Confession, they say, is good for the soul. And so I begin this morning with a confession: In recent days, when the rest of my family is in bed, I turn on our TV and sit alone in our living room and watch….. curling! It’s true. I feel like I have had this dirty little secret. Even though I have mocked the game in public, even from this very pulpit, I must admit that I have enjoyed watching the Women’s World Curling Championship. But in my defense, I feel that it is necessary to add that I have an additional motive beside the secret guilty pleasure I get from watching a shot well-made. The Women’s World Curling Championship is being hosted this year in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and most of you probably know that I served as a pastor in Swift Current before I came here to Langley to serve you. And so, as I watch those games being broadcast from the hockey area in Swift Current, I feel a kinship with my friends and acquaintances in Swift Current because I know that we are enjoying a shared experience.
The same things happens between us and the people of the Bible. As we hear and read those narratives we discover people who share the same struggles and celebrate the same joys in life that we do. We find that we have a shared experience with the people in this book. We may even feel a sense of kinship with the people in these pages, that our lives are like their lives, and that the story of the Bible is really the story of our lives. The question is: which people in the Bible are we?
As the story in our passage from Luke 19 begins with verse 28, Jesus has travelled up from Jericho to Jerusalem. On a ridge overlooking Jerusalem, he pauses his pedestrian journey and sends two of his disciples ahead to the village of Bethany to borrow a young donkey that no one had ever ridden before. The disciples threw some of their coats on the beast of burden to make it ready for his royal rider and the merry procession began its journey down into the Kidron Valley and up the other side to Jerusalem. And a very curious thing happens. A spontaneous parade of praise and welcome breaks out. Other disciples place their coats on the ground ahead of the donkey so that its feet don’t have to touch the ground. They pick up the coats behind the donkey and replace them in front so that the carpet of coats is continuous. A crowd begins to gather along the parade route (for everyone loves a parade). Some people climb nearby palm trees and cut branches from those trees to wave them as Jesus passes by as one would do in those days for a victory celebration.
This parade of praise and welcome would have looked very much like the parades given for a king who was coming from a far off land for a visit. But this king did not come riding in on a mighty war horse bearing weapons of war. This king Jesus rode into town on a donkey, an animal of peace. No weapons were in his hand. No crown covered his head, no golden jewellery adorned his body. Jesus came into Jerusalem as a humble king of peace.
And people acclaimed him, not only as a king, but as their king. They cried out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” This is the language used to refer to the Messiah, the promised anointed One sent from God to come to save the people. These people were rolling out the red carpet for Jesus because they knew that there was something special about him that satisfied the deepest longings of their heart, and they could find that satisfaction in no one else.
Mary, Jesus’ mother was probably there that day. She had endured the isolation of shame as her gossipy friends and neighbours whispered behind her back when she became pregnant before her wedding day. “She must have been unfaithful to Joseph,” they said. “Maybe a Roman soldier is the father of the baby.” Yet, from this child of hers, Mary only experienced Jesus’ unconditional love and respect. He treated her with a dignity like no one else did now that Joseph was gone. Jesus even changed water into wine to alleviate a problem which Mary brought to his attention. Jesus was Mary’s humble king.
Peter was part of the parade of welcome that day. Here was a man who had left behind a family and a fishing business to follow Jesus. Who was going to make sure that his family was cared for while he was gone? Who was going to lead the business and make everything went smoothly in his absence? Sure there were other family members there to fill in for Peter, but there were probably times when Peter wondered about the future and worried about who would provide. And yet Peter knew that Jesus had a way of providing like no one else. Peter remembered how, three years before, he and his crew had worked hard all night and never caught a fish, but when Jesus called them to go out into deep water and let down their nets, they caught so many fish that their boats began to sink. Peter had seen how Jesus had taken the lunch of a small boy, 5 loaves and two fishes, and blessed it and 5,000 men plus women and children were fed. And so Peter knew that with Jesus he didn’t need to worry about tomorrow and what would be needed then. Jesus was Peter’s humble king.
There probably some children waving palm branches and welcoming Jesus that day. Usually they were excluded from important events because of their size or their age. But this Jesus welcomed children to climb up on his lap so he could hold them and hug them. Perhaps their parents had told them how Jesus had called children to come to him and said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17) Jesus was saying that the simple trust of a child was the best kind of faith to have and children were drawn to this strong but gentle man who loved and accepted them unconditionally. Jesus was the children’s humble king.
But there were others there that day who were greatly offended by Jesus. The Pharisees had things all figured out. They knew how things worked in the world and Jesus didn’t fit into any of their neat little categories. His presence was enough to challenge their entire world view. The Pharisees believed that people had to clean up their lives and behave properly before God would bless them. And if everyone did that, then and only then, God would send his Messiah as a warrior king who would triumph over the occupying Roman forces and restore the Israelite nation to its rightful position of independence and prominence. And yet, here were these people welcoming this poor, itinerant teacher as the Messiah. “Stop it!” They yelled. “Teacher, stop your followers from saying these things and rebuke them for even thinking such nonsense.”
“If they keep quiet, Jesus replied, “the stones will cry out.” Jesus was saying that all of creation recognizes what the Pharisees do not see: The Messiah has come from God to save his people. But Jesus was not the Pharisee’s king.
Everyone has a king. All of us tend to take one thing or person and elevate it so that it becomes the most important thing in our lives. But not all kings are equal. Most kings will lead us on a path of pride that poisons our relationships. Most kings will lead us into a build-up of bitterness that sours our soul. Most kings will lead us on a trajectory of self-centred indulgence that will lead to our destruction in the end. And so the question is: who or what is king over your life? What do you value most of all? What is it that you are most afraid of losing? Your answer is the king of your life. Your answer is your god.
And this humble king who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey nearly 2,000 years ago invites you to turn away from any other king you may have in your life and turn to him. It will not be easy. Old habits and old ways of being are hard to change. But there is something unique in Jesus that can be found nowhere else. Here is a God that loves and accepts you unconditionally just as you are. It doesn’t matter if you are very old or very young. It doesn’t matter if you are distracted by the cares of everyday life or if you are burdened by a heavy load of guilt and shame. King Jesus loves you. He loves you so much that he journeyed into Jerusalem even though he knew that it would lead to his own suffering and shame. Just five days after this parade of welcome and praise, Jesus was led to a cross where he willingly suffered and died for all of your sins and mine and for the sins of everyone in the whole world. In ways that we do not fully understand, Jesus’ death on the cross took away the guilt and the shame of the whole world. It was like Jesus served a bench minor for the whole team of humanity so all of us could go free.
On the third day that followed, Jesus rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is enthroned as king of all creation. One day he is going to come back and he is going to make all things right. He will raise us from the dead and give us new bodies that will never grow old, never get sick and never die. He will give us the ultimate healing and we will be more human than we ever were before. All of creation will be transformed with us and there will be perfect peace and harmony. All of this, Jesus will give to everyone who looks to him as king of their lives.
The bible tells us that when Jesus comes back again, everyone will see him (cf. Rev 1:7). Once again, Jesus will come to our city and we will have an opportunity to go outside the city gates and welcome him and give him another parade of welcome and praise. This time, we can be there ourselves shouting, “Hosanna! God has saved us! Peace in heaven and on earth and glory in the highest! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” This is a gift that Jesus wants to give you. He is a humble king. He will not force you to accept it. He has bought and paid for it so that it is free for you. Will you accept him as your king?
And so this Bible story, like so many of the other stories in the Bible, really is our story. It is the story of all humanity. The only question is: Which people in the Bible are we? Amen.
(shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC, on 28 March 2010.)