Lenten Noonday Preaching Series
Calvary Episcopal Church
Memphis, Tennessee
March 14, 2001



If These Were Silent, the Stones Would Cry Out
The Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad
Associate Professor of Preaching
Union Theological Seminary
New York, New York

(This sermon is also available in audio)

Grace and peace be unto you from God who was, who is, whoever shall be. Amen.

I want to add my deep word of thanks to the people of Calvary and to the whole city of Memphis for the warm welcome that I have again received here. It has become a wondrous part of my own Lenten journey. When I tell people that I am going to preach in a place where they have a different set of Lenten preachers every day of Lent, not just once a week, but every day, people can hardly believe it. So, know that you are doing something that is very unique and special here.

The reading today is from the Book of Luke, the 19th chapter, a familiar story that we will all hear in church not long from now. I begin at the 29th verse:

When Jesus had come near Bethphage and Bethany at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you why you are doing this, say to them, the Lord needs it." So those who were sent departed and found it just as Jesus had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked, "Why are you untying the colt?" They said, "The Lord needs it." Then they brought the colt to Jesus, and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus upon it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully, with a loud voice, saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven." Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." Jesus answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out." This is the word of the Lord.

You know, there were no rubrics for this procession. You know what rubrics are? In the Book of Common Prayer or in the Lutheran Book of Worship, often, if you look at the pages very carefully, there are little words written in italics. They tell the people or the minister what to do. Here, the congregation shall stand, or the congregation shall sit, or the minister shall take the bread. They tell us what to do next, but there were no rubrics for this procession.

In fact, the alter guild had not even been notified, so the parapets were not prepared, and instead, the people had to throw their coats on the road, all along that long road that led from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. By the time they got to that place where they were coming down the path from the Mount of Olives heading into the city, Luke tells us that the whole multitude of disciples began to sing praises to God. A whole multitude--now, that had to be more than twelve disciples. You don't call twelve a multitude. I wonder if it was as big as that multitude fed on the hillside where there were 5,000 fed, and that didn't even include the women and the children? How many people were in this multitude? Well, we have no idea except that I am very certain that Luke wants us to know that there were a lot of people. A lot of people joined that procession, going down the mountain toward the city, and then they began to sing, even without a hymnal and without a bulletin. They sang from memory, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord," Psalms 118. They knew the words, and then they borrowed the song of the angels, "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven."

I have a sense that probably one person started to sing and then a couple of people joined in. Some of you have been on marches, you know, where this happens, "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around. . ." or maybe, "We're working hard for justice. We shall not be moved," or "Peace in highest heaven we shall not be moved." Of course, Luke didn't give us the tune, but it must have been a mighty chorus moving down that mountain. Why were they singing and shouting? Luke tells us very clearly they were praising God for all the deeds of power that they had seen.

This is the time in the sermon where the minister usually turns to the people and says, "But don't trust these people, my friends. In a few days they will not be praising God, oh, no. Oh, no. They will be shouting, 'Crucify him,' and aren't we just like them?" I am afraid I may have preached that sermon myself. But now, it seems to me that we have no reason to think that these were fickle people. They were praising God for all the deeds of power that they had seen. These were people who followed Jesus from Galilee, and my sense is that if we could see them, we would know something about who they were. I think most of them were genuine about their praise.

If we just look back in the Gospel of Luke I think we can begin to imagine some of the ones who were there. There was a man cured of leprosy, and way toward the back there was a man who had been paralyzed. Remember him? His friends couldn't get to Jesus, so they let him down through the roof. Why, I think all five of them were there-the four who carried him and the man Jesus healed. There are three people over there walking together--oh, it's Cyrus and his daughter who was raised from the dead, walking with that woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years. Remember her story interrupted the story of Cyrus? But all of them were made whole. Oh, there's that woman who crashed Simon's dinner party. Remember her? She washed Jesus' feet with her tears. Why, if she could crash a dinner party, you can believe she wouldn't mind crashing this procession. Oh, there's . . . somebody is moving through the crowd. I can't quite . . . oh, it's Zaccheus. He can't see very well, you know, so he is trying to make his way through the crowd so he can get to the front. Oh, and there were lots of children there because they knew that Jesus wanted them there. He had even invited them to climb in his lap. Besides, they heard he was riding on a donkey, and they wanted to see it.

Oh, it was a multitude; it was far more than twelve disciples. It was a multitude of disciples, and they were singing from memory for all the deeds of power that they had seen. They had no rubrics for this parade. It was disorganized, disorderly. What it looked like -- well, it looked a lot like the stones that John the Baptist talked about there by the river Jordan. It looked like those stones had come alive, and they had been raised up as children of promise -- people who never expected to be called a daughter of Abraham -- like that woman bent over who stood up straight and praised God. Jesus had said, "She is a daughter of Abraham." Well, it kind of looks like a lot of those stones by the river have come to life on this road to Jerusalem. It's as though Jesus' parable has taken on feet. Remember what Jesus said in the parable when the wedding banquet was still not quite full? He said, "Go out into the streets and the lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame." Well, just looking around, that's who was there in that multitude. Who else would be praising God for all that they had seen? They were singing from memory, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord."

Oh, it was glorious! And it was scary. It was downright scary because a lot of people wanted the stones to just stay where they were, like Joshua's stones set up by the river as a memorial. They stayed in place, those stones, and now, the stones seemed to be coming alive. There weren't any rubrics to help the people know what to do or how to handle this. So one of the Pharisees said, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." Now, we have to be very careful here because Luke tells us it was one of the Pharisees, and so we are very happy because we wanted somebody to blame, and we often blame the Jews. But now we know that the animosity that developed between Jews and Christians in later centuries leaked back into these stories once they were written down; so we cannot blame the Jews. After all, it seems the narrator is very careful to tell us some of the Pharisees in the crowd said this to Jesus. These Pharisees were in this parade! I think it is very likely that these Pharisees might have said, "We have to stop this. You have to stop them, teacher, because to the Romans, this is going to look like insurrection." And these Pharisees may indeed have been followers of Jesus, friends of Jesus, and they didn't want this to cause the kind of trouble that they feared, or if you can't buy that, then at least try to find yourself in the story.

We used to have a man who came into our congregation named Emmett. He was a schizophrenic homeless man who would walk right in to worship in the middle of my sermon, no matter what it said in italics. He would walk right up the aisle, and say, "Hello, Barbara," and I would say, "Hello, Emmett," but the sermon, you know, was never the same after that. It could have been the ushers who said this to Jesus. It could have been the vestry. In our church it could have been the Conference of Bishops meeting. It could have been the Church Counsel. We don't know what to do with this kind of disruption. "Teacher, tell them to be quiet. This is getting out of hand." "I tell you," said Jesus, "if these were silent, the very stones would shout."

My sisters and brothers, the most urgent calling we have as the church in this time is to listen to those stones. Will we hear them, you and I? There is so much for the church to do, so many priorities, so many worries, so many buildings to keep up, so many stones, my goodness, to protect, and no rubrics for this work. It is very, very hard to listen to the people Jesus calls us to, and he doesn't leave us guessing who might it be -- the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Over and over he says those words to describe who it is that is yet to be invited.

When I first moved to New York City in the early 1980's and drove through the Cross Bronx, I would see buildings that had been gutted by fire. The windows had been covered with plywood, and then they had been covered with lovely decals. It was ingenious. These decals made those windows look like people lived there--they had window shades, geraniums, Venetian blinds. Those of us driving into the Bronx didn't have to look at the terribly abandoned buildings that had been burned out, we could look at these lovely decals. Now, the people who lived in the neighborhood couldn't see the decals because they were too far up. They were made for people who drove into the city. Isn't that great? We didn't have to see anybody who was poor or even worry about what kind of buildings they might live in. We could look at the decals. It's really hard to hear the stones crying. Everything in our culture keeps us from hearing each other. Freeways go around poor neighborhoods or through them so that we don't have to see. We live in different neighborhoods now. We go to different schools, and many of the poorest of the poor cannot even imagine going into a church.

In the city where I live, New York, our mayor has improved our quality of life by getting homeless people off the subways and off the streets, especially in tourist areas. You don't want people lying in front of Saks Fifth Avenue, sleeping on the pavement. You don't want shoppers stepping over homeless people to get into the store. It sort of curbs your spending. I wonder, did anyone ever ask the question, "Well, what about the quality of life for the homeless people?" I guess they suddenly got jobs in the booming Internet economy of New York City. It's really hard. As a parish pastor for seventeen years in New York City, I knew I had no rubrics for this work. I didn't learn at any place, and it wasn't written in the book, not in italics, not even in big, bold letters.

How can I hear the people Jesus is calling me to hear? It takes a lot of work. It takes a kind of intentionality and attentiveness. I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout. You'd think shouting could be heard, wouldn't you? If they're really shouting, I mean, if the poor people are really shouting, or if the homeless are really shouting, then we could hear them, right? But there's so much noise around us. It keeps us from hearing.

Consider this: we're entering a time in the United States when almost all of the media--radio, television, internet, newspapers--will be owned and controlled by maybe three or four people. You read about these mergers all the time. They sort of pass us by--AOL, Time Warner, Disney, ABC, NBC . . . we lose track of the initials. You might tell me, "Well, no, that's not true. I get 135 channels on my Direct Access TV." Well, three companies probably own all 135. Now, who do you think will control what we hear on the radio? What we read in the newspaper? What we see on television? What we click on the Internet? It won't be the poor or the homeless. If those of us who are part of the church of Jesus Christ don't try to listen, who will? Please understand, I am not saying anything to you that I am not saying to myself. This is very hard work. There are no rubrics for it.

Some people have helped us. Available in bookstores near you is a little book called, Relief for the Body; Renewal for the Soul, by Scott Morris. These are stories that have come to Scott in his work at the Church Health Center in New York. I wish I could read you this whole book, but I hope you'll read it for yourself -- story after story of people that Scott has met in this work; people who are the working poor of this town.

I'd like to share just a little bit of a conversation I had today with a man named Phillip. "Phillip," I asked, "what brings you to Memphis?" "I'd never been here, so I thought I'd give it a try," he said. This was an odd answer, so I kept on pushing. "So, where are you staying?" "Oh, here and there," he said. I knew it was the answer for someone who is homeless. "Where will you stay tonight," I asked. "Oh, I'll find some place. I always do," he quickly responded. "Phillip, how did you end up homeless?" "Oh, it's a long story," he said. "You don't have time to hear it all." With that he bowed his head. "I've got time," I said.

A lot of the time I don't have time. I don't have time to listen, but I am as convinced as I am standing here that that kind of listening will change the church and us more than anything we could do. There are no rubrics for this work. We're going to make a million mistakes. It's going to be scary because we seldom sit at the same table, and we don't live in the same neighborhoods, but there are ways our churches can help us begin to listen. We can't expect Dr. Scott Morris to do all our listening for us, and it won't even be enough to read his book. We've got to find some ways to sit and listen because the stones themselves are shouting, and nobody seems to listen. These are people who won't notice if the NASDAQ goes up or down today, people who won't have anything to eat, no place to stay -- this is very hard work. It's very hard work because there aren't any rubrics.

Allen Robinson just spent four days in prison. I'm not letting out a secret that Allen didn't want you to know. He was there visiting, spending time there in this maximum security prison with many other men from this congregation and from other congregations in Memphis, spending twelve hours a day talking with prisoners. You know, the United States has quite a record. We have half of all the world's prisoners in prison in the United States. Now, there's something to be proud of. Jails in every part of this country hold refugees seeking asylum. They've come here in tankers and over the water in rafts in rickety boats. Their only crime is a passion to be free. They sit in jails without lawyers, often not knowing our language. They can shout all they want, and nobody hears.

Each one of us could listen to somebody this week. We could listen to somebody who is poor; somebody who is disabled and can't get a job; somebody who is outside of our usual circle of friends. We have no rubrics to tell us what to say or how to begin, but we do have Jesus, standing outside of our gates, saying, "Once again, I tell you, people of God, if these are silent, the stones themselves will shout." Oh, how I pray that we will all begin to listen.

Please stand and join in a blessing:

I pray this day that God would help us to do what is not written in the book; that God would give us listening ears when we don't know how to hear. That God would help us know what to say when nothing is printed. People of God know that this will change us more than anything in all the world, but know this--we never do it alone. The promise remains. May God bless you and keep you. May God's face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May God look upon you and upon all the people of Memphis with favor and give all peace. Amen.

Copyright 2001 The Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad.

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