Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 19:28-40
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
April 14, 2019 –Palm Sunday
We come in like a fire engine, full of hope, lights flashing, bells clanging, sirens blaring…and we go out like the sunset…silently filling the western sky…promising a tomorrow to come…with color.
Our individual ministries…and every life is a ministry…take us many places …to school…to work…to a family …to a new town. We cannot see it all at the outset, but there is hope in it.
We are constantly being equipped and prepared. They say there is nothing that can prepare you to be President…but it is also true that there is nothing that could have prepared you to be you.
But it is full of grace and truth, every step of the way. So Isaiah calls out to us across the ages, “The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.”
There is no going back. There are no do-overs…only this moment and what we can do with it.
We have been reading about Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem, how he turned his face like a flint toward the city, even after he had lamented the fate of all the prophets who came to the great David’s city of Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
So we arrive this morning at ‘the hinge’ of Jesus’ ministry on earth. He has been telling everyone not to reveal that he is the Messiah, even as Peter proclaims that the Messiah is exactly who he is. (Mark 8)
But now, this morning, he comes with an unambiguous claim to all the world that he is the one for whom they have been waiting, the Promised One.
He fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah, “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.”
He sends two disciples ahead of him to secure a colt that has never been ridden, and when they ask what they are to say if the owner objects, he tells them they are to say, “The Lord has need of it.”
They are not to say their master needs it, or that they will bring it right back. They are to say ‘the Lord’ has need of it. Behold! Here is the the one of whom Zechariah wrote 500 years ago…here…now.
He is also re-staging the anointing by David of his son Solomon as his successor. As David approached his twilight years there was a question whether he would choose Solomon or Adonijah.
Adonijah began to tell everyone that he is to be the successor and rumors got back to David that he was dining with people who were toasting him, “Long live King Adonijah!”
This presumption so offended the king that he decided that it would be Solomon. He instructed his priest Zadok and his prophet Nathan to mount Solomon on David’s own mule and follow him to Gihon, the principal water supply for Jerusalem, and permit him to sit upon David’s own throne there, to anoint him with oil and say “Long live King Solomon!”
It was done just as David had ordered…and Adonijah was done for from that moment on. A public ceremony had set things in motion and the pretender to the throne had been shown up for just what he was: a braggart, full only of himself.
So we come back to Jerusalem and Jesus’ entry. We know that Pilate has recently ridden into the city as the Roman prelate, presumably to hear trials brought before him.
He comes with the authority of the Emperor…but it was a Roman ruler, not a successor to David…maybe not entirely unlike the way Adonijah had proclaimed himself king before David ordered the anointing of Solomon.
Jesus knows the scriptures and he knows what he is doing, and while the subtlety of his handling of the entry may have been lost on the Romans, it would have been plain to his people: the Jews.
Pilate would have had a royal Roman welcome, but was he king …King of the Jews?” If he was not, and if the Roman occupation was an affront to the God of Israel, who would the true king be?
And here comes one, riding a colt of a donkey into Jerusalem, just like Solomon…anointed by the true ruler …God’s own son…greeted as King David’s greater son, just as Solomon had been…just as Zechariah had prophesied.
And so Jesus instructed the disciples to reply, if they were challenged when they took the animal that “the Lord has need of it.”
Jesus knows that this cannot be kept from Pilate or the Romans for long and he knows that he seals his fate with this act of overt opposition to the legal authority of the Roman Emperor’s appointed governor over the region.
But he also knows that in doing exactly as he has done he is fulfilling the prophecy and placing himself squarely in the public mind as David’s successor…David’s long awaited successor…”Blessed is he who comes in the name of…the Lord.”
After all, he is the Lord who has need of it. The messianic secret has become the messianic claim, the Passover lamb is now in the city and all that is about transpire will show God’s love for all Israel, and God’s power, even over death.
There are two kinds of authority: formal authority, and informal authority. Formal authority is the kind that you have when you are appointed or elected to an office.
You can decide cases or make laws, impose taxes or direct other public officials to undertake certain acts.
Informal authority is the kind that you earn by the truth and justice of your conduct, the way you make the lives of every person better by the way you behave…setting a good example and assuring that the people who are affected by the choices you make that they will have the peace: life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Pharaoh had formal authority and Moses had informal authority. Herod had formal authority and John the Baptist had informal authority. It is when those who have formal authority lack informal authority and those who have informal authority lack formal authority that things are set to explode…as with Pilate and Jesus.
Lincoln had formal authority the day he was elected President, but there were powerful people who opposed what they expected him to do: free the slaves.
Lincoln came to have informal authority by the goodness of his actions at a very difficult time. He had known great hardship when he was still a boy, but that steeled him and prepared him for the challenges he would face, which he knew were greater than the challenges that had faced George Washington, and he said so as he bid farewell to the good people of Springfield, Illinois.
He had to be humble, but he had to be careful, too, so the story has it that he came into Washington in time for his inauguration disguised as a Scotsman and he was protected in the days leading up to March 4, 1861 by a private detective hired by the railroad, Allan Pinkerton.
He survived four years of war. Last Tuesday, April 9th, was the anniversary of Lee’s surrender to Ulysses Grant in 1865. This day, April 14th, would have been Good Friday that year, and I just realized yesterday that it was also the day my Great Grandfather James Albert McDonald was born in Ireland. Just one more coincidence in the stories I stitch together this morning.
After all the hardships the people had suffered for so long, there was finally some hope in the land and Lincoln was in a serene mood. He invited Grant to go with him to the theater that night, but Grant had not seen his boys in such a long time that he begged off the invitation.
Mrs. Lincoln later said that the President told her that night that after his second term was over they would “go abroad among strangers so I can rest.” Then, she said he told her that “there is no city on earth he so wanted to see as Jerusalem.”
Moments later he was shot. John Wilkes Booth attacked him from behind…a cowardly thing to do…and he shot Lincoln in the presence of his wife…a heartless and dastardly thing to do. It was a terrible way to do a terrible thing, just as victory had arrived.
Jesus understood his time walking the earth was near a close, and he understood that the victory would soon be delivered, and so he delivered himself in the way that resonated with the people of Israel who took Zechariah as their prophet, and who were looking for the successor of David to return in victory.
They were God’s chosen people and Jesus was God’s chosen instrument for working a wondrous transformation of the understanding of his people. God – the Lord – had need of a Passover lamb and many would be sacrificed in the Lord’s name that Passover in Jerusalem.
In this day when we find ourselves unable to understand our neighbor’s point of view…much like it was in Civil War days, and in Jesus’ day, and in most times…it is helpful for us to remember that there are those who have suffered more than we will ever be able to understand and that there are no people in the history of humankind who have been so favored by God’s gracious blessing of our lives and our land as we are today.
At the Flathead Camp for a board meeting this week, I was reminded again and again how precious those acres are to us and to anyone who wants to find a peaceful place to go and think…to let us sort out the tempests of our day and to put them into some kind context that will allow us to live in peace and with hope.
Our Lord and Savior has shown us courage and faith tempered by serenity and love in a city that always kills the prophets it calls home. Our own great leaders have given us a glimpse of such wisdom and character in our own land.
Let us enter into this Holy Week with a vision in our minds and a hope in our hearts greater than the way we ourselves think things should be.
Let us face the challenges we have with serenity and determination. Let us act with malice toward none and charity for all to bind up the nation’s wounds and do all we can to achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. The Lord has need of it.
O Lord, what is it that you want us to do…what do you want me to do…in your world this day? Amen.