NB: This sermon draws heavily on http://revplockhart.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/tthe-ministry-of-donkey-fetching.html. But it set me off on the theme for all the sermons of Holy Week]
+ In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, Palm Sunday (aka Passion Sunday) marks the beginning of the greatest week in the Church’s year, the week we know as “Holy Week”. Throughout this week, we are called to walk with Jesus from the time of so-called “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, through Maundy Thursday’s Last Supper and foot-washing, to his trial and awful death on Good Friday, all the way to his glorious resurrection which we celebrate at Easter.
Today, this Palm Sunday, also marks the beginning of a new life for E [a sixteen-year-old-girl]. As an adult, E is coming for Baptism, coming to make a personal commitment to walking with Jesus for the rest of her life. Such baptisms usually are preferred to happen on Easter Day or during the Easter season, because of the connection of Baptism with the death and resurrection of Jesus. But I think the “coincidence” of E’s Baptism and Palm Sunday is wonderful, because it all speaks of journey and service.
In Baptism, E will be committing not only to belief in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but to serve God and the world, “shining in the world as a light to the glory of God the Father”. And at Easter we will all be invited to renew our own promises to do the same.
This theme of service is the one about which I feel called to speak throughout this Holy Week.
Today I want to talk about the “Ministry of Donkey-Fetching”.
Most ministry to which we are called as Christians is not particularly “out there” and spectacular. There are relatively few called to high office in the church, or to be great evangelists or famous missionaries. Most of us are called to simple and faithful service, mostly not widely observed or praised.
As Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem, we are told that he calls over two of the disciples to send them to get a donkey. Of course the mundane task of donkey-fetching is made special by Jesus’ prediction about where the two would find the donkey and what would happen when they got there. Yet there is still a level at which it remains an ordinary task. It was just something that had to be done – someone had to fetch the donkey.
Imagine, years later, these two disciples trying to explain the significance of their donkey-fetching ministry. Maybe the omission of their names from the story reflects how they might have felt about it. So the question we could ask is why even bother including this part of the story, it has to be more than just filling space. Mark, particularly, seems not to waste words in telling his story of Jesus.
One of the things that strikes me about the inclusion of this aspect of the disciples’ work is that, even in mundane and ordinary tasks, God can be encountered. Jesus sends the disciples to fetch the donkey, and by predicting the encounter that the disciples would have, Jesus turns the event into a moment of revelation.
The appearance of the person questioning the disciples as Jesus had predicted affirms for them that God’s work is going on around them, even in the midst of a mundane task.
When asked, “Why are you doing this?’ their response is to describe what Jesus had said to them. They tell of Jesus’ prediction of the event. Through this, the disciples are once again reminded of Jesus authority and place within their lives.
Now, what, if anything, does this have to do with us? When we see this mundane and ordinary task as something special, an encounter with the divine, I believe we are reminded that even the most ordinary tasks in our lives can be places in which God speaks to us as well.
As we put our hands to work in the everyday humdrum of life making a meal, mowing a lawn, balancing our books, serving customers in a shop, or patients in a hospital or home, or students in a school, we can encounter God’s presence and be taught by God’s love just as the disciples were.
The great American preacher and activist, Martin Luther King, once declared, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
Maybe in these moments of our everyday life we will hear someone asking, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Why are you doing chores at the church, or looking after the op shop, why is it that you are nursing or teaching? I wonder do we have a sense that God has called us to these everyday tasks of life as an expression of ministry in the world. Tasks that may seem everyday – even dull and boring – may be places we remember and encounter God; and maybe when asked we might even be bold enough to explain that we had a sense that Jesus had asked us to do it.
Just as with the disciples and their task of donkey-fetching, so too we are often called to do mundane and less than glamorous tasks in our lives. Ministry, service of Jesus day by day, can often be that simple – and that rich!
So the disciples return with the donkey; and we can safely assume they follow Jesus as he enters Jerusalem.
This little part of the Jesus’ story is not a mere detail, but an essential part of his whole journey from his birth at Bethlehem to his death and resurrection.
We who know the story of what occurs should also understand our place within it. We are part of that crowd. We are not just the donkey-fetchers. We wave our branches. We gather in hope. Yet as we do so we know that despite our enthusiastic response, we too will probably lose our way with Jesus. Like his key disciples, we may well desert, betray, and hide. The crowd which welcomes Jesus into the city, may well be some of those who will cry “Crucify” on Good Friday.
This is how we live our lives with a strange mixture of belief and disbelief; with an annoying ability to do both things which are good and bad, often not even fully aware of which is which. We live as people celebrating God’s love, yet all too often denying his place in our lives.
Yet, the good news is that Jesus, knowing this, rides on. He travels towards the cross, towards his death and towards his resurrection, to break through our fickleness and so declare God’s love for us and inclusion of us in God’s very life.
This gathering on Palm Sunday shows the other side of the coin of our spiritual life to the low-key and mundane task of donkey fetching. The times we encounter God as a gathered community – just like running to the roadside to see Jesus, we come and gather here, and in worship and in singing our Hosannas, Jesus is present with us here in the midst of our fickleness, accepting our praise.
The hope that we find in the story of the donkey-fetchers and of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is that Jesus is with us and alongside us. He is there us as we go about our everyday tasks and he is here as we gather together to celebrate, not because we are worthy in any way of his presence but because he chooses to be so out of love.
The ministry of donkey-fetching is probably much under-rated; but it is a ministry to which E and all of us are called, and to which we commit in our Baptism.
The Lord be with you.