Two hunters from Minnesota get a pilot to fly them to Canada to hunt moose. They bag six. As they start loading the plane for the return trip, the pilot tells them the plane can take only four of the moose. The two lads object strongly. "Last year we shot six, and the pilot let us put them all on board; he had the same plane as yours." Reluctantly, the pilot gives in and lets them load all six. However, even with full power, the little plane can't handle the load and goes down a few moments after takeoff. Climbing out of the wreckage, one Minnesotan asks the other, "Any idea where we are?" The second replies, "Yah, I tink we's pretty close to where we crashed last year." J
Sometimes life feels like that!
Today our heads are crowded with competing thoughts, concerns, hopes, and worries. It’s been quite a week: a big upset in the presidential election – some of us are happy and some are not. Most of us are surprised, I’d say, and wondering what the Trump presidency will look like for the next four years. The Church is not here to render judgment on politicians, favoring some over others. In fact, followers of Jesus do not put their trust in the goodness of any political leader. But the Church is very much here to critique all politicians, all national decisions and legislation, in the light of the values of Jesus our Lord. Here at St. Dunstan’s, we’ll continue to look at our national life through the lens of Jesus’ life and teachings, as we always have. We have a different, and higher, set of standards by which to judge our society, our world.
The odd Gospel you heard today is from Palm Sunday, when Jesus finally rode into Jerusalem to face the Temple officials, the Romans, and finally the cross itself. He rode in, not on the tall white horse of a conquering warrior, but on a little donkey-colt. He was making a political statement – or, I should say, a critique of all human politics. He was setting himself in contrast to the “powers that be” in his world: the Roman occupation of Palestine. Just as the Roman legions rode into Jerusalem from the west, with chariots and armaments and great horses, to “keep peace” during Passover, Jesus rode in from the east on his little donkey. He knew that every political leader would need to be countered by a people devoted to God, God’s radical and equal love for every human being. The powers of this world will always need this check, this critique, this counter-force. And we need it now.
I want to focus on one little sentence in this Gospel: not the Hosannas of the crowds, but the 6 words used to secure that little donkey-colt from a sympathetic owner. Those 6 words are: “The Lord has need of it.”
How Jesus arranged for the little colt, we don’t know, but the words he used are clear enough: “Please give this, because the Lord needs it.” What other need could supersede that? All our plans, our personal desires, our hesitations fall away when we really hear the call of God saying, “The Lord needs it: the Lord needs you, your time, your money, your devotion and prayer. Never mind your own plan, right now, the Lord needs you.” Have you ever heard that voice in your life? Had that overwhelming sense of call, of conviction, of action? I hope you have. That call changes us.
“The Lord has need of it.”
This week we also observe Veterans’ Day, a time to stop and give thanks for the sacrifices of all who have served this country in the armed forces. I think of my dad, who joined millions of Americans in the forties to fight in World War II. In that war, the enemy was clear, vicious, and well-defined. But I still stand in awe of those people who dropped everything and risked – or gave – their lives. I believe most of them understood that call to be from God and country: “The Lord has need of me.”
The wonderful Christian priest and writer Barbara Crafton wrote yesterday, reflecting on the American Civil War (after just finishing Shelby Foote’s huge history of that horrific conflict). She notes the unfathomable cost in human life – well over 600,000 lives lost as both sides slaughtered our own brothers and sisters who saw this country differently. We face such a split in the U.S. today, and it is a dangerous time for us. Crafton writes:
This must never happen again.
War never brings peace. It always sows the seeds of the next war. Violence on a smaller scale is the same: it may triumph in the moment, but it never persuades. The most violence can win is compliance based on fear, and a grim resolve to even the score next time, a resolve that can last for years.
We cannot designate our fellow Americans as enemies. We can be opponents, but we must not be enemies. We can be passionate, but we must not hate.
We can contend for what we think best. In order to do that, we must stay in contention. If we foreclose on relationship, we are no longer in the civic conversation.
“The Lord has need of it.”
Finally, we come together today at St. Dunstan’s to offer our financial pledges for the year ahead – another kind of sacrificial giving for God’s work right here in our own neighborhood. Our church stands as a testimony to our values here: God’s love for every person, hospitality and acceptance of all, a safe and happy place for children every day, service and advocacy for people in need. People see our banners on Mass. Avenue and know that this is a safe and welcoming place. We don’t judge by race or social status or wealth or other characteristics; because Jesus doesn’t judge by those things. We look for Christ in every person.
So today – in the midst of all that swirls around us – I ask you to vote for these values, with your pledge of support. The Lord has need of it. And I ask you to make it a bit more generous than you are comfortable doing, so that our church can thrive. If you’ve already submitted a pledge, consider increasing it a bit. Our budget challenges are great this year, because some revenues we used last year are not recurring. Your leaders will work with what you, collectively, give, and we’ll devise the best possible budget to use those funds. We shall live together by the decisions you make today.
I conclude with the words of our own bishop, Mariann Edgar Budde. Reflecting on the shock of the election, she calls for us to know our neighbors, especially the ones we disagree with, whose lives are painful and difficult in ways we do not know:
Speaking on behalf of the Diocese of Washington, I pledge that I will take an active part in the healing of America. In faithfulness to God, we will seek the welfare of the cities, towns and communities in which we live. As Americans, we give thanks for the peaceful transfer of political power and we respect it.
“The Lord has need of it.” The Lord has need of us – each and every one of us – today, in this country, in this city. The Lord is asking for our hearts, our hands, our voices, and our dollars, to make peace with justice. Will you answer?