Get on the Donkey

Isaiah 50:4-9a

The Lord God gives me the right words to encourage the weary.

Each morning he awakens me eager to learn his teaching;

he made me willing to listen and not rebel or run away.

I let them beat my back and pull out my beard.

I didn’t turn aside when they insulted me and spit in my face.

But the Lord God keeps me from being disgraced.

So I refuse to give up, because I know God will never let me down.

My protector is nearby; no one can stand here to accuse me of wrong.

The Lord God will help me and prove I am innocent.

My accusers will wear out like moth-eaten clothes.

This year, like quite a few other years, I have received a request from a students at Faith Lutheran College to respond to some question for an assignment on leadership – ‘servant leadership’.

I really like responding to the students because it is good to respond to teenagers, and because I like the topic. It is a ‘Jesus’ kind of topic.

Jesus lived servant leadership to the full. We hear it in this Servant Song of Isaiah the prophet, and again from that famous ‘Christ Hymn” in Philippians 2, We see his servant leadership in action on that first palm Sunday, and then of course all the way to Golgotha and then Empty Tomb.

What do you think servant leadership is and who has modelled that in your life – mum, dad, mentor, teacher, friend, public figure, famous person? How do you know it when you see it? How do you be this kind of servant leader? Why makes it hard? What makes it easy?

Here are some ways where I see servant leadership modelled….

  • A mum taking three kids under 5 to Foodland and navigating the way through aisles of colourful temptations at eye level for kids!
  • A partner heading off to work early and getting home late to keep bread on the table is servant leadership.
  • A grandad on the boundary line again for another whole Saturday and even a Sunday as well supporting the kids playing their sport.
  • A member of a local church taking on a leadership responsibility for no financial reward and often with the need to take comment and criticism of some with grace.
  • People fighting fires for the good of the community, health professionals doing the same, educators kindly dealing with kids and parents, hard-working politicians who are working for the community,

Servant leadership: “Taking one for the team”, as we say, or “giving without any guarantee of getting, and not even caring”.

And this is Jesus. He is about to “take it all for the whole team for the whole of time”. He is on the end of three years of giving without much getting (except criticism and threats). Even these will pale into insignificance in a week when he gives it all as he serves all – the good and the bad.

On this day of the Palms, like a boss on the last day of vintage, or a coach after the Grand Final win or a parent at the birthday party for their child, Jesus “lets them go”. The suffering and the end was in sight. He lets the people shout and sing and dance and celebrate him being the Messiah they hoped he would be.

The people knew they needed help. They knew they needed something and someone to change lives and make for new peace in their world.

So do we. Life is tough. Life is not fair either. Bad things happen to good people. I saw two memorials in flowers, names, clothing….to three young men killed in two separate accidents this week. People grieving tragic loss.

We know we need help but what will truly help? Who will we seek for that? What would change things for the better?

The people of Jesus’ day all knew the answer to that question. It would be God’s Messiah/Saviour. When he comes, he will break the back of fear, pain, oppression and injustice. People will finally be free of it all! We will be at peace within and without. We will be favoured, blessed. We will have greater opportunity, better employment options, better relationships.

Jesus arrives. He lets them sing. He knows things are coming to their end and their new beginning. The price will be high. The price must be paid. They sense something is up. For a moment it smells like everything they thought would be will be!

They can’t know yet that the enemy to be defeated is within the human heart not in the red plumes of the Roman soldier’s helmets, or the tall funny hats and dark judgementalism of the Pharisees, or the lust for power of Pilate and Herod.

The donkey is the giveaway sign that all is not what it seems. The Servant King – the power of God for the salvation of planet earth appearing in its opposite – a donkey not a white stallion, cheap homespun garments not tailored royal purple robe, crown of thorns, not jewel encrusted gold. They eventually get this ‘foolish fake’ king (they think). They go from praise of the man to stunning rejection within a week.

He takes their misplaced praise anyway….. and their eventual rejection. He is serving; serving me, serving you. He will show them what kind of King he really is three days after what they see and believe to be the bitter end of hope.

Why love be a king like this – a king who serves? Why not just rule by power, force, greed, control……?

Because serving love creates the possibility of genuine peace.

His serving creates the possibility of peace between you and God, and between you and your enemies. Power is put aside. Blame is rendered irrelevant. Grudges fall to the ground. Ego and winning and losing are undone and there is only humility, listening, giving, receiving, marvelling at the joy of a new start despite the odds, marvelling at his serving and what it all led to – peace between us.

Now we know what to do – serve. Serve in the same way he serves us. That is where hope and love and peace lie. It is why we serve people; why we serve this community – to make way for genuine forgiveness, renewed hope, greater love.

Paul says;

21 Don’t let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.

Friends, this is the gift of this Holy Week. Evil defeated by good.

By his continued serving of us Jesus brings about the possibility that you and I can both;

  1. stop ignoring God’s love and/or
  2. stop fight against his love.

Steve Sjogren, founding pastor of Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, puts it well when he says, serving others is;

“doing small things with great kindness to unexpectedly interrupt a person’s day with the love of God.”

We exist to “do a small thing for someone with great kindness to unexpectedly interrupt a person’s day with the love of God”.

We do not live to show them how good we are or how much we can do or what they are missing out on by not being part of us or getting them to church? No. Not primarily.

“Doing small things with great kindness to unexpectedly interrupt a person’s day with the love of God.”

Steve Sjogren – founding Pastor of Vineyard Community Church, Cincinnati, Ohio

We exist as a church to ride that donkey with Jesus as they sing and dance or cry and feel hopeless. We are here to be at the cross and know his and people’s pain and do “small things with great kindness to unexpectedly interrupt a person’s day with the love of God”.

Get on the donkey. Hear the people, sense the moment, go into the coming darkness with him.

Watch him suffer. See him bleed.

Soak up the shame and the pain and be moved again by the sheer serving love of the Saviour and get to that empty tomb Sunday and sing for real; sing forever.

He will win you. He will let you praise and sing and go in his name.

The Lord God gives me the right words to encourage the weary.  Each morning he awakens me eager to learn his teaching.