Silent Stones

Palm Sunday Sermon by Pastor Doug Stratton — April 5, 2020

Luke 18: 35-40 

They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”[b]

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.

Central Idea: While Silence can be a beautiful gift to deepen and our lives, it can also be a heavy stone that will keep us from experiencing resurrection in our lives. 

Stones are among the most silent of things in nature. If you hit two stones together all you hear is a thud. While splitting a rock may result in a cracking sound, that is all. Rocks don’t move or laugh or sing. However, in a small park in Bucks County, there are whole field of stones that ring. When you strike these rocks with a hammer, or even another rock, they ring at different tones. Some are as clear as a bell, others sound metallic. It is a fascinating place to visit. 

Even though rocks ring in a few places in the world, for the most part, rocks remain silent. But Jesus, on that first Palm Sunday, when asked to silence his followers, declared, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

What would that have sounded like? What brought about that response from Jesus? 

The day we celebrate as Palm Sunday is the day that we remember when Jesus entered Jerusalem the week before Passover and his crucifixion. As the synoptic gospels tell the story of Jesus, this is the first time in his ministry that he has come to the Holy City. As he approached, a crowd of pilgrims were also going to the city. Unlike the streets in our towns today, the road to Jerusalem was packed with people. And the people were getting excited. The Passover was the commemoration of their ancestors’ freedom from slavery. It was a day that awakened the longing in their souls to be free. As they approached the city they sang the Psalms of ascent, they are found in Psalm 120-134. These are songs of peace that long for security. They are songs that give voice to the people’s anguish. They reminded the people of the victories God had provided. As the pilgrims sang these songs, a nationalistic spirit rose among the people. As people streamed toward the city, they could feel the call to freedom once again. 

When they recognized Jesus and his disciples, they saw in him the chance to restore the nation to its glory. With the number of people who had been following him and the miraculous acts of power he had displayed, they knew Jesus could lead the revolution and that God would be on their side. And so they rallied around him. They danced, they sang, they praised God and they encouraged Jesus along the way. They were ready for the revolution! 

This scared the religious and political leaders and they came to Jesus and told him to calm his followers, Jesus responded with the words we quoted earlier, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” The people were shaking the cobblestones! 

This was not the time for silence. Speak up! Speak out! Let your praise be heard. Speak out your testimony. Don’t let the rocks shout for you!

But you know what, the rocks did not shout that day, and they don’t cry out today either. Rocks are silent. 

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes 4 said,There is a time to be silent and a time to speak.” And that is still true. There is a time for silence. In fact, silence is a beautiful spiritual discipline that will deepen your relationship with God. To practice a day of silence, not speaking, not writing, not chatting or tweeting is a hard task. We are social people, we interact because it is a matter of survival. This time of quarantine is hard because we need others. As social animals, when we see someone in pain, it is our nature to reach out and to comfort with a touch or a hug. Not being able to do so, places us in a position of silence that we are not accustom to. Isolation and silence is not part of our nature. But disciplined silence is a gift that can be a blessing. It has been said that the best thing Job’s friends did when they came to see him in his misery was to sit with him for 7 days, saying nothing (Job 2:11-13). Yes, silence can be a gift of God. 

But there is another side to silence. It is the silence of the stones that scream in our faces when we need to hear a word of encouragement or support. It is the silence of a spouse who refuses to acknowledge the presence of his partner. It is the silence fear that locks our lips shut when we need to scream. It is the silence that closes our mouths when we see injustice. Silence.

Simon and Garfunkle captured this side of silence in their hit, “The Sounds of Silence.” Because it was presented as a folk song, most of us never heard the anguish within the words. 

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share

And no one dare

Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools” said I, “You do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you”

But my words like silent raindrops fell

And echoed

In the wells of silence

A few years ago the heavy metal group “Disturbed” covered the song in their own unique way, a way that in which you cannot miss the anguish of the stones of silence

We have all encountered these stones:

Times when the silence has been so loud that you cannot even hear yourself think. These are times of anguish, they are reflected in Jesus’ cry from the cross, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me. Locked in silence and alone, not even in that moment did the stones cry out. We long to hear from God in these moments of silence, or from others, or even from the stones. 

As we live in a world that has been reshaped by this coronavirus, many of us are experiencing silence. Perhaps it is the silence of watching from a distance as people we love die alone; perhaps it is the silent stones of shunning that is felt as social distancing becomes our habit; or maybe it is the silence of plans that have been cancelled, family gatherings postponed, celebrations forgotten. 

When you experience the silence of loneliness, I would encourage you  to reach out to a lonely person. Call them on the phone, offer to assist their needs, drive by their home and honk and wave and hold a one vehicle parade in their honor. If you will reach out to others who are lonely, you will find your silence broken. 

But when you are the one who is silencing the people around you, when you are the one who remains silent in the face of injustice, or racism, or homophobic slurs, what can you do with the stone that sits in your heart? When you have silenced the woman who has been abused, or the child who has questions about her faith, or the immigrant who has cried out for help, what can you do with the stone of silence in your heart?

I believe there is only one thing we can do. We must repent and bring the silent stone to the cross. There the stones will speak. When Jesus died, Matthew tells us the earth shook, in other words the stones yelled in anguish, while they were silent in the time of praise, they cried out their anguish in the time of death. Bring your silent stones to the cross and trust God to bring healing to your soul. 

Have a blessed week!

~ Pastor Doug