Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020 “For Yours is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory”

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“Click” the WATCH icon to join us for worship here at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church this morning, April 5, 2020.
Today’s sermon: “For Yours is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory” by Pastor Erik

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“FOR THE KINGDOM, THE POWER, THE GLORY ARE YOURS, NOW AND FOREVER”

Matthew 21:1-11    Palm Sunday      April 5, 2020

We may not think we have much to offer others when they are in need, but sometimes just a humble or simple act can have a powerful effect.  Such was the case when Chris McDougal was asked to help his neighbor by going for a run.

Zeke was a young man who came home from college early one semester because the depression he was suffering from had led him to a place of self-destructive behavior, which had led to hospitalization. The college student soon realized that taking medications alone would not be enough. He said, “It became pretty apparent to me that simply taking a few antidepressants and not making wholesale lifestyle changes — that would not be enough for me to be healthy at school,” Zeke says. “And, so, for me, it was more about kind of trying to rebalance some of my wiring. So, exercise was the first step for me. And then, beyond that, it was nutrition. And then, I guess, donkeys.”

That’s right donkeys.  It began with Zeke’s mother asking their neighbor to go for a run with Zeke.   Their neighbor is Chris McDougal who owns a small farm next to them, in rural Pennsylvania.  Chris McDougal is the author of the bestselling 2009 book, “Born to Run,” a book that Zeke was reading for inspiration.  It just so happened that Chris McDougal had just bought a donkey for his daughter’s 10-year-old birthday, because when he had asked, that’s what his daughter had said she wanted.  The donkey’s name is Sherman and he had been neglected and abused by his former owner.  The animal was glassy-eyed, his hair was mangy, his hooves hadn’t been trimmed for months, and it didn’t want to move.

“And if donkeys can’t walk, they can’t survive,” Chris says. “They need to move, in order to digest their food and pass it through their digestive tract.”   The veterinarian’s assistant told Chris the donkey was feeling despair and abandonment and if he didn’t get the animal moving soon, it could die.  Desperate not to let the donkey die before his daughter’s birthday, Chris found a race online for owners of pack animals.   It was the World Championship Pack Burro Race. It’s held every July in Fairplay, Colorado. Participants run, alongside donkeys, up and over a mountain.  So, with lots of coaxing and prodding, Chris started taking Sherman the donkey running with him.  It wasn’t long after that Zeke’s mother called Chris to take Zeke for a run.  When Zeke said yes, that’s when he met Sherman.

Zeke, the kid fighting depression, and Sherman, the donkey with abandonment issues, soon started to realize that they could help each other heal. “I think that, with depression, it’s a sickness that kind of makes it very difficult for you to look beyond the immediate problems,” Zeke says. “It’s almost like you’re in a perpetual state of panic. You feel kind of afraid all the time. You feel trapped, I guess. And so when you’re dealing with an animal that has needs that they can’t articulate, it gets you outside of your own brain.”

As Zeke started to feel better, so did the donkey.  Four years later, Zeke still visits Sherman whenever he’s home. When asked what Sherman did for him, Zeke answers, “I’d say he is a big part of the reason why I was actually able to go back to school and graduate. You know, when I got back to school, it was, like, ‘I trained with a donkey. I can do this. I can do anything.’”  Zeke and Sherman ended up needing each other. It was just a simple interaction with a humble animal, but those interactions with that humble animal had led to a powerful healing experience for the young man.

Jesus needs a donkey in the scripture from the Book of Matthew today and his interaction with the animal leads to a humble yet powerful experience as well.  It begins with Jesus and his disciples coming near the city of Jerusalem. When they had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”

I don’t know what those disciples were thinking as Jesus sent them out, but they had to have been wondering if just saying, “The Lord needs them,” was really going to work with the owners of those two animals.  A donkey and a colt, which is a young horse, were valuable animals.  Surely the owner wouldn’t just let the disciples take them.  We don’t know who the owner was, but he must have believed the disciples when they said, “The Lord needs them” because he lets them take those valuable assets.  Something must have moved his heart so that when he realized the Lord needed them, he was willing to give them.

Matthew’s Gospel is the only one which has Jesus getting both a donkey and a colt before he rides into Jerusalem.  This distinctive emphasis that Jesus borrows two animals for his entry into Jerusalem underlines the dual assertion which we find in the Old Testament book of the prophet Zechariah.  It is the assertion that the coming messiah-king is to be both powerful and humble. The colt was the animal traditionally used in the coronations of Israel’s kings, and the donkey is a humble beast of burden. In Zechariah, the humble king is also the Divine Warrior who subdues the nations and exercises dominion from sea to sea, and to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:10).

When the crowds shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” we are reminded of the divine power and glory that was with Jesus. It is appropriate to be reminded of this as we come to the end of the season of Lent, and also come to the last part of the Lord’s prayer.  It is the part which says, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”  These words provide a framework around the prayer acknowledging that God is the one above everything, the one holding all things together.  As the prayer begins, with recognizing the God who dwells in heaven whose name is to be honored as holy and whose kingdom we pray is coming, it feels appropriate that the prayer would end by reiterating that it is God’s kingdom, not the kingdoms of the world, which has the power and glory that lasts forever.

This Sunday is called Palm Sunday on the church calendar because the people laid down palm branches to honor Jesus as he rode into the city as if he were a conquering king.  But Jesus is not connected to the kingdoms of this world.  While the people may want him to be an earthly ruler, his real connection is to the power and glory of God.   If Jesus would have been an earthly king, his power would have come through the might of earthly armies, but instead it comes through the journey to the cross.  Remember, Jesus rode into the city with both the colt and the donkey.  His power comes through the path of humility.

This is a path that Jesus invites us on as well.  He comes to us asking to untie the gifts and abilities we have to offer the world because the Lord needs them.  He calls to us because he knows that we need each other if we are going to find healing.  Jesus comes to us because he knows that even a humble gesture can be powerful.

As New York struggles to get ahead of the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic,  volunteer healthcare workers are arriving in the city to share their gifts to help ease the burden. Officials in the state have put out a call for more supplies and personnel, and last Friday, a fleet of healthcare workers from Atlanta answered that plea. More than a dozen healthcare professionals boarded a Southwest Airlines flight to New York.

Southwest shared a photo from the plane that went all over the internet.  They wrote that the picture “embodies bravery, courage, and sacrifice. These brave souls soldier on in the midst of tremendous risk and exposure, constantly putting the needs of others above their own. Their selfless sacrifice is a beacon of light during such a dark time in our world, and no amount of gratitude and praise would ever be enough.” This plane full of healthcare workers is just a part of the additional 40,000 doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and other medical professionals who have signed up to join the healthcare force in New York, and that number is just a small part of the thousands of healthcare workers all across our country who are sacrificing on our behalf during this time.

You might not have the gifts of a healthcare professional, but the Lord still needs what you have, and what you have can make an impact.  This last week, my family’s spirits were lifted when some people from church left a box of Krispy Kreme donuts at our doorstep.  My spirits were lifted again when I noticed a string of signs on Lynn Road thanking our local healthcare workers.  People from our congregation are making lunches for those less fortunate that Harbor House is giving away everyday from out of our Fellowship Hall.  People are purchasing extra groceries to make sure our local food bank is well stocked.  Folks are calling each other to check in to make sure people are doing okay.

These are all just simple and humble efforts, but when we give them into God’s hands they can have a powerful effect because in God’s hands lie the kingdom, and the power, and the glory that lasts forever.  Amen.

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