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Sabbath Sermon: Palms, Parties, and Tony Campolo

For centuries, Christians around the world have celebrated Palm Sunday in memory of Jesus’ triumphal entry recorded in Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19. Where possible, believers have paired their celebratory Hosannas with festive palm fronds. In less tropical location, Christians have waved bows off other trees, and in Kerala, India, marigold blossoms are strewn on church floors to welcome the coming King this time of year.

Baptist preacher and sociologist Tony Campolo is well known for his book, The Kingdom of Heaven is Like a Party. In it, Campolo tells the story of the time he planned a surprise birthday party for Agnes, a Honolulu prostitute who had never even had a birthday cake before. Near the end of the event, one of the restaurant workers asks Campolo what kind of church he belongs to, anyway. Campolo answers: “The kind that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.”

Jesus’ parables of the Kingdom were all equally striking and subversive. When Jesus rode to Jerusalem 2000 years ago, he was met with adoration only days before the derision of Friday. Our tolerance for such festivity is not long: a peasant king riding a dirty donkey, meek and humble, the grand celebration of a prostitute’s life. But we know that this Kingdom of Jesus, abused and misunderstood though it may be, ultimately wins in Easter resurrection.

Now listen as Campolo tells the story of Agnes in his own words. May our hearts always welcome the King and his Kingdom— with palm fronds, bows, and marigolds.

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