Sermon for March 28th

First Reading Psalm 118:1-2; 19-29

Second Reading Philippians 2:5-11

Gospel Reading Mark:11:1-11

Sermon “Why Are You Doing This?”

Why? – Such a little word, but oh so important – Why? Youngsters just beginning to try out reasoning and speech often use it to irritating effect – Why Mommy? Why Daddy? Why do I have to put up my toys now? Why do I have to go to Bed? Why do I have to take a nap? Why ? Why ? Why? But a little latter, the why’s become more interesting – Why is the shy blue? Why are too many cookies bad for me? Or the dreaded question – why is the Goldfish upside down? The question never seems to go away either. In school, why is the subject of Paragraph after paragraph. At work – why is critical to know – why is that the best way? Why did that accident happen? Why did that not go well? In our Spiritual life why question is ever-present as well, and deserves our attention, even if it seems that some why’s don’t have immediate answers.

Some times a question isn’t really a question, its a thinly disguised critique. In the case of “why are you doing that?” Almost always, the questioners is implying that you certainly shouldn’t be. It’s a roundabout way of saying – “that doesn’t look like such a good idea to me.” Or I wouldn’t do that if I were you! The question of Why hangs heavy over today’s gospel reading. Why is Jesus coming into Jerusalem in such an interesting fashion? Why be so public now, in an act absolutely sure to attract a lot of attention? Always before, Jesus has been so consistently opposed to public acclaim. When the Demons he confronted identified him as the Son of God, he harshly silenced them. When Peter confessed him as the Messiah, they were told to tell now one. When the Man with leprosy was cleansed – “Tell no one”; When Jesus restored Jairius’ daughter to life, he charged them to tell now one; When he restored the blind man’s sight, he wouldn’t even let him go back to the village.

But now, now this was completely different. Jesus carefully prepares the scene that is to follow. He asks two of his disciples to go into Bethany to procure a certain young donkey that had never been ridden. He says nothing when coats are flung on its back and in his path. It was an amazing demonstration of praise and honor. It was an overt declaration of kingship, but a strange one – nothing like what the Zelots were hoping for – this was no revolution in the political sense, no armed rebelion. But rebellion it was in another sense. This is a donkey an animal of peace, not a war horse. Jesus has set the stage for a very different sort of kingdom.

Specifically, it acts out a beautiful and powerful passage from Zechariah which looks for the restoration of Israel – truly the work of the Messiah. But would he be a conquering hero like the kings of old? No, this was to be very different, Listen:

Zechariah 9:9 NRSV “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.” Now there are words we don’t often see together – Triumphant! Victorious! …and Humble???

What kind of Leader is that? God grant that we should find some around here!

Perhaps a very few might have remembered the set up to that passage in the preceding chapter – it describes the coming of God’s own-self, not some earthly king. The language is rich and hopeful: (Zechariah 8:3-8 NRSV)

[3] Thus says the LORD: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts shall be called the holy mountain. [4] Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. [5] And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. [6] Thus says the LORD of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the LORD of hosts? [7] Thus says the LORD of hosts: I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; [8] and I will bring them to live in Jerusalem. They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.

That image fits the person of Jesus well – God in Human flesh come to save his people – except that we know the rest of the story. Salvation is to come by a most unexpected way – cruel death followed by glorious resurrection. Jesus has come knowing that he will face rejection – perhaps by some of the same people now singing his praises, He will suffer and die the cruel death of the cross. It will seem as though death and the earthly powers have won – right up until Easter morning. This is part of the why, but the disciples don’t know it and the crowds certainly don’t. The language the crowd uses comes from Psalm 118:22-26 NRSV [22] The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. [23] This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. [24] This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. [25] Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success! [26] Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.

It was a strange and ironic parade that day. Jesus must have possessed an amazing dignity, love and authority about him for the crowd to behave so. Covering his path with branches and cloaks was truly a gesture to royalty, and deeply subversive – even dangerous in that Roman controlled city. Their shouts of “Hosanna (save us) and Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our father David, Blessed is he that comes in the name of the LORD” must have electrified the city. They might just have well have said “Long live the King!” That’s no doubt why in Luke’s account the Pharisees say (Luke 19:39-40 NRSV) … “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” … It was that sort of a moment when prophecy was being fulfilled – nothing could stop it. Yet he comes knowing full well what will happen. Nothing here has been left to chance, Jesus has carefully arranged it all. Jesus is not at all like the leaders of his day – his entry into Jerusalem that day could almost be viewed as political satire of their pomp and power.

What did the honored conqueror do once he got into Jerusalem and specifically the temple courts? He just looked around and left back up the Mount of Olives that he had just come down. Why? Mark doesn’t tell us. We are left to wonder. Until he comes back the next day and overturns the tables of the money changers and drives out the sacrificial animals with a whip of cords. And yet again Jesus was asked who he was to do such a thing. – The answer is known to us, but not yet to them. He is the son of God. More truly, the presence of God on earth than any temple. He has come to save – but not the way any expected. The disciples, the chief Priests, the crowds – none of them understood.

The question of why hangs over the proceedings. I can’t help but feel for the disciples in this morning’s reading. They have been sent into the village in search of the donkey. With careful instructions: (Mark 11:2-3 NRSV) … “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” Here is more evidence of the authority that Jesus had about him – just say he needed it and it would be supplied willingly. Of course they would be asked why they were making off with the donkey – what are you two up to? Is this attempted theft? No – the Lord needs it – and that was enough. It seems an important exercise in faith for the disciples and an example for us as well.

They certainly didn’t understand the significance of what was going on. They had little to no concept of the interplay of prophecy and revelation being demonstrated. But Jesus was directed by obedience to his Heavenly Father’s plan and they had a role to play in it. Jesus had tried to tell them what was to happen several times, but they could not understand until later. That is often the way its is with us as well. It is enough to be obedient one day at a time. When someone asks why are you doing this – whatever it is – Teaching Sunday school, visiting the sick and lonely, feeding and clothing the poor… We don’t have to have all the answers and systematic theologies of just what we might represent. It is after all enough to say – the Lord has need of this. I am being obedient to him.

Obedience to God above all else is as subversive today as it was that day so long ago. When we put the things of God ahead of other concerns, questions are bound to come up. Faith and obedience will likely lead us into conflict with vested interests and the powers of the day. Speaking God’s truth to power has never been a safe occupation. Nevertheless our King and Savior comes to us in unexpected ways: humble, and in peace, yet Lord of all. Luther, indeed, saw this whole story as importantly about faith:

“If Christ had entered in splendor like a king of earth, the appearance and the words would have been according to nature and reason and would have seemed to the eye according to the words, but then there would have been no room for faith. He who believes in Christ must find riches in poverty, honor in dishonor, joy in sorrow, life in death, and hold fast to them in that faith which clings to the Word and expects such things.”

It is as Paul wrote Philippians 2:5-11 NRSV

[5] … Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, [7] but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, [8] he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross. [9] Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, [10] so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, [11] and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

So, dear Sisters and brothers in faith, what are we doing this week that we call Holy Week? Why would we come together today, again on Wednesday to read the Passion story, on Thursday night to share the bread and cup in solemn remembrance of the Last Supper and then again on Sunday, no longer solemn, but with joy and thanksgiving? Why are we doing this? Why do we seek to obey when most do not? Why do we seek to serve and love even when we might be taken advantage of? Why do we work for peace and justice and reconciliation in a world driven by the strong and powerful.

Why? Because the Lord has need of us. We are called to be “little Christ’s” as Luther said: bearing witness to a life, a love, a dignity so great that not even death on a cross can destroy it or even silence it. So we sing Hosanna to the Lord of all, until the great day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father. Hosanna in the Highest Heaven!