March 24, 2018: Never Buy Your Own Donkey by Rev. Beth Hayward (Mark 11: 1-11)

If you were to come to my home today and wade through the pile of disheveled shoes in the foyer, navigate your way past the overly enthusiastic nippy cat, gingerly step over the general bits and pieces that accumulate in the home of an active family, you would find a few things that don’t belong. There’s a full bag of borrowed clothes to be gone through, a book lovingly loaned with a note inside to kindly remember to return, there’s the power washer which we just borrowed back from the friends we share it with because as much fun as it is, who really needs their very own power washer? And a conservative estimate suggests there are at least a dozen half-read library books. We once lived next door to folks who we could count on to drop in and borrow a cup of sugar if we ran short, in fact I was even known to loan my children to that family on occasion when work called me out at short notice. It’s a nice feeling to know you can borrow what you need and count on the generosity of others. It’s good to know that people are willing to share the stuff they’re done with, or the things they think you could benefit from and even to know that if you run short on sugar or low of reserves to deal with your own kids, people have your back. It’s a nice feeling.

That said, I make not claims to be some nouveau hipster eager embracer of the sharing economy. The majority of my life is not one that’s borrowed but indebted and owned. Though we sold, shared and shred nearly half of what we owned before a move two years ago we still have enough acquired stuff to fill a three bedroom home where we trip over shoes at the front door.

I heard recently about a guy in Winnipeg who stops whenever possible to give people he doesn’t know a lift. As far as he’s concerned, if you’re going the same way the common sense thing to do is extend an offer. There are more and more stories of neighbours who share a lawn mower and lending libraries for everything from toys to tools to travel accessories. But it’s not keeping pace with the storage locker business. Canadians have two square feet per capita of extra stuff in these storage lockers and those in the business think we have the potential to get closer to ten.[1] Let’s just say borrowing is not our default position.

But Jesus, he was a borrower. Think about it. He was born in a borrowed barn, laid in a borrowed manger. He borrowed a boat from which to teach and in all his travels we can safely assume he borrowed many a bed to lay his head. He borrowed this donkey for his final journey into Jerusalem and while there he gathered in a borrowed upper room for a last meal, was hanged on a borrowed cross with a borrowed crown of thorns placed mockingly on his head. His body was even laid in a borrowed tomb.

He demanded this same lack of self sufficiency from his disciples when he said to them: “When you go out to proclaim the good news, take no money, no knapsack, no extra tunic, no extra shoes, not even a walking stick. Take only a word of peace, borrow the bed given to you, and proclaim that God’s kingdom has come very close.” God’s kingdom comes very close when we leave all our baggage behind and bring only peace. Can you imagine if our ancestors had of brought that Christian value with them as them came to settle North America? To show up with nothing but peace seems foolhardy in today’s world where self-sufficiency is king. And yet the gospel message is that simple.

It’s no wonder at all that even the words used to describe, explain and expound on who this Jesus was were all borrowed. Even those who followed this prophet, bringing no baggage but peace, didn’t know how to name him. And so they borrowed words with which they were familiar. He’s a Prince but not a mighty prince, more of a humble prince. He’s Lord but not Lord like Caesar, more like a servant Lord. He’s a Saviour who saves by dying.

Which is confusing because these titles are counter to the Jesus who borrowed things to get by, who touched the unclean and blessed the meek, Jesus who brought only a word of peace. When the early church borrowed words like Lord to describe Jesus they were choosing to invert words that they knew well. To imagine divine power outside of the constructs of what they knew about earthly power would have been impossible. The only divine power that would even receive a hearing would need to be within the limits of their imaginations. The irony has been for the most part lost. Over time the church has forgotten that this is a Lord who doesn’t ride in an armed motorcade but borrows a donkey, a Lord who brings only peace, not weapons. The language borrowed to describe a humble Lord has been used to implicate Jesus in a culture of colonialism and domination.

It’s possible too that, words like Lord have lost their punch in a world where they are reserved for celebrities like Ringo Starr. Which is a far cry from Lord Jesus borrower of tunics and donkeys.

Thirty years ago hymn writer, Brian Wren wrote a book entitle What Language Shall I Borrow. It was his attempt to open a conversation about the prominence of male God language in scripture, hymns and worship. He went through the history of how this language came to be in a patriarchal society and pressed his readers to consider borrowing more language to help people enter the biblical world in a way that might make it more relevant in our time. He didn’t suggest that we drop Lord or Father or Mighty King, nor to make everything bland and neutral but that we keep borrowing more metaphors in our efforts to capture how this Lord Jesus can turn your whole idea of life on its head.

This week, sometime between Jesus borrowing a donkey and borrowing a crude cross, several characters in the story will revert to that way of thinking that insists I don’t need to borrow from anyone. They will tell themselves that their individual actions don’t matter all that much. They will tell themselves that one little act of cowardess won’t have any impact on anything. In the back of their minds perhaps they maybe they secretly hope Jesus will show up to save the day. Perhaps they can’t quite make the leap to trust that a word of peace actually is enough. Whatever the reason Judas will seek security through selling secrets and Peter, who knows what his motivation was, but alone in the dark he sells out.

Every one of us comes to our own Garden of Gethsemane moments, the place where we have a choice to keep accumulating stories that tell us we can survive on our own, stories that say our individual actions don’t really matter in the scheme of things, stories that tell us our only job is to hold the palm branches, certainly not to join the parade. Every one of us comes to our own Garden of Gethsemane moments where our choice is between relying on the same old stories and rationales or borrowing what we need to stay in the parade.

Yesterday some students from a Florida high school showed us the power of coming together, of relying not on self-sufficiency but on the wisdom born of community. They borrowed the practice of the Civil Rights movement as they marched on Washington. They borrowed the wisdom of the contemplatives as Emma Gonzalez   used most of her seven-minute speech to hold silence, allowing the power of that silence to open space in the hearts of those gathered, for a new vision to seep in. And they borrowed from every generation past who when all else failed chose to simply come together in peace, to see if maybe that would open up a new path.

Borrowing leaves room, it keeps us humble and I dare say it keeps us closer to the way of Lord Jesus, a way where peace trumps all, where nothing we can bring with us is more important than the peace in our hearts, no things, no stuff, no self sufficiency, just peace. It doesn’t seem like enough but really what else it there?

Palm Sunday reveals the fickleness of fame and popularity. It presents to us our own spiritual fickleness and inability to commit ourselves fully to God’s way, especially in times of trouble. Eventually, Palm Sunday excitement and success-oriented faith is replaced, even among the Hosanna singers, by cynicism, self-interest, and abandonment when the going gets tough. We hope that we aren’t the people who would desert Jesus or worse yet cry out for Barabbas’ freedom rather than Jesus’ exoneration. But as the tide turns, we might find a safe spot to observe, becoming as Thomas Merton says “guilty bystanders.”[2]

Here’s where the demands of following this inverted Lord get big, the invitation is really for every one of us to make arrangements to borrow our own donkey, to be all in, to make our way on the way of peace. It can seem like a lot, it can seem like too much. Waving palm branches in the air feels like quite a lot to ask of a rather reserved bunch of people but this story demands more, that every one of us find our way into the parade on our own donkey. To get on a path where as Raymond Brown says “the ultimate power is the power to renounce power.”[3]

We’ll need to borrow a whole lot of wisdom and resolve to pull it off and more than anything remember that the one who first taught us how to let go of all our baggage continues to ride along with us. At the end of the day this is really a story about you. Are you in?

[1] http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/canada-storage-business-booms-1.4579205

[2] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2018/03/adventurous-lectionary-palm-sunday-march-25-2018/

[3] http://day1.org/3714-the_best_things_are_borrowed This paragraph borrows from this sermon, weaving some original thoughts in.