First Congregational Church
March 25, 2018
Mark 11:1-11 & John 12:12-16
“My Horse of a Different Color”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A man bought a donkey from a preacher. The preacher told the man that this donkey had been trained in a very unique way, (being the donkey of a preacher). The only way to make the donkey go, was to say, "Hallelujah!" The only way to make the donkey stop, was to say, "Amen!"
The man was pleased with his purchase and immediately got on the animal to try out the preacher's instructions. "Hallelujah!" shouted the man. The donkey began to trot. "Amen!" shouted the man. The donkey stopped immediately. "This is great!" said the man. With a "Hallelujah," he rode off very proud of his new purchase.
The man traveled for a long time through some mountains. Soon he was heading toward a cliff. He could not remember the word to make the donkey stop. "Stop," said the man. "Halt!" he cried. The donkey just kept going. "Oh, no... Bible!....Church!...Please Stop!!" shouted the man. The donkey just began to trot faster. He was getting closer and closer to the cliff edge. Finally, in desperation, the man said a prayer. "Please, dear Lord. Please make this donkey stop before I go off the end of this mountain, In Jesus name, AMEN."
The donkey came to an abrupt stop just one step from the edge of the cliff. "HALLELUJAH!", shouted the man.
Poor donkeys, asses and mules! They are always getting the brunt of the joke. In case it should ever come up on Jeopardy, donkeys make donkeys, horses make horses, but only a horse and a donkey can make a mule. Mules can’t make mules because they are infertile.
Donkeys have been stereotyped differently throughout the centuries. I get the sense that donkeys, these days, are thought to be less intelligent than horses. Not so. I, perhaps like many of you, have thought donkeys to be a sub-class of horses, in thinking of their jobs and in terms of humility and meakness. But back in Jesus’ day, donkeys were ridden by conquerors, symbolizing peace, while horses were ridden by kings going to war.
It was David Lose, from Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis that inspired this morning’s sermon title. He was encouraging ministers to help congregants “get into the story.” It was one of my favorite Bible commentators, William Barclay, who helped set the scene.
For those of you who may have forgotten, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. William Barclay said that “On one occasion a census was taken of the lambs slain at the Passover Feast. The number was given as 256,000. There had to be a minimum of ten people per lamb; and if that estimate is correct it means that there must have been as many as 2,700,000 people at that Passover Feast. Even if that figure is exaggerated, it remains true that the numbers must have been immense.”
Then Barclay add that “News and rumor had gone out that Jesus, the man who had raised Lazarus from the dead, was on his way to Jerusalem.” I say, imagine the noise, the dust, the heat and the stench of human life before sewer systems and air freshener. It is also no wonder that Jesus used one of the old prophets’ favorite teaching tools - rather than try to ‘tell’ his point, he demonstrated it.
Now think of a time when you were anticipating something big, and how that big thing was going to go was by no means 100% clear to you or certain. Maybe you were planning to pop the question and ask someone to marry you. Maybe you were facing a major interview, a big exam, or were slated to give a speech that could change your life (if it went well). And now remember the knot in the pit of your stomach that you endured for many days in advance of that event. Remember how tense you felt, how jumpy you were, how now and then someone would catch you staring off into space with a couple fingers held up over your lips as you got totally lost in thought.
You know the feeling. Now transfer all of that onto the canvases of this morning’s scriptures.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” 16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
Thank you, Carolyn and Marti. Ole had just moved to Texas and bought a donkey from an old farmer for $100.00. The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey the next day. The next day the farmer drove up and said, "Sorry, but I got some bad news. The donkey died."
"Well then, just give me my money back.” "Cain't do that. I went and spent it already.” "OK then, just unload the donkey.” "What ya gonna do with em.” "I'm gonna raffle him off.” "Ya cain't raffle off a dead donkey!” "Sure I can. Watch me. I just won't tell anyone he's dead."
A month later the farmer met up with Ole and asked, "What happened with the dead donkey?” "I raffled him off. I sold 500 tickets at $2.00 apiece and made a profit of $998.00.” "Didn't no one complain?” "Just the guy who won. So I gave him his $2.00 back.”
As you imagined that Passover preparation day all those years ago, and all the outside elements crowding into your brain, can you identify now with the end of that which Marti read - about the disciples not understanding the whole picture until after Jesus had been “glorified” as it said? How often do we read about the disciples “not getting” what was happening around them and what Jesus was saying? I’ve been as guilty as any, of giving the disciples a bad rap, while not fully appreciating all that was going on for them. Oh, wait! We (still) do that judging thing without first wearing different sandals or moccasins. Point for prayer.
I think I owe everyone an apology for not really thinking about the real depth of the word “Hosanna” over all these years. It is so easy for our human nature to miss fine lines. Hosanna carries so much energy, and all these years later, maybe we’ve morphed Hosanna into a cheer for Team Jesus, rather than for it’s real - Old Testament - meaning of “Save us!” Maybe we can get a better understanding of Hosanna, when we lay it over the background of energy of some of the protests this past week.
Please hear that I’m not making a statement about the topic of these protests, but about the energy, somewhere between the energy of protests of the shooting of the unarmed man with the cell phone and the gun control protests yesterday. There was similar energy in Jerusalem, against which Jesus was making his statement about who he was, is and always will be: a beacon of light and love. Another point for prayer - in what part we play in such explosive times.
If Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem had happened during the Wild West days, there would have been a wanted poster out for him. The religious authorities didn’t appreciate his challenge to their system of operation, no matter how bad they looked. He knew they wanted his head, and yet he rode right into the path he knew to be right, overriding his own fear, relying on God’s presence and promises. Point of Prayer: for bravery in doing that which seems ridiculously painful and hard.
My buddy, William Barclay, also pointed out that Jesus had been to Jerusalem on several occasions prior to that first Palm Sunday, to visit his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and that he had an unknown friend, Joseph of Arimathea, who would ask for Jesus’ body to bury him. There was amply opportunity to arrange for a borrowing of an unridden donkey, and the secret code, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” This wasn’t a spontaneous weekend getaway, but a deliberate, organized, single person demonstration that spoke of - and still speaks - of Jesus’ Messiahship and why he and what he did was a big deal. Yet another point of prayer.
So, what is the color of your horse, so to speak? What in this passage, which looks quite innocuous on the front side, speaks to you? What part do you feel God poking you in the arm about, that perhaps you might give a little more attention? If ever there was a time for prayer, this seems to be it.
God of honor and celebration, Together we cry, “Hosanna!” to your son, who rode willingly and bravely into Jerusalem. We know that you are not just the God of weddings and celebrations and all things good, but that you are also the God of that which is hard and challenging. Help us not to be so quick in judging others, and help us to discern what you have need of us to do in lowering the temperature during a time when our political thermometers seem to be rising. Help us to be brave when you need us to go into the difficult places, to rely more on you and God and your Holy Spirit to take up what we can no longer carry. Thank you for all that you have done in guiding us and leading your people into the pastures of peace. Help each of us to recognize and cherish those parts of our journeys, as much as the lesson-teaching parts that we may refer to as valleys. Hear us, as we celebrate the ever revealing nature of you, your Spirit and your anointed one, Jesus Christ. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.