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9:30AM Sunday School
11AM & 7PM Worship

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Austin, TX 78705

Prepare the Way

San Williams

March 29, 2015
Mark 11:1-10

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 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. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of Palm Sunday. This is the day that marks what we typically call Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We picture the streets lined with palm-waving pilgrims shouting “Hosanna,” as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. This morning we re-created that carnival spirit as we gathered in the courtyard. The sound of drums filled the air, children handed out palm branches, there was a trumpet blast, and then the festive palm processional entered the sanctuary as we joined our voices singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”

But before we get too carried away with Palm Sunday’s parade-like atmosphere, let’s back up and notice the preparations that took place prior to the Palm Sunday parade. Actually, in Mark’s ten-verse account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, only the last three verses describe the entry itself, while the first seven fall in the category of advance planning. So let’s go behind the scenes, so to speak, and fasten our attention on the nitty-gritty preparations that made Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem possible.

As you know, these preparations involved finding, procuring, and delivering a donkey for Jesus to ride on when he entered Jerusalem. Of course, the donkey in question represented more than a simple mode of transportation. Rather, this was an animal that would ignite Israel’s messianic hopes. The prophet Zechariah had proclaimed, “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.” In that day, kings, emperors and warriors entered Jerusalem on stallions to signal that they came as conquerors who would rule over the people in power. But the imagery of a humble king riding a donkey evoked Israel’s deepest hopes and most fervent longings. Namely, that God would come not to conquer, but to save; not to declare war, but to bring peace.

So when people caught sight of Jesus approaching the city from the Mount of Olives riding a donkey, they were filled with messianic expectations and so erupted in shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

But before any of this could occur, someone had to find the donkey, procure it, and bring it to Jesus. To this rather mundane task, Jesus assigned two of his disciples, and he went into considerable detail explaining where to go, what they would find, what to say, and what to do. Mark doesn’t tell us which two disciples were sent on this rather inglorious mission. Maybe they were James and John, who only hours before had proposed to Jesus, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But as Presbyterian pastor Tom Long notes in his sermon on this text, “…it hardly matters which two they were. All the disciples had been jockeying for advantage, angling for glory, arguing about who was the greatest. So it is deliciously ironic,” concludes Long, “that on this very public and glorious day of Jesus’ ministry, a day when he will be welcomed into Jerusalem with joyous hosannas, they 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?”

Actually, when we think back over the disciples’ ministry with Jesus, we find that much of it was rather ordinary. Yes, Jesus called them to be his disciples and sent them out to proclaim the message of the Kingdom and cast out unclean spirits, but in Mark’s Gospel a lot of that Kingdom-of-God work took the form of ordinary, everyday chores. Think about the time Jesus told them to get a boat ready for him. Then there was the day he sent them scurrying around the mountainside in search of food for the multitudes who had gathered there. Or recall how, at Passover, he told them to find a room for his Last Supper, and when they did, to set the table and prepare the meal. And, as we read today, one of their last assignments from Jesus was to chase down a donkey and bring it to Jesus. We have to wonder: When these first disciples answered Jesus call “follow me,” did they have any idea that fellowship with Jesus would frequently take place in the nitty-gritty chores of everyday life?

All this seems somewhat akin to the preparations that took place this morning prior to our Palm Sunday worship. If you had driven by the church yesterday afternoon, you would have seen Richard Gibson and Remy Martin planting and weeding in the courtyard. If you went inside the church you would have seen Tim and Ann Lowry carefully cutting palm branches and arranging them in the sanctuary. Or if you were roaming the halls this morning before worship, you might have spied Byron and Sarah French as they pulled out the communion sets, filled the cups, wrapped the bread and carefully set the table. If you walked past my office at that hour, you would have seen the pastors and music staff going over the order of worship one more time to be sure the assignments were clear, the crucifer chosen, music sheets run off, the brownie mix for visitors replenished, the communion prayer in place for the acolyte, and trying to remember the myriad other little details that go into preparing for worship. The truth is: a lot of our ministry consists of unglamorous chores, careful preparations and simple tasks.

However, this is not to say that we don’t have a lofty vision and a high calling. Our Presbyterian Book of Order has a section called The Great Ends of Church. These great ends are spelled out as the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the kingdom of heaven to the world. So yes, we are called pursue these great ends, but the means to these lofty ends is quite often found through down-to-earth, everyday acts of kindness, helpfulness, of seeing what needs to be done and pitching in.

In my last few weeks of my ministry here, I naturally find myself thinking about who’s going to do what after Jan and I are gone. Interestingly, I rarely focus on the major matters, such as leading worship, preaching, moderating the Session, staffing the committees. I’m confident those tasks will be done and done admirably. No, it’s the little things that most concern me, the things that can fall through the cracks or go unattended. Things like making a frantic call to the florist on Sunday morning, because the sanctuary flowers didn’t get delivered. . .making sure the bulletins from Saturday’s Memorial Service get picked up before Sunday worship, replenishing the oil in the chancel candles. . . making sure the microphones are turned on…the greeters are in place. . .trash in the patio area has been picked up. . .and so on and so forth.

Friends, to use Tom Long’s phrase, we are all called to be donkey fetchers, which is to say we are servants preparing the way for our servant Lord. True, much of our prep work is routine, often exhausting, and seemingly mundane. Yet we must be of good cheer, because every task, no matter how small, when done in the name of Jesus, becomes a piece of Jesus’ redemptive work in the world.

Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!