04/10/22 “12-Step Faith: Shout Out”

Luke 19:28-40

The words “shout” and “out” aren’t new, of course, but the phrase “shout-out” kind of is. Its beginnings are a little vague, but it appears to have grown out of the hip-hop music culture. One account says that, in 1983, a DJ named Ralph McDaniels hosted a TV show called “Video Music Box” on a New York City station. It was the original hip-hop music video program, and sometimes McDaniels’ guests would say hello on the air to their friends and family. McDaniels called this a “shout-out.”

A shout-out is a personal greeting that’s made very publicly. In our culture, that’s typically in a broadcast of some kind or on social media. A shout-out is often a word of praise or a note of gratitude. At the recent Oscars, the Korean pop music group BTS gave a shout-out to Will Smith, not for smacking Chris Rock, but for his performance in the Disney movie “Aladdin.”  Aliyah Boston, who led South Carolina to its NCAA basketball championship, gave a shoutout to her basketball idol, WNBA star Candace Parker. Former New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning gave a shout-out to St. Peter’s before their Sweet 16 contest by posting a photo of himself in a Peacocks t-shirt. A shoutout is a personal message communicated in a very public way.

There weren’t any media types among the crowds that surrounded Jesus as he approached Jerusalem. But if there had been, we can imagine a reporter shoving a microphone in someone’s face and them saying, “I just want to give a shout-out to my man, Jesus. Hey, bro, you’re the king in my book!” Someone else pushes into the camera’s frame and adds “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” In the background, there’d be someone wearing a T-shirt reading “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven,” right next to the guy with the sign that reads “Hi, Mom!”

It’s no wonder that this story is usually called “Jesus’ Triumphal Entry.” It combines the excitement of a ticker tape parade, the pride of a tournament awards program, and the pomp of a red-carpet event. On the surface, the whole thing mirrors an official welcome ceremony for a conquering military general or an earthly king. There are cheers from the admiring crowd, which had been growing with Jesus’ progress from Jericho through Bethpage and Bethany to the Mount of Olives. There’s the spreading of garments ahead of Jesus, kind of like a wave but with clothing—a red carpet for the approaching king.

On the surface, this looks like a victory lap. Except, if we look closer, we find that these shout-outs are aimed at a king who is nothing like Jesus. Jesus had tried to prepare them for this. Just before he began his ride into Jerusalem, he had told a parable about a more recognizable kind of king. He told of a nobleman who went to a distant country to secure a royal appointment. This royal wanna-be left some money with his servants to be invested while he was gone. In the meantime, a delegation from his own country followed him in order to object to his being named king over them. They failed.

Upon his return, newly-minted king grilled his servants on what they had accomplished in his absence. As in the parable of the talents, some did well and one simply held on to what had been entrusted to him. His money was taken away and given to the more successful servant, in spite of public protests. But the new king ignored those protests and then went on to order the execution of those who had opposed his kingship. “This is what kings of earthly kingdoms look like,” Jesus was warning through his story, “not mine.”

Then, Jesus proceeds to enter Jerusalem in a way that undercuts the earthly kingship image. He comes in on a borrowed donkey, not a war horse. He comes through Bethany, whose name means “House of the Poor.” As Luke tells the story, there are no palms or Hosannas. Palms were a nationalistic symbol of the Jewish desire for political independence. “Hosannas” were cries to be saved from the Roman oppressor. But, Luke takes care to show Jesus as a king of a different color—not a sectarian political or military victor, but a king for all of God’s people. He will bring, not domination, but peace. He comes as the one whose deeds of power were God’s own deeds. He truly is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

When Marc and I go to the away games for the UT women’s basketball team, we sit in the section behind the Rocket bench, where the visiting fans usually sit. But, there are always a few home team fans scattered amongst us, trying to spoil our party. It was the same on the day of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Amidst the adoring crowd were some Pharisees.

The Pharisees had been observing Jesus all along. As people who prided themselves on complying with law to the letter, they were appalled at Jesus’ behavior—his healing on the Sabbath, his eating and drinking with sinners, his disregard of cleanliness rituals. But the crowd’s noisy proclamation of Jesus as king was a bridge too far for them. So, they rebuked Jesus: “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”

But, Jesus knows that what has been unleashed cannot now be restrained. As little as the crowds understand about the nature of his kingship, the genie can’t be put back into the bottle. The kingdom—God’s kingdom—has come near, and nothing can drive it back. “I tell you,” he says, “if these people were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Why does Jesus choose the stones as his substitute heralds? Surely there are more likely candidates. Thunder and lightning had announced God’s presence to the Israelites. Wind and earthquake had preceded God’s approach of Elijah. The Psalmists assure us that the heavens tell the glory of God and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork. Luke tells of angels who did a pretty good job of announcing good news of great joy at Jesus’ birth.

But Jesus says that, if his disciples were silent (or were to be silenced), the stones would shout out. Not the beautiful stones of the temple, which the disciples would gaze at with awe, but the stones which were literally beneath everyone’s notice. Not the stones that were stacked one upon another by human hands, but stones that were under their feet. Not precious stones like those adorning the priestly garments, but dusty, dirty, irregularly-shaped, serviceable stones that could be found on and along the roadway.

I don’t think Jesus’ choice of the stones was arbitrary or thoughtless. I think that he chose those stones because they most closely resemble those who will proclaim his kingship in the world. As Paul reminded the Corinthians, not many Christ-followers are wise by human standards, not many are powerful or of noble birth. We’re more likely to fall into Paul’s other categories: the foolish, the weak, the low, and maybe even the despised.  Not many of us are polished gems, or towering public figures, or pillars of society. We’re a lot more like paving stones—stones that don’t attract much attention but can form a path for others to follow.

We are called to be stones that shout out. We’re called to be stones who give a shout-out of praise to Jesus, king of all the earth and of all God’s people. We are called to be stones that shout out the good news that, in Jesus Christ, God’s kingdom has come near to us. We are called to be stones that proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection until he comes again. We may not be powerful or beautiful or especially well-spoken, but we have met Jesus, and we can help others meet him, too.

This is the essence of the final step from the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step program. Step 12 says that “having had a spiritual awakening as the result of the previous eleven steps, we will try to carry our message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Throughout Lent, we’ve progressed through AA’s steps in order to deepen our faith. We undertook a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and, as we continue to take inventory, promptly admit it when we are wrong. We faced our powerlessness over our sinfulness and, believing that our salvation comes only by way of God’s grace, help comes from God, committed our lives into God’s care. We learned the benefits of confessing both to God and to other people the exact nature of our wrongs, and we went to God in prayer that God might remove our shortcomings. We reflected on the importance of making direct amends to the people we have sinned against wherever possible. We thought about being more intentional in our prayer and meditation throughout our days as we seek a greater knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry it out.

These steps form a pathway towards what AA calls “a spiritual awakening.” We would call it the new birth. The characteristics of AA’s “spiritual awakening” are what we experience as we are justified and sanctified. Here’s how AA describes it: “The person who has had a spiritual awakening becomes able to do, feel, an believe that which they could not do before on their unaided strength and resources alone. They are granted a gift which amounts to a new way state of awareness and being. They are set on a path that tells them they are really going somewhere—that life is not a dead end nor something to be endured or mastered. In a very real sense, they have been transformed, because they have laid hold of a source of strength which, in one way or another, they had hitherto denied themselves. They find themselves in possession of a degree of honesty, tolerance, unselfishness, peace of mind, and love of which they had thought themselves quite incapable. What they have received is a free gift and yet, usually, at least in some small part, they have made themselves ready to receive it.” We would say that prevenient grace aids us in becoming ready.

The first eleven steps are the ones that prepare us to receive God’s gift of grace, offered to us in Jesus. We may not be able to claim that we have fully experienced all the blessings in that description I just read, because we are still being perfected in love. But getting even a taste of this awakening—a taste of what it’s like to be a new creation in Christ—should move us to give a shout-out to Jesus. It should move us to want to take the message of God’s love and forgiveness and grace to others. That shout out may be in the form of words, or it may be in the form of living out the principles of God’s kingdom in our daily lives or, ideally, both. But, we can be the stones that shout out the good news of salvation to be found in Jesus our king.

The shouts on that day when Jesus entered Jerusalem were happy ones. They are the shouts we celebrate today. They are the shouts that we can carry to a world that sorely needs to hear them. But, between the shouts of welcome for a king and the happy Easter shouts of “He Is Risen,” there will be shout-outs of a different kind—shouts of accusation and lies and hatred and, finally, shouts calling for Jesus’ death. And so, having joyfully heard the Palm Sunday shouts of praise, we hear now those other shouts that accompanied Jesus on the path that eventually would lead to an empty tomb, but first must lead to the cross.

Luke 22:39-23:33, sel.
He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” They kept heaping many other insults on him. When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate.

Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”

Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed.

So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished. Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

May you be blessed in your journey through Holy Week. Amen.

~~ Pastor Carol Williams-Young