March 24, 2013

If These Were Silent

Passage: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 19:28-40

39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ 40He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’


Orfield Laboratories is a multi-disciplinary laboratory providing research services in a variety of fields including acoustics.  In this lab is a room known as the quietest place on earth.  The room is labelled as an “anechoic (a-ni-ˈkō-ik) chamber” meaning it is free from echoes and reverberations.   The room is 99.99 percent sound absorbent.  You might wish you had one of these in your home for those moments when you long for some solitude.  Apparently silence—at least on this scale—isn’t so golden after all; the longest anyone could stay put in the chamber was a mere 45 minutes.

Company President Steven Orfield explained that when it is quiet, ears will adapt.  The quieter the room, the more things you hear.  You'll hear your heart beating, sometimes you can hear your lungs, hear your stomach gurgling loudly.  In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound.  And this is a very disorientating experience.  He further explained that it’s so disconcerting that sitting down is a must.  How you orient yourself is through sounds you hear when you walk.  In the anechoic chamber, you don't have any cues.  You take away the perceptual cues that allow you to balance and manoeuvre.   If you're in there for half an hour, you have to be in a chair.’

Many believe God to be utterly silent and even take such perceived silence to mean that no God exists to speak.  Yet the scriptures affirm that the chief characteristic of God is that he speaks.  “Why haven’t I heard him?” the person convinced of God’s silence responds.  “You are dead in your trespasses and sins”, says the scripture (Ephesians 2:1).  Our sin has placed us in a kind of “anechoic chamber” where we have become the sound; we have each turned to our own way.  We are unable to perceive the reverberations and echoes of God’s voice.  The perceptual cues that allow us to hear God are taken away.  But God’s love is such that he will not leave us in such a disconcerting place—the Spirit of God is at work penetrating the chamber walls.   John Wesley called this work of the Spirit of God “prevenient grace”; the grace the goes before making it possible that we might come to hear from God.

It is for this very reason—to remedy the predicament of sinful humanity—that Jesus stands at the gate of Jerusalem.  So that we might be set free from the silence of this sin-induced anechoic chamber, Jesus came riding into Jerusalem to the cheers of a whole multitude of disciples.  And it was anything but silent.  In fact Jesus said that silence was impossible.  Good news is not good if it isn’t heard; intrinsic to the goodness of God is that he makes his goodness known.  40JesusJesus Jesus answered, ”I tell you, if these (disciples) were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Only Luke gives us this detail that it was some Pharisees who urged Jesus to order his disciples to stop their loud proclamation of Jesus as king.  It may well be that they thought they were giving Jesus prudent advice; making Jesus aware of the danger he was placing himself in by such a demonstration.  The Jewish leaders’ plot to kill Jesus was widely known and Roman intolerance of rival powers could incite their ire and resulting cruelties.

But Jesus insists there will be no silence.  Jesus says that if the praise of his disciples were muted, then the stones would take up the chorus.  We don’t typically connect rocks with praise of God, yet here it is on Jesus’ lips.  Perhaps this is Jesus’ reminder that his program of salvation is for all creation, not just the Jews and not just human beings generally.   All creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay and so all creation has a stake in the redemption and renewal Jesus has come to Jerusalem to accomplish.

At the moment when the crucified Son of God breathed his last Matthew’s gospel tells us “the earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:51); when Jesus breathed his last the creation responded.   When stones split wide open it is accompanied by a very loud crack.   For those with ears to hear, the stones cried “Glory!”

1.  If not us, then who?  In Jesus’ commendation of his disciples’ loud praise of God there is the implication that this is the continuing responsibility of his disciples in every generation.  We have come again on this Palm Sunday in 2013 to walk with the crowd that first Palm Sunday; to join the throng of all those who throughout history joined their voices to these first disciples; we too join in the proclamation that “Jesus is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”  It is essential that we do so; the first responsibility of the Church is the praise of our saviour.

A second aspect of this praise is that it be public.  We do not hide; our doors are indeed open for any to walk in and hear our proclamation.  We do not listen to the voices that would try to silence our praise.  There are those voices of a soft tyranny that defines as extremism any forthright religious claim; our claim that Jesus is the world’s rightful king is said to be rather extreme.  “Don’t you think you ought to tone it down”, say the voices.  Sadly, many of these voices come from within the church.

Just a little over a month ago the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail carried an article, echoed by the CBC, that questioned CIDA’s (Canadian International Development Agency) support of  Crossroads Relief and Development, a Christian development agency.  Apparently these news agencies do not think that such Christians should be included into Canada’s public life because they do not hold the politically correct view on human sexuality.   The Minister of International Cooperation Julian Fantino hastily responded on Twitter, “I have asked to review this organization before further payments are made.”

A brief overview of international development verifies that in 2010 Canadian evangelical Christian ministries spent over $535 million overseas—which represents only those organizations that are officially engaged in development work and doesn’t include the efforts of local church congregations to build schools, homes, wells, etc out of their own pockets—of which $32 million was CIDA funding.   This development work is done without regard for race, religion, or sexual orientation.

This sort of attack on Christian conviction is designed to silence voices not deemed to be in step with secular pities.   And I can understand why those with power are resistant to the believers’ praise of Jesus as the world’s rightful king.   The question we face is will we let such criticism silence us.

The Pharisees urging of Jesus to get his disciples to tone things down is one kind of pressure to silence.  The threat of Roman force was of a different order.  Persecution is the actuality for many Christians in today’s world.

Following Sunday worship services on January 8, 2006, five young men attacked and threatened to kill a Protestant church leader in Turkey's fourth largest city. Kamil Kiroglu, 29, had just left his church in Adana when he was ambushed and beaten so severely that he fell unconscious twice.

"They were trying to force me to deny Jesus," Kiroglu said. "But each time they asked me to deny Jesus and become a Muslim, I was saying, 'Jesus is Lord.' The more I said, 'Jesus is Lord,' the more they beat me." One of the attackers pulled out a knife and threatened to kill Kiroglu if he did not deny his Christian faith and return to Islam.  Kiroglu refused.  After the incident, he said, "I am praising God—not because he saved me from death, but because he helped me not to deny him in the shadow of death."

2. As Jesus descended the Mount of Olives that eventful Sunday the whole crowd of disciples began to celebrate and praise God at the top of their voices.  The crowd went wild as he got nearer.  This was the moment they’d been waiting for.  All the old songs came flooding back, and they were singing, chanting, cheering, and laughing.  At last their dreams were going to come true.

But in the middle of it all their leader wasn’t singing.  “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it”.   There is a church build on the traditional site where this took place.  The church is built in the shape of a tear drop; when sitting inside you look out a window that frames the city.  (See sermon slide) Yes their dreams were coming true.  But not in the way they had imagined.  Like the disciples then,  so too today, what we imagine to be that which will deliver what we long for is not aligned with what God knows will be that which will resolve all things.

N. T. Wright, in his book Simply Jesus, uses the analogy of the story of the perfect storm to describe what is occurring as Jesus enters Jerusalem.  In late October of 1991 three storms converged on the path of the fishing boat “Andrea Gail” 500 miles out into the Atlantic.  A cold front moving along the Canada-US border had sent a strong disturbance, while at the same time this intensified an incoming low-pressure system.  And then like pouring gasoline onto a fire a dying hurricane hit creating the perfect storm.

As Jesus steps into history in first century Palestine there is the Roman storm.  Rome has steadily increased its power; the Caesars began to ascribe for themselves the claim of divinity.  Caesar Augustus rules the Roman Empire from 31 BC to AD 14.  Tiberius his son comes to power and on the coins minted at that time they said “Augustus Tiberius Caesar, son of the Divine Augustus” on which was a picture of Tiberius dressed as a priest.  It was on the coin they showed Jesus when asked should they pay tax to Caesar.  Jesus was in the eye of the storm

The high-pressure system meeting this Roman storm was the Jewish aspirations with respect to long promised messiah.  The disciples were delighted that Jesus had now come to Jerusalem; they were following the messiah into Jerusalem.  It was time to act.  The Romans would to be dealt with.  Liberation was at hand.

And then the hurricane blows in.  Who should be king?  The rightful king of the world had appeared.  From the moment Jesus of Nazareth launched his public career, he seems to have been determined to invoke the third part of the great storm as well.  He spoke continually about the hurricane of which the psalmists had sung and the prophets had preached.  He spoke about God himself becoming king.  And he went about doing things that, he said, demonstrated what that meant and would mean.  He took upon himself  the role of a prophet, in other words, of a man sent from God to reaffirm God’s intention of overthrowing the might of pagan empire, but also to warn Israel that its present way of going about things was dangerously ill-conceived and leading to disaster.  And with that, the sea is lashed into a frenzy; the wind makes the waves dance like wild things; and Jesus himself strides out into the middle of it all, into the very eye of the storm, announcing that the time is fulfilled, that God’s kingdom is now at hand.  He commands his hearers to give up their other dreams and to trust his instead.

Jerusalem is the where this storm, high-pressure system, and hurricane collide and Jesus comes riding into the middle of it all.  This week, in the worship of Holy Week, we will see what sort of king he is.  And when we do will we shout, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord?” Amen.