I am taking yet another preaching class…my motivations are less than ideal…I need to graduate, and to do that I need another credit in proclamation. I received feedback on my first sermon for this class that it was excellent, but likely to go above people’s heads. What do you think? I think its challenging, but I think it’s a message people need to hear. My sermon text is designed to be spoken not read, so it had some capitalization for emphasis and colloquial grammar…What do you think dear reader?
Sermon Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, Year A, Track 2. Lectionary for July 6
Zechariah 9:9-12, Ps. 145:8-15, Romans 7:15-25, Mt, 11:16-19, 25-30
Today is a day of wonderful lessons, that all seem like wonderful things we need to here. In the Psalm we heard “The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great kindness…” Romans 7, talks about struggling with sin…who cannot relate to Paul’s lament “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do.” Many times in our lives we really need to hear about God’s compassion and how even the saints and apostles struggled with sin and temptation…So it may come as a surprise to many of you that I’ve chosen to preach on the Old Testament lesson today.
Why preach on 4 measly verses of the Old Testament? After all, many of us would be hard pressed to even FIND Zechariah in the Bible without turning to Table of Contents, and when we did we’d find him listed there along with several others under the heading “MINOR PROPHETS”….Minor or lessor means he is unimportant right? not quite…
Well to understand Zechariah’s importance, first we have to find him. The book of Zechariah is the second to last book in the Old Testament. He is one of 12 Minor Prophets in the Old Testament. Zechariah was a prophet and a priest. The book contains a series of visions that foretells not only the physical restoration and renewal of Jerusalem, but of the spiritual renewal of God’s covenant. Most significantly for us, Zechariah is one of the chorus of prophetic voices that foretold the coming of Jesus Christ. In Zechariah this morning we heard in about the coming of Zion’s king, chapter 9 verse 9, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Some of you may be thinking, hmm gee that sounds familiar. Well it should. Just a few months ago during the Palm Sunday liturgy we heard from Matthew chapter 21, verses 1-5, the story of Jesus entry into Jerusalem.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Mat 21:1-5 NIV)
Jesus fulfilled Zechariah’s words in verse 9, so again some of you may again be thinking we don’t need to pay much attention to Zechariah here, after all it’s already been fulfilled, right? Not quite…
This morning’s passage goes on to foretell the time when the LORD will establish peace in Jerusalem. Zechariah 9, verse 10 describes the time when God will take away the war chariots, the war horses, and will break the battle bows. All we have to do is turn on the news to realize that this has not yet happened. Israel and the Promised Land is still a war torn country. Today’s warfare features battles between Israelites and Palestinians, instead of Israelites and Canaanites. And the technology is bombs, mortars, machine guns and even nuclear weapons as opposed to chariots and bows…
Yet verse 10 also tells us that, he, Jesus will proclaim peace to the nations and his rule will extend from sea to sea, to the ends of the Earth. Jesus did come, not as the triumphal military king the Israelites were expecting. No he came lowly, riding on a colt. He did proclaim peace, and also salvation and the forgiveness of sins. The claims of peace in the middle East seem ludicrous, and fantastical.
I have jokingly, or not so jokingly heard it remarked that the only way to bring peace to the middle East would be to level it into a parking lot. Indeed much of this country’s military efforts over the last decade have been consumed by operations like “Shock and Awe” and “Iraqi Freedom.” Bombing to bring peace…yet we see on the news that the region is still war torn and unstable.
This past week we celebrated Independence Day. The commemoration of this country’s signing of the Declaration of Independence and the subsequent war for Independence. My family has the tradition of watching the musical, 1776 every Independence Day. There is something quite humorous about hearing the future President John Adams singing about being obnoxious and disliked. The musical also relates the horrible compromise made with the South to remove language about slavery from the declaration of Independence, a wrong that wouldn’t be righted until the Civil War, almost 100 years later.
It seems our country has a history of fighting to right wrongs. Throughout history violence has been used to right wrongs and redeem honor. Yet the Bible has placed strict limits on violence. The law limited revenge to an eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth. Then Jesus went even further by telling us to turn the other cheek and when someone takes our coat, to give them our cloak as well. Did Jesus really intend for us to let ourselves get pushed around? Taken advantage of…Don’t we have a responsibility to bring about peace and right wrongs?
In Zechariah 9 verse 10 we hear that the LORD is the bringer of peace. The Lord is the one who breaks the bows of warfare. Should we also trust in the Lord to break our modern “weapons of mass destruction.” It seems naïve to think such a thing. Yet a portion of Zechariah has already come to pass, why should we not trust in its promises?
God promises his people in verse 11 that he will free their prisoners from the waterless pit. God has a covenant relationship with his people. We hear in Romans chapter 11 verse 17, that we are “ingrafted branches” onto Jesse’s tree and we now share in the same nourishing sap. We share in God’s promises of peace, salvation, and the setting of the captives free.
Unfortunately, we know that for many of those promises to come true we need to wait for Jesus’s coming again, when we are promised a new heaven and a new earth, a new life with Christ, and a New Jerusalem, fully restored. It is a difficult thing to wait upon the Lord. Yet in Zechariah 9, verse 12, God enjoins his people to “return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope, even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.”
What does it mean to be a “prisoner of hope”? In part it means to obey God, to wait and to trust in Him and His ultimate plan for salvation. It is all too easy for us to rely on ourselves, on our country, and on violence to protect us, to restore us. Yet God promises that the prisoners will be freed, and that Israel’s splendor will be restored double, not through violence, but through the coming King. We have already seen Jesus come once, he came just as promised, “righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Because of this we can trust in the rest of God’s message, that war will be ended, peace will be proclaimed and Christ’s rule will extend to the ends of the Earth. In the meantime we must remain prisoners, not of war, but of the hope we have in Christ that one day all things will be brought into subjection, and all peoples will worship him.
In the meantime we must live in the tension, waiting for Christ’s coming again. Our King came once lowly, riding on a donkey, to live and die as one of us, to preach peace, reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins. Peace is promised in Zechariah along with a kingdom that covers the whole Earth. Christ’s kingdom will not come through redemptive violence, where we can, let us be agents of peace. Working to turn the other cheek, both in our personal lives, and the life of the nation. As John 13:35 and the popular worship song says, “They will know we our Christians by our love.” Within this community, the greater church, and the nation let us lead lives of radical love that witness to Christ. Redemption and peace is not accomplished through fighting…Indeed the work of redemption and reconciliation has already been accomplished through Christ’s death and resurrection. While we await his coming again in glory, let us focus on Christ’s commission to us “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Trusting that Jesus is with us “always, to the very end of the age.”