(When I was in the middle of writing this sermon, I realized with a shock that my dear mother died on April 13th 2011, and that this sermon – that concerns her — was written on the 8th anniversary of her death. For this reason, I dedicate my Palm Sunday sermon, this morning, to the memory of my mother, Lois Eleanor Koyama.)
The United Church of Jaffrey
“LP” – Ah, the LP – remember them?
We also used to call them “33’s”
Anyone today, who is less then 25 years of age probably absolutely no idea what I’m talking about…
But you folks remember, don’t you?
Will you travel with me, back to 1974?
Back then, I lived on the side of a hill in a place called Dunedin – which was in the South Island of New Zealand.
As we zoom in, on our time machine, we see me, a 9 year-old boy, standing on my tiptoes in the corner of the living room.
I am in the act of lifting the stylus of our Sony turntable with the fleshy part of the topside of my pointer finger…
The tip of my tongue is sticking out the side of my mouth in that Charlie Brown way — because this is a delicate maneuver that requires concentration.
As I move the needle over to the lip on edge of the LP, the record itself starts to spin, ramping up to a steady speed of 33 and on third revolutions per minute.
Now I lower the needle onto the spinning record.
And this is the incredibly delicious moment when diamond on the tip of the needle, makes contact with the vinyl, and for an instant, you hear the hisssss of and pop of the vinyl before the music jumps in.
Da da-da da da-da da da-da-da-da-da-da-da ….
Hosanna Hey, zanna, zanna, zanna Ho,
Zanna Hey zanna Ho
Yes… You guessed it. It was the first song on the second side of Jesus Christ Superstar!
At this point, 9 year-old Mark is jumping up and down in the living room singing at the top of his voice…
Hey JC, JC, Won’t you smile at me
Zanna Ho Zanna
Let’s leave 9-year-old Mark for a little bit – we will, of course return to him soon enough.
As we return to the present, join me, if you will, in a brief consideration of rock.
Not Rock, as in Rock n’ Roll, but rock – as in stones – the natural objects studied by geologists.
Earlier in the service, I asked our kids to help me give each of you a stone – so each of you, hopefully, can now look down at the stone in your hand.
What adjectives would you use describe the stone that is sitting in the palm of your hand?
Let me see…
These are not terribly surprising adjectives.
We consider rocks to be something of a known quantity. If there is anything that we can safely assume, it is that a rock is solid and heavy.
Whenever I mess around with rocks, I always wear steel-toed boots, because I know that rocks are hard and heavy and my toes are averse to both of these things.
A rock, after all, is a rock! It’s not going to suddenly turn into a feather as it falls toward my toe…
Here are some of the adjectives I did not hear you use to describe your rock.
You did not use the word “opinionated.”
Since a rock has no brain, “opinionated” is not an adjective that we use describe a rock.
You did not use the word “political.”
Your rocks are not political because, once again, they lack the necessary brains to have a political intention. Politicians come and go, and rocks have no opinion about it.
You did not use the word “jubilant.”
Rocks are not jubilant for the same reasons that they don’t care about politics. Without brains, they lack the necessary intention to be jubilant.
When left 9-year-old Mark, he was singing along with a song called “Hosanna” – the first song on the second side of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Let’s unfreeze him again, as he sings along with the crowd who is welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem:
Hey JC, JC, Won’t you smile at me
Zanna Ho Zanna
Yes, this song, from Jesus Christ Superstar, is a direct allusion to the scripture passage that we heard this morning.
And – I will admit to you – this song was my childhood introduction to this story.
I remember it well, because, I knew the lyrics by heart:
Next, just like in the story, a Pharisee appears and complains about the crowds:
Tell the rabble to be quiet
We anticipate a riot, this common crowd
Is much too loud.
Tell the mob who sing your song
That they are fools and they are wrong
They are a curse
They should disperse!
And in reply to this cantankerous Pharisaical baritone, Jesus replies in a bright and beautifully optimistic tenor:
Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd,
Nothing can be done to stop the shouting!
If every tongue was still the noise would still continue
The rocks and stones themselves would start to sing!
My mother, who had some strong misgivings about leaving her children’s religious education to a Rock Opera, would, occasionally appear from the other room where she was folding laundry and say:
“Jesus never said that!” or “It didn’t happen like that!”
So I remember asking her about the stones.
“Ma, did the stones really start to sing?”
“Well,” she said “Jesus said that the stones could sing, not that they did.”
“Well,” I said, undaunted, “could they?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve never heard a stone sing, but if he said they could, maybe they could!”
My mother, clearly, was not a geologist.
No doubt, she would’ve answered differently if she was a geologist.
And I am willing to bet that there are many people out there who would take
Issue with the way she answered her son.
There are many people — and the number of such people is growing every day – who would say that my mother’s answer was typical of a kind weak mindedness that accompanies a certain unquestioning religious piety.
And they may be right.
My mother was a religious person
She was Christian.
She was, I think, a person of integrity and great intelligence.
And so, I believe, her answer was not the weak-minded reflex of a person who blindly believes anything the Bible says, regardless of evidence to the contrary.
I believe that her answer was the answer that allowed me – a 9-year-old child, to be open to many possible realities.
She did not use geological fact to clobber my imagination.
She allowed story to open my mind to wonder.
Which, if you will excuse me, is important.
Albert Einstein, one of human history’s most influential scientists, once wrote, and I quote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
And, as my mentor, the poet Christian Wiman wrote: “Wonder is the precondition for all wisdom.”
So in conclusion, my imagination offers two notions – one is a lovely irony, and the second is a distinct possibility.
The lovely irony, is that stones do sing! While my mother and I were having that conversation, the diamond on the needle of that Sony turntable was making that stereo sing!
And the possibility? Stones may actually be singing!
Given geological time (within which our human lives are but a passing instant) it may be that stones are singing – it’s just that we don’t live long enough to hear their voices.
The minds and spirits that are the playgrounds of our imagination are God’s gifts to us.
What is possible?