Sunday, April 16, 2000


Asbury First United Methodist Church
Palm Sunday

Text: Mark 11:1-11


Our two boys grew up bicycling and batting with two brothers of their own ages, Dan and Mike. Daniel the prophet and Michael the archangel,we used to say. We have photos like similar ones that you have of those ages,6-13, with Chris and Danny, Ben and Mike—dousing each other in the lake,learning to water ski, sledding in the cemetery, pitching and hitting. My favorite is taken from behind the backstop: Mike pitches, Ben catches, Danny is at bat and Chris is in the warm-up circle.

These two Old Testament figures have the blessing of aBrighton High School graduate mother, a close friend of our own Jeanne and DavidStrong, and who did vocal work at the Eastman. She is a talented soprano. Herhusband, Fred, the boys’ father, has played now 25 years for the SyracuseSymphony.

The family name is Klemperer. Fred Klemperer’s famous greatuncle, Otto Klemperer, was a talented musician, mentioned here to keep the choirawake, but also to tell those hiding in the balcony about salvation. AnotherKlemperer, Victor, Otto’s cousin, grew up as a Jew who converted toChristianity near Dresden in southeastern Germany, during the first half of thelast, the twentieth, century. He was born in the late nineteenth century, andlived to write a chilling diary about life as a yellow star wearer in the Naziyears, 1933-1945—1400 pages in all. I implore you to buy and read his books (2volumes). He tells in awful detail about life behind enemy lines, which is,frankly, your condition, too.

You are meant for freedom and love, that is the image inwhich you are made freedom and love. God is loving us into love and freeing usinto freedom, hard as it may be to remember from the corner of whatevercalaboose you are sitting in.

Roger Angel, the baseball essayist, wrote about the Yankeesand the Mets, saying that we all are part Yankee and part Met, though moreYankee than Met. I would add that we are all part Churchill and part Hitler,though maybe at our worst more Hitler than Churchill.

Victor Klemperer is hiding out, behind the line of battle, ina Jews’ House in Dresden, 1943.


Meanwhile, on the Mount of Olives, Jesus readies himself.

Under the Roman occupation—and it was the Romans finallywho crucified Jesus—the people of Jerusalem also knew the lash and boot of anoppressive culture. Hence the appearance in the Gospels of centurions and taxcollectors, of Pontius Pilate and Quirinius of Syria, of commands about cloakand coat, about one mile and two. Jesus was a Jew, as Hitler forgot, and we tendto as well. He lived in an occupied Palestine. His spiritual cousins are NatTurner, Sojourner Truth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Matthew Shepherd, Elian Gonzalez,Joan of Arc, Martin King, Oscar Romero. And, of course, children everywhere.

These are voices of truth, like that of Jesus, speaking aboutlove and freedom, in a land—your neighborhood—of lust and greed.

Hence the palms. The people, oppressed poor people, ofJerusalem awaited a Messiah, a Savior, to save them from the rape and pillage ofthe Roman Overlord. Are you the one, or are we to wait for another? This washardball. Remember the only mother and daughter scene in the New Testament, whenHerodias cuts off the head of John the Baptist? The colt providentiallyavailable is providentially provided and providentially ridden in publiccelebration of the great Messianic hope—death of the Romans!

A man on the promenade in Barcelona in 1978, a Protestantpastor, said, "La resurrecion significa la insurrecion."

The Palm Sunday procession was a first century Boston TeaParty, a first century Red Guard overthrow of Kerensky, a first century LechWalesa with the dock workers, a first century Bull Run, a first century collapseof the Berlin Wall. It was an uprising. Jesus said and did something that costhis life, something the civil authority, Rome, feared.

He touched the lingering hope in the human heart for love andfreedom.


Love and freedom we know best when we have lost them. Likeall the valuables of life—health, friends, virginity, church, peace—we knowthem fully when they are taken from us. I fear in our denomination, we may haveto learn to love the freedom of our pulpit—Methodist connectionalism—thehard way, by losing it to the warring ideologies of left and particularly thisyear of right. And in our country, we may have to learn the importance ofresponsible democratic process and leadership the hard way, through lurchingfrom anarchy to tyranny. Lenin and the Bosheviks rid themselves of all thosepesky legislators and decide to run the country with a 14-person cabinet, in thename, of course, of the proletariat. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘tilit’s gone.

Victor Klemperer, of Jewish blood, lost nearly everythingfrom 1933-1945. It happened bit by bit. He lost his job. He lost his driver’slicense. He lost his car. He lost his passport. He lost his bank account. Helost part of his pension. He lost his house. He lost his library. He lost hisbelongings. He lost four different lodgings. He lost his clothing, his teeth,his tobacco, his food, and his closest friends. Finally, starving, he and hiswife Eva, cringe under a synagogue roof through the fire bombing of Dresden, inthe winter of 1945, utterly destitute. Bit by bit.

What did Martin Neimoller say? "In Germany they camefirst for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t acommunist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’ta Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because Iwasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speakup because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no onewas left to speak up."

Maybe he had read Abraham Lincoln’s Letter to Joshua Speed:"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As anation we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal’. Now wepractically read it, ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes…foreignersand Catholics.’ When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some othercountry where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance,where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

From behind the lines, deep in the heart of the Third Reich,there was beating all that time at least one true heart, at least one voice oflove and freedom.


Meanwhile, back in Bethpage, Jesus makes his way through themisunderstanding of the people and the peremptory, premature praise of thecrowd.

We are not going to find our way out of this world’smultiple jailhouses, this world’s varied cellblocks, with ideological orpolitical uprising alone. For every Kerensky downed, means a Lenin raised, andevery Lenin downed means a Stalin raised. Calvin said our minds are idolfactories. Today he would perhaps say they are ideology factories.

Let us look at Jesus today as he walks into Jerusalem,Dresden, Rochester and every city of every age. Here he is. He is a Jew, areligious minority. He is a single man at middle age, a suspicious category. Heis a person of color, black we would say. He is a former fetus, the child ofMary. He is a nonviolent agent of change and good will. He is alone.

Dresden and Jerusalem

Last Easter I spoke about the liberal balance and the hope offreedom and love. Galatians inspired me to look for space, for openness. I wentto two annual conferences and implored the gathered to give each other ‘landlots of land’, to agree to disagree agreeably, like Peter and Paul had done solong ago. I ended by saying, remember the words of Jesus in his week, "Inmy Father’s house there are many rooms…"

A week ago I finished Victor Israel Klemperer’s Diary ofthe Nazi Years. Imagine my feeling when I read, page 466, from the winter of1945, at the point of starvation, that Klemperer wrote, his affirmation offaith, after more than ten years of hell, "A liberal stands by thesentence: ‘In my Father’s house there are many rooms…’"

Our hope in this life is to know the power of God who isloving us into love and freeing us into freedom.

In the heart of Jerusalem, Jesus is adorned with palms and psalms. His way has not yet become fully known. His hour is upon Him. In just a few days, he will ascend the staircase of a small city hotel. He will preside over a common meal. He will bend to his knees and wash his students’ feet.Then he too will say, "In my Father’s house there are many rooms…"

Our hope in preparation for a heavenly life is to know the power of God who is loving us into love and freeing us into freedom.

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