The Rev. Calvon T. Jones, Assistant Minister, the Memorial Church of Harvard University preches froim the pulpit on Palm Sunday. Photo by Rose Lincoln.
By the Rev. Calvon Jones
The Memorial Church
(The following is a transcript of the service audio)
Pray with me. Now let the words of my mouth, the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight. You alone, God, are my rock and my redeemer. Holy Spirit, speak, for your people are listening. Good morning.
It is a privilege to stand before you this morning. Whenever I am given the opportunity to declare God's word, I count it an honor. First, I give honor to God, who is indeed the center of my life. I also have to honor the woman who makes me smile. The woman who has my back, the woman who I have committed to. The sweet potato for my sweet potato pie, my wife. I love you. And I also have to honor my sixth-grade and seventh-grade teacher principal, who's here, who taught me in North Carolina, but who also, is an educator here in Massachusetts, Caleb Dolan. I would like to place a tag upon the lessons that you have read this morning for it constitutes the context from which I will attempt to preach. Look to your neighbor and say, sometimes, don't be afraid, look to your neighbor.
Say, ‘sometimes you have-to take the road-Less traveled.’
Thank you for doing that. Some folks would rather have houses and land. Some folks choose silver and gold. These things they treasure but forget about their soul, but I decided to take the road less traveled. According to scripture and Christian tradition. Thank you.
According to scripture and Christian tradition, Palm Sunday is a day of celebration. This is the Sunday where we come to welcome Jesus. The crowd who has come to get a glimpse of who Jesus really is. Jesus needs to get to Jerusalem for holy Passover. During Passover, the numbers reach nearly two million people. A man by the name of Jesus was on the lips and in the thoughts of nearly everyone. This is a day where Jesus makes his triumphant entry into the holy city. Jesus comes up to the holy city to be greeted by throngs of people who wave and place palm branches and coats around him shouting, Hosana the Son of David. Jesus comes up to the holy city to be greeted by those who shout, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Jesus comes up to the holy city to be greeted. Hosana in the highest.
Can you hear the words that are on the lips of those who have come up to the holy city? Not knowing, not knowing that Jesus must eventually go down. I can hear them saying, Jesus is coming. The one who set captives free, Jesus is coming. The one who renews broken hearts. Jesus, the soon coming king is coming. The one who is the ontological root of our existential quest is coming. The one who is the healer of the unhealed, the one who is the therapist of those who are in need of direction, or as my grandmother would say, Jesus, the king is coming. The one who is a mind regulator, the one who is a liberator, the emancipator, the one who gives victory. Jesus, the king. The one who walks with royalty is coming to the holy city of Jerusalem. Yet beloved, this morning to the Memorial Church and all those who have gathered here, I promise you I'm going to be in the way and out the way I stand here on Palm Sunday with the paradox sitting in irony and contradiction.
I sit between praise and pain, celebration and lament, dance and death, praise and pomp, passion and pain. I sit between the praise of the crowd and the journey of Christ into Jerusalem and beyond. Jesus, Emmanuel, Jesus God in the flesh. Jesus, the great wonder is coming in, but not as the king we suppose. Jesus, according to the gospel, rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. A road less traveled. This can't be the king. This cannot be royalty. This can't be the king of peace. This can't be the Jesus that the prophets of old prophesied about. There is a paradoxical, hallelujah, of high liturgical praise and of Jesus who enters on a donkey. Jesus enters on the lowliest of animals. Jesus enters into Jerusalem in the form of a servant. And I don't mean to burst your bubble this morning, but it seems as if across church world that has been this influx of prosperity gospel messages, that says that the Christian faith is if you praise God or wave your hand, that God will give you a car, or a house, or God will give you fame or fortune.
But we see a king who is not steeped in riches, who is not steeped in prosperity but is steeped in servanthood. This triumph paradoxical entrance of Jesus is not new. For his very life has been steeped in humility. His very life has been steeped in servanthood. Jesus has been seen in the most humble ways throughout his life. If you don't believe me, I like to call the roll Reverend Alanna. When he, the prophet, came into the world and entered into time, he did not come in the Ritz Carlton. He did not come to the Hilton in Boston. You all want to hear me. No, no, no. He did not come on the red carpet, but he came in a manger. Who would look for a savior in a homeless shelter? Wrapped up with what is equivalent of yesterday's newspapers. This king did not have affordable medical care, but yet, the angels sang and the wise men came from afar.
Who is this Jesus who appears not in glamor but as the lowliest of those beneath? He is a servant of love. One who chose to take the road less traveled. He comes reminding the crowd as he enters into Jerusalem of his true mission, to be a servant of love who comes to redeem humanity, Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey reminds the crowd that his kingdom is not of silver, gold, or rubies, but of service. Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey reminds us that God has called us to serve in a broken, and fragmented world. The hymn that was read today, as you heard in Philippians chapter two, in this hymn, some scholars attribute this to Paul where the writer says, let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who thought he was in the form of God did not. Although he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant. Being born in human likeness.
Jesus took on the form of a servant of love. He did not exploit his divinity. His royal power was shown through acts of love. He came and lived on the backside of Nazareth, lived as a carpenter, laid down his tools, went to be baptized by John the Baptist so that he could be a servant of love. Jesus, although he could have walked around with the crown, walked around didn't tell people who he was, but he was seen feeding 5,000 people. Healing those who had leprosy, healing those who were sick, having dealings with the Samaritans, raising the dead, giving counter-cultural sermons, giving love-filled actions, turning water into wine, dealing with the prostitutes. He gave power to women in a patriarchal society. And I can hear Jesus say, I faced much pain. When you take the road less travel, beloved, there're going to be people who do not like you.
It may be a lonely road when you stand up for justice. It may be a lonely road when you stand up for those who church folks don't want to deal with. It may be a lonely road when you have love for those who the church has marginalized. But one thing about it, I can hear the prophet in Isaiah that says, I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me. Therefore, I have not been disgraced. Therefore, I have set my face like a flint. And I know that I shall not be put to shame for those who have harmed me. For I know the one who vindicates me is near. Beloved, I don't know who I'm talking to this morning, but as we are traveling with Jesus to holy week, I have a question for you today.
Are you going to take the road less traveled? Or are we going to go with the crowd and do what the crowd says do, or will we stand alone and follow the assignment that God has on our life? And I don't know about you, when you take the road less traveled, there'll be people who will hate you, criticize you, talk about you, run your name down, say all manner of evil against you, but I beckon unto you today, don't run from your cross, but hold your cross and say, God, Jesus, you will be with me. Whatever the cross may be. Whatever the persecution may be. Whatever the trials may be. I have something to do in this world. As Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem, he is met with great applause. However, Jesus comes to remind the crowd that I'm not, hallelujah, going to allow your applause to get in my head. Because in the words of Dr. King, I know what I have to do.
I know that it's all right to feel important, but keep feeling that need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first, but be first in love. Be first in love. Be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do, but take the road less traveled. Today, as we celebrate Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, let us be reminded that we are called to be a servant of humility and love. Let us be reminded that we choose, and must choose to be a servant of love.
If it means standing up for justice, take that road. If it means loving your neighbor, take that road. If it means transforming an unjust world, take that road. If it means creating a beloved community, take that road. If it means singing the song of hope, take that road. If it means carrying the cross of liberation, justice, and emancipation, take that road. You have a choice today as we enter into holy week to take the road less traveled.
I decided to take the road less traveled. Some folks would rather have houses and land. And some folks choose silver and gold. These things they treasure but forget about their soul. I decided to take the road less traveled.