Notes from the Sermon by Richard Barton 25th March 2018
“As they were untying the colt its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt” They said “The Lord needs it”
Can anyone here recall an incident, maybe when they were young, or perhaps older, when they were caught doing something that they were not supposed to be doing! This is a rhetorical questions, unless anyone feels the strong urge to confess! When I was about 5 years old and at school with a pair of scissors and for some reason decided I wanted to see if they would cut my socks! They did but my mother was not impressed with the result of one sock with a long slash at the top and she said something like “What did you think you were doing?!” I tried to get out of that one by saying that another child had done this when I was “playing dead during a playground game, and my mother told me to find the other child and get the cost of new pair of socks from them, which lead me to return home the next day to confess!
But this phrase, What are you doing?! Is one we have all probably heard at one time or other, sometimes the verb to think is often added in “What do you think you are doing?!
This little incident before the triumphant progression into Jerusalem, is a curious one but recalled by all three of the synoptic gospel writers. The disciples asked to go the village ahead, find a colt and take it, Jesus needed some transport to get into Jerusalem, and if they were challenged as they were to say “The lord needs it”. No wonder that the colt owers said, “Why are you untying the colt” “What do you think you are doing?!” Or perhaps even the implied questions was “On what or on whose authority are you doing this?
I don’t know about you but fear that if I was one of the disciples tasked to do this, I might have said… “Eh Jesus, you cant just take peoples animals, I mean, do you know these people,?”
On this Sunday, Palm Sunday – we reflect on the day when Christ’s ministry, went from being tentative at times, wandering around Galilee carrying out acts of healing and teaching and sparring occasionally with the Pharisees and Jewish authorities to going into Jerusalem openly, defiantly, ultimately fatally to be arrested, and tried and crucified, before rising again on the Sunday.
This is part of a poem called coming to a city nearest you by the Canadian Mennonite paster Carol Penner imagining the events of Palm Sunday now.
So he goes into Jerusalem as a King, but a strange one, not on a horse but on a colt or donkey depending on the translation. He is fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah “Shout for joy you people of Jerusalem, Look your king is coming to you! He comes triumphant and victorious, but humble and riding on a donkey – on a colt, the foal of a donkey”
Lukes version of Palm Sunday is not only notable for not mentioning palms(!) but for the focus on peace, the crowds shout, Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven. Again echoing the words of Zechariah, “The Lord says I will remove the war chariots from Israel and take the horses from Jerusalem; the bows used in battle will be destroyed”. And the Pharisees are looking on and saying “What does he think he is doing!” Or more probably “Who does he think he is?!” “On whose authority is he doing this?”
And rest assured, when in the next section of this chapter, Jesus goes into the temple to overturn the tables of the money changers to speak with a passion that’s probably unique in the gospels about the importance of justice. The corrupt stall holders and money changers would have been saying “What are doing? What do you think you are doing?!” Who gave you the authority to do this!
And this is the questioning that we may have to face when we are called to go head for Jesus,, to untie the colt, – what are you doing, what are doing going to church, why are believing fairy tales, why are you trying to buck the system, turning the words of Jesus – that are probably the most misunderstood against us – the poor will always be with us, why are bothering with such people?
But perhaps its also important to realise that some of the antagonism, particularly towards the established church comes from the negative experiences of people to religious or other authority. Linda and I have been watching a programme about pilgrimage where a group of people, some celebritys, take the pilgrimage to Santiago De Compostela across northern spain. One of the pilgrims is a journalist Raph Rowe who for 12 years was wrongly imprisoned for murder and robbery and who has a real distrust of authority including religious institutions and did not want to go into any of the churches on the pilgrimage, but in part from an admitted mistrust of peoples motives, and in part from a curiosity he would often get into conversation with other pilgrims asking “What are you doing” or “why are you doing this?”
And perhaps Im getting it all wrong about the owner of the colt. What if the tone of the questioning is quite different. More What are you doing, why do you need the colt, who is your Lord, tell me about him? And this kind of questioning, not an aggressive challenging one but a curious, interested questioning is perhaps for some of us even harder to answer? What do we say when people ask us, What do you believe in, why do you go to church, Im curious, why does your church believe its important to stand up for asylum seekers, why does your church seek to provide a place where people can come and worship regardless of their sexuality, tell me about your belief? And if you are like me you find it just so hard to talk about belief about God about Jesus about religion, with friends and work colleagues and relatives and the people you meet.
In the British Social Attitudes survey of a couple of years back half the population said they belonged to a religion – and of those about 90% said they were Christian. And on the matter of belief in another recent survey one third said they believed in God, one third had no belief in God or any higher power, and one third either did not believe in God but did believe in a higher power or just didn’t know.
So it seems to me that the people of this country are finely balanced in what they feel and believe about matters of religion and faith. And like the crowds during holy week maybe some of the time we get shouts of Hosanna, and some of the time Crucify him.
Pope Francis seems to me to be a person who certainly has many people in the Catholic church saying (probably in private) What does he think hes doing! But also is someone who has got people talking about matters of faith and humble living. Last year he was given a gift of a very fancy Lambourghini sports car, he auctioned it and gave the money to various charities including one that supports women trafficked into prostitution. So the world at large was asking why he was behaving as he does, whats behind the desire to live very simply and to place more emphasis on issues of peace and justice.
So when we go out into the world beyond the church walls, and into the wonderful, crazy, mixed up, scary world, and we are called by Christ to service, whether we face the ridicule and aggression of those who just don’t understand a life of service to Christ and question its value, or we get to meet people who are curious about our values and our beliefs and want to learn more, may we, through the spirit have the strength, the courage, the humour and the sensitivity to share our faith and our conviction of the God of Love in Christ, in everything we do and everyone we meet.