First Congregational Church
March 29, 2015
“The Master Needs Your Donkey"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Before things get really rolling here, I need to mention that between bulletin printing and sermon writing, the scripture passage changed. The passage for this morning is on page 1531, Matthew 21:1-11.
The devout cowboy lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Three weeks later, a donkey walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth. The cowboy couldn't believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the donkey's mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, "It's a miracle!" "Not really," said the donkey. "Your name is written inside the cover." (It took me a whole day to realize that the miracle was the talking donkey!)
A man in a movie theater notices what looks like a donkey sitting next to him. "Are you a donkey?" asked the man, surprised. "Yes." "What are you doing at the movies?" The donkey replied, "Well, I liked the book.”
Matthew 21:1-11 Good News Translation
As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage at the Mount of Olives. There Jesus sent two of the disciples on ahead 2 with these instructions: “Go to the village there ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied up with her colt beside her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 And if anyone says anything, tell him, ‘The Master needs them’; and then he will let them go at once.”
4 This happened in order to make come true what the prophet had said: 5 “Tell the city of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you! He is humble and rides on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
6 So the disciples went and did what Jesus had told them to do: 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, threw their cloaks over them, and Jesus got on. 8 A large crowd of people spread their cloaks on the road while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds walking in front of Jesus and those walking behind began to shout, “Praise to David's Son! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise be to God!” 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was thrown into an uproar. “Who is he?” the people asked. 11 “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee,” the crowds answered.
Thank you, Betty. I often find really good notes or ideas on a holiday just after the holiday is over - sort of like clearance sales, I guess. So last year, when Palm Sunday was over, sure enough, I came across a resource that I stashed away for possible use this year. And earlier last week, I came across another bit that was worthy of stashing. So when I started looking at all the pieces I’d collected, along with the hymns and anthem, I realized that there were a couple of things that seemed to beg for our attention.
The first observation was the frequent mention of children, especially in the music of this day. Other than the passage where Jesus says “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” this Palm Sunday scenario is about the only time children are so visible in the Bible. The times are a-changin’, and children in this country are a little more respected than they were even ten years ago. But back in Jesus’ day, children were at the very bottom of any social ladder. They were as unlikely to have a staring role at any event - as a donkey.
I don’t know about anyone else, but if you think about someone coming up to you - out of the blue - taking your donkey and her colt and then saying “The Master needs them,” I don’t know that I would be so generous. Even a horse like Mr. Ed may garner a little more seriousness. But Jesus asked for a donkey? Really? Well that’s just ass-inine! History is full of famous horses that led charges and even inspired humans. Donkeys just don’t seem to have the prestige or panache that a Savior would use.
In the last major observation of the morning’s elements, I noticed that the bits that I stashed away were basically four prayers. I don’t recall ever having that happen before and it struck me that perhaps using prayers as part of the message was as unlikely as children having such a big part of a gospel account or Jesus using a donkey to make a point. So the first one comes from Steve Garnaas-Holmes, over there at unfoldinglight.net.
Here comes Palm Sunday.
We will wave our palm branches for Jesus,
our King, our Savior, riding on a....
really, a donkey?
Yes, in the tradition of the ancient prophets,
Jesus mocks our love of domination.
The ruler of the word comes riding a tricycle.
It's not just a gesture. He means this.
He will mock our pompous judgments,
mock our unblinking trust in violence,
catch us taking ourselves so seriously.
He will not fall for our adulation.
He makes foolish our wisdom, overturns
power and sovereignty. Look how he turns
the world upside down and confused
and afraid we hang on, waving palms.
This is how he will be our king.
He will give away his last meal.
He will be humiliated, be wrong and and weak,
for our sake he will be what we hate the most.
Because he can.
Because he is greater than all that.
Because none of that matters.
He will show us how little it matters.
Ride a donkey through our pride.
Wash our fickle, kicking feet.
Die of our own embarrassment.
And count to three.
From Amy Loving at worship closet.com: Lord, like the great crowds that met you in Jerusalem, we wave palm branches and shout your praises. We delight that you come to us proclaiming peace, but we confess that we still speak of war. Forgive our fickle hearts, Lord. Teach us to bless your name by more closely following your way. Hosanna, Lord! Save us from our sins - save us from ourselves. We pray in your holy name.
Nancy Townley of ministrymatters.com wrote this one: Through the shouts and branches, the Savior rides again into our hearts, our Jerusalems, the places that we have fortified, sometimes against even God’s truth and love. Patient God, be with us today as we witness again the entry of Jesus into the holy city. Remind us that our "holy cities", our souls, need to welcome Jesus, truly in celebration and in commitment to his witness to us. We can so easily get caught up in the noise and forget the Savior. We can get so focused on the celebration and colors that we look past the solitary figure on the small donkey. We stand at the gates this day to welcome Jesus. May our welcome of Jesus also be reflected in our welcome of others who come into our midst. Free us from judgment and prejudice, that we may be open to hearing your word through the ministry of Jesus and the disciples. As we have spoken the names of ones who are near and dear to us who need your healing love, O God, help us also to remember that we need a good measure of your grace and mercy. Bring us through this parade into the comfort of your love.
And lastly, the piece from which this whole thing started:“The Master Needs Your Donkey: A Prayer of Confession for Palm Sunday” by Nathan Decker.
Lord, we are too nervous to ask for help from one another.
The Master needs your donkey, but we're afraid to ask.
Lord, we are afraid to give you what you ask.
Help us realize that what we have is just a gift from you.
Lord we are too proud to lay our cares before you.
Help us to lay our cloaks on the colt, on the road, on your way.
Lord, we have been quiet in our praise,
our shouts of Hosanna sound like mice whispering.
Put palms in our hands; help us in grace to stand.
Lord, we have looked from the pinnacle of the temple,
craving, protecting, and manipulating power.
We have told you time and time again,
make the crowds pipe down!
Break our hearts of stone; let us see your steadfast love,
and bring forth your Kingdom in this place.
Lord, forgive us for what we have not asked;
forgive us for what we have asked that was not needed,
for what we have kept that was needed,
and for what we have given that was unjust.
So what is the most unlikely part of your life that you can bring to the parade? What seemingly insignificant, socially oxymoronic, continually cropping-up theme can you lay down with the palms and cloaks on the road into Jerusalem to assist Christ in bringing about the inconceivable?
So put yourself there, in the crowd, near the front edge, and now step forward to lay down that cloak you’ve brought. When you leave today, don’t go back and pick it up, because here is the good news. Christ came riding a donkey of peace and reconciliation, not a charging war horse of judgment. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven.
Let us pray. Loving God, we have come this day to worship you while thinking about that first Palm Sunday so long ago. We stand on the brink of this Holy Week, eager to get to Easter. As we go through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, remind us to pray, to put our head down and weather the storm of darkness that will lead to light, because in this journey, we are not alone. Remind us of your presence in real and meaningful ways in the coming days. For the courage needed - by Jesus and our own selves - all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.