Toorak Uniting Church

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On His Service

Luke 19: 28 – 41
Rev. Dr Ron Savage
9 April 2006

The Royal Albert Hall had an expensive refurbishment at £17 million and HM the Queen was going to its re-opening. She emerges from Buckingham Palace gates with a bicycle. As she is in her late seventies she gets on with a struggle and begins a wobbly path past the Victorian fountain and down the Mall, two corgies in tow on a long lead. Investigative journalists later discover she borrowed the bike from one of the maids who is a keep fit enthusiast. She swerves right and through St James’s Park and eventually arrives, a little puffed and windswept, to be received by a well dressed crowd to do her duty.

Actually what did happen was that all traffic was banned from the streets, massive security was in place with armed police on rooftops and on every corner. Her armour-plated car was preceded by police guards and surrounded by outriders. Shielded by security agents, she entered with dignity, perfectly groomed and beautifully dressed. No corgies were in sight.

There is definite protocol for royalty and heads of state and it does not allow for pushbikes. Even if George Bush goes jogging he has a protective and solicitous entourage – and with al Qua’ida on the loose he probably sticks to his treadmill in his White House bunker.

At the end of the last century the Bishop of Wakefield was William How whose anthems you often hear the choir sing and author of such hymns as "For all the saints". He came from a wealthy background but worked in the poor East end of London and went everywhere by bus. He was nicknamed "the Omnibus Bishop".

Actually I think it’s the King of Norway who likes to go out on his bike. The monarch on a bike, the Bishop on the bus, is the modern equivalent of the way Jesus entered Jerusalem. The gospels say his predominant theme was the Kingdom of God. Matthew was especially fond of that phrase – and consequently he paints Jesus as a royal figure. Obviously the people thought he would make a better king than Herod and in those times they were in a rebellious mood. This preacher, this teacher, this healer would certainly do them as King of the Jews. So he arrives in the capital city at the height of the great festival of the Passover when millions of pilgrims had come. And how does he choose to arrive? He arrives as

King – On A Borrowed Donkey.

Many anointed kings and conquering generals had entered the city but never had they seen a king like this one. The Jewish historian Josephus described the entry of Alexander the Great as a breathtaking affair. You can imagine ritual chants, symbols of authority, fallanks of military, the Emperor on a chariot drawn by white stallions.

Pontius Pilate, the Roman general, had come with great show: his guards surrounded him with golden shields bearing his crest which then he had placed on his battlements to flash in the sun, [with the Roman standards and busts of the emperor that enraged the Jewish religious sensitivities.]

But with Jesus in the gospels there is always something slightly askew and out of place: the rich entrepreneur dies a fool, early, the good neighbour is a despised Samaritan, a woman who gives two mites in an offering is commended for her generosity, the tax collector leaves the temple blest and justified not the righteous Pharisee – and now the king of kings enters on a borrowed donkey!
But it is staged as a sign, a parable in drama, a prophetic symbol.

The donkey is a sign of peace. The king comes to reconcile not punish. His strength is not in military might but in the power of ideas. It’s the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s hearts he proclaims by love, not a kingdom on earth that will vanish in time as politics ebb and flow.

Now those on his majesty’s service should know they are to spread his peace and work for recognition in Heaven rather than for earthly acclaim.

He arrives also as

King Of A Rag-Tag Bunch.

In his wake and along the route those who follow him into the city are fishermen from Galilee, customs men and tax collectors for the hated Romans, Samaritans whose religious and cultural background is suspect, women of ill repute, the disabled, the blind, the mentally challenged – only a few are dressed in purple and fine linen. He arrives as the king of all sorts: sinners, outcasts, the sufferers, oppressed, sidelined, demobilised, demonised and disdained. His path was not laid out with red carpet, but dusty cloaks and tattered shawls cast there with branches from palm trees, not by sycophants, but by those who had received from him a sense of their true worth, denied them by the unfortunate circumstances and events of their lives or by those who looked down on them from their own exaggerated worthiness.

A few years later St Paul was to write to encourage Christian congregations (1 Corinthians 1: 26):

"Consider your calling, brothers and sisters," he wrote;
"not many of you were wise by human standards,
not many were powerful,
not many were of noble birth,
But God (note these two words – but God) chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise;
what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
God chose the low and despised in the world, things that are not to reduce to nothing things that are,
so that no one may boast in the presence of God.
He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus
who became for us wisdom from God
and righteousness, sanctification and redemption!"

So today you could ask where is the place of Pontius Pilate in history compared to this donkey-riding king with his ragtag followers, or where is the great Roman Empire?

Whereas the church – the earthly expression of the Kingdom of Heaven – has outlasted the ages, the empires, the cultural changes and has enriched untold lives by proclaiming the worth of every human being no matter how humble – the incalculable worth in the eyes of God who sent his Son even to the cross to save them.

Now those who are on his majesty’s service should know that they are to look beyond labels and occupations, possessions and position, to see the true worth of those for whom he set his face as a flint toward Jerusalem and took up his cross.

William James, renowned philosopher and researcher of human attitudes, wrote in a thank you letter to his class that had given him a present in appreciation of his teaching "the deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated."

Look around you in worship any Sunday and note the marvellous variety of folk who have discovered through Jesus Christ that God appreciates them – and you!

When Jesus came to Jerusalem, he arrived also as

The Children’s King.

As this donkey-riding king made his way through the crowded festival streets with his ragtag bunch of followers, it was children who grew most excited and enthusiastic. It was they who climbed the trees to throw down the palm branches. It was they who chanted "Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David!" when he scattered the corrupt moneychangers in the temple precincts. And it was they who annoyed the officials by this extravagant claim that he was the true descendant of David who could save them: the very Messiah promised by prophets of old. He countered the children’s critics with the words of an ancient Psalm: "Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babes you have prepared true praise for yourself." He always said people needed childlike faith and trust – simple insight into who he was; uncomplicated acceptance of God and his ways. Adults debate it to death. Children embrace it.

Some sophisticated adults conclude therefore church and Christian faith are for children only. And it is amazing how many bring their children to baptism, to Sunday school, to church, then when they get them through school years and into questioning teens and the rebellious phase, those parents vanish from church worship. Is it for children only?

I’m reminded of G K Chesterton’s writings where he said "a queer fancy seems to be current that a fire exists only to warm people. It exists also to light their darkness, to raise their spirits, to toast their muffins, to air their rooms, to cook their chestnuts, to tell stories to their children, to make chequered shadows on their walls…"

Yes, we can be short sighted – about fire, about church, about religious faith, about the God thing. Jesus told us we need to take a leaf out of the book of child-like faith and rediscover their joy and innocence and trust. It’s all there if we do not make them grow up too fast, into cut-down adults. Vivienne Westwood – icon of punk and other off the wall fashion – admitted in an interview recently that she and her generation had deprived children of their childhood. And don’t we all tend to deprive ourselves of the child-likeness which Jesus said was a virtue? Maybe that is why some find it hard to tolerate worship patterns that are child and youth flavoured. But what pleasure is there in a church without children? Rev John Hanwood said ‘a church without children is like trying to smile without teeth!’

Those on his majesty’s service know they are to bring to the surface again the child in us all – for of such is the Kingdom of God.

Finally, take a moment to contemplate

The Weeping King.

Do politicians cry? Do rulers break their hearts over their people? They say Alexander the Great wept – but it was because he had no more lands to conquer. Do any weep over Iraq or Afghanistan? Do they weep over the hungry or the AIDS victims? Do they weep over asylum seekers, refugees? Does any political leader weep for the traumatised and disabled victims of Ulster’s Troubles? Who weeps when pension funds vanish and leave the aged on the poverty line? Do church leaders weep for those broken in spirit or damaged in soul? This king was breaking his heart because the people of Jerusalem could not even recognise, never mind seize, the opportunity for peace and salvation when it arrived under their noses.

He wept – all the way to the cross. On the Via Dolorosa women wept for him under its weight. He told them not to weep for him but for themselves and their children as he had done. He could have escaped pain and cross. He was an intelligent man and he was God. They even taunted him "If you are the Son of God, save yourself and us." But he identified absolutely with them and with all of us in our inhuman plight, in our dehumanising preferences and he would not abandon the world he loved and came to renew.

But those on his majesty’s service know that in tears there is healing, in empathy there is renewal, by his pain comes the joy of salvation.

This King and this Kingdom appear ridiculous –

a donkey-riding king,
with a ragtag following,
a children’s king,
a weeping king.

Ridiculous indeed, until Easter, when the chains of death and hell are burst:
until the Day of Judgement when all sin is abolished and evil put in its place.
For He shall reign for ever.

© Rev. Dr Ron Savage, 2006

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