The Gospel According to a Donkey
Luke 19:28-40 // Numbers 22 // 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
First in a series, “The Gospel According to Us”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is especially the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, as well as the story of Balaam and his donkey, as we explore our sermon series “The Gospel According to Us,” today with the theme, “The Gospel According to a Donkey.”
Dear friends in Christ,
Today’s lessons focus on the minor characters, on the backgrounds. Balaam is being a prophet – albeit a knucklehead – but we think about the part that his donkey plays. Jesus is being a prophet, and more than that, a Savior – the perfect one – and today we meditate on the role of creation serving its creator. Because all that stuff matters.
So, we begin our meditation with a question, a serious but not-so-serious question... If that donkey on that day could talk, what would he say?
In Luke 19, we don’t know. We do know, first, that this was a donkey, not a war horse. A conquering king rides through on his warhorse; the rightful king comes in on a donkey. We know, second, that this was a young donkey, young enough for no one else to ever have ridden. This fulfills what Zechariah prophesied in chapter 9 verse 9. Third, we know that this donkey let itself be ridden for the first time through the massive crowds of Jerusalem, responding to Jesus as you would expect creation to respond to its creator.
We know that in Numbers 22. The donkey could see realities that the human being couldn’t. That’s not particularly strange to us. Homing Pigeons navigate in a way that we can’t. Dogs can hear frequencies that we can’t. Honeybees can see a spectrum of light that we can’t. Cows are pretty much always right when they guess how bad the weather is going to be.
Balaam’s donkey could see the angels standing before him when Balaam couldn’t, and for Balaam’s sake, God opened up the mouth of the donkey and then opened up Balaam’s eyes to see a truth that creation could already see.
Now, I want to take a step back to tell you this: don’t conclude that the point of this text is that all animals can see angels. That’s not the point of the text. We don’t know that. We don’t know if Balaam’s donkey seeing angels was as special as having his mouth opened, or what. That’s not the point of the text. The point is that creation is longing to be right with God, even when Balaam, who is a prophet supposed to be speaking with God’s voice, who is a human being made in the image of God to guard and protect creation, even when Balaam would drive creation in a different way.
“Creation,” St. Paul writes, (and this is our first fill-in-the-blank), “All creation (groans)... All creation groans together in the pains of childbirth until now. Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. Creation was subjected to futility in hope that it will be set free from its bondage to corruption.”
All creation groans when we treat the earth as a commodity to be extracted rather than a gift from God. All creation groans when we optimize our profits without remembering that we are stewards of creation. All creation groans when we consider embryos as clumps of cells rather than treat them with reverence. All creation groans when we fail to find our calling to cultivate and guard creation as God mandated Adam and Eve in the garden.
Your Christianity is incredibly concerned about the redemption of all things, about the restoration of all things, about the pain that sin causes, not only the lives of human beings but also the way that it makes all creation groan.
Second, all creation (rejoices). Like a violin in the hands of a master, creation rejoices to sing a beautiful song in the hands of its Creator. Like a donkey at the touch of a master-trainer, creation rejoices to trust and serve its Creator. Like Jesus said, “If the crowds stopped praising God that God has come to be their savior, then even the stones will cry out.” Like Isaiah wrote, in that day the “mountains and hills are going to sing for joy. The trees of the field are going to clap their hands.” “No one is going to hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.” Or like Isaiah and Habakkuk both say, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the seas.”
It may or may not be that donkeys can see angels, but this we do know: all creation knows its Creator in heaven. All creation longs to be made right with its Creator. All creation rejoices when it is led within the will of its Creator.
Here’s the added mystery to it all: when we look with the eyes of the Gospel, we see all kinds of signs of that Gospel throughout creation. Or like C. S. Lewis writes it, in a quote that our faculty book study ran across the other day.... “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” When you look with Christian eyes, you see Christ’s story everywhere. Christianity, we believe as Christians, reenacts the “true story of the whole world.”
Which, leads us to our final point. Third, all creation is (redeemed). We aren’t saying here that every tree needs to believe in Jesus as its Savior.... no, Christ is the Savior of humanity and gives the gift of faith into the hearts of humans... but in the redemption of humanity, all creation is redeemed.
God promised to redeem right at the Garden of Eden, and he doesn’t stop there. He came to redeem us as both fully God and fully Man, and he doesn’t stop there. God redeems us by dying our death, physically and spiritually, and he doesn't stop there. God raises us to life by bodily rising from the dead, and he doesn’t stop there. God redeems you and me, body and soul and all, and he doesn’t stop there. God is coming again to make all creation right.
PG told me a story the other day, of being at Brandon and Michelle’s farm, of dear sweet Gabbie the dog being her dog-self and chasing around the chickens.... well there will be a day when the chickens and the dogs are at peace, when lions lie down with lambs, when grandpas don’t pass away anymore, when ice and snow don’t hurt or harm, when all creation is in harmony with God.
If these walls could talk, what would they say? What kind of prayers have they heard over the years? What kind of color could they give to the lives of our ancestors? I think about the weekends here in this place where I have had the privilege to marry, to baptize, and to bury all in the span of a few days. I think about the rejoicing that happens in this place followed by the tears. I think about the desperate prayers of those who sit next to those who only have cause to give thanks.
I think of how in this place, it most often isn’t one big decision that we need to make... in this Advent season, we think on the hundreds of thousands of small decisions that shape our habits of gratitude and care, of silence and mindfulness, that in turn shape our big decisions in this life.
If the walls of your house could talk, what would they say? I know that mine could catalog my sins, my faults, my flaws. They could talk about my prayers, my hopes, my fears. But, like all creation, they would most tell the story of the God who cares, the God who has come among us, and the God who redeems us.
Amen and amen.
You Are What You Love, James Smith.
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