A sermon for Palm Sunday, delivered at the 8am service
The triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, a triumphant entry on the back of a donkey, a triumphant entry with fanfare of worship and praise, stands in defiance of the authorities of this place and time. A true grassroots movement has swept up the people and they are not shy to voice their joy in welcoming the Christ into their town. This unbridled joy sweeps them into shouting praise and hosanna for the arrival of the King of Kings. And, some Pharisees in the crowd, either through fear of drawing too much attention to this particular gathering or a desire to lessen the power of Christ, come to Jesus and say, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”
Silencing the voice of the masses is a time honored tradition in the history of humankind. It is done out of fear, it is done out of jealousy, it is done out of anger and hatred. Every time that it is done, it is done out of a sense of self-preservation by the silencer, for if the people were allowed to continue it may draw unnecessary or unwanted attention. Long have the authorities of a given time and place used their power to silence critics, to promote a singular message, to contain and control those who dare rise against. But, silencing is not necessarily a top-down practice. Rebellions are only as good as their ability to stay united and strong to the cause. When one or more of the rebelling group work to silence their own, it brings the rebellion crashing down upon itself. We all know these two scenarios from our history books, some of us may have even lived through these moments in our time, but for a lot of us, dictators and rebellions happened 240 years ago on this soil, and only happen today on our television screens. But, we all have experienced the silencing of our voice, whether we knew it or not.
Take stock for a moment on how you approach the world. Where might you have felt silenced in your life? Anytime you experience unease in raising a point, so much so that you decide not to raise it, you have been silenced, by our culture, by your office power structure, by your place and role in your family, if you do not speak when you feel you should, you are experiencing the silencing of your voice. And it extends beyond this. Anytime you are unsure if your point or question is necessary and you do not share it out of fear of embarrassment, then you have experienced the silencing of your voice. Your voice has even been silenced and you have been unaware of that. When power structures, family roles, friendship groups, or whatever communal activities you participate in, purport to speak for you on behalf of the group, your specific and unique voice has been silenced. This isn’t always a bad thing, but often we find ourselves not really agreeing with what is being put out there, and yet not voicing our disagreement because it’s not worth the hassle.
These moments when your voice has been silenced may have passed you by without your noticing, but often there is a little feeling, deep in our heart, that let’s us know that it isn’t right, that we should get to speak on our own behalf, that we should get to be heard just like everyone else. Now imagine experiencing that little feeling all of the time. Imagine that little feeling dominating your life. This is the experience of many people in this world. Victims of abuse, sexual harassment, rape, often feel that they have no voice to seek help, let alone stand up to their attacker. And why should they feel like they have a voice when the world is telling them they are not to be trusted. Just this week, in response to legislation that would require testing of rape kits in Idaho (because it is not currently required), the Sheriff of Bingham County Idaho, Craig Rowland went on record saying that most rape accusations are false. Here we have the leader of a police force, the one agency that can help someone who has been raped, quite publicly telling all women who happen to find themselves in Bingham County that their voice will not be listened to if they are attacked, because he believes they are simply making it up. This is where I would caveat this example by saying it is an extreme case, but it isn’t, this is a prevailing opinion that has been allowed to fester under the surface, taking away the voice, the humanity, the basic agency of not just victims, but all women.
Minority groups in this country also feel like their voice is silenced. The various protests that have sprung up are an attempt to regain this voice, but when media and politicians are allowed to paint peaceful protesters simply asking to be treated as equal human beings as violent thugs, as uneducated, as irresponsible, as complainers seeking a free hand out, they are striping away their voice. My mom is an elementary school teacher in Moses Lake. One of her students, a young Mexican boy, asked her last fall who she supported for president. My mom side-stepped the question as to maintain impartiality, but what the boy said next has stuck with me. In their conversation, the boy very clearly was afraid of Donald Trump because, as the boy described, he doesn’t like people like me. To me this was heartbreaking. Here we have a young child growing up in what is supposed to be one of the greatest countries in the world, and he is (legitimately) scared of a political front runner because that person has been allowed to use his position to strip away the voice and agency of entire races, religions, and cultures. I imagine the reason why he even brought this up was to know if he was at least safe in my mom’s classroom, or if she too believed the way this scary man on the TV did.
This is the danger in silencing voices. It is only done to take power over another. It is only done in order to exert influence and privilege, and to keep the status quo, as long as that status quo allows you individually to prosper. But, as Christians, we are called to take our voices and shout out from every corner, proclaiming and declaring, speaking truth to justice.
Jesus tells the pharisees, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” This is because you simply cannot keep the truth silent. You cannot, no matter how hard you try to squash away, keep down the voices of those who are speaking the Good News of Christ, who are exercising their basic human right to challenge power structures that are built not on the ideals of God but on the folly of man. When Jesus says today that even the stones would shout out, there is an empowerment in and through Christ that we must take with us. Jesus responds to those who wish to take away the power of voices by saying that you can never take away voices that are proclaiming the word of God. This is empowering for us. This tells us that we, as Christians, will never be silenced if we stand up and utilize our voices. This tells us that the power of God is greater than any power of man. When we come face-to-face with those moments that push us, that make us question, that make us unsure or uneasy about standing up, we must remember that Jesus Christ has said that our voices cannot and will not be silenced, for even if they are taken from us, the stones themselves will take up the call.
This is our challenge. We must accept the responsibility that is before us to use our voices. We must use our voices to call out hatred and hypocrisy in this world. We must use our voices to tear down power structures that work only to demean those who are viewed as lesser. We must use our voices to insure that those who feel that their voices are taken away, find an avenue to be heard, to find an avenue to use their own voice even after it has seemingly been stripped away. The Bishops of the Episcopal Church released a brief but powerful statement this week that addresses our current political climate and speaks to the danger of silencing voices, it reads in part: “The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.” These are important words today, and these are important words always.
Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem today. Out of fear or out of disgust, the Pharisees beg Jesus to silence the crowd, to take away the voices of those who are on the fringes. Jesus responds the only way he can, and in doing so let’s us know that if we are proclaiming the Good News of Christ, then we can never be silenced no matter how hard the powers-that-be try, for even if our voices are taken away, the stones themselves will shout out in our place.