When I was at Asbury Serminary, Maxie Dunnam became president. Maxie has been not just a great leader in the United Methodist Church most of his time in ministry, he has been a UM Elder under appointment. During his ministry, Maxie has picked up some great stories and one of those is a story about a husband and the wife who got into an argument. Something none of us have ever done I'm sure. The problem was, the fight had begun on a road trip to attend a family wedding in a distant city — it was tense, uneasy and quiet trip, both of them starring straight ahead or out the window as the miles went by in icy silence. The angry tension between them was so thick you could cut it with a knife. But, then the silence was broken. Pointing to a donkey standing in a pasture out beside the road, the husband sarcastically asked, “Relative of yours?”
The wife quickly replied, “By marriage!”
A braying donkey, is an ugly sight, an object of amused contempt. In modern communication, the donkey is a symbol for awkwardness, dumbness, blundering ineptness, a lack of sophistication. Of all creatures, it is an ass who plays a key role in the drama of Palm Sunday at which we’re looking today.
And the truth is, this donkey symbolizes the Kingdom of God far better than any other symbol. All the things which make up our understanding of kingdoms get thrown out by Jesus. He doesn't wear a crown or have a castle. He doesn't command an army or have crates of cash. This is a Kingdom of servants and the King himself is the servant of all.
Symbols of success mean a great deal in all societies. Those in the fields of anthropology and sociology have noted through the centuries the importance and significance of the symbols that determine power and roles. Jesus was not and is not interested in political statements and power postures: Jesus is interested in people.
Jesus continues to make connections between the Old Testatment and the New Testament. In the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 the prophet saw this vision: Everyone in Jerusalem, celebrate and shout! Your king has won a victory, and he is coming to you. He is humble and rides on a donkey; he comes on the colt of a donkey. Kings winning victory usually ride on beautiful, majestic horses...NOT donkeys, not the ordinary.
Those he chose to go find said donkey were out of his group of 12. Those 12 were none of the expected a Rabbi might choose. When we talk a few weeks ago on the Marks of Followers, we learned at least two professions represented: fishermen and a tax collector – neither highly respected among the Jewish people, just ordinary.
So an ordinary donkey and a group of everyday people make their way to the gate of Jerusalem. And there, the everybodys, came laying out palms and coats, they rolled out “the red carpet” for this King. These people didn't wait to ask, “Whose job is this?” “Who is the coordinator for palm-cutting?” “Hey, you there! You didn't put that jacket down the right way – it goes like this!” We know from the other gospels, the Pharisees were ticked that they weren't consulted.
But the real issue at hand for us is this: JESUS CARED ABOUT PEOPLE! The actions of the people were in response to Jesus' actions toward them. Jesus had left a mark in all of his traveling, his teaching and his serving. The symbols of a donkey, of his disciples and the people point out to us clearly, Jesus loves the ordinary – the everyday – the real.
This shouldn't have surprised the disciples or us. Just a few verses before, Jesus forshadowed what was coming. He defined what kind of “leaders” he was looking for and the actions and attitudes of those in the Kingdom of God. In response to the very issue of “power”
...Jesus called the disciples together and said: You know that those foreigners who call themselves kings like to order their people around. And their great leaders have full power over the people they rule. (43) But don't act like them. If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. (44) And if you want to be first, you must be everyone's slave. (45) The Son of Man did not come to be a slave master, but a slave who will give his life to rescue many people. Mark 10:42-45 CEV
The mark of Servanthood is no mystery...it is serving others. It is the Golden Rule, the Great Commandment, the Scout Slogan: "Do a good turn daily." You can keep going and find mission statements galore that echo this mark of Jesus – it is more than an act of generosity, it is a life of giving of yourself.
This is the mark Jesus has left to us. The significance of Jesus is not merely in his teaching. It is not in his acts of healing. It is not in his reformation work. It is not in his social justice work. It is here – for Jesus did not come saying he loved us, not preaching that he loved us, Jesus came serving us and that is the mark of Love itself.
Try if you will to take away how Jesus served others. Try to read the New Testament and skip over every action of Jesus on behalf other people and see what you have left. For in doing so you have to take away the resurrection itself. We don't just follow a good teacher we follow a King who loves ordinary people, who was not swayed by political action committees or power systems, he was swayed by a love of people and so he acted – he left a mark of love by serving.
To learn more about opportunities to serve, click here to find out the opportunities here at Cumming FUMC!
Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service meeting each Sunday morning.
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