Sermon: Wave the Branches

April 10, 2022

Luke 19:28-40

by Eric Anderson

The ‘apapane was worried.

She wasn’t worried about herself. Her life was comfortable enough, with food and sunshine and rain and lots of trees. She had a loving family and good friends. She could play dodge-em games among the treetops and sing along with the other ‘apapane in chorus. For an ‘apapane, that’s a pretty good life, and it might even feel pretty good to a human.

But she was worried about… the ohi’a trees.

Like most ‘apapane, she enjoyed a varied diet. She’d visit all sorts of trees in the course of a day, including koa and naio. That gave her the chance to taste different flavors of nectar as well as finding the bugs and spiders that also liked to sip nectar from those flowers. But mostly, she drank her nectar from ohi’a lehua. Partially that was because her family’s part of the forest mostly contained ohi’a trees. Partially it was because, well, its nectar tasted so good.

As human beings, we know that she had some basis for concern, because of the fungal infection that has struck so many ohi’a trees on this island. Fortunately, she lived in a part of the forest that the disease hadn’t reached.

Still, she was worried. Ohi’a has, as you know, pretty obvious and obviously pretty flowers. They’ve got those slender tendrils with the golden tips, tendrils which range from deep red to bright yellow. Their blossom clusters form bright spots of color in the forest canopy.

She had noted, however, that frequently after she’d sipped nectar from these flowers, they’d begin to dry up and wither. Hard nubs would form where the flowers had been, which would eventually break open and a fine dust would drift away from them. It looked rather ugly to her. She worried that by taking the nectar, she was draining the flowers and injuring the tree.

Late one night she perched in an ohi’a tree. It was raining, and as she sheltered from the raindrops beneath ohi’a leaves, she began to weep. “Oh’ia,” she said, “I’m so sorry. I take your nectar and I make your flowers dry and even now I use your leaves for shelter.”

The ohi’a felt pity for her. Trees rarely speak at all, and almost never to the birds who rest and feed and nest in them, but the ‘apapane’s words and tears had moved this tree. She let the creaking of her branches take the shape of ‘apapane song. The birds listened in wonder as the ohi’a said:

“I thank you for your care, little bird. But do not fear. There is plenty of nectar in my flowers for you and for all your kind – indeed, for many other creatures of the forest. You will not drain me dry. What you do, in fact, is to carry pollen to me from other ohi’a trees, and you carry my pollen to other ohi’a trees. When you do, those flowers fade – but they’re forming are our seeds.”

“Your seeds?” asked the ‘apapane.

“Our seeds,” said the ohi’a. “Because of you and all those who sip our nectar, we can create those seeds we cast upon the wind. Because of you, new ohi’a shoots will sprout. New saplings will rise. New trees will grow.”

Sometimes what you think you’re doing isn’t what you’re actually doing.

A good example of this would be walking down the street – walking, rolling, driving, skateboarding doesn’t matter. What it feels like is that you are moving at a discernable pace, one step or one turn of the wheel at a time. Right?

But you’re not. You see, the Earth is spinning on its axis at about a thousand miles an hour at its axis. That pales in significance compared to the speed of Earth’s orbit around the sun, which is around 67,000 miles an hour. However, the sun isn’t stationary. It’s moving around the center of the Milky Way galaxy. And the galaxy isn’t stationary. It’s part of the expanding universe. In the end, each one of us is moving at about 1.4 million miles an hour. So feel free to sit down and take a rest.

Sometimes what you think you’re doing isn’t what you’re actually doing.

Kind of like Palm Sunday. Here we are with our palms – I hope you found some at home – waving them in celebration of Jesus’ royal entry into Jerusalem. We wave them despite the fact that Luke’s account, the one we just read, doesn’t mention palms or even trees. That’s in the other gospels. But we’ve got palms. Even when we read from Luke who didn’t mention greenery at all, we wave our palms.

Sometimes what you think you’re doing isn’t what you’re actually doing. That applied just as much to the people who welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago as it does to us.

Jesus’ procession was a deliberate invocation of royal imagery from the Scriptures. People welcomed monarchs by cushioning the streets with clothing or greenery. A king would generally ride a horse or a chariot when entering a city, but Jesus specifically emulated a different Scripture – a portion of the prophet Zechariah which stressed the simultaneous humility and authority of the king who rode a colt. Luke might have left out the cry, “Hosanna!” – which means “Save us!” – but he did make a little clarifying edit in the people’s shout of welcome from Psalm 118. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of Lord” became “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Luke didn’t want us to miss it. They welcomed a king. They expected a miracle.

What kind of miracle? The kind associated with the ancient kings and prophets: enemies struck down, armies that attacked themselves, the collapse of Jericho’s walls.

They expected a miracle. But: Sometimes what you think you’re doing isn’t what you’re actually doing.

In his book Postcards from Babylon, Brian Zahnd wrote, “The Palm Sunday shout is hosanna! It means ‘save now.’ In a world married to war, now more than ever, we need to acclaim Christ as King and shout hosanna. But our hosanna must not be a plea for Jesus to join our side, bless our troops, and help us win our war—it must be a plea to save us from our addiction to war.”

I can’t argue against the idea that humanity is addicted to war. Nations use force with such a range of reasons and justifications. It’s tough to argue with, “They attacked us,” I admit. I’m more skeptical of “They are going to attack us.” The George W. Bush administration used a new doctrine of preventive war in the case of potential or gathering threat to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “They are going to form alliances against us” seems like a very strange reason for invasion of a sovereign nation, but that’s apparently the justification Vladimir Putin’s administration has used for its war on Ukraine.

I don’t know enough to describe the justifications for the wars in Yemen, Tigray, Myanmar, or Afghanistan. I doubt I’d find the explanations convincing.

Those who praised Jesus that day thought a war of liberation was at hand. Pontius Pilate and the Romans thought that they’d be suppressing a rebellion. As Michael Joseph Brown writes at Working Preacher, speaking of the Passover holiday Jesus came to Jerusalem for: “God’s triumph over the greatest superpower of its day [meaning Egypt at Passover] must have resonated in the minds of the Jews in their second temple celebrations of the event. The political — nay, the revolutionary — runs through the entire feast. This explains why Pontius Pilate and his legions would have left the comfortable confines of his palace in Caesarea Maritima for the parochial space of Jerusalem.”

But nobody got that kind of miracle. They got a miracle, but not that one.

Jesus chose a course different from the monarchs and from the revolutionaries. He chose a course different from the plagues of the Exodus and from the collapsing walls of Jericho. He chose a course different from the tactical successes of David or the obvious wealth of Solomon. He chose a course different from the revolution of the Maccabees against the Greek occupiers and from that of Herod the Great’s pursuit of power. That course led to the cross.

In itself, that was a miracle.

Imagine the temptation for Jesus in this event. With a wave of his hand, he could have taken the other course. He could have overwhelmed the Romans, he could have dispossessed Herod. That’s what powerful people have historically tended to do. As Julius Caesar famously said, “Veni. Vidi. Vici.” “I came. I saw. I conquered.”

But not Jesus. He harangued people for sure – those money-changers in the Temple. He didn’t let his opponents off the hook in their debates. They kept falling silent as Jesus’ responses got more pointed. But he didn’t lead a rebellion. He didn’t ride a horse and wave a sword. What did he do on that day of festive royal procession?

It’s just in the next couple of verses: “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!’”

If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace.

Amy Lindeman Allen writes at Political Theology, “Jesus’ message is a message of peace for the favored ones, who in Luke’s narrative, are quickly identified as the downtrodden and outcast.  It is a message of division for those who resist it, and glory for the God in heaven who promises to secure it.  Jesus’ kingdom is not a kingdom on earth, tethered to the same political games and maneuvers of Rome and its supporters, but rather, a Kingdom sanctioned by God in heaven that brings to earth, with deeds of power, a different way of living.”

So wave your palms, not for any earthly ruler but for the one who rules in love in heaven. Wave your palms, not for victory but to recognize the things that make for peace. Wave your palms, not in full understanding of Jesus but in thanksgiving for the course he took. Wave your palms, not because salvation is complete but because it is visible, visible in a person on a colt, visible in a stooping figure washing feet, visible in a sufferer on a cross, visible in a resurrected redeeming friend.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video above includes the entire service of April 10, 2022. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

Pastor Eric sometimes speaks without entirely understanding what he is doing. He sometimes speaks without precisely matching what he’d planned to say.

The image (1830) is by Lars Wikström/Ryttare (1800–1865) – Biblia Dalecarlica 1965, målat av Lars Ryttare 1830., Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on April 10, 2022

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283