live it, as Justice Holmes did and remember the sermon all week with five additional words: “I applied it to myself.” We have been willing to give but not tithe, greet but not welcome, ATTEND BUT NOT INVITE. Until today.

When I listen to the congregation sing, and Justin play and Scott’s choir offer praise, and the Thurman choir bring joy, and my colleagues read and pray, and this congregation raise hymns…When I look at this magnificent sanctuary and its stained glass and beautiful appointments and majestic transcendent arches…When I feel the spirit of joyful service and earnest learning that attend our meetings on the Lord’s Day…When I think of those we have buried these past three years, and how

they lived and died to represent the heart of the gospel and the heart of this Chapel….I have only one question: Why would a single seat be empty?

Today, we are on the verge of going public. You can feel it. You are ready, or nearly so, and Matthew 21 gives you a nudge.

I think it has to do with the slightest word in the lesson from Matthew: “your”. “Behold your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on an ass.” Your. Your. Your. There comes a time when we suddenly realize something. Faith becomes personal. This confused parade… is for you. This humbled King rides…for you. This week of life and death and life beyond death is…for you. When your heart receives Jesus, then it is made strong, fearless, ready for every day and every night. And then you will go public. Not from compulsion. Not by compulsion. No. But with ease and grace. Faith bears fruit in good works of every kind.

Is it time to go public?

Hope that is seen is not hope. And faith that is merely private is not faith. When it come to faith, as with money, you only have what you give away. Here is the Palm Sunday Gospel: come to church next Sunday, Easter Sunday, going public. Come to Easter worship because the message of Palm Sunday has sunk in. Come to Easter service because you have happily and genuinely invited someone else to come, too, and you promised to be here to greet them. Christ has come to us in public that we may go public for others. Faith is always and forever faith shared.

Is it time to go public? Then—go. Jesus has come to us, we can go public too. How? Not with drama. No drama needed. No drama required. But going public means doing so in a genuine easy way that comes to hand. Through a note, a prayer, a phone call, a curbside conversation, a watercooler suggestion. Like our friends the Laubach family used to say of literacy, each one reach one. In faith, let…Each one reach one. Each one reach one. Each one reach one. You need not worry about the result. God will take care of that. But to ride into Jerusalem, the Lord needs a donkey or two, a colt or two, the humbler the better.

Is it time to go public?

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

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