Raising Your Protest Cry

I’ve been pretty active doing supply preaching lately, so I thought it might be appropriate to share some recent sermons on the blog.  This sermon, “Raising Your Protest Cry”, was one I preached at the bilingual service, La Mesa Y Cafe, at United Church of Chapel, on Palm Sunday.

I hope it blesses you!

Your progressive redneck preacher,


preaching at la mesa


Matthew 21:(1-5) 6-10, (11)
jewish-temple-11(21:1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,
21:2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.
21:3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”
21:4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
21:5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”)

21:6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;
21:7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.
21:8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
21:9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
21:10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”

(21:11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”)

I want to thank our little group here for their demonstration. It feels weird, doesn’t it, to have people crying out protest songs here at church, where we want everything to be done decently and in order?

Yet how appropriate!

So often we picture the event we read about in our Scripture, Palm Sunday, as something cute and comfortable: well-dressed children waving palm branches and singing hosannas, all lined up in a row.

refugee-protest-afpSuch a tasteful, orderly, pretty, upbeat gathering is not what Matthew’s Gospel describes. Instead it is a scene much like what we just re-enacted, with signs of protest lifted high and cries for justice being raised against the powers that be. It is a confusing, disorderly, raucous crowd moving fast on Jerusalem’s highway to the House of God. As my country kinfolk from Eastern North Carolina might put things, it was more a “hot mess” than we like to imagine.

The people’s cry, “Hosanna,” literally means “come save us”. It is a protest song of sorts, calling out for the oppressed to be set free. That protest song echoes loud and true from the voices of hard-working folk pressed down by life, most without land, jobs, or prospects, who stand shut out of the system by rich and wealthy landowners. A wealthy few have gobbled up what little land and money is in Palestine, forcing even those blessed with work to slave night and day upon land they themselves can never own, harvesting crops and resources they can never enjoy. The ones crushing these ordinary folks under foot are the very people running the royal palace and the house of God. To keep this system in place they got in bed with the same foreign Roman oppressors who had conquered them, daily using and abusing their fellow countrymen & women. What’s more, these wealthy few whom the cry “hosanna” protested, though they ran both the House of God where God’s presence ought to be found and the royal palace where God’s justice ought to be able to be sought, had ignored the call of the very same Bible which commissioned them. The book of Amos proclaimed that no one can gather up land upon land, pushing out their fellow citizens as those leaders have done, without forsaking God’s presence. And the book of Leviticus tells us to preserve God’s justice, in every generation the wealthy few are required by God to return the land and wealth they gathered over the years back into the hands of ordinary working folk fairly and equally, while canceling every single debt.

lives-matterThis cry of hosanna is a challenge against this system, a system Jesus spent his ministry preaching and teaching against. When Jesus proclaimed “the kingdom of God has come near”, he was not proclaiming heaven someday in the bye and bye but challenging the status quo here and now, a system that oppressed ordinary people and all who were deemed different. When Jesus called the wealthy to sell their goods and give to the poor, he was asking folks like these landowners to give up the need for wealth at any cost, to work against this system of oppression, by putting what they did not need into a common pool which could be used to lift up out of poverty those crushed by this system. Even baptism and communion which today may seem like quaint ceremonies were not so for Jesus. Instead they were his announcing in a way that could be seen and felt by all the radical message that forgiveness, community, grace, and access to God aren’t limited by wealth, class, or education as the religious system run by these wealthy landowners had come to suggest, but iss instead as available to all as the simple bread folks every break everyday at their family tables, just as free as the water in the creek behind our church. All Jesus said and did stood against powers of oppression in his day that crushed people’s necks underfoot.

I wonder – what systems of oppression do you see crushing people in our day? Anyone? (allow discussion)

Jesus’ ministry fulfilled the words later spoken by Deitrich Bonhoeffer, who in explaining his choice to resist Adolf Hitler’s persecution of Jews, people with disabilities, and gays during World War II, said “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”


In riding in, comically astride between two animals – a mother donkey, and her nursing baby colt– Jesus is organizing a people’s protest against these powers that be, and the Roman occupiers who legitimize them. At the same moment Jesus rides into town on this pair of animals any farming family could have pulled out of their barn, on the other side of Jerusalem the Roman armies would have marched victoriously through town, trumpets blaring, upon armed war-horses.

Jesus is saying your power is limited, Rome, armies, you wealthy. There is another kingdom breaking out which can shake you to your foundations. One built not on the backs of armed horses or the wings of planes leading air strikes that rain down weaponized death from above but instead in the compassion, the love, a mother shares with her children. A way of being community built on recognizing all around you as equally children of one Mother, the Mother who is the Creator God who births each person into the world as Her very own, calling each person “my child, whom I love, in whom I am well-pleased”.

Multicultural Jesus 1Jesus announces a kingdom expressed in tearing down the systems that oppress and building in their place communities based on sharing, being a servant to each other, and letting every voice be heard. Knowing that this is what Jesus is making clear by this protest allows us to understanding how Palm Sunday led to Good Friday. As UCC theologian Walter Brueggemann often says, “Jesus did not get crucified for being a nice man”. No, it was for standing against injustice.

This was Jesus’ cry for justice, his hosanna, his protest song. It is for this cry raised, without apologies, that Jesus was killed by the powers that be.

I ask you today, what is your protest song? Would some of you share if you wrote a song of protest today what it would be? Anyone? (allow discussion)

Ultimately, we all are called to discover and raise our own protest song. When Jesus says to take up our cross and follow Him, which is the message of this Holy Week we begin today, too often we wrongly identify that call with a call to punish ourselves, accept mistreatment, or not fully embrace life. Yet when we realize Jesus’ going to the cross began by his raising this protest cry and calling people to lift their own protest songs to the heavens, we can see this call as something different: the call to find in what ways God has called each of us to jam our spoke into the wheel of injustice, doing our part to break its power, so it no longer crushes under foot the hurting.

Throughout the years people of God have heard this call. It is such a call that led the countless migrant folk fleeing slavery here in the American south with help from the Congregationalists who ran the Underground railroad, in whose tradition our church stands, to sing old Gospel spirituals like “Wade in the Water”. It is a such call that led their descendants, together with my white ancestors, to join in songs like “We Shall Overcome” while resisting segregation laws which oppressed people of color. It is such a call that led Cesar Chavez to cry out “Si se puede” – yes we can, when people said the largely Latino farm workers he represented couldn’t get justice.

It such a call that led Clarence Jordan, a white Baptist minister, to organize an alternative community called Koinonia Farm where, in the midst of racial oppression and segregation in the Jim Crow south, people of every skin color could pray and work together as equals, supporting themselves from the fruit of God’s good earth. It is such a call to resist oppression through communities of equality that led the Rev. Troy Perry, to start the first Metropolitan Community Church, the very first open and affirming church in America, one like our own where queer people like himself and straights like me alike are welcomed as of equal worth, fully loved by God just as they are. Similarly, it is such an impulse which led believers of all stripes to form the first Sanctuary churches, where immigrants regardless of legal status are protected, supported, and welcomed as equals with folks born and raised in this country, and which is inspiring our church today to begin the process to become a Sanctuary church too.

I want to invite you to share ways you see that either you as an individual or we as a church can raise our song of protest against some specific injustice today. (allow comments)

What is your cry of protest, your song of freedom? I invite you to raise it today!

As our prayer of response together, I invite you to join in saying the words of a protest song that was the prayer at the heart of the gay rights movement whose words reflect the cry Jesus raises and invites us to raise, at the start of Holy Week – available in both Spanish and English in our handout. Let us pray the prayer “singing for our lives”.

Singing for Our Lives

(In English)

We are a gentle, angry people

and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a justice-seeking people

and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are young and old together

and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a land of many colors

and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are gay and straight together

and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a gentle, loving people

and we are singing, singing for our lives.

Hear our cry, Amen.

Cantando para nuestras vidas

En español

Somos una gente amable y enojada

Y estamos cantando, cantando para nuestras vidas

Somos una gente que busca la justicia

Y estamos cantando, cantando para nuestras vidas

Somos jóvenes y viejos juntos

Y estamos cantando, cantando para nuestras vidas

Somos una tierra de muchos colores

Y estamos cantando, cantando para nuestras vidas

Somos homosexuales y heterosexuales juntos

Y estamos cantando, cantando para nuestras vidas

Somos una gente amable y cariñosa

Y estamos cantando, cantando para nuestras vidas.

Escucha nuestro grito, Amén.


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