Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
March 28, 2021 Sixth Sunday in Lent, Palm Sunday
Call to Worship: Welcome to the United Church of Strafford, Vermont, on this Palm Sunday, Oneness Sunday and Sixth and last Sunday in Lent.
We have come to the edge of the Lenten wilderness. Moses stands on Mount Nebo looking across the Jordan to the Promised Land. The children of Israel have learned to trust in God, they have gained a sense of identity and way to live. They have been made one.
Jesus has survived his wilderness trials and temptations. Angels are ministering to him. Soon he will emerge, overflowing with the Holy Spirit.
We see Jesus on Palm Sunday three years later in a scene of oneness with all humanity. People love him for his humble serving, his healing touch, his solidarity with the vulnerable and struggle for justice.
But something is wrong. The people think he is the Messiah who will crush their enemies and rule over other peoples. The oneness they feel is forged in part by vengeful, violent hate.
That oneness will shatter in disappointment and the crowd will turn against him five days later, but there is another oneness, deeper, humbler—the oneness of the disciple women who will stay faithful, the oneness that helps the disciple men overcome their fear and shame and come back together.
That true oneness brings lasting joy. If you want to find a place to stand on Palm Sunday, look for Mary Magdalene. Stand in the light of her love and joy, then turn and follow where her path of oneness leads.
Let us worship together …
the sermon begins below
Psalm 133 says, “How good and pleasant it is when people live together in unity.” Oneness is the rain that greens a parched, lifeless world. Oneness brings blessing, it creates the realm of God on earth, it brings “life forevermore.”
Both ancient and contemporary wisdom agree that if we are going to survive and sustain life on this planet it is absolutely essential that we live together in unity. Palm Sunday gives us a glimpse of possibility and a path toward that Promised Land.
We have known Palm Sunday moments. The oneness the world felt during the first moon trip seeing the Earthrise photograph, or during the first days of the pandemic when people were caring for neighbors and shouting hosanna out their windows to essential workers passing by—we have transcended differences and seen the truth of our core oneness.
We know it is possible, but so quickly divisions return.
Palm Sunday shows us the path to permanent oneness if we follow Jesus as he passes beyond the crowds at the city gate. Jesus swept into the temple and overturned the tables of the money changers. He purged the exploitation of the poor and exclusion of the stranger that violated the oneness of God’s realm.
Jesus wept over the injustice and lack of oneness he saw, begging them to practice “the things that make for peace.” He gave a beautiful image of the unity he longed to help them attain, saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often have I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, yet you were not willing!”
The path that Jesus took that week led from the fullness of the joyous crowds to the emptiness of self-sacrifice, from the peaceful oneness of the Last Supper to the lonely anguish of the Garden of Gethsemane, from the sorrow of the cross to a resurrection of love that overcame all separation forever.
How can we apply this path to find oneness when our family or workplace or town is divided? How can we reach the oneness needed to stop mass shootings, or the climate refugee crisis that is washing up on our southern border? How can we have the oneness needed to protect every citizen’s right to vote?
Jesus worked for social justice, he opened people’s eyes, but what he really wanted was to revolutionize their lives. He wanted them to travel the spiritual path that he showed because the world will not live as one until enough individuals in it have attained the spiritual stage of oneness themselves.
This is the spiritual journey we have been talking about these last three Sundays in Lent, a path of Struggle, Truth and Oneness, of Purgation, Illumination and Union, of kenosis, metanoia and agape, of self-emptying, expanding vision and all-encompassing love.
We can learn the path easily enough, and we can find support and training for it in this church, and its power can transform our lives and transform the world around us, but only—only—if we have the courage and self-will to choose it. Jesus said we cannot serve both God and mammon. We need to decide whether the spirit or our ego’s self-interest will guide our thoughts and actions moment by moment.
Jesus knew how hard it is to choose the spirit. He suffered that temptation in the wilderness. Yet he showed us that when we reduce the selfish self to zero we become, in Gandhi’s words, “irresistible,” and our “action becomes all-pervasive in its effect.”
Miracles of oneness and love come on this path.
Michael Nagler tells a story in his book The Search for a Nonviolent Future about a Canadian woman named Karen Ridd who was working with Peace Brigades International in El Salvador in the late 1980s. The Salvadoran government was executing people who were interfering with their authoritarian oppression.
One day, government soldiers came to arrest Karen and a Columbian peace-worker named Marcela Rodriguez. Karen had the presence of mind to phone another volunteer as the soldiers were breaking down the door. The soldiers took them to an army barracks, blindfolded them and subjected them to five hours of brutal interrogation.
Meanwhile Karen’s call was having an effect. Hundreds of people were pressuring the Canadian and Columbian embassies to intervene. The Canadian government acted quickly. Karen was pulled out of the interrogation room and found herself walking toward an embassy official waiting at the gate.
But when the soldiers had removed her blindfold, she had glimpsed Marcela, her face shoved up against a wall, and she felt sick. So when she reached the official who had come to take her to safety, Karen apologized, turned around and walked back into the compound, having no idea what would happen, but knowing it could not be worse than walking out on a friend.
The soldiers were shocked. They handcuffed her. She could hear a soldier hitting Marcela in the next room and shouting that her friend was stupid enough to walk back in there, and now she was going to get the treatment terrorists deserve.
But the soldiers around Karen were responding differently. They could not help asking her why she would do such a thing. She said, “You know what it is like to be separated from a compañero.”
Her oneness and self-sacrificing love got to them. A short while later the soldiers released both Karen and Marcela. They walked out together hand in hand. (pp 26 ff)
This week our Mission Committee expressed oneness and love by making a contribution to Save the Children, providing humanitarian aid at the U.S. Southern Border, advocating for children’s rights and tackling the root causes of the refugee crisis. Closer to home, members of our congregation have begun a program called “Let’s Chat,” designed to help people feel the oneness of this beloved community even when we are apart.
Palm Sunday shows us the possibility of oneness and the path that can get us there. Every step we take on that path makes a difference. Let us commit our lives to it as we pray in silence asking the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us along the way…