March 20, 2016

The Lord Needs It

Passage: Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 118:1-2. 19-29, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 19:28-40
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Please Note: Due to technical challenges, there is no audio recording for this week's Sermon.

… he (Jesus) 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.” ’

On February 12, 2016 in Havana, Cuba a meeting took place between the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and Pope Francis, a historic development in the 1,000-year schism that divided Christianity between east and west. They signed a joint declaration that stressed above all the need to defend Christians from facing lethal persecution in their ancient homelands in the Middle East where, it bears constant repeating, their communities existed before Islam was founded.

Who will protect them? Father Raymond J. de Souza, a chaplain and professor at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario), posed this question in a National Post column stating that Vladimir Putin is on the march. “At best,” wrote ds Souza, “the American and European powers seek to contain the anti-Christian massacres, and often fail at that. Neither America nor Europe has its heart in the fight against Islamist persecution of Christians.” “Putin” de Souza observes, “is presenting Russia — Holy Russia, as he is wont to style it on occasion — as the saviour of those ancient Christian communities. The leaders of the two largest Christian Churches in the world — Rome and Moscow — have pleaded for protection. Putin is poised to cynically deliver it, with the added benefit of expanding Russia’s footprint in the Middle East to a larger size than it has been in 50 years.”

We come again to Palm Sunday and in the background of the story political powers are on the move at Jerusalem. Tensions are high because Jewish feasts bring pilgrims from all over; some who are dedicated to the overthrow of Rome by force. Pilate and his entourage of soldiers are on their way bringing with them the force of Imperial Rome. The High Priest and the political machinery of Israel’s leadership are mobilized to keep their place of power and influence secure during this Passover. Jesus has been targeted as a threat to these political arrangements and, according to the John’s gospel, people are on alert to find him so he can be arrested.

I am not suggesting any direct parallels between Pilate and Putin or between Western political powers and that of the Jewish Sanhedrin. I do note with you that Jesus comes riding as King into the middle of these political powers; in a manner of speaking, he is on the march. Then and now our Lord comes with the same message. The king has come and what Jesus wants to say to the world of Pilate and Caiaphas he wants to say the same to the world of Western powers and Putin. Which, and I know this may sound odd, brings me to the donkey in the story of this Palm Sunday march of our Lord and his followers.

When I read Luke’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem—and the account of Matthew and Mark for that matter—I am struck by how much attention is given to the procurement of a donkey for Jesus to ride in this march. Of the thirteen verses in Luke’s account seven are about the securing of this animal for Jesus to ride. Why? Why do the gospel writers want us to make sure to take note of Jesus’ choice of transportation? It isn’t because Jesus is tired and does not want to walk.

Luke assumes what Matthew makes plain; the words of the prophet Zechariah. (Zechariah 9:9) “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The purpose of the donkey is that Jesus announces he is king and what sort of king he is—“humble and riding in a donkey.” He comes to give himself for us. His rule is not like any of those who rule with force.

So it is that the Apostle Paul would enjoin the church with regard to our Lord’s humble self-giving. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

On Palm Sunday amidst all the shouts of popular acclaim for Jesus as the blessed king who comes in the name of the Lord bringing heaven’s peace we must keep in mind that what Jesus knows will make for peace is not what we typically think. Palm Sunday is a part of that one great event of our Lord giving up his life for us that will culminate on Good Friday. Jesus is fully aware of what he is riding into; that he keeps on going into Jerusalem to keep this appointment for us is love that is beyond comprehension. Jesus comes to give himself that we might be freed of the penalty and power of sin. It is through the prism of his self-giving that we view the world including its political structures.

Commenting on this text of scripture a minister, Rev. William Carter, wrote; “Years ago, I was studying the New Testament while my father worked for a military contractor. That prompted many interesting conversations during my school vacations. I spoke eagerly about my dreams for world peace, and he listened patiently. Sometimes he noted that it was people like him who put money in the offering plate so people like me could become preachers. After one of my rants he said, “I do not disagree with anything you have said, but we will never have peace on earth until we can quiet the wars within our own hearts.” (Feasting on The Word; Year C, Volume 2, p. 156)

It seems to me that Rev. Carter’s father knows the story of Palm Sunday. Jesus rides the donkey to announce the nature of his kingship. He comes humbly to give himself for us not in the might that destroys and dominates but in love that restores and sets us free. Our Lord’s actions reveal that our fundamental need is to be liberated from sin; this is behind his instruction about procuring the donkey—the Lord needs it.

1. The Lord needs it. I invite you to consider that it was a donkey that our Lord said he needed—he needed it in the proclamation of his love for the world. It may seem a simple thing—a person who had donkeys for hire gave the use of one of these for our Lord to ride into Jerusalem. Jesus had many followers and it may well be that he pre-arranged with the owner for its use. Nonetheless, a simple thing now in the hands of our Lord can proclaim the glory of his love for us.

Now it is important to note that the event of Jesus’ crucifixion is not self-interpreting. Neither is the donkey ride. Simply observing what is happening does not disclose its meaning. Many others were crucified by Rome—what will make our Lord’s crucifixion any different? When the crucifixion occurs it is clear the disciples don’t see anything special happening here—they collective desertion of Jesus tells you as much. It was after the resurrection that Jesus fills them in on the meaning of these events.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44-47)

Note the significance of these events of Jesus suffering; “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” This is what this king riding into Jerusalem—the one who comes in the name of the Lord—this is what this king believes what humans need so they might have peace. Repentance and forgiveness of sins.

The point I make here is that our Lord calls for what his followers have to place at our Lord’s disposal for this proclamation. In the instance of this day at Jerusalem he asks for the donkey. He asks for our efforts that this great news of his forgiveness be made known through the church. Our Lord needs it. He needs what I have to be offered for him. Your efforts to serve in leadership of council or committee, to make our building accommodating for worship, to offer time for teaching and caring for children, to lend your voice for choir, to be a friend to the person who appears to be by themselves, to lend a word of encouragement, to serve the coffee or tea, etc., the Lord needs it.

I think of people who, for example, hear of another family in some distress and prepares some food and delivers it to the hurting family—this is a witness to God’s love in the world. The service that looks to the welfare of others is a witness to the king’s love riding to Jerusalem. The heart that knows itself forgiven of God then extends forgiveness to the one who has done harm to them. It is also a heart set free of judgemental-ism towards others because we know ourselves forgiven of sin. In such action we bear witness to the king who gives himself for us.

The Lord needs it. It may not seem like much. It was just a donkey. Yet, our Lord knows how to weave that tapestry of blessing that he purposes for people with what we have to offer. Further, God wastes nothing and all this we offer to him to make forgiveness in his name known he perfects for that kingdom of love of which there will be no end.

On Palm Sunday we are reminded of where Jesus is riding to. Jesus ‘rides on the donkey’, indeed; he rides in order to die; and he rides deathward in majesty just because he, this king, is king like no other. The only crown this king will ever wear is a crown of thorns; and the only subjects who will ever thank and praise and adore him are those who have given themselves to him as surely as he first gave himself to them and for them. What matters is that I – you too; what matters is that we give ourselves up afresh to him who finds our adoring gratitude and love the fruit of the travail of his soul. For then he will be satisfied for ever and ever.

2. One final note. When the two disciples charged with this mission went to bring this animal for our Lord to ride Luke tells is that they “found it as he had told them.” There is another occasion when Luke uses very similar language. It was with respect to some shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks by night and were summoned to a stable. “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:20)

Take this word as a word of confidence; all that our Lord calls from us in service of his kingdom will have its fulfillment as he told us.

… he (Jesus) 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.