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Sun, Mar 25, 2018

Why are you doing this?

Duration:25 mins 50 secs

This morning our Second Reading comes from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 11, verses 1-11. Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem for the final week of his earthly life. But before we get to the parade, there are preparations to be made. In fact, in the 11 verses that Mark uses to recount Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, over half are dedicated to obtaining the donkey. And yet, even here we might find the good news of the Gospel. So let us hear this Word of God.

1When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, [Jesus] sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “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. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
“Hosanna!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10     Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

What do you think the two disciples said when Jesus told them they were on donkey detail? I mean it does not sound like a job for those at the head of the discipleship class. Remember Peter, James, and John – they all get mentioned by name when Jesus takes them up the mountain of transfiguration. Later these same three are named as they get a closer view of Jesus praying in Gethsemane. Last Sunday we heard how some Greeks who want to see Jesus come to two other disciples, to Philip and Andrew. Yes, there are some jobs that get your name included in the Bible, but in this text Jesus sends “two of the disciples” to go and borrow a donkey. No names required for this task.

So, yes, these two disciples are given donkey detail. Professor Tom Long describes it like this:

All of the disciples had been jockeying for advantage, angling for glory, arguing about who was the greatest. So it is deliciously ironic that on this very public and glorious day of Jesus’ ministry, a day when he will be welcomed into Jerusalem with joyous hosannas, [these two disciples] find themselves engaged in a most unromantic form of ministry, mucking around a stable, looking suspiciously like horse thieves, and trying to wrestle an untamed and no doubt balky animal toward the olive groves. For this they left their fishing nets?

This is not the job that gets you on the news. So why are they doing this?

Yes, why are you doing this? That is the question Jesus himself anticipates will be asked when these two disciples show up in a village and attempt to untie a colt that has never been ridden. Why are you doing this? Jesus knows the question is coming, so he gives them an answer – The Lord needs it.

Yes, the Lord needs it. Hold onto that answer for a moment.

Because my friends, I wonder if the world is still asking those of us who seek to follow Jesus the same question. Why are you doing this? Yesterday in our nation’s capital, in cities across the country, and even here in Augusta there were marches with signs and speakers and journalists from every kind of media to cover it all. Whether you agree with the purpose of the march or not, you have to admit that these parades far surpassed our little procession into the sanctuary this morning, even if we had been able to start on the lawn of the Alan Fuqua Center. As my friend Jill Duffield from The Presbyterian Outlook wrote this week:

We must look an odd sight to those passing by our sanctuaries on Sunday morning as we stand outside with palm branches, some of us dressed in our finest and others in robes, children roaming, youth huddling, all ages gathering to sing and process. Anyone unfamiliar with what week it is (and many will have no idea what week it is on the liturgical calendar) might ask: Why are you doing this? What are you doing?

Yes, we know that here in Augusta the calendar does not say Palm Sunday. Please do not walk out when I tell you this, but the calendar in Augusta says 7 days remaining before the Tournament. Shouldn’t we all be home cleaning our houses instead of walking a quarter of a block carrying palm branches. Why are we doing this?

And once we get inside the sanctuary the questions continue. Because where else do you sing music like this in the course of your normal week? How often does the music we sing and hear in worship ever come through the speakers in your car on the way to work? And yet, every Sunday we sing at least three (and this week four) hymns. Why are we doing this?

Then in the middle of the service this morning I poured water over the head of young Georgia. There are thousands and thousands of children in this community. You can find them everywhere. Some of them have great needs. For example, there are children in the hospital this morning. Others are hungry because they do not have food to eat and the backpack sent home with them from school on Friday is already empty. There are children wondering what happens when their mother or father wakes up after a night of drinking or drugs.

And then there are also children completely unaware of those challenges. Yes, there are children on soccer fields and baseball fields and in competitions of all kinds this morning. There are children sitting at home playing video games or still asleep. Yes, there are children everywhere in this community but I suspect the only place you will find anyone pouring water over the head of a fully-clothed child this morning is at church. Why are we doing this?

There are many fired up in this community and across this nation, ready to take action. There are letters to be written, visits to be made, Facebook posts to post, tweets to retweet. Why? You pick the issue. There are people trying to take our guns or people who are trying to sell guns to children. There are people destroying the environment or people who think too much regulation hinders development. There are those advocating for a women’s right to choose or those advocating for the life of unborn children. There are questions about monuments and how we best remember our history or about race and whose lives matter. There are foreign leaders with nuclear weapons or attempts by foreign powers to influence elections and create social chaos; there are data breaches of personal information; there are tweets and press conferences and competing memos. There are new arena sites to find and primary elections to prepare for. Yes, that but scratches the surface of all that is to be done. And this morning, as we gather we … pray. Yes, the world demands serious answers to serious problems and we … pray. Why are we doing this?

And don’t get me started on the hundreds and thousands of worthwhile, interesting, and passionate voices in the world today, and you have chosen to sit and listen to me? Really? Why are we doing this?

Yes, why are you doing this?

Because the Lord needs us. Remember, that is the answer to the question. Why are you doing this? The Lord needs it. But what about all the work to do and the people who do not understand? The Lord needs us. Again, Tom Long puts it this way:

It is right at this place … that Mark imparts some of his best theological wisdom. He begins his Gospel with the exhilarating trumpet call to “prepare the way of the Lord,” but he makes it clear, by his description of the disciples’ activity in the rest of his Gospel, that the way to do so is not by becoming a member of the Knights Templar and gallantly defending Christendom, but rather by performing humble and routine tasks. The disciples in Mark get a boat ready for Jesus, find out how much food is on hand for the multitude, secure the room and prepare the table for the Last Supper and, of course, chase down a donkey that the Lord needs to enter Jerusalem. Whatever they may have heard when Jesus beckoned, “Follow me,” it has led them into a ministry of handling the gritty details of everyday life. … We are but donkey fetchers. [And in ways often hidden from our eyes] because we are “preparing the way of the Lord,” the routine, often exhausting, seemingly mundane donkey-fetching details of our service are gathered into the great arc of Jesus’ redemptive work in the world.

Yes, my friends, at least for this moment the Lord needs us to be right here. Not out saving the world –Jesus has that under control later this week. And soon enough we will be back out there in the world with much work to do. But for this moment, the Lord needs us right here.

Yes, this morning the Lord needs us to not charge to the front, drawing attention to ourselves and our importance. The Lord needs us to pick up a palm branch and follow him, crying out Hosanna – save us now – to the only one who really can.

The Lord needs us to worship in ways that move our hearts and souls, but not necessarily in ways that are all about our preferences and desires. The Lord needs us to sing with those who have sung before as a part of a never ending stream of the faithful.

The Lord needs us to entrust our children to his care, to express with water poured over their heads that they are children of God and we will care for them as our own. The Lord needs us to believe in a future for these children that is secure in the Lord’s hands.

The Lord needs us to remember that all the issues in the world that so occupy our time and attention, all the work that needs to be done, cannot be accomplished on our own. Once again Jill Duffield writes,

Nothing is off limits to our Lord. That's why we do what we do on Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Easter Sunday and every Sunday afterwards. We make public our loyalty and our love for Jesus Christ, and our commitment to follow the Lord of All, every day, everywhere, anywhere.

Yes, my friends, Holy Week begins with fetching a donkey. Along the way we will prepare an upper room for dinner, pray in a garden, flee for our lives, prepare a body for burial, and get up early on the third day. Why are we doing these things? Because the Lord needs us. Yes, the Lord needs us to bear witness that in the big and the small, he is Lord of all. Do not doubt that there is great and necessary work to be done, but for this moment, the Lord knows not just that he needs us, but that we need him. That’s why we do this.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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