Sermon preached for Palm Sunday for Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church.
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'”
So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.”
Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.
As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
The truth will out.
It was a clown who said that, originally. One of Shakespeare’s comic reliefs, in the mostly very unfunny play, The Merchant of Venice. A blind father comes looking for his son, and the son—Lancelot—decides to rattle him with callous jokes, pretending to be someone else, pretending the real son is dead, before revealing it’s actually himself.
“Give me your blessing:” Lancelot says to his suspicious father, “truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man’s son may, but at the length truth will out.”
It’s one of thousands of Shakespearian turns of phrase that has made its way into the English language. The truth will out. No matter how well we think we have things under wraps, the truth will out.
Today we celebrate Palm Sunday, and while Luke doesn’t recall there actually being any palms when Jesus came into Jerusalem, he does remember that there was a parade. A ruckus. Almost a musical number.
Jesus’ disciples—not just the twelve we often think of, but a “whole multitude”—all those folks who have come to love him and learn from him and lean on him during his three year ministry—have formed a flash mob. They are shouting and telling stories about everything he has done—the healings, the miracles, the new teachings, the way he seems to channel the very power of God. And, just like the multitude of angels that heralded his birth, this earthly multitude sings out. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
The disciples are, to put it mildly, causing a scene. And not everyone approves.
Luke remembers how some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”
Maybe the Pharisees were just killjoys and curmudgeons. But not necessarily. After all, Jerusalem is occupied territory. And when there are foreign soldiers in the streets, it does not do to draw too much attention to yourself. Especially not with political phrases like “blessed is the king.” Maybe the Pharisees are jealous, but maybe they are wise. Maybe they want desperately to avoid the clash they see coming. If only Jesus and his disciples would tone it down, then everyone can get out of here alive.
But whether their demands come from sour grapes or sincere concern—or some very human mixture of the two—Jesus declines. “I tell you,” he responds, “if these [people] were silent, the stones would shout out.”
The truth will out. One way or another, the truth will out.
Just like I don’t know what caused the Pharisees to hiss their “hush ups,” I don’t know how they took this statement. Did they hear in his response a promise, or a threat?
How about us? If I looked you in the eye and said the truth about you was going to come out, would you celebrate, or would you panic?
So many of us carry around secrets that make us sick. It’s a bit of an old saw in psychology by this point—you are only as sick as your secrets. But in my experience of the world, it’s true. Because the truth will out, and if we don’t own it, and give it voice, it will come out sideways.
I learned that phrase from a seminary professor whose job was to teach us how to handle the darker side of congregational life; the secrets and shames that can fester in our shiny bright sanctuaries. I didn’t exactly enjoy her class, but I was grateful for it.
When this professor was a young priest, not too long after women first started being ordained in her denomination, she was the associate to a senior pastor who was an active alcoholic. His behavior was erratic at best, and sometimes destructive, inappropriate. He wouldn’t admit it, but people knew. Yet everyone kept silence, and when she brought her concerns to the lay leaders in her congregation, they advised the same for her.
She was new; she was young; she was female; she kept quiet. She covered for him. She picked up the slack. She drove him home when he was drunk.
But despite this conspiracy to protect their church’s image at all costs, the truth kept coming out sideways. Staff turned over frequently. Council meetings bristled with anger and frustration. Mission projects stalled halfway through, and no one could say why, and everyone blamed each other.
And my professor started getting sick.
“I used to think the thing about being as sick as your secrets was a metaphor,” my professor said. “But I was really sick. Nausea, headaches, blood pressure issues. He was the one with an illness, but I was getting sick from it.”
The truth came out. Not in a healthy way—not the way it would have if her boss had admitted he was struggling, and sought help—but sideways. It came out in dispirited leaders who spent all their spiritual energy and capital covering for the senior pastor. It came out in my professor’s body. It came out in the general worry and tension in the congregation, desperately trying to look perfect.
My professor ultimately left that church. “I couldn’t say anything, but I still felt like I was screaming all the time. And I couldn’t do any ministry that way. But I learned about the importance of naming hard truths. And lo and behold, in my third call, I was sent to work with another alcoholic senior pastor. And this time I marshaled all my courage, and laid as much groundwork with the congregational leaders as I could, and we got him to admit it out loud. To make a confession, and to go get help. And from the outside, that congregation looked like a mess. Looked as chaotic and contentious as that first congregation had looked shiny and clean. But bit by bit, they were able to build a new identity around a new truth: that they had given their beloved priest time and space to work on healing, that they were strong enough to withstand the disruption to their ministries, and that they were faithful enough to forgive him.
Everyone told me speaking out would destroy the congregation. But I really thought these people were stronger than that, and I was right. They had the faith to hear the truth spoken, and to become a place that held fast to the truth. I stayed there until I went back for my PhD.”
This is a story about a congregation, an institution, and organization, but the lessons are true at any scale. Whether nationally or within a family or even within our own souls, trying to cover up our truths never works. The truth will out, and if it can’t come out clean, it will come out messy.
This Lent we have been talking about spiritual health, and this is one of the bitterest medicines for our souls: we have to start by owning the truth about ourselves. Just like it is almost impossible to get better from a physical illness without the right diagnosis, it’s nearly impossible to heal our souls without knowing what it is that is hurting us. Whether it’s a shame we’re holding onto, a piece of our identity we haven’t admitted to, a dream that we keep deferring, bottling up the truth only produces shrapnel along the way. Healing can only happen when we’re willing to speak the truth.
Now, I have seen enough sci-fi episodes where characters are all given truth serum to know that vomiting all our truth over everyone we meet is not precisely a good idea. When I say you need to speak your truth, I do not mean that you need to tell all your darkest secrets to the waitress at Skyline. What I mean is that you need to find someone you can be honest with, who has demonstrated themself to be compassionate and strong. Maybe that person is a close friend. Maybe they are a therapist or clergy.
But if the whole concept scares the pants off you, maybe start with God. God knows the truth about you, but with God you can practice. You can tell God you are scared. Or angry. Or lost. Or excited. Or weary. And if you start with God, maybe keep on talking to God. That’s called a prayer life, and it’s the practice of regular check-ins with our Great Physician.
The truth will out, but you are in charge of how it happens. Does it happen in prayer? Does it happen with people you love? Or does it spew out sideways?
The truth will out. If we are silent, the stones will shout.
When my soul is not well, when I am wrapped up in my own head, I hear those words as a threat. That somehow everyone will know the truth about me—that I am messed up, that I betray my values a thousand times a day, that I am a fraud and a failure.
But the funniest thing happens. When I summon the last shreds of my courage, and tell God about how awful I really am, God gently rolls her eyes and gathers me in close. “That’s not the truth I see,” God says. “And my truth will out too.”
“I made you, and I saved you, and I love you. You were worth my life. You were worth my death. Here’s the truth I’m giving back to you: you are my child, and always will be, and there is nothing you can do to change that.”
The truth will out, friends. God’s truth will out, even if we do everything in our power to deny it. On a hill outside Jerusalem, the cross sang the truth across the ages: we do not have to be perfect to be worth saving. We are that deeply loved, just because we are.
If these keep silent, the stones will shout out, Jesus says.
Even if the disciples are silent, the truth about Jesus will get out, that he is here to show us God’s love so loudly and dramatically that even the dullest among us will sit up and take notice.
The truth will out, if God has to give voice to the very stones of the earth. Even if the disciples are silent, the city itself, from pavestone to watch tower, will ring with truth.
So here is my question: what do you need to shout out? What truth do you need to admit to yourself, to your best friend, to God? What truth do you need to claim for yourself in order to being to heal? It may not be a lot of fun, this truth-telling. It’s a bit like pulling out a splinter so the skin can heal. But it’s the only place to start.
And if the very idea makes you cringe, let me remind you one more time of God’s love: a love that looked, clear-eyed, at every sin and shame and secret in the world, and said, “I want to go be with them.”
Not everyone will approve of your truth. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I have to be honest. Not everyone approved of God’s truth, either. That’s how we ended up with God on the cross. But the stones are shouting, and in seven days, we are going to roll one of those stones away.
And then we’ll see God’s truth come out.