Pentecost 5 2017, Prairietown, IL. Zechariah 9:9-12
With its cannon fire, ringing chimes and brass fanfare Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is a favorite accompaniment to 4th of July fireworks. Also in 1812, Francis Scott Key, while held prisoner on a British ship, penned a poem which became our national anthem. He watched through the perilous night as the British bombarded Fort McHenry outside Baltimore. Then by the dawn’s early light he saw that the American Star- Spangled Banner still waved.
National hope and expectation are aroused by our Old Testament lesson from the prophet Zechariah. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you, righteous and having salvation is he.” We would expect it to continue, “mounted on a white stallion, with rank upon rank of chariots and foot soldiers marching right behind.”
But it doesn’t. No, Zechariah wrote, “Your king is coming to you…humble and mounted on a donkey.” This is certainly a different kind of king from the line of David that everyone looked for and hoped for. He would do away with the chariot and battle bow. What sort of victory will he accomplish? To grasp the meaning of a victorious, yet humble king on a donkey we turn to Jesus, who prays in our Gospel lesson, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” So, this morning, no matter our age or stature, no matter how wise and understanding we might be, we become little children sitting at the feet of Jesus learning to grasp what Zechariah is promising. Zechariah provides us with a clue when he wrote earlier, “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.” The disciples asked Jesus prior to his ascension, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” Jesus answered, “You will receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses…to the end of the world. This morning through the revelation of the heavenly Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit let’s take a second look at what the prophet wrote some 480 years before our Lord rode a donkey into Jerusalem where the crowd shouted, “Save us now, we pray, Son of David…Save us now.”
Zechariah is speaking to the remnants of Judah who had returned from captivity in Babylon nearly 60 years before, and struggled to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. They were threatened by those who did not want them back in the land. If only they could regain their strength and power like they had in the time of David. If only God would send a new David, who would kill tens of thousands of their enemies and reestablish the throne in Jerusalem. However, some of the people despaired. They said, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, we are clean cut off.” God says through Zechariah, “I will free those who feel like they are imprisoned in a waterless pit.” Others placed their hope in the power of a rebuilt military. To that God said, “you people who are prisoners of false expectations thinking that you can save yourselves through alliances and military might, return to me your true fortress and stronghold.”
The new king will establish God’s reign from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth. God’s reign comes not in saber rattling, but through the king who speaks peace to the nations. Who is this new king, this different kind of king? He is one who comes humbly and places his life and rule in God’s hands, upon whom he depends entirely. This is the king of whom angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace, good will among men.” He is the king to whom Magi from east bring gifts. He is the king who scatters the proud and self-assured in their own imaged greatness and fills the poor, hungry, and humble with good things. He is the king, who though equal with God, made himself nothing being born in the likeness of men. He is the king who looked with compassion on those who are lost. He is the king to whom blind men cried, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” He is the king who was crowned with thorns, given a reed as his scepter and clothed for a time in a purple robe, mocked, scorned and scourged. He is the king who carried his own throne to skull hill and then was nailed to it. Above his head it read, “King of the Jews.” He is the king who said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do.” He is the king, who taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven…your kingdom come, your will be done…”
“Who is this?” they asked when he entered Jerusalem riding a donkey. And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” And through the shedding of his blood, he freed us from our imprisonment to sin. Basically, sin means missing one’s target with the bow and arrow. No matter how much one practices we keep missing God’s target. Thus, St. Paul in our epistle lesson writes of a battle, one which is waged close to home for each and every one of us. It is a war being waged within ourselves, our minds and bodies.
How many times have we done or said something only to regret it later. “Why did I do that? Why did I say that? That’s not what I intended.” St. Paul writes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” He concludes, “It is not really I who am doing this, rather it is sin living in me…I do not do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do. I would really like to keep God’s commandments perfectly, but this a force living in my body fighting against God’s Law. What a miserable person I am! Who will rescue me from this body which brings death?”
Then Paul remembers, and he exclaims, “Thanks be to God – He does it through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He removed us from the waterless pit of despair that we can ever be free of this enemy of sin waging a war within us. He has flooded us with the waters of baptism, drowning sin, death and the devil at the baptism font. Every day, when the evil foes rise to the surface to harass us, we can shove them under baptism’s water and we rise renewed each day instead. Our Lord Jesus Christ freed us from prison of false expectations that we can overcome sin if we only try harder and determine to do better and have more faith. Instead, he binds us to the true hope that Christ’s life, death and resurrection becomes our life, death and resurrection.
Whenever we come to the communion rail and receive Jesus’ body and the covenant in his blood, we are the forgiven for all the times we said and we did that which we did not intend. Where there is forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation. Therefore, rejoice, your king who came once on a donkey, comes again and again in the water of baptism, the bread and wine of communion and in his word. We go out in to the week ahead well equipped to deal with those times we miss the mark of what God would have us do and say, for he has already dealt with them in our king, our Lord Jesus Christ.