Meg Peery McLaughlin
Games People Play: The Game of Life
August 28, 2022
Mark 11: 1-11
Some churches celebrate Christmas in July—
perhaps for some fun, but also because if you hear scripture in the “off season”
sometimes you hear new things.
Today’s scripture is the Palm Sunday text, usually packaged with hosannas,
not back to school jitters.
We usually read about Jesus’ parade into Jerusalem,
the Sunday right before the BIGGEST SUNDAY of our faith–
Easter Sunday, when we tell the story about how, through the mystery of the cross and empty tomb, in Jesus Christ:
new life is possible,
eternal life is now,
abundant life is ours and theirs.
Church, resurrection life doesn’t just happen when we’re wearing bonnets or holding easter baskets; it is not tied to a season. And our recollection of the grand story, and our preparation for that kind of life seems like a good way to spend our day today.
So, will you join me in prayer.
Your word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.
Astonish us, Lord, when we were expecting the same old thing.
And in my words, Lord, may people hear your voice. Amen.
Listen to God’s word from Mark chapter 11:
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this: ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said, and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple, and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Friends, this is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
This is the joyful aha when the people get it:
that a king has come to town.
The moment of parade and palms of singing and praise.
Jesus is coming into Jerusalem
to show the world exactly who he is.
Yet Mark seems overly preoccupied with the measly details
about acquiring an animal—
where to go to find it, what kind of colt to seek, what to do, what to say .
For hearers down the road, knowing what we do about where this story goes,
these details might give goose bumps as Jesus fulfills the prophesy of Zechariah:
“Rejoice Zion, your king comes riding on a colt, the colt of a donkey!”
But I doubt those two disciples had goose bumps.
I bet they felt more like goose droppings,
when amid the big parade Jesus points to them and says “You two: Donkey detail.”
Mark doesn’t tell us the disciples’ names, but I wonder if it was James and John,
who only hours before had proposed to Jesus,
“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
As Tom Long says, “it hardly matters which two they were.
All of the disciples had been jockeying for advantage, angling for glory,
arguing about who was the greatest.
So it is deliciously ironic that on this very public and glorious day of Jesus’ ministry,
they find themselves engaged in a most unromantic form of ministry,
mucking around a stable, looking suspiciously like horse thieves,
and trying to wrestle a balky animal toward the olive groves.
You can almost hear them saying: “We left our fishing nets for this?!”
Do you remember playing this? The Game of Life?
You spin the wheel, move around the board, make choices along the way about education, career, marriage, children and investments; you let your bossy friend be the banker, and whoever ends up with the most money, wins.
It’s alarming for kids to learn that in real life the bank does not just give you $200K just to start out, but okay.
If you play it right, you end up here, at Millionaire Mansion,
but never along the way are there career cards that mention donkey detail.
Humble and humdrum tasks don’t seem to be the way to win at life.
But the Gospel has a counter testimony to this game.
As scholar Joel Marcus notes, “Mark understands the preparation of the Lord’s way
in a rather prosaic manner
as the arrangements people make for the ministry of Jesus.”
“Arrangements people.” Sounds about right.
For the disciples were most certainly used to doning “hospitality crew” nametags.
They arranged boats for teaching,
they herded preschoolers away from, then toward Jesus’ knee,
they cleared paths through crowds of the curious and sick
and eventually they find an upper room to share Passover .
These folks were good at making arrangements.
Let me tell you about another disciples who is too.
Dennis retires today after three decades of humdrum tasks in this space.
Cleaning toilets, setting up tables, calling for boiler repairs.
To my knowledge there has been no actual donkey detail,
But he has chased out many birds and
Caught a bat in the Henderson Street bathroom.
A preacher’s kid born in California, his movement around this board has had many twists, but at every turn, Dennis has made arrangements for the work of God,
preparing the way of the holy that happens here.
It’s odd how the term “making arrangements”
has come to be a euphemism for the end of life.
Type in “making arrangements” in your google browser
and you get funeral homes and florists.
Dennis could tell you about that too, as he has carefully and lovingly,
prepared the ground in our memorial garden to receive the ashes of countless saints.
In my first call as an associate for pastoral care, I helped families “make arrangements” for their loved ones more weeks than not.
At that church, in addition to a garden, they had a beautiful columbarium,
which had a fountain in the center of its octagonal room,
mimicking the eight sided baptismal font upstairs in the sanctuary.
The fountain was surrounded by a sculpture of an empty cross
and a number of doves.
The latin word Columba means dove.
It’s where Columbariums got their name: little houses for doves.
The niches in that Columbarium were small,
just large enough to hold a small box of cremains.
So when a new widow Jacque Chestnut handed me a 2 foot tall pottery urn
with her beloved Paul’s name lovingly glazed on it’s surface,
a mere 10 minutes before the committal service,
I had an internal moment of panic.
I smiled at Jacque,
tenderly received the urn in my open arms
and then gently told her that I would need to find a smaller container to use to inter her husband’s ashes.
Jacque was not fully present in this world,
but she fully trusted the church that had been her home for 40 years,
so she just nodded at me willingly.
The family was setting up pictures for the reception that was to be after the service
volunteers helping locate table top easels.
I had a few minutes to troubleshoot. Surely I could find a suitable container.
I walked down the hall, threw open the folding doors of my office closet,
tossing out three ring binders filled with seminary notes that were no help in that moment
I found a smallish glass container that looked promising, but pulling it out,
I was deflated to see it was a jack-o-lantern candy dish for use at Halloween.
Nice All Saints connection, but no good.
I kept raiding the closet and finally settled on a small stationary box. Non-descript.
Most importantly, well sized.
I grabbed the box and my robe,
opened the beautifully glazed urn and
became paralyzed with the new knowledge that Jacque
had emptied the cremains out of their plastic bag.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust were all loose:
bits were clinging to the ceramic sides of the urn.
How was I to transfer this creation of God into a cardboard box,
which had an open seam at the bottom?
I rushed to the kitchen and found 90 year old Inez Simon,
one of those church saints who shows up to help at every church reception,
also the kind of church lady who knows where everything in the church is located.
“Inez”, I said, “I need help. Do you know where any gallon sized ziplock bags are?”
She looked at what was in my hands, eyes wide, and got to searching.
After a spritely 90 year old jaunt through the industrial sized kitchen,
she came back with one of those old Walmart cellophane shopping bags
with a giant yellow smiley face on it. Have a nice day, it read.
“Inez?”!! She shrugged her frail shoulders and opened it wide.
I poured Paul in, placed him in the box,
left Inez to wash the urn,
and as calmly as possible walked downstairs the columbarium.
My eyes landed on a circle of family: some made of blood, other made of faith;
my ears honed in on the sound of the water in that fountain,
splashing the sound of grace;
my heart settled on the baptismal promise that in life and in death we belong
to the God of the empty cross, the God of unyielding life.
My previous 10 hectic minutes of panic weren’t about me,
they were about getting ready for God to do that:
the work of resurrection
the labor of binding up broken hearts.
We recited the words of the 23rd Psalm
and Jacque, who wasn’t always sure of her youngest grandchild’s name,
remembered each and every phrase.
I placed that cardboard box in that small niche and said:
“In sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life,
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
we commend to Almighty God our brother Paul.”
Closets, cardboard, church ladies and cellophane.
Donkeys, humdrum duties, Dennis Dallke.
This is the stuff of the Gospel.
Church, you and I are called to make arrangements
for the ministry that Christ is doing.
When we utter brave words in meetings or class,
schedule coffee with a new neighbor,
buy extra peanut butter at the store for TABLE,
sit to listen to someone else’s pain,
sign up to usher,
replace magnets on nametags,
we are making arrangements for the ministry of Jesus.
Those two disciples sent to go find the colt, untie it and say to anyone who asks them:
“The Lord needs it.”
The Lord doesn’t always need the BEST things, HUGE things, FLASHY things,
the Lord needs tiny chores of great love done over and over again.
Yes, the Lord needs that.
In the end it’s not about us,
it’s about him. . . . we are just on donkey detail,
Preparing the way for God’s game of life—
which is not won when we get to millionaire mansion,
but has already been won
by the abundant, eternal, everlasting love
we know in Jesus the Christ.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.