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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Palm Sunday, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
March 20, 2016

Psalm 118; Luke 19:28-40

‘As though the stones were crying’

Jesus’ triumphal entry into the crowded streets of Jerusalem was a highly symbolic and provocative act, an enacted parable that dramatised his subversive mission. Given that the Roman state made a show of force during the Jewish Passover when pilgrims thronged to Jerusalem to celebrate their political liberation from Egypt centuries earlier, [some] scholars [Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan] imagine not one but two political processions entering Jerusalem that day (The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem).

In a blatant parody of imperial politics, “king” Jesus descended the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem from the east in fulfillment of Zechariah’s ancient prophecy: “Your ruler comes to you sitting on a donkey’s colt” (Zechariah 9:9). From the west, the Roman governor Pilate entered Jerusalem with all the pomp of state power. Pilate’s brigades showcased Rome’s military might. Jesus’ triumphal entry, by stark contrast, was an anti-imperial “counter-procession” of peasants that proclaimed an alternative and subversive social vision called the kingdom or kindom of God. God be with you …

Twenty years or so after Jesus was executed, charges of subversion dogged his first followers. In Philippi, a mob dragged Paul and Silas before the city magistrates, then had them stripped, beaten, severely flogged and imprisoned: “These people are disturbing the peace by advocating practices which are unlawful for us Romans to accept …” (Acts 16:20-21). In Thessalonica, “some bad characters from the marketplace” dragged Jason and some fellow believers before the city officials, shouting: “The people who have been turning the world upside down are now here … They all defy Caesar’s edicts and claim that there is another ruler — Jesus” (Acts 17:7). Paul was persecuted by the political powers, not coddled and patronised by them. In Antioch he was run out of town. In Iconium, Luke writes, “the people of the city … were divided” over Paul’s Gospel. Jews and Gentiles joined forces to have Paul and his companions stoned (Acts 14:4-5).

What were Jesus and his first followers subverting? We know that the earliest believers were called “atheists” because they refused to participate in Rome’s cult of imperial worship, and a “third race” that distinguished itself from the first race (Greeks and Romans) and the second race (Jews). The question deserves sustained reflection, but a simple summary [see Borg and Crossan] makes a good beginning. Jesus’ alternative reign and rule subverted major aspects of the way most societies in history have been organised. Whether ancient or modern, most societies have normalised a status quo of political oppression that marginalises ordinary people, economic exploitation whereby the rich take advantage of the poor, and religious legitimation that insists that “God wants things this way”.

It’s easy to think of other components of the cultural status quo that Jesus might also subvert, like ethnic stereotypes, media propaganda, gender roles and sexual identities, consumerism and the degradation of the planet.

On Palm Sunday Jesus invites us to join his subversive counter-procession. But he calls us not to just any subversion, subversion for its own sake, or to some new and improved political agenda. Rather, Christian subversion takes as its model Jesus himself (Daniel B. Clendenin).

In a little book entitled Deeper Than Words: Living the Apostles’ Creed, Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast reflects on the Passion of Jesus, comparing “two sets of values – those of the kindom, as Jesus proclaimed it, and those of every domination system in history; values like compassion, beauty and truth, that we experience in our most alive moments – our peak experiences – and the values … which the world we have created is for the most part run …

“Daily experience shows us how difficult it is to stand up for those spiritual values to which we feel committed when we are at our best. Whenever we have to swim against the current for the sake of our deepest convictions, we know why Jesus SUFFERED UNDER PONTIUS PILATE …

“Jesus was executed by a representative of the domination system that is as powerful now as it was then. By putting, nevertheless, our faith in him we express our trust that the weakness of God is stronger than human power (1 Corinthians 1:25).”

Taking Jesus as a model of faith includes discerning Christ-like wisdom wherever it is expressed. The Palm Sunday rallies for “justice, peace and unity” are remarkably faithful re-enactments.

This year’s Palm Sunday rallies around Australia will add to growing community calls, not just to let the 267 asylum seekers from Manus Island and Nauru stay in Australia, but to close the camps, end mandatory detention and the imprisonment of children, and increase Australia’s humanitarian intake.

Our Moderator, Rev. Myung Hwa Park, will address the Sydney rally at Belmore Park, among several other faith leaders.

Myung Hwa said: “Every human being is made in the image of God. As a Church we have a responsibility to protect and care for those fleeing persecution. The Uniting Church has a longstanding concern that asylum seekers and refugees are treated with compassion and in accordance with international law.”

On Monday night I attended the Men Speak Out For Treaty forum held at the Redfern Community Centre and organised by the Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney. The meeting was facilitated by journalist and filmmaker Jeff McMullen, and broadcast on NITV.

Our reading from Luke includes an exchange between Jesus and a group of Pharisees who say, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples [who are noisily singing and shouting].” Jesus replies, “I tell you, if they were to keep silent, the very stones would cry out!”

I’ve been thinking about those verses all week. I was uncomfortable with the shouting and with some of the emotions expressed regarding a Treaty (grief, anger, impatience, suspicion). My middle-class, colonial sensibilities called for calm, order, patience, optimism.

Wiri Man Tony McAvoy argued that a treaty would settle past injustices and build a better future. A treaty would have to include an acknowledgement that Australia was conquered not settled, and recognition of Aboriginal rights to self-determination.

It would have to involve land rights for Aboriginal people and reparations for land and resources stolen. It would also have to involve guaranteed representation in an Australian republic, environmental protection and changes to land tenure agreements.

If he were to keep silent, the very stones would cry out!

Nurungga elder and Aboriginal advocate Tauto Sansbury said: “We’ve been fighting against the [Jay] Weatherill ALP government’s attempt to turn South Australia into a nuclear waste dump for the world. We thought the ALP government would be better but they are ripping up Aboriginal heritage rights and giving an open door to mining companies.

 “Aboriginal people are recognised in South Australia in our state constitution, but it is just a feel-good statement from Weatherill, like [former PM Kevin] Rudd’s ‘sorry’.

“Black land is being taken over by mines and farms, and a treaty increases our bargaining power. But we have to stick together and know what to fight for.”

If he were to keep silent, the very stones would cry out!

Yolngu Nations Assembly spokesperson Yingiya Mark Guyula said: “Blacks are sovereign, not conquered, and subject to black law. We have declared a free Arnhem state within Australia, free from colonialism.”

 He showed footage of the “freedom” ceremony and said: “This is Black law in action via ceremony, whereas white law is simply paper. With the Intervention, Black law has been pushed aside, and now we have an increase in suicide, self harm, domestic violence and malnutrition.”

If he were to keep silent, the very stones would cry out!

The prospect of a Treaty (by way of a national collective and local voices) promises an honourable future for an Australian republic. Admitting atrocities, past and present, is one crucial prerequisite; as is acknowledgement of Aboriginal cynicism, hurt, fierce resistance, determination and sovereignty.

Outwardly, Palm Sunday is noisy, emotional, political. Inwardly, it is faith’s preparation for suffering – it is faithful preparation for suffering. From it comes the invitation to live and die for the kindom, for the rule of love.

If we were to keep silent, the very stones would cry out! That is, the stones, the country, longs for the same rule of love. The Earth itself longs for peace and justice. Tauto Sansbury looked upon the crowd of restive and disappointed souls – upon people wary of hopes raised only to be dashed again, and spoke of being “on the winning side of history”, of “inalienable land” and “indomitable” faith. As though the stones were crying. As though the stones were crying out ... Amen.