Sermon 1 Lent Yr C

You can read my sermon for Feb 17, 2013 here: 1 Lent Yr C

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Sermon 3 Lent Year A

You can read my sermon for March 27 here: 3 Lent Yr A

Sermon 1 Lent Yr A

You can read my sermon for March 13, 2011 here: 1 Lent Yr A

Sermon 5 Lent, Yr C

5 Lent Yr C, 21/03/2010

Phil 3:4b-14

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Paul’s loss and gain”

If an employer is hiring a worker, they rely a lot on the worker’s past training, knowledge and experience. The employer depends on information stating the worker’s credentials in a resume. If a university hires a professor, they rely on a potential professor’s academic pedigree as presented in curriculum vitae. And when a country asks who is a legitimate heir to the present king or queen? they rely on the history of a royal family to determine who shall be the new monarch.

In the same way, the apostle Paul speaks of his pedigree, highlighting his impressive credentials in today’s second lesson. Paul we might say, was a spiritual superstar. He was the ideal opponent within Judaism to resist Christianity.

Paul tells us that he was: “circumcised on the eighth day.” Going back to the days of Abraham, in Genesis seventeen, God makes a covenant with Abraham and the Jewish people; and as an outward sign of this covenant, God gave the command to Abraham that all male babies must be circumcised when they were eight days old. So as an Israelite, Paul is a legitimate one, having been circumcised in obedience to God’s command and covenant.

Paul goes on to state that he was: “a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin.” In other words, his parents were Jewish and they descended from the tribe of Benjamin. The tribes of Benjamin and Judah were the two faithful tribes when all of the others had abandoned God, and fallen away from the covenant. And Benjamin was considered to be one of the most aristocratic tribes of Israel. The first king of Israel, Saul, was from the tribe of Benjamin, and perhaps Paul, prior to his Damascus road encounter with Christ, was named after King Saul.

Paul continues to state his credentials, saying that he was: “a Hebrew born of Hebrews.” The Jewish people did not all speak Hebrew, read or write in that language at the time of Paul. Many Jews could not speak, read or write in the Hebrew because of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles; as well as their taking up residence in several Gentile lands. Over time, the Hebrew language was lost among some of the Jews because the land in which they lived had another official language. Here in Canada the same thing often happens. The first generation of immigrants usually preserve their mother tongue. However, by the second or third generation, their offspring may have abandoned the language of their ancestors—favouring English or French, the two official languages of Canada. Paul tells us that he and his parents retained the Hebrew language.

Paul adds another important credential to his list, saying: “as to the law, a Pharisee.” In the book of Acts, Paul says at least three times that he was educated as a Pharisee (Acts 22:3; 23:6; 26:5). Moreover, he was trained under one of Jerusalem’s best Pharisaic teachers, Gamaliel. Gamaliel, you may recall, was the wise and respected teacher who cautioned other Jewish leaders not to persecute or kill the apostles after they had been teaching in the Jerusalem temple. Gamaliel gave the Jewish leaders the following wise counsel: “I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (Acts 5:38-39) So Paul was trained as a Pharisee by this highly respected and wise teacher, Gamaliel. As a Pharisee, Paul meticulously knew the Bible, and followed all of the rules and regulations of the law.

Paul then states: “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” We recall that before his Damascus road experience, Paul was a man with a single-minded mission—to persecute and even sentence to death Christians. Paul had been a witness to the earliest Christian martyr, Stephen, when he was stoned to death. He was on his way to Damascus to seek out, persecute and possibly put to death other Christians there when Jesus appeared to him and changed his life mission. However, in his days as a zealous persecutor of the church, an enemy of the church, Paul was likely a respected leader among the Jews because of his zealous persecution of Christians. Such behaviour may likely have convinced some of his fellow Jews of his loyalty to the Jewish faith.

In his final credential, Paul states that he was: “as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” In Paul’s heart and mind, there was no question or doubt that he had not violated the Jewish law in any way, shape of form. Paul had kept Torah; he had observed the Jewish law in spirit and letter. He was, before the law, innocent, clean, righteous, so he thought and believed. On the outside at least, all indications seemed to point to a perfectly righteous Jewish leader.

Yet, the law goes deeper than mere externals, and righteousness in God’s eyes is not based on what we do to earn it. Now if one was judged on the basis of his credentials and his ability to observe the law outwardly, then yes, he had reason to boast and be confident within himself. However, after, if not before the Damascus road experience, Paul knew and learned otherwise. He had read and studied Isaiah 64:6, which told him: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.”

So the best pedigree and the finest credentials; the noblest accomplishments; one’s birthright and training or membership within an organization cannot ultimately satisfy, save or make a person righteous. We are all sinners. The law demands perfection, we are imperfect—therefore, try as we do; our final effort shall always result in not perfectly keeping the law. If we are to be satisfied, saved and righteous what needs to happen then?

The story is told of a pastor and his wife who spent a month in Zermatt, Switzerland. It is one of the loveliest places on the face of the earth. Zermatt is a village you reach by a cogwheel railroad, and there are no cars there. It is right at the foot of the Matterhorn, and snow-covered mountains tower all around that lovely little village in the valley. But the residents once had a typhoid scare. Some people in the village got typhoid fever, and they tried to hush it up. They didn’t want to tell anybody about it. They wondered how any water could be more pure than the water running off the mountains from the melting snows. But they found out that a sewer was located close by the source of the water, and the sewer had bled through and was polluting the water supply. The water was fine as it first ran off the mountains, but by the time it reached the people, it had been polluted.

In a similar fashion, even the good things we do are often shot through with selfish interest, the seeking to advance ourselves in one way or another. So the Scripture says that even our righteousnesses in God’s sight are as filthy rags. Jesus said that when we have done our very best, we must consider ourselves unworthy servants in God’s sight (Luke 17:10). It is not possible for us to strike up a bargain whereby we gain God’s favour.1

In contrast to all of Paul’s gains from his birthright, faith in Judaism and achievements; Paul, is given a new revelation concerning what truly satisfies, saves and makes him righteous. He writes: “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.”

What an incredible statement! Paul, a first class Pharisee, proud of his Jewish birthright, faith, traditions, culture and personal accomplishments tells us that he’s willing to give all of this up, regard it as loss in order to gain Christ and the righteousness of God that comes through Christ. The righteousness of God in Christ is exchanged, traded for our sin. Martin Luther called this “the happy exchange.” Paul puts it like this in I Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Paul’s sense of gaining true satisfaction, righteousness and salvation in Christ is what two hymn writers might have based their hymns on that we sing during the Lenten season. The words to the first hymn, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” highlight the sufficiency of Christ righteousness and ability to save us in contrast with our works: “Not the labours of my hands can fulfill thy law’s demands…Thou must save, and thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.” And in the words of the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Paul’s theme of gain and loss is highlighted, along with the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross: “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride. Forbid it Lord that I should boast save in the death of Christ my God; all the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.”

May we too, like Paul and the hymn writers of these two Lenten hymns, count as gain the righteousness of Christ, freely given as a result of his saving work through his suffering and death on the cross. May we rejoice in the relationship with have with our Lord, as more precious than anyone or anything in the world. Amen.

1 Cited from: Everett L. Fullam, “Profit and Loss,” in: Richard Allen Bodey, Editor, Good News for All Seasons: Twenty-six Sermons for Special Days (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1987), p. 46.  

Sermon 3 Lent Yr C

3 Lent Yr C, 7/03/2010

Isa 55:1-9

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Feasting with God”

Do any of you remember the 1987 movie, Babbette’s Feast? I think that it still ranks as one of my all-time favourites. The movie is based on a short story by Karen Blixen, and set in nineteenth century Jutland, Denmark. Babbette, a French chef, is a Christ-figure in the movie. She comes to this stoic, pietistic, backwoods Lutheran community to work as a housekeeper for the two daughters of a now-deceased pastor. Babbette, out of the blue, is informed that she has won a generous lottery. Now you’d think that she would return back to Paris and live a sophisticated life of privilege there. Nope. Rather, she pulls out all of the stops so-to-speak and puts her whole body, mind, and spirit into preparing and serving a lovely chef’s banquet feast.

The movie is a heart-warming, humorous, yet serious tale full of biblical motifs. As the local village residents sit down together, surprisingly they stop their bickering and begin to enjoy each other’s company, along with the excellent quality and quantity of food and drink.

Now it has been several years since I’ve seen the movie, however what I remember of it is three significant theological and biblical themes. The most obvious theme for me was that of the sacrament of Holy Communion. The meal in the movie feeds the guests not only physically, but also in a sacramental-like way, uniting them as a faith community. In communing with each other, they are also communing with Christ vis-à-vis the Christ-like figure of Babbette who sacrificially prepares and serves this banquet feast.

Another theme that stood out for me was that of stewardship. As Christians we are called to be stewards/managers of what God has given us. Everything that we have, are and own is a gift from our generous Creator. God’s generosity is freely given to us as Christ gave his all, even sacrificing his life for the life of you and me and the whole world. Babbette does precisely the same thing by generously preparing and providing her feast of a lifetime. The generosity of Babbette is a stark contrast with the stoic and frugal Danish Lutheran community in which she finds herself. Life there was difficult and one had to take on stoic and frugal values in order to survive—so the community believed. Babbette offers them another option by her generous giving of herself, her time, her talents, and her material resources. She does so willingly and lovingly, like Christ.

Yet another theme I remember from the movie is that this generous banquet feast is a sign of God’s coming kingdom; where there shall be an abundant supply of food and drink as well as love and joy in all of its fullness. A chap in the movie epitomises this when, throughout the banquet and time of sharing each other’s company, he bursts out with joyful speech by shouting “Hallelujah!” Another sign of the coming kingdom is that the pietistic austerity is transformed into smiles and laughter as the banquet progresses. Everyone is discovering, almost as if it were for the first time, the joy of life together in God’s coming kingdom as the communion and community of sinner-saints. God’s kingdom coming as a sheer gift of grace.

In our first lesson today, the prophet also speaks of drinking and eating. The way it is described by the prophet, we learn that here, like in Babbette’s Feast, there is a generous supply of food and drink. A biblical scholar, commenting on today’s passage, has this to say: In the ancient world, when a new king would assume the throne he would often issue a mišarum edict, declaring a release from all debts. As part of this edict, the king would also call for a great banquet to be enjoyed by the people of that kingdom. Both events, the edict and the banquet, signaled a new day under a new king. The opening lines of chapter 55 remind the hearer of such a banquet and more importantly, the signaling of a new day.1

Yes, it is a prophecy of hope pointing in the direction of a future new day; however, I believe that the food provided in abundance describes God’s provision, not some new earthly king. The reason I believe that it is God here in the prophecy who takes the initiative is the strange irony of it all.

Listen again to the text: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” Notice here the all inclusive invitation of the LORD, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. Now who doesn’t thirst, both physically and spiritually? Don’t you, I and every human being thirst? The promise of water in a hot land, on a scorching day quenches the physical thirst better than any other drink. Moreover, as human beings, we cannot survive without water. God provides us with water; water is a symbol of life; and God is our Life-Giver. Spiritually this is also true. As Christians, we believe that the sacrament of baptism is a symbol of life, spiritual, eternal life. In baptism we are given new life through the water and the word of God; promising us forgiveness of sins, adoption into God’s family as sons and daughters of God; and the promise of eternal life in the future. In baptism God comes down to us and takes the initiative to name us and claim us as his own precious children. He is also busy and active in baptism by killing the old Adam and Eve within us and placing within our bodies the gift of his ever-present Holy Spirit to enlighten us in the wisdom of his word and keep the channel of communication and communion with God open, healthy and lively throughout our journey in this life. So in the waters of baptism, God is working hard to quench our spiritual thirst.

Listening to our text further, we notice the ironic invitation of having no money, yet the LORD bids his people to “come, buy and eat!” Wow. Now that doesn’t make a lot of sense in the economy of this world, does it? We’re all familiar with the old adage: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Yet, that’s precisely what God invites his people to here in this passage. In case anyone failed to hear this message, the prophet repeats this train of thought, quoting the LORD again in the form of invitation: “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The invitation has the sound of sheer grace—a generous gift, freely given by God.

In verse two, the prophet changes from invitational statements to a pressing question from the LORD: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?” Bread, of course, is a staple food. Again it can be physical and spiritual. Bread in the physical sense can be an inclusive symbol referring to all of our basic needs in life—food, clothing, shelter, and so on. Bread is also a spiritual symbol. For Jews, bread reminds them of God’s provision of daily manna in their wilderness wanderings; and unleavened bread reminds them of their exodus out of Egyptian slavery and the institution of their Passover Meal as a remembrance of God’s deliverance. For Christians, bread reminds us of Jesus himself who said: “I am the bread of life.” Bread also reminds us of Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper, the sacrament of Holy Communion; which is our spiritual food keeping us in the risen presence of Christ.

So the question comes as a challenge to people who fritter away their money on non-essentials and labour for/work for stuff that fails to satisfy the deepest needs—things like new monster houses in the suburbs, new SUVs, the latest fashion clothing, and then having no money left for food. The question challenges our materialistic, consumer-oriented society; you can gain the whole world but lose your soul because material possession shall never satisfy our deepest needs.

The prophet goes on to quote the LORD, now in the form of a command: “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” Such a command fits in with the promises we receive in the sacrament of Holy Communion. We eat what is good, delighting in rich food—the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ. The food, along with God’s words of promise, gives us: forgiveness of sins, communion with the risen Christ, and community-building with our sisters and brothers in the faith.

After the first exhortation, the prophet quotes the LORD in another form of command and invitation: “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” God’s word is life-giving. From Genesis through to Revelation the life-giving power of God’s word moves through human history; you and me; all peoples to create, sustain, and redeem us. Listening to God’s word creates and deepens our faith and communication with our God. The act of listening gives life and is the work of God’s Spirit in us. Listening helps us to cling to the life-giving promises of God’s word.

In the final verse of our passage, we learn of the divine logic behind the whole passage: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.” During Lent with our focus on the life-giving nature of Christ’s suffering and death; we remember that the foolishness of the cross is God’s wisdom and the weakness of the cross is God’s strength. So, along with the exiled ancient Israelites, those Danish Lutherans in Babbette’s Feast, and our brothers and sisters present here today, we eat and drink without buying at our LORD’s banquet feast—partaking of his grace-filled, generosity, which knows no boundaries, celebrating his presence in his coming kingdom among us here and now. Amen.

1 Cited from: Professor W. Dennis Tucker, Jr., Commentary on Lectionary for March 7, 2010 at the WorkingPreacher.org website: <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?tab=1&gt;.  

 

 

Sermon 2 Lent Yr C

2 Lent Yr C, 28/2/2010

Lk 13:31-35

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Christ’s lament”

What would you do if you knew that your friend’s life was in danger? Wouldn’t you want what was best for your friend, try your best to protect them and warn them of the life-threatening danger? Most of us, I believe, would want our friend to escape the life-threatening danger and do what we could to try and help them.

Well, in today’s gospel, we learn that “some Pharisees” were friends of Jesus by trying to protect him from a life-threatening danger. These Pharisees came to Jesus and spoke the following words of warning: “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” Now I think this is a rather instructive story for us concerning the Pharisees. Perhaps the most common picture or view of the Pharisees in the four Gospels is that they are the enemies of Jesus, not his friends. Moreover, ever since the beginning of the Christian faith, there have been Christians who tried to justify anti-Judaism and antisemitism. Over the centuries—particularly during Lent and Holy Week—Christian preachers and theologians ramped up their rhetorical hatred of the Jews and incited parishioners to persecute and commit crimes against the Jewish people. The Jews were labelled as “Christ killers” and became the scapegoats for all of society’s problems. One could go on at length about the horrendous crimes Christians committed against the Jews, all in the name of Christ and Christianity. However, that is not my purpose today.

Coming back to our passage, I say this is an instructive text for us because it gives us a more positive picture and description of “some Pharisees.” In other words, not all Pharisees hated Jesus, or considered him an enemy of theirs deserving death. Today some biblical scholars who have read and studied all four Gospels carefully have observed that there are three major categories of the Jewish people in the Gospels. Some of the Gospel passages refer to the Jews in a negative way as enemies. Other Gospel passages refer to the Jews in a neutral way—neither as enemies or friends. Yet other passages refer to the Jews in a positive way as friends or even family. So, when we read our Gospel today, we discover Jesus’ fellow Jews, “some Pharisees” as his friends or even family. We notice too that the word “some” is employed in front of “Pharisees.”

During our Lenten journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and his suffering and death there; we need to remember that not all Jews or their leaders plotted the death of Jesus or were collaborators with the Roman authorities in the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus. Again we must employ the word “some” Jewish leaders and people were involved in Jesus’ death. As Christians we should never blame all of the Jewish people and leaders in Jesus’ time—or in any other time—for his death. So, then, Lenten gospels like the one today open up the door for us Christians to continue to work for a better understanding of the Jewish people, which results in a deeper love for them and desire to live in peace with them. The season of Lent then affords us Christians with the opportunity to resist and condemn rather than promote or justify anti-Judaism and antisemitism.

Back to our gospel today, Jesus answers the Pharisees in a prophetic way, first of all justifying his public ministry of bringing in God’s kingdom through the exorcism of demons and performing cures or healings, and then by predicting his work being finished with his resurrection “on the third day.” The irony of Jesus’ answer is also in his calling Herod “that fox,” which could have been taken as an offensive way of addressing Herod. Foxes are often viewed as crafty creatures and certainly predators of chickens. Ironically, Jesus speaks of himself as being like a mother hen. Herod the fox and Jesus the mother hen—what chance of survival does a mother hen have against a hungry fox? Ultimately, in the natural world the way it exists right now, put a fox with a mother hen and the fox will 99.9% of the time, kill and eat chicken for dinner.

Herod’s malevolent desire “to kill” Jesus and Jesus’ courageous determination to face rather than flee from Herod represents the clash of two kingdoms. Herod’s earthly kingdom is temporal, rooted in sin, based on the coercive use of power to rule by an iron Roman fist, and the fear of punishment if one disobeyed Roman laws. Herod’s power existed by enforced slavery, oppression and injustice. In stark contrast, the kingdom of God that Jesus was ushering in is, in part temporal, but in its completeness eternal. The kingdom that Jesus was bringing into existence was rooted in love and forgiveness, based on the freedom to follow God’s will by serving others and making the ultimate sacrifice for them—of laying down one’s own life on a cross. God’s kingdom attracted many people because of the levelling of all people as brothers and sisters in God’s family as equals, living under the power of forgiveness, mercy and the gentle rule of peace.

Yes, the collision course is in Christ’s mind and heart inevitable. Christ knows what he has to do, saying: ‘I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ No other option is available for him but to go to Jerusalem and die if he was to be faithful and freely accept his heavenly Father’s will. Here we have an example of Christ’s courage and single-mindedness towards his mission—nothing; nobody can stop him from going up to his death on a cross in Jerusalem. Do we face hardships as willingly and freely as Jesus did in order to do God will by choosing the way of the cross? A question that we may wish to ask ourselves during Lent is: what things do we need to die of in order to gain abundant, eternal life? Do we, like Jesus, need to follow his way of the cross by dying to the temptations of power, wealth, wisdom, and popularity? Or are there other gods that we need to renounce if we are to be faithful to God’s will and purposes?

As our gospel continues to unfold, Jesus goes into a lament over the city of Jerusalem. In my chaplain’s office hangs a picture of Jesus sitting on a mountainside and looking over at Jerusalem in the distance. The picture depicts Jesus in a thoughtful, yet sorrowful way. He looks to be all alone, no one is with him. He must face his final earthly destiny alone, despised and rejected by sinful people of his day and of every time and place, including you and me.

Jesus, lamenting over Jerusalem, like the prophet Jeremiah who once cried out: “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (Jer 9:1) And the lament of the prophet Ezekiel, quoting the LORD’s words: “As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek 3311) In the tradition of prophets like this before him, Jesus speaks a prophetic word of judgement upon Jerusalem. The words are not easy to speak, nor does Jesus rejoice in speaking them. He does not desire the punishment and destruction of his people and the city of Jerusalem. In the midst of this lament, Jesus gives us the most beautiful picture of his love towards his own people and the sadness and pain of his love being spurned. He sees himself as being like a mother hen who wants to protect her chicks by placing them under her wings. Here Jesus gives us a feminine image of gentle love, yet courageous protection. Jesus sees himself in this way and his own people as chicks that are not willing to be gathered under the protective wings of a mother hen. The gentle love and protective courage of a mother hen towards her chicks is true to real life. Listen to the following story:

Somehow one spring a hatch of chickens was born behind the barn. The children of the family had never seen range chickens before. They wondered how they’d keep warm without a heater. They were thrilled to discover that the mother hen sheltered them under her wings. They wondered how they’d be safe from the cat and were amazed to see the mother hen fly at the cat and scare it away with her loud noises and her beak.1

Jesus is like the gentle, loving, courageous, protecting mother hen who is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of laying down his life for his people, including you and me. His sacrificial death on a cross means that we are given life—abundant life now, and eternal life beyond the grave. For that, thanks be to God! Amen.

1 Cited from: Emphasis, Vol. 24, No. 6, March-April 1995 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 23.

 

 

Sermon Palm/Passion Sunday Yr B

Palm/Passion Sunday Yr B, 5/04/2009

Mk 11:1-11

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“The donkey owner’s story-a narrative sermon”

 

Hello everyone, or as we say in the Promised Land, shalom! I want you to put your imagination to work today. Imagine that you have travelled in a time machine back to the first Palm Sunday. My name is Eli ben Judah. The Gospels do not mention me by name. I’m the owner of that donkey colt Jesus road into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I’ll be your host and tour guide. Here is my story.

I remember it well, the day I met Jesus. What a day that was! He came to my stable at Bethphage, near Jerusalem, several weeks before Palm Sunday. The day started out with its usual routines, as any other day. You know: get up at four, dress, pray the morning prayer thanking God for another day, the gift of life, and every other blessing, start the fire, fry some fish, warm up the bread, give thanks to the LORD for our food, eat breakfast, go out into the stable to feed and water the donkeys, and open the stable doors for business—hoping and praying for customers to rent my donkeys.

A few minutes after I opened the stable doors, along came Jesus. I still remember seeing him walking towards me. I’ve never met a person like him before. He walked with dignity and confidence. His body and face were so radiant that I was almost blinded by such an intense light. His light poured into me, as if it were healing and cleansing me completely. The light seemed to be burning away all that was hurtful and destructive in me. His eyes were so loving and penetrating—I felt he could see right into my whole being and that he knew everything about me. He knew all of the details of my life, from birth right up to the present. I thought of our ancestor Moses, before the burning bush, and Elijah, when God spoke to him with the sound of sheer silence. The holiness of Jesus’ presence before me was so intense that I fell to my knees and lowered my face to the dust. Who was I, a humble, ordinary donkey owner to be worthy enough to be in the presence of Jesus?

Even though I had never met him before, I knew, as he came closer, that he was the most perfect, holy person that I’d ever encountered in my life. Like Moses after the burning bush, and Elijah after hearing God’s still small voice, I was never the same again. The day I met Jesus, my whole life has changed. Before that time, I went to synagogue on the festival days, and prayed the daily prayers without expecting much from the LORD. Life was pretty humdrum, and I liked it that way. After that day everything changed. Since then, I have found a new purpose for living. Now I want to tell everyone about Jesus and follow his way and his teachings.

Back to that day, when I was down on my knees, face to the earth, Jesus spoke. He called me by my name, and said: “Shalom, Eli ben Judah, donkey owner. Please rise, I have something to ask of you.”

So, I jumped up on my feet and was full of curiosity, wondering what he wanted from me. Before I was able to speak he addressed me again, saying: “I am going to need your help in a few weeks’ time. I’ll be entering Jerusalem then, and I need one of your colt donkeys—they have to be strong enough for me to sit on and ride into the city. I shall do this in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Listen up now Eli, here’s what will happen. Two of my disciples, James and John, will come here and untie the colt standing by your door. You and a few of your neighbours will see them, and will ask the following question: “What are you doing, untying the colt?” James and John will provide you with this password answer: ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ Do you think you can remember all of that?”

I was, at first breathless, so surprised, I didn’t know what to say. The prophecy from Zechariah finally sunk in, I realised it was referring to the Messiah. Could this Jesus be our Messiah? After a few moments of silence to collect my thoughts, I blurted out: “You mean to say that you’re, um, the Messiah?!” I asked with excitement and expectation.

Jesus answered with certainty in his voice, “I am he.” Then he commanded me to keep it a secret, saying: “Don’t you dare tell a soul till after my crucifixion and resurrection—then you can go out and tell the whole world.”

Rather confused I asked him: “What do you mean crucifixion and resurrection? You aren’t going to die like a criminal and then rise from death. I mean, if you’re the Messiah and all, aren’t you supposed to deliver us Jews from the tyranny of the Roman occupation and govern our nation with perfect peace and justice?”

Jesus answered me, “No Eli, that’s not my destiny. I’m the Messiah not only of the Jewish people, but of all nations and peoples. My destiny, in fulfillment of our scriptures, is to suffer and die on the cross to atone, once and for all, for the sins of humankind. Three days later God our heavenly Father shall raise me from the dead. Do you believe me?”

I struggled to understand these hard and sorrowful words, and then replied, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. Please stay with me for lunch, you can tell me more.”

However, Jesus told me, “No, Eli, I must keep going to the next village, and the next, and the next after that. I’ve got plenty of work to do before I enter Jerusalem in a few weeks. Remember; keep this conversation a secret until after my crucifixion and resurrection. Don’t forget what I told you about James and John. Shalom Eli, see you in a few weeks.”

What a day! me, Eli ben Judah of all people, a humble donkey owner, meeting the Messiah! I believed Jesus, and yet, I struggled with what I had been taught by the rabbis. How could Jesus be the Messiah riding on a donkey? How could he be a suffering Messiah? Would God our Father really raise him from the dead three days after his crucifixion? Would his death on a cross truly atone for my sins and your sins, and everyone else’s sins, once and for all time? Questions, questions, questions. Yet, Jesus’ presence was so holy, so pure, so enlightening. How could I keep such an encounter with the Messiah to myself? I had to tell everyone, I couldn’t help it! So, that’s what I did. I told every single person in our village: “I’ve met the Messiah, his name is Jesus!” Most of them didn’t believe me, they thought I ate too many nuts and became one. J

The days and weeks passed. Finally the day came. True to Jesus’ words, James and John showed up when I was speaking with a few neighbours outside the house. They untied the colt. Folks asked them what they were doing and they provided the password answer—exactly as Jesus had planned it all. The neighbours who were with me then realised that I had been telling the truth. So, all of us followed along with James and John, because we love parades and this one was very special. Jesus our Messiah entered triumphantly, riding on a colt donkey with the crowd cheering him on, crying, “Hosanna!” which means “save us, save us soon.” Hosanna is a shout of praise, as well as a plea for help. We praised our Messiah Jesus, shared fully in the joy, waving our palm branches as he rode that little donkey, the animal symbolizing humility and peace—and that day shall come when he rules us all in perfect peace.

Well, that’s my story folks. You can time travel back now to Grace Lutheran Church in Medicine Hat. Go in Christ’s peace. And, like me, tell everyone you meet the Good News of Jesus our Messiah. Shalom! Amen.