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  The Lord Has Need Of It
A homily based on Luke 19:28-40
by Rev. R. Robert Cueni, Biblical Preaching Journal
edited by Rev. Tom Hall

This is called Palm Sunday and it begins Holy Week, the most sacred time on the Christian calendar. Today we recall the Triumphal Entry of our Lord into the city of Jerusalem. It gets the week off to a wonderful start. Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem as a conquering hero. The whole city turned out and lined the parade route. They waved palm branches and shouted, "Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna to the King of Kings!" Unfortunately, things went downhill quickly. Jesus’ enemies hatched a plot to do away with him as soon as the parade ended. On Thursday Jesus was betrayed and arrested. On Friday, he was tried, convicted and executed by crucifixion.

The Bible tells us that prior to the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus had been to Jericho, an ancient city just to the north of the Dead Sea, on the edge of the wilderness. The road from Jericho to Jerusalem is a steady uphill climb. With his apostles, Jesus comes to place near Bethpage, a little village near the top of the Mount of Olives that no longer exists. As they come near Bethpage, Jesus dispatches two of his followers to go into this village and find a donkey. The Lord specifies that the donkey needs to be one on which no one has ever ridden. If anyone asks a question, simply say, "The Lord has need of it." Jesus tells the apostles to bring that donkey to him.

Think about that! The Lord has need of a donkey on which no one has ever ridden! Jesus wants to ride this beast in a parade. The Lord wants an unbroken donkey. I know the Bible says that Zechariah prophesied about the Messiah, "Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a [a donkey]: (9:9). But if Jesus needed a donkey to fulfill some Old Testament prophecy, why didn’t he select an old and well-trained one? Why risk riding in a parade on a donkey that has never been ridden?

I recall a particularly creative minister of education in a neighboring church who arranged for a donkey to ridden down the center aisle in the Palm Sunday worship service by someone dressed as Jesus. I won’t go into all the details, but that donkey demonstrated how obstinate, stupid, and problematic these can be when they are not housebroken! The Lord has need of it? An unbroken donkey? Could it be that Jesus was mistaken?

Sometimes, we think we just have to have something and we really don’t need it at all. We just think we do. In 1845, Sir John Franklin and 138 men set sail from England in search of the Northwest Passage. Today we know this does not exist, but in the middle of the nineteenth century many were convinced that in the northern Canadian Arctic there was a passage of open water between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. The common wisdom was that anyone who found this Northwest Passage would become fabulously wealthy.

The Franklin expedition set off calculating that they would be gone two to three years. They took the things they thought they needed. Unfortunately, they were more concerned about the comforts of England than the realities of the Arctic. For instance, they took only one coat per man-dress uniform of the British Navy. Those coats looked spiffy dockside in England but were not sufficient for a two to three year journey in the Arctic. They loaded only a twelve-day supply of coal because they needed room for a 1,200 volume library, an organ programmed to play fifty tunes, sufficient china and crystal for a formal dinner, and flatware engraved with the family crest of each officer-all especially commissioned for the Franklin expedition.

Twenty years later the men from the Franklin Expedition were found. The very first winter their ship froze in the Arctic Sea. The tried to walk to safety. They loaded all their stuff into a lifeboat and had tried to drag the loaded boat across the ice. Unbelievably, they had included among the boat’s cargo the organ, much of the library, and the engraved flatware. They were convinced that they needed those things, but they didn’t.

Did Jesus really need an unbroken donkey? Sure seemed like one of those items in the Franklin Expedition boat right next to the organ.

Some have pointed to this unbroken colt that Jesus rode on that first Palm Sunday as one of Jesus’ most astonishing miracles. People who raise donkeys point out that any one attempting to just jump astride an unbroken donkey is in for the ride of their life! The donkey will rear back to throw it’s strange load or it may break into a gallop, making unexpected sudden turns, kicking and bucking all along the way. Better to ride a Brahma bull than jump bareback on an unbroken donkey.

Yet, maybe that’s the point of this whole story. It was an unbroken beast-stubborn, obstinate, and stupid. But Jesus rode it. He took it in the parade, and seemed to do quite well. The Lord has need of it. Something that seems so terribly ordinary as that beast was able to do something extraordinary under the guidance of Jesus, under the discipline of the Christ. Is that not the message? Could this not really be a parable that dwells right at the heart of our faith? The Lord has need of the most ordinary folks who are called to do the most extraordinary things.

Jesus road that donkey over the top of the Mount of Olives, wound his way through the Garden of Gethsemane, across the Kidron Valley and into Jerusalem. With Jesus as he rode were his apostles, the twelve that he had called a couple of years before, saying "The Lord has need of you." They were really an unlikely group of folks. For the most part, they were from the northern hill country called Galilee. To the sophisticated people of Jerusalem, Galileans were redneck hillbillies, country bumpkins.

The leader of the group was Peter, by the standards of the times a manmuch too old to do the job he was called to do. The brothers James and John stumbled over their own egos as they argued which should sit on the right hand of Jesus. Simon belonged to a group of revolutionary terrorists called the Zealots. That group was dedicated to the violent overthrow of Roman rule. What an odd person to be a part of a group committed to bringing the message of peace on earth and good will among all people.

We know little more than the names of most of the apostles. In fact, we’re not even absolutely certain of all their names. Different Gospels include different lists. We don’t even have anecdotal information on some. We only know that they were ordinary people to whom Jesus said, "The Lord has need of you." They responded to the invitation. In a generation, this group of ordinary people under the discipline of the Christ did the most extraordinary thing. In one generation, they extended the good news of the gospel as far to the East as India and as far to the West as Spain. They began the Church of Jesus Christ. It was a movement that not only attracted people in every generation through two thousand years, it brings us here today.

"The Lord has need of you." That’s the message. Most of us, in our most private moments, when we set aside the mask of pride, wonder, "Why would God have need of me? What do I have to offer? I am so very ordinary."

I recall a college friend who had a wonderful personality but a face only a mother could love. He was such a pleasant person that he never had trouble getting a date. Yet his common looks so troubled him that he developed a curious ritual. As he prepared to go out in the evening, as he was tying his necktie, he looked in the mirror, shook his head and said to no one in particular: "Boy! I sure am glad I don’t have to kiss that face."

Most of us think we are about as likely to do something significant as that unridden donkey tethered in Bethpage. But that’s the point. God calls very ordinary people, and under the discipline of the Christ we can do the most extraordinary things. Our world is faced with enormous problems-wars and rumors of war, crime in the streets, deteriorating family values, the decline of the family itself. The Lord says to us, "I have need of you; when you’re under My disciple you can do extraordinary things, no matter how ordinary you think you are."

The ethical problems our world faces are enormous. The vision that our church embraces is enormous. As ordinary people we don’t have much to offer. Yet we are ordinary people responding to God’s call in Christ Jesus. We are ordinary people under the discipline of the Christ. That means we can do the most remarkable things. That’s the good news of the gospel.

Next week we will gather to hear the most important part of the story: that it is still true. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, not even death that can separate us from God’s call in Christ Jesus. And ordinary folks just like us, under the discipline of our Savior, can be called to do the most remarkable things.

Thanks be to God. Amen and Amen