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A Three Alarm Day – Br. James Koester

Br. James KoesterZechariah 9: 9 -12
Psalm 145: 8-15
Romans 7: 15 – 25a
Matthew 11: 16 – 19, 25 – 30

When I was in seminary, one of my professors frequently spoke of alarms bells. He’d be in the middle of his lecture, or answering a question, or making a comment about something, when he would stop and announce: alarm bells should be going off in your head right now! It took a while, but we soon realized that this was his code for us to make connections between what he had just said and something we might have heard or known from a different situation.

Well, if it were Professor Koester, and not Brother James standing before you today, I’d be saying alarm bells should be going off in your head right now! In fact, really loud alarms should be ringing for you this morning. It’s not that you are in a deep sleep right now and need to wake up (although perhaps that’s true!). Instead you should be thinking, this all sounds vaguely familiar. Where have I heard this before?

Listen again. 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.[1] Sound familiar? Because it should! While the alarm bells are clanging in your head, you should be thinking (have you got it yet?) Palm Sunday right now, because that’s where you last heard this. Now to be fair, Matthew jumbles his quotation up a little, snatching a little bit from Isaiah[2] and another little bit from the portion of Zechariah that was read this morning. What you heard on Palm Sunday was: ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’[3] But none the less, when our first lesson was read this morning, alarm bells should have started to go off, and they should be clanging even now.

So what’s with all these alarms? Why should they be going off? And what’s so important about the connection between what happened on Palm Sunday and what is going on today?

The connection is that kings don’t arrive on donkeys. Messiahs don’t associate with sinners. The alarm bells should be clanging in your head this morning to remind you that the gospel news is that God reverses everything and turns everything, and I mean everything, upside down. The poor are blessed! The mourners will be comforted! The meek will inherit! The hungry will be filled! The merciful will receive mercy! The pure will see God![4]

It’s not supposed to be that way at least that is what we are told every day of our lives. The poor are losers. The mourners should get over it. The meek will be crushed. The hungry can find their own food. The merciful are weak. The pure are pathetic.

That is what we are told, and it comes across loud and clear, some days in a tweet.

And into this rides Jesus, not as a king mounted on a magnificent stallion, but on a lowly donkey[5]. Into this comes Jesus, not ruling from a splendid throne, but reigning from a cross[6]. Into this comes Jesus, not robed as a mighty king, but dressed as a poor shepherd[7]. Into this comes Jesus, not as the expected messiah, but as the friend of tax collectors and sinners[8].

The gospel reverses everything and turns everything upside down, including our expectations about God. Suddenly the kingdom is found not in power, and wealth and might, but in the weak, the poor and the small: in good seed sown in a field;[9] in the tiniest of mustard seeds that produces the greatest of shrubs;[10] in yeast mixed with flour.[11]

And it all started when a king arrived on a donkey,[12] a messiah came as friend of sinners,[13] and when God came to us in human flesh and dwelt among us.[14] In Jesus, God reverses our expectations and turns them upside down. And it is only when we stand on our heads that we begin to see the world as God sees it.

So standing on your head, what might you begin to see more clearly? What does the world look like from that vantage? What does your life look like?

 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven[15]

We put it this way in our Rule of Life: the vow of poverty is a commitment of faithfulness to the gospel itself, which summons us to a new vision and way of life that reverses the values of the world. The beatitudes of Jesus call us to trust the promise of divine fulfillment hidden in things that the world counts as barren and negative. By our vow we reaffirm our baptismal renunciations and pledge ourselves to seek out the mystery of divine grace present in places and experiences that seem insignificant, dark or empty.

By our vow of poverty we recognize that in our own spiritual lives there will be seasons in the shadow, experiences of dryness, waiting, obscurity and the seeming absence of God. In the light of the gospel we know that these are necessary, and that some of them yield more blessings than times when we are filled with devotion and confidence.[16]

As Christians our world is upside down because the world is wrong side up, and you only have to read the news to know that. We see things, not as they are, but as they should be, and you only have to live the Beatitudes to know that.

Alarm bells should be going off in your head today. In fact, today is probably a three alarm day because the message of Jesus is even more urgent today than it was yesterday and the promise of God, indeed the dream of God is a dream of peace, of freedom and hope for all people. Such a dream can only come true when we look out at the world standing on our heads and see that kings really do ride on donkeys, messiahs really are friends of sinners, and God really has taken on human flesh, and the poor, the meek, and the peacemakers really are blessed.


[1] Zechariah 9: 9

[2] Isaiah 62: 11

[3] Matthew 21: 5

[4] See Matthew 5: 3 – 8

[5] Matthew 21: 1 – 11

[6] Matthew 27: 32ff

[7] John 10: 11

[8] Matthew 11: 19

[9] Matthew 13: 24 – 29

[10] Matthew 13: 31 – 32

[11] Matthew 13: 33

[12] Zechariah 9: 9

[13] Matthew 11: 19

[14] John 1: 14

[15] Matthew 5: 3 – 11a

[16] SSJE, Rule of Life, Engaging with Poverty, chapter 8, page 16

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