The Lord Has Need of It

Preacher: Amy Norton
Date: April 5, 2020

No audio recording is available. To watch the sermon, visit our YouTube page.

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 58:6-8, Philippians 2:1-4, Matthew 21:1-14


We typically think of Hosanna as a synonym for hallelujah, and yet, hosanna doesn’t mean the same thing as hallelujah. It doesn’t mean “praise god” or “hooray!” it means “help!” “save us!”. Yes, this was a triumphant entry but it wasn’t a parade like saint paddy’s. This was like a revolutionary candidate riding down Pennsylvania avenue, part celebration, yes, but part protest. Celebrating the arrival of someone who might finally be able to get us out of this mess.  It’s the cry of a people desperate for relief, desperately hoping and believing that this will be the one to save them. This will be the one to overthrow the yoke of Roman oppression. 


And I think we need a moment to hold that- lately, we are all, every day calling out “hosanna” to anyone and everyone who will listen- hoping that God is listening. Hoping that it lands somewhere. 


Jesus comes riding in on a donkey, a symbol of peace, not some warhorse; furthermore, he rides in through the east gate- opposite the one that Caesar enters Jerusalem through in his grand military parade. Jesus, the anti-caesar, the prince of peace, the suffering servant, he invites us into a salvation born of love, peace, and justice; not assimilation to the ways of empire.  And all empires, we know, eventually fall…Jesus’ salvation, on the other hand, is everlasting. The crowd pleads, “hosanna”, and what does Jesus do? He overturns the money-changing tables in the temple, (the stock exchange), and heals the sick. “My Father’s house is a house for all peoples and you have made it a den of robbers” he shouts, and instead of overthrowing the romans to usher in the highest GDP in all of the first century levant, he heals the sick, those about whom the empire cares the least. Those who the empire would have you let die, as a patriotic sacrifice to the economy. 

That’s what Jesus came to show us, though, right!?  That a kin-dom response to crisis is one that prioritizes the well-being of the beloved community over the demands or wellbeing of empire.


We cry out Hosanna, asking for relief, and the empire cuts us a check, encouraging us to invest it back into the empire itself.  Many of us will be receiving stimulus checks in the next few weeks.  Many of us will be paying bills, rent, debt, etc. with those checks. For some of us, it’ll cover the balance, for others, it won’t. Many of us will be putting it into savings, or using it to buy stocks while they’re still low. And many of us have already started thinking about what we’ll buy with the money. My first thought when I heard about the checks was paying off my medical debt and then buying some spiffy new dog supplies and maybe an e-reader. I got swept up in the Hosanna parade and then veered off straight to the money changing tables. 

I want to encourage all of us to think about how we can join Jesus in overturning the money tables. I think that in flipping the tables, Jesus turns the tables. He makes a profound statement about what salvation looks like - it’s a dramatic demonstration of where our priorities should lie; the kingdom should be a community where all are honored, healed, and loved- where the Temple is for healing, not profit.  


At the beginning of this morning’s gospel story, Jesus sends two disciples to requisition a donkey for the Lord. Not as a sacrifice, though the Donkey’s owner certainly was making a sacrifice, but as a vehicle of peace, as a statement about what kind of savior Jesus is. We don’t know how the interaction went, but we know that it was enough for the disciples to say “the Lord has need of it” and the Donkey and colt were untied. What might that have been like for the Donkey’s owner, however? Was he counting on that donkey to power his mill, or carry his wares to the market to sell? Was she planning to have her ailing father ride the donkey as they set off for a new and better life elsewhere? Can you imagine the faith, and trust, and devotion needed to be able to just let go of your donkey like that, when two randos show up saying that God needs it? 

How do we respond when the Lord asks something of us? We all would like to think that we’d spot the disciples down the road and have the donkey already saddled for them and ready to go…but is that realistic? What if they’re asking for something we need? What if we're already hurting, struggling, pinching pennies to get by? What if we're not pinching pennies but we're scared that we'll need to start at any moment? The world is scary enough as it is right now, without out-of-towners requisitioning our trucks for God. Or our time. Or our masks. Or our stimulus checks. But then there’s that line, “the lord has need of it,” I’ve been thinking a lot about that line. I’ve also been thinking a lot about this modern version of Matthew 25:37-40, adapted by Maren Tirabassi (whose blog has been a buoy for my soul lately):


"Then the compassionate will answer, “O Holy One, when was it that we saw you jobless and delivered groceries, or lonely and drove by with balloons or wrote on your sidewalk? And when was it that we saw you at risk and did not cheat on the shelter-in-place though we could easily have done so without being caught, or frustrated to the point of explosion and played an online game with your kids? And when was it that we saw you sick and got the emergency responders or in quarantine-depression and phoned every single day?” And God will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you delivered and chalked, stayed at home, and forced an old mind to learn some new tech, made an emergency call or many boring ones … for one of the most vulnerable members of my family, you did it for me.”"


And we’re all feeling a little vulnerable right now. Perhaps a lot vulnerable, even. Thrust into new lifestyles and routines, cut-off from many of the support systems, resources, and amenities that we’ve come to rely on to get through our day. Some of us have the luxury of being able to work from home and keep our jobs…but the daycares are closed and now the kids need supervision and the deadline for the deliverables is looming. Or we’re in a dual-income family but grandfather, who lives with us, is immunocompromised, and mother works as an ER doctor, treating covid patients every day. Or having to watch our child struggle with the ways that dyslexia interferes with online learning, without the in-classroom support systems their teacher had spent so long developing. Or we’re extroverts who live alone and can’t remember the last time we hugged or even touched another human being and don’t know when the next time we will is going to be. 


And amidst all of that vulnerability, Jesus hears our cries of Hosanna- and …flips the money tables and heals the sick. And that’s not some callous, ‘there are people worse off than you so suck it up, buttercup’ kinda thing. You see, Jesus is showing us that the way we find relief, salvation, and peace, is through healing our community; it’s through helping one another in whatever ways we can, that we, too, find peace, assurance, and relief. That’s how salvation works. It means holding a little less tightly to our donkeys and trusting that God not only knows the best use of our resources, but will tell us what that is, if we listen. So when you get that stimulus check in the mail or in your direct deposit, or when your paycheck hits, or when you drive past the food pantry on your way back from the grocery store, or when the refund from your canceled summer trip is processed, or when you’re wondering what to do with all those scrap pieces of fabric and elastic bands laying around your house, take a moment to quiet your mind, to put aside your very, very valid anxieties, and to listen for the disciples offering you an opportunity. That thing you’re holding on to? The Lord has need of it.