Monday, April 6, 2009

Palm Sunday Sermon - Jesus as King

Scripture: Mark 11:1-11

What Would Jesus Ride?

Do you remember the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign sponsored by a coalition of religious and environmental groups hoping to get people to switch to more fuel-efficient cars.
At the times, clergy were asked what they thought Jesus would drive. According to 29 percent of church leaders he would still walk. Their reasoning is that he spent his life talking to people and spreading the word of God, which would not be possible behind the wheel of a car.
Of those who said he would choose to drive, 17 percent thought his chosen vehicle would be a camper van. A British vicar said, "He would probably brew up and tell stories whenever he stopped in a lay-by, often picking up listeners, "
Just behind, with 16 percent, was an electric bus. "It's eco-friendly," said Dr Roger Williams. " After all, he'd need space to seat his 12 apostles, not to mention pamphlets and other religious literature to hand out.
Rev Carol Murray was one of the seven percent who agreed. "Jesus would use an ordinary family car to identify with humanity and not stand out."
Others apparently took the question less seriously: One said, Surely as a carpenter, Jesus would drive a white van whilst going about his business?
Another cited scripture in her answer: He was despised and rejected, so he would drive an Edsel or a Yugo.
One quoted Jesus: “I say this, not of my own accord” – So he obviously drove a Honda.
Given all that has happened and is happening in the auto industry – we can say that if he wants to drive a Chrysler, Jesus better be coming back real soon!
It’s all kind of silly, since of course we don’t know what Jesus would drive. But – thanks to the Gospel accounts of Palm Sunday – we DO know what Jesus would ride.

>>> What would Jesus ride? The somewhat awkward answer is : A Donkey
And that is, the Bible hints – an important element of the day and of what Jesus intended us to make of this day in which we triumphantly entered Jerusalem to the cheers of a crowd and the shouts of “Hosanna” from a traditional Psalm.
Why do I say that the donkey is important? Because of the 11 verses about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, fully - - - 6? - - - concern getting the donkey – who he sent after it, where he said they’d find it, what they were supposed to say, what happened when they found it, how Jesus got on it –
If the Bible gives the donkey this much ink – then it makes sense for us to give the donkey a little bit of attention. Because it was clearly important to Jesus to convey a particular message with his royal procession. And the donkey was an important part of communicating what kind of King Jesus understood himself to be:

Service Animal.
In the developing world, the donkey is still an important service animal. Small and easier to feed and keep than a horse, they can carry great burdens and distances, making it possible for people to transport goods to market and back. They are good on hill – surefooted and with perfectly set eyes. A donkey can see the trail under both front and back feet. Horses can’t. And they don’t panic like horses. The guide at the Grand Canyon said, “When you come to these hairpin turns with 1000 ft. drop offs just inches away, we advise you just close your eyes. That’s what the mules do.”
In many places in the world, the donkey is still used, as it was in Jesus day, as a beast who carries burdens. A donkey can carry as much as 30% of its weight, meaning that though it is small, it is incredibly strong. When we are tired, or sin-sick, or overwhelmed by life, we think of Jesus as bearing our burdens, as taking upon the sin of the world, the sorrows of life, and carrying them for us. We might take a moment to think about how Jesus brought a service animal front and center on the day of his entry into Jerusalem as a way of reminding his followers about what his whole life and ministry had been about – He said, I came not to be served, but to serve others.”
What would Jesus ride? a beast of burden.

The donkey also communicates another important aspect of Christ’s Kingship: Picture the actually physical reality of riding a donkey. It’s a small animal. A grown man riding on a donkey would barely, if at all – rise above the crowd surrounding him.
Being “higher” is part of the human language of king and queen ship. Royalty and rulers sit on thrones. Protocol still demands that royalty avoid contact with commoners. This last week, while President Obama and the First Lady were in Europe, they attended a reception with the Queen of England. And what was the headline? Did First Lady breach protocol? “The rules are set in stone and so the eagerly watching British media sputtered when the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, briefly put her hand on the back of the Queen Elizabeth II as the two chatted at a reception. Etiquette is quite stern about this: "Whatever you do, don't touch the Queen!!!"
So where does this rule about not touching the Queen come from? The sovereigns of England and France, at some point in their country's long histories, claimed a divine right to rule, That touch of holiness once gave the occupant of the throne the supposed ability to cure certain diseases, the miraculous contact had to be conserved. And so, whether a touch or a nod or a gaze, royal favor, like that of God, is not a subject's on demand; it is dispensed by kingly prerogative.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus was always reaching out and touching people, and being touched by them. He was not “above” humanity, but came into intimate contact with the limitations and the pain, indeed he willingly shared those limitations and pain out of love for humanity.
The donkey shows that Jesus’ privilege reaches out in love.
Royal animal – That both claimed Kingship and demanded that power be redefined.
Jesus didn’t say he was King – but he did orchestrate a royal entrance into Jerusalem. He comes from the place in which the successor of King David is expected. He is hailed by a crowd of well wishers, as a king would be. He even rides a donkey, in fulfillment of Zechariah's ancient prophecy: "Look, your king is coming to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Matthew 21:5 = Zechariah 9:9). In ancient times, a king rode a horse into battle, but a donkey when we came in peace.
This Biblical scholars Borg and Crossen, in their called “The Last Week”, point out what the Gospel writers take for granted – that this was a sort of counter demonstration, in that, as Jesus was entering the city from the south, from the north the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, was at the head of a ceremonial parade, the purpose of which was to tamp down any nationalistic, rebellious hopes of the Jews gathered in the city for their big July 4 celebration. Because Jewish patriotism tended to run a little hot during this festival, and because the population of the city swelled to threatening proportions, the Roman governor made a point of riding in with an extra legion or two of his army in a display of military might and political domination. He’s riding a warhorse. He’s wearing armor. He’s got soldiers and weapons with him. Jesus is riding a donkey. He’s sitting on a cloak. He’s got some cheering fans. He’s mocking the other parade. But he’s not challenging it head on. He’s communicating a different understanding of kingship – of power . Jesus is proclaiming the power to make peace.
The donkey is the ride of a King who comes proclaiming the power of humility and peace.

The upside down vision of Jesus’ Kingship is embodied in the animal that Jesus chose to ride on that first Palm Sunday parade – a donkey which people view with disdain, even ridicule, but which has crucial role to play in helping us understand both the triumph and the pathos of Jesus’ last days:
There is a poem that captures both the horror and the glory of Jesus’ passion. It is by
G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936) and it is called
The Donkey
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
For Jesus, Palm Sunday and what follows it is all about the donkey:
Strength to carry life’s burdens - to take on the weight of the world.
The Royal privilege that reaches out to touch people with love.
The triumph of one who comes to conquer powers of hate, fear, sin and death by showing the way of peace.

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