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On February 23rd of this year, the day before the one-year anniversary of Russia invading Ukraine, a group called led by donkeys, Is in front of the Russian embassy in London, poured 45 gallons of yellow paint on the eastbound And 45 gallons of blue paint on the west side, and ask cars to drive slowly through it creating a Ukrainian flag in front of the Russian embassy. It was a washable paint they were protesting and not destructive. They have been participating in this kind of street theater since 2008 including renaming certain landmarks or putting up Authentic looking historical signs.

Public protests have often been connected to the dramatic. When it comes to profits of old we call those kinds of presentations sign acts. Perhaps the most famous for its weirdness as the prophet Ezekiel built a model of Jerusalem and move siege figures closer toward as the destruction of the city drew nigh. And did all this while lying on his side in the city streets for over a year and cooking his food over human… dung.

Sometimes the sign acts are very, very weird.

Our gospel writer and Jesus know their Hebrew scripture, reference them often, and play with those ancient texts. The gospel writer references back to them to prove who Jesus is. *The prophet Zachariah when speaking of the messiah who was to come said “look your king comes to you triumphant and victorious is he humble and writing on a donkey on a coat and a foal of a donkey.” It goes on to tell us that he will bring peace yrom sea to sea on to the ends of the Earth.

What our gospel writer includes or doesn’t include matters. Sometimes a simple word or a line will reference an entire psalm, Trusting and believing that those who are hearing these stories and these lines would be able to sing the whole song,

Zachariah is using a tool of ancient Hebrew poetry that is repeating something to increase the emphasis. So he was probably talking about one donkey here, but Jesus seems to be engaging in a little bit of street theater here. So when they see someone coming in on 2 donkeys, they’re going to think of Zachariah, what he said about the messiah, the one who’s coming and who’s going to bring peace.

Those who gathered on the streets were looking for a messiah. They were searching for an end to their oppression, for restoration of the land, and for liberty. They cried out “hosanna” come on which means “save us.” It probably was filled with longings but it wasn’t one sad out of grief but out of celebration. They had it right before them and Jesus the one that they believed would fix all of the problems in the world that they had. I think about some political rallies of the last 15 years and how celebratory they have been and also how desperate people were to have their needs met, their problems fixed, and the world changed. Folks are often disappointed. This time, they didn’t seem to understand what Jesus was telling them about what it meant to be the Messiah.

*Now, there’s one thing that was missing from Zachariah’s poem when the Gospel writer put it here: “triumphant and victorious.”

We call this day the celebration of the triumphal entry. But our gospel writer made it very clear not to include those words. For Matthew victory comes at the Resurrection. This parade is about humility.

Jesus rode into town and the crowds formed, the streets were lined with random nobodies, and they shouted “Save us” to the one who could do just that.

And that caused turmoil in the city. The word that’s used for turmoil is the word that we get seismic from. It’s like the Earth was actually shaking as Jesus rode into town.

Now, my basic public school education taught me there are several kinds of earthquakes, but all of them involve 2 plates of land interacting with each other. Sometimes they are moving alongside or sliding underneath, sometimes crashing into each other.

We have spent weeks talking about Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of God. It is the Empire of God in contrast with the Empire of the world. The Empire of the world is one in which violence is the means of control. The Empire of God is one of kindness and compassion. The Empire of the world is self-serving and hording because there cannot be enough. The Empire God is based on generosity and abundance because there is more than enough. The Empire of the earth defined who was fully human by how useful they are and who matters by how useful they are to you. The Empire God is one in which everyone is beloved and everyone is welcome.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the regional seat of Rome’s power and the center of their religion, these 2 empires crashed into each other and the earth shook.

This parade into Jerusalem was not the march of the powerful, the violent, the divisive.  This was the humble walking of one who welcomes all into the beloved community.  And his parade March takes him directly into the temple Where it turns over tables and drives out the money changers and those who are selling the animals for sacrifice. And despite what we have all been taught for years, the story doesn’t tell us that they were doing terrible things and stealing from people. I will explain the robbers statement in a second. What they were doing were the things that needed to be done to follow the commandments and to do the religious practices that they needed to. Folks were traveling from all over the world and bringing their coins and you could not use coins with graven images in the temple per the 2nd commandment, so you couldn’t use the coins with the emperor’s face, so you’d need to change them for temple-appropriate ones.

And you needed to sacrifice a flawless, unblemished animal. Imagine traveling from far-off lands, on foot, and having to make sure your animal doesn’t get hurt, in a time when there’s no bubble wrap to secure the animal. So they sell the animals there, to make sure. It’s like buying animal feed when you are at a petting zoo because you don’t carry the right food for animals in your pocket. It was just what needed to be done to worship at the temple they way they worshipped.

When Jesus entered, he quoted two prophets here: Isaiah  Who speaks God’s words that say: “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah Who speaks God’s words that say:  “Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, sacrifice to Baal and go after other gods that you don’t know, and then come and stand before me in this temple that bears my name, and say, “We are safe,” only to keep on doing all these detestable things? 11 Do you regard this temple, which bears my name, as a hiding place for criminals?” Or, “a den of robbers” Jeremiah 7:9-11

Jesus isn’t speaking out against the practices of a religion, he’s not even really speaking out against the sacrificial system. Jesus is overturning tables, protesting a system where you can do whatever evil you want in the world, but if you can do this one thing, you’ll be OK. Jesus was joining a long line of prophets that reminded the powerful, the wealthy, and the strong that they need to stop ignoring the needs of the poor the widow, the orphan, the outcast, and the marginalized by thinking they can do a sacrifice once a year and be fine. They were trying to solve an ethical problem of caring for the least, the lost, and the last with spiritual solutions of absolution from God. They were looking for a way to be right with God without having to change their lives or be inconvenienced.

We might point fingers at the sacrifices of the past, but Christianity has often functioned this way with particular prayers, alms, confessionals, and right words to prove that we are right with God.

When Jesus clears out the temple, the space is quickly filled in with the sick, with those seeking healing and community, and children. It was filled those who, in the eyes of the empire of the earth, were useless or non-human. The space that was cleared out of those who were just seeking to find one way to make everything right with God while not having to live God’s way outside of the doors and was filled with those who lived on the margins. The space that was made when Jesus cleared out those who are unwilling to let their lives be changed was filled in by those who could not do life on their own and they were welcomed into the beloved community.

Jesus turned the tables because those practices at the temple had gotten in the way of living the faith that they have been given to care for the least of these. Because the practices had given them the idea that they were living pious lives when they were only living pious a moment.

And because Jesus went to the center of his faith means we need to be able to go to the center of ours. Where are the tables that would be turned? What are the things we say or do to make us seem pious while not changing our lives at all?  And what are the things that we are doing that are not about the wide welcome of Jesus, the beloved community in this world? What are the things we have put in the way that have kept others out? Worse than keeping them out of our church, what are the things that have kept people from hearing and knowing and believing that they too are loved by God, not less than human as the Empire defines them?

Honestly, it’s thoughts and prayers when children are dying in schools–a spiritual solution to an ethical problem of gun reform. Instead, thoughts and prayers make sure folks feel righteous and good, and yet, continue to actually do nothing, unwilling to change for the good of those who are most vulnerable.

It’s 385 anti-LGBT laws introduced across the country, almost half focused on the transgender community, a community for whom 80% have seriously considered suicide and 40% have attempted. I’m not minimizing the horrors we have seen around the world throughout history that have been called genocide, but this is the definition of genocide from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Killing members of the group

  1. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
  2. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  3. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  4. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

So, when a government is refusing healthcare, making it impossible to function as your whole self, threatening to take children from their parents, and creating an environment where they are seen as less than human and unworthy of life… in the name of Jesus. Spiritual solutions to the ethical problem that we’ve created or turned a blind eye to.

It is making housing unaffordable so that “those people” don’t live here. It’s the lack of access to health care and mental health resources, as if some people are less worthy of the care. It’s prison reform so people and communities can be restored. It’s 100 things.

This is why it matters that the entry into Jerusalem wasn’t triumphant but humble. It wasn’t a military parade, it didn’t force itself on the citizens or onto the throne of the empire of the world. It didn’t seek power as the world sees power.

No, Christ rode into the city on a donkey, surrounded by whoever happened to be nearby. No one carried or waved weapons. No one marched into battle. Christ rode into the city humbly, went to the temple, and there refused to let it be a place that was exclusive. Christ was making clear that the temple was to be a house of prayer for all people, not a place to make folks, us, feel better for the harm caused. Jesus made this part of the temple the Kingdom of God, radically inclusive, a place of healing and rest, where generations come together and the voices of children are celebrated.

And this is the Kingdom that we are to be building inside and outside the walls of the church. Where all are made in the image of God and we don’t get to define that for someone else! Where all are welcome. Where we change to welcome someone new or someone different, we make space.

And it should change our lives. It should shape how we live in the world, how we give generously of our time and efforts, how we greet and care for each other, how we vote, how we participate in our communities, how we write letters and call our leaders, how we join with other faith communities to make small changes that build to a whole.

And here’s how to tell, if it is keeping folks outside, marginalized, if it is leaving out the vulnerable: if they cannot get their needs met and their voices are being silenced–that is the Empires of the world–whether it is in city hall, school board, Senate, or a church–if it is of the empire, there are tables we are called to turn. If it welcomes the stranger, brings in and lifts up the vulnerable, and embraces all of what makes us human–it is of the kingdom of God and that needs to be nurtured. And that is in the humble acts of showing up when there is injustice, being a voice for those who are voiceless until they can be heard, it is being willing to be uncomfortable in our privilege that we already have a place to belong here for those who have no where or no one. It is living the beloved community, the truth of interconnectedness that we name at the table. It isn’t always glamorous, we won’t get parades.

Sometimes our wide welcome will get us bad Google reviews. But the work of welcoming and making space is kingdom work.

That is what changes communities and lives. That is what shakes the earth! And that is worth changing our lives for and living in.