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Cloaks and Daggers


Series: Lent

Category: 2018 Sermons

Passage: Mark 11:1-11

Speaker: Nicole Trotter


This is one of those Sundays that lives on a postcard of Palms and cloaks and shouts of Hosanna; God save us. The choir processes, and the choir only does that when the Sunday is an important one. Today is important one.

And yet, as a preacher, it’s become one my least favorite Sundays to preach. Because I’m still in a Lenten state of mind. And in the church we tend to treat Palm Sunday like a parade and a celebration as the people of the day did.

Waving branches and laying down cloaks as people did for royalty, for great rulers, for the Messiah.

But we’re not the people in the streets. We’re the people in the pews. We know what’s coming. We know Maundy Thursday and we know Good Friday. And we tend to skip over those. And I don’t think we really want to be those people in the streets either, because some of those same people will be the ones to yell crucify him when the time comes.

So as much as we want a reprieve from the solemn days of Lent, I’m afraid I’m not going to let you have it. At least not this morning, not in this sermon. Not because I’m a kill joy, but because I don’t think there’s a richer part of our tradition than this Holy week that begins today. It’s solemn, it’s dark, it’s filled with plots, and passion, and violence, and bad guys, and suffering…

That sounds an awful lot like our world, and for some of us our personal lives. And this week, this high holy week is perhaps the most meaningful opportunity in our faith to take a final moral inventory for how we've been living our lives and how we can do it better. Thats what we do in Lent. Every major religion has a time when for this kind of searching and confessing. For Judaism it’s Yom Kippur. A day when as Rabbi Alan Lew says…we rehearse our own death. We evoke the power of our death to show us our lives. So in our tradition we evoke the power of Christ’s death to show us our lives, our new lives in Christ come Easter morning.

This idea of rehearsing our own death happens for me personally each time I sit with someone who is dying. I’m reminded of my life. Both the fragility of it, the speed of it, and the meaning of it. And that isn’t depressing, well that’s not entirely true, it can be terribly depressing, but eventually, if I give over to it rather than fight it or ignore it, it’s life affirming on an entirely new level that is gifted by God. I’ve got my whole memorial planned out in my head, not because I’m morbid, but because the more I allow myself to rehearse my own death, to imagine how I want to die, the more I realize how much I want to change about the way I live. And the way I love. And I want to play you the song that will be played at my memorial. It’s a song I fell in love with when I was 12. Joni’s Mitchells both Sides now. I fell in love with the version sung by a young Joni… but years later, I fell in love with this version sung by an older Joni, the Joni whose voice now reflects years of cigarettes and being knocked around… And it’s solemn and heavy and hauntingly beautiful…And you will hear the song begin playing towards the end of the sermon. And I’ll speak over it…

But some of us don’t like solemn. I’m encouraging you, for one week, to go there. To live into the enormous vulnerability that is this life. To think about those who will die this week, not only Jesus, but those who are hungry, those who have no home, those in the middle of war, those who are lying in hospitals and won’t come out. This is the week to stretch your muscles of empathy in love. This is the week to stretch your own level of discomfort and lean in so that you can sit still while your compassion grows.

Muscles that allow us to sit and listen rather then talk, an ability to comfort rather than fix, an ability to hear what’s in the hearts of people rather than what they’ve accomplished. When we allow ourselves to lean into the discomfort and the reality of this week, we will grow heavy hearts. But the best way to relieve the burden of a heavy heart is to love someone in need of loving. Sometimes that person lives next to you, or some distance away from you, and sometimes that person in need of love is you.

We can’t our control life, and our petitionary prayers can’t control God- but we learn to live into a better expression of who God is calling us to be, Allowing the old parts of ourselves that no longer serve us to finally die away, making room for a new birth, a re birth… I am trying all the time to let those old ways finally die away….and just when I think I’ve got it licked, God reminds me of my own humility through my own failures…

I was reminded of this this past week, at Yoga of all places. Now I like what Yoga does for my flexibility and for my strength and balance.. But what I like more are the mindful practices, like setting an intention. Being fully present, focusing only on the breath. It is my best chance at finally getting all the worries and trouble borrowing to finally be quiet…And then there’s my favorite mantra-don’t compare yourself with your neighbor on the mat next to you. I’ve gotten quite good at that one. First of all, I’m the fattest person in the room, I kid you not. And I’m really ok with that. And I’m never the most flexible or the strongest and even if I were, I wouldn't know because I no longer look around…my focus really is on my own mat…

Until this past Thursday morning, when this woman…an unusually thin woman, who pretty much forgot to put clothes on, came in ten minutes late and planted her mat practically on top of mine…and then started doing all kinds of big whole body movements, push ups and running lunges, none of which the rest of the room was doing. At first I thought, well she's just catching up, she’ll surely calm down and join the rest of us…But she never did.

And I thought…why are you here lady? For the heat in the room? It’s not to be part of the class, or of energy in the room. Yoga classes like any other group gathering, have an energy in the room, just like a sanctuary, this would be the equivalent of John Bischoff doing push ups in the middle of the Lords prayer. In church we might say the spirit took over but in yoga, all I could think was….Why you here for? And in asking the question, I began to imagine her answer and that’s when it hit me. I have no idea what her answer would be. And in imagining her answer, I realized my own judgment and assumptions about a woman, a neighbor on the mat next to me who I don't know, but perhaps could know if we compared answers to that question.

It’s a wonderful question to ask others. But it’s even more meaningful to ask of yourself.

Why are you here?

That’s what this season of Lent asks of us, and we have one more week to sink into this question. It’s the question that Jesus must have asked himself countless times throughout his life. And today is no exception.

Jesus knew what he would be doing by riding in, with cloaks and palms, processing in like royalty, humbly, but still processing in. And the authorities can hear it…can see it…

They aren’t just seeing cloaks and branches with their eyes, they are seeing cloaks an daggers, because they see him as a threat. Shrouded in secrecy, like the entirety of Mark’s gospel, Jesus is portrayed as commanding his followers to maintain silence about his Messianic mission.

But today, the cat is out of the bag…The disciples know it, Jesus knows it, but more importantly the imperial rulers know it..

As scholars Borg and Crossan put it…. Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year… One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class… On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor (of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria,) entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus's procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate's proclaimed the power of empire... Pilate's military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology.

End quote-

A clash of two theologies, two anointed leaders, two followings, one a subversive threat.

The other a political power. Why are you here?

One theology, that is an understanding of God and his kingdom- strong arms and bullies. Has no regard for the poor and the oppressed. Lives as an elite off the backs of those who serve him.

The other understanding doesn’t resist but exposes that greed. Doesn’t return power with hatred, but loves- in the face of hatred. Exposes violence and evil through his willingness to walk towards the cross, towards suffering and exposes himself to the sins of this world, so that we might finally wake up and choose a new world, in Christ.


What are you here for? (play Music)

There will be days when the answer to that question is so crystal clear that waving palms and shouting hosanna is all we can do. And then there will be days when we aren’t so sure, and the other kingdom tempts us, seems easier somehow, because after all that’s the way the world has always been.

Maybe that’s why you’re here. Today. To make a choice. That no matter how blurry the lines between this world and the Kingdom of God might be, that’s our job. To admit when we’ve failed at making the distinction. To admit when we don’t know life…and to instead put ourselves in the hands of a God who does. A God we will follow…right up

till the end…

Today is the beginning of the end of something. Why are you here?

Ask that question on the hardest of days and ask it on the best of days…

Ask it in the garden of Gethsemane-when you are praying for any other way….than the way you seem to be headed…and ask it in the garden of eden when life is so wonderful all you can pray is thank you…

Let the question itself become a prayer…Why are you here?

Something’s lost and something gained in living every day…..