Now, you know that I love this moment, I love it too much, the Susan Boyle first audition, and perhaps, but just indulge me.
To allow this moment which has inspired artists:
Here, and here and here
We might think about this moment, here
Jesus and Zechariah
You see what is going on with this moment here,
Jesus on the back of the donkey,
Is that there some words, some ancient, prophetic words, behind the back of this scene. The scriptures tell us this.
Zechariah, the old prophet is speaking to a broken, despondent people and he has these words about a better future.
“Rejoice, Rejoice, people of Zion!
Shout for joy, you people of Jerusalem
Look, your king is coming to you!
He comes triumphant and victorious
But humble and riding on a donkey.”
And Luke never makes the link explicit with Zechariah, but Matthew in his gospel reminds us of this verse:
“This happened in order make what the prophet had said come true:
‘Tell the city of Zion, Look your king is coming to you! He is humble and rides on a donkey’” (Matthew 21:5)
And it’s not just this verse of Zechariah that is happening here.
You see Zechariah is a man who dreamed a dream – you see where I might be going with this – dreamed a dream.
He dreamed a dream about the city of Jerusalem, this broken defeated city, this city that felt that God had left, that it had nothing going for it any more, this city had hope, because of the presence and care of God.
So he understood that God still loved the city
“I have longed to help Jerusalem because of my deep love for her people, a love which has made me angry with her enemies” (Zechariah 8:2)
And this dream of a better future
“Once again old men and women, so old that they use a stick when they walk will be sitting in the city squares, and the streets will again be full of boys and girls playing.”
And it is a picture of life, and of all people, every gender, every age, being together, in this city that works, that God loves.
And Zechariah knows that many people have been carried off, taken by brutal kings, and so he says, God knows where those far off people are:
“I will rescue my people from the lands where they have been taken, and will bring them back from east and west to live in Jerusalem. They will be my people and I will be their God, ruling over them faithfully and justly.”
“Because of my covenant with you – my promise with you that was sealed by blood, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.”
And can you see the dream that Zechariah has, of a restoration,
“At that time, the Lord will protect those who live in Jerusalem, and even the weakest among them will become as strong as David was.” Zechariah 12:8
And this is the dream, the hope, the prophet articulates.
It is like the greatest hero, that we can think of, the very best we had, everyone will be like him.
Like the way that the Herald this week selected Kenny as the greatest Scottish football player ever, he was a bit happier during his playing days than his management
In the dream, the dream that Zechariah has, everyone is going to be like Kenny, even the weakest.
The Dream means death
So Zechariah has a dream of a world reshaped,
But he also understands that the way that God gets to the dream is not the way that you might imagine.
The dreams happens through brokenness. And it happens through surprising means.
Zechariah seems to understand that the dream happens through pain, desperation, faith being stretched to the limit, even death.
Because it’s not just the verse about the donkey that Jesus is carrying here
And it is not just the verse about the dream that Jesus is carrying here.
Have a look at these other verses:
“Every cooking pot in Jerusalem and in all Judah will be set apart for use in the worship of the Lord Almighty. The people who offer sacrifices will use them for boiling the meat of the sacrifices. When the time comes, there will no longer be any merchant in the Temple of the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 14:21)
And Jesus goes into the temple and clears out the money changers there.
“Because of the my covenant with you that was sealed by blood, I will set your people free” – on the night that he was betrayed, Jesus said, this is the new covenant sealed by my blood (Zechariah 9:11)
“So they paid me thirty pieces of silver as my wages” (Zechariah 9:12)
And we remember that Jesus was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver.
“Wake up, sword, and attack the shepherd who works for me! Kill him, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7)
“I will fill the descendants of David and the other people of Jerusalem with the spirit of mercy and the spirit of prayer. They will look at the one whom they pierced.” (Zechariah 12:10). And when Jesus sword is split by a sword, this verse is remembered.
So there is something very profound about Jesus going into Jerusalem, on the donkey, with the dream, there is something here about death.
Going into death
Going into death is a terrible place.
It happens in the waiting room at the doctors, it happens at the moment when you hear the terrible news. It is the place of violence. Jim Davidson once told me as a service man in the 1950s visiting Belsen and talking about the sense of death about the place. Or I remember a couple of times being caught up in violence. One was at a march in India which was political and a sense that at any point, something dangerous could happen. Or in Northern Ireland, in what was called Drum-three, the third Drumcree in 1997, and the smoke rising up from the markets and from the Short Strand, and being stranded in Belfast Central in the middle of them.
Christ goes into that place on the donkey, in order to dream the dream,
There is another version of I dreamed a dream,
It’s the Ann Hathaway version in Les Miserables, it is desperate, broken, struggling, the note of the triumph in the Susan Boyle version is a wailing, scream of pain,
And it is to this place that Jesus goes, to bring the dream into being,
When he is on the donkey, it is a about the dream of Zechariah, and the death of Zechariah.
Surprise of God
I think this is a story is about the surprises of God.
Nobody expects a king to be on a donkey.
We do not expect God to operate in the ways that he does. It could never be predicted, it takes twists and turns on the journey.
I always appreciate this prayer of a confederate soldier in the American Civil War
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all people, most richly blessed.
It seems that in order for any true dream to happen, it happens to die along the way.
I say this is a word for those of you who are in the death part of the dream. Where it seems that God has abandoned you, and the dream.
The story of Zechariah is that God does not let go of the dream, in the miry pit.
I was thinking about the story of David Livingstone,
The man’s life in many ways was a disaster,
He was a poor leader, there was a great estrangement between him and his family,
He was someone who was determined to sail ships up the Zambezi as a way of bringing trade to Africa,
He was forced to resign from his mission society because of his lack of evangelising, having made only one convert,
He hated the slave trade, and then hated the fact that in the last parts of his he was reliant on slave traders for transport,
He became desperately poor, at one time forced to sit in an open cage and beg for food for amusement,
He lost contact with the outside world for 6 years, and in his one surviving letter from that period wrote “I am terribly knocked up, but this is for your eye only, doubtful if I live to see you again.”
Yet despite being a broken man,
His way of travelling, of winning the trust and respect of local people, was hugely admired, and led to others inspired by his example to set up schools for local people, which were later influential in the freedom movements in Africa in the 21st Century.
His words and writings were hugely influential for those fighting against the slave trade, and part of that legacy. He once wrote to the New York Herald “If my disclosures regarding the terrible Ujijian slave trade should lead to the suppression of the East Coast slave trade, I shall regard that as a greater matter by far than the discovery of all the Nile sources together”
He never did discover the sources of the Nile, but he did help with many others (an irony for someone who was such a lone operator) to help abolish slavery.
Despite everything going wrong, through him the prisoners were set free.
And this leads me at last, from someone from Blantyre, to someone from Blackburn West Lothian.
She is asked, “What is the dream?”
And she says “I am trying to be a successful singer.”
The dream is still there.
Don’t settle for second rate dreams,
The dream is this,
The dream that Desmond Tutu, someone who attended one of those mission schools inspired by the legacy of David Livingstone, wrote that God has a dream,
It is the dream that Jesus has on the back of the donkey.
A dream of a world reborn
A dream of a rediscovered dignity
It is a dream of people, old and young, men and women, sharing space, conversation, love, being with each other
A dream of reaching the other side of death
He once spoke of God’s dream, of togetherness, of human’s reborn
Of a rainbow coloured nation
Of the things between us, and within us broken
All of that dream is born on the back of the donkey
And it is now shared by us, so like Jesus, live for, and give yourselves to the dream