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The Village Ahead of You ~ Mark 11:1-11

“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.” Mark 11:2

It was a beautiful afternoon in early February, the sun was out, and the temperatures were in the high 60’s. (Trust me…we were not in Cleveland.)

I was standing in the courtyard of the Gallicantu Church in Jerusalem. The Gallicantu church sits on the site where, tradition has it, Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed. That is what Gallicantu means in Latin – cockcrow.

The church – try to imagine this in your head – the church is perched on the side of a hill, the same side of the hill that the old city of Jerusalem is on. And from the courtyard of that church you can look down a valley where right ahead of you, on the other side of the mountain, is a village. You look over the Kidron valley, which is very steep, and sitting on the other side, the hillside opposite, is a village named Silwan. Silwan is a Palestinian Arab town which, as I understand the very confusing situation – which may mean I don’t understand it at all – is still controlled by Israel.

There is a stark contrast between the opposite hillsides in terms of visual appeal. From our safe perch, Silwan looked rather dangerous. It looked poor. And when the call to Islamic prayer went out from all the mosques in the Arab sections of the city it created a cover of hypnotic sound – I was transported into a thin place, an in-between place – it was both really wonderful and unsettling at the same time.

Up the hillside and just a little to the south, you see the security wall and behind that a new settlement of Orthodox Jews. And just beyond the hillside of Silwan, over the next rise, I believe I am correct, sits Bethpage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives, which you can also see from the Gallicantu church.

If I had been standing at this location 2,000 years ago, I might have glimpsed a procession of a man on a donkey surrounded by a crowd. And if I had strained to listen, I might have heard a Hosanna or two – for it wouldn’t be drowned out by traffic noise or the call to prayer.

But this morning, it is not the procession of Jesus that grabs my attention, but actually what happened before. Did you notice that eight of the eleven verses of our text are really about the prep for the procession? The prep for the procession. It’s all in the preparatory work – we know that from painting our houses.

Jesus tells his disciples, “Go into that village ahead of you and get that un-ridden donkey.”

You mean, there wasn’t there a un-ridden donkey to be found in Bethpage, or Bethany? Why does the Lord need that donkey in that unnamed village ahead of them?

I mean, can you imagine walking into a village that is not yours and untying a donkey that doesn’t belong to you? That belongs to somebody else? It’s tied near a door! It isn’t wandering around free – it is somebody’s property.

Last summer, I told a young man to get out of my front yard when I thought that he might be wanting to steal one of our bicycles.

Would it have made a difference if he had said to me, “Oh, the Lord has need of it. I’ll return it immediately.”? I rather doubt it, but you know… I don’t know. We didn’t find out.

Of course, the disciples knew they were going to hear people asking them, “Why are you doing this?” I suspect they were probably asking themselves the same question, “Why am I doing this?”

I find it very interesting, very provocative really, and timely for us to consider this direction of the Lord to “go into that village ahead of you.” Because Jesus was really pushing his disciples out of their comfort zones, into places that were not well known, so that Jesus could have a vehicle for his procession.

So let’s come back to the 21st century, because it makes me think – I wonder how many Israeli citizens ever go into Silwan today? I am willing to bet very few. I know this sounds naive, but I wonder if Arab and Jew would just go into each other’s villages if the glory of the Lord might not be shown better than rockets, soldiers and name calling.

If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard, “Well, I don’t even drive through East Cleveland anymore. I don’t feel safe.” Or “I haven’t been to downtown Cleveland in years, not since Halle Bros. closed. I don’t feel comfortable.” I would have my Big Give payback in an instant!

And we don’t want it to be a race thing, or a class thing, or an urban-suburban thing, we really don’t. I mean, that’s sincere. It’s just out of our comfort zones – that village, those villages.

I wonder if there is not an application here for us today. If we’re going to be part of the Jesus procession, perhaps we need to be willing to risk moving into those villages that are just ahead of us. Who knows what is down there or up here that is going to bring God glory?  Who knows if there isn’t a donkey that Jesus needs to ride? Who knows if there is not a donkey that Jesus needs for you or for me or for us to get?

Perhaps some disciple is in our village, right now, trying to take our donkeys because the Lord has need of them.

There is never going to be any hint of a righteous and just solution to the inequities of our region unless we start going into the villages ahead of us and both bringing some donkeys that haven’t been ridden before and giving some donkeys that haven’t been ridden before.

And I think about broken relationships and the emotional valleys that often separate us, one from another. It’s easier to avoid than to deal – it is easier to just stay on my perch – I’ll just stay in my village.

I was in the grocery store and saw someone I didn’t really want to see (I mean, of course, it wasn’t any of you. I am always delighted to bump into any of you when I am in my sweat pants and haven’t showered. About as delighted as you are to see me in that same get up!) I didn’t want to deal. I mean, I could have said “hello,” I could have tried to acknowledge their presence. They might have even seen me try to avoid them. But I escaped down my Kidron valley – the cookie and cracker aisle.

I could feel the tension in my gut. I knew I was chickening out. There was a little push, a still, small voice in my conscience – was it the Lord’s voice? – saying, “Go in that aisle ahead of you and acknowledge. Go get that metaphorical donkey – which now seems like a 24,000 pound gorilla – and bring it to me. I have need of it.”

I think about the times I stand and judge someone with whom I disagree politically or theologically. And I’m very gracious, but I’m quietly and pridefully pitying them for their lack of wisdom and discernment.

The Lord says, “Go into that village…there is a donkey.” (Or maybe it’s an elephant! I’m non-partisan here). “I have need of it so I can witness to the glory of God in procession. Can I ride a mile on your donkey? Can I walk a mile in your shoe? I’ll bring it back! I promise!”

“Oh, but Jesus, I have a donkey, a nice donkey right here. I mean, I might have sat upon it once. Please don’t make me go into that village and get that donkey.”

Perhaps you stand in the courtyard, looking over the valley, and you see the village of “Your Better Self” just ahead of you. But the move to go there just seems like so much work. It means reflection. It means reconciliation maybe. It means honesty. It may mean anger, and turning over a few tables, and coming clean with yourself and others.

“Jesus, please! Can’t I just stand here and look? Please don’t make me go. Don’t make me go into that village and get that donkey. I just don’t want to go there. I don’t want to face it.”

But darn it – Jesus Christ may always comfort the afflicted, but he also afflicts the comfortable; always, always, always telling me, telling you, “Go into that village and get that donkey.”

I mean, you can interpret the meaning of “that village ahead of you” however you wish. But I think it really means that place, where deep down, you know you need to go. In order to do the thing you have to do. I do believe Jesus wants you to go there.

It means moving from safety into the risk of encounter, the risk of vulnerability, the risk of sacrifice, the risk of upsetting the status quo and walking down into the valley and up the other side into that village. And people who know you and love you may say, “What are you doing that for?”

And people who don’t know you may think you are strange. Crazy. Possibly dangerous.

“Why are you leaving a six-figure salary and working with the homeless? Why are you ‘wasting’ a good education and spending five years in Central America? Why go there? Why are you risking danger?”

Well, it just makes me think that in whatever context, for God’s will to be done in your life and my life and our collective life, for the procession of glory to continue, it just may mean that kind of risk. You may be asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?” But just imagine if you could lift that feeling up into the light of God and hear the voice of Christ saying to you, “I have need of it. I have need of it.”

And there’s lots of good news here! I look around and see all sorts of examples of where people are heading into new villages and bringing new donkeys to Jesus. When we were in Israel, we sat in a circle in Nev Shalom or Wahat al Salam – the Hebrew and Arabic words for “Oasis of Peace.”It is a community half-Arab and half-Jewish in Israel. It’s intentional. Think about that…moving across the valley into each other’s villages in order to create a new village.

Last week, Travelle Harp was here – and he’s here again today – bringing us the good news from East Cleveland. Perhaps there is a donkey in East Cleveland that has never been ridden that the Lord needs. Where can we throw our cloaks and our palms? Perhaps we need to give our donkey!

Clover is part of the Abrahamic traditions group – where Christians, Jews and Muslims share a meal, and tell stories about their faith. Now that is getting out of the courtyard! That is climbing down from our silos and walking across the valley into that village that is ahead of them. That is a donkey worth bringing to the Savior. Ride on, King Jesus!

I remember the Values Group and how we had to risk going over into each other’s political and theological villages. Hallelujah, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

And in its own crazy little way, I see the “Big Give” as a push into new villages. After all, sometimes going into the other village can be fun. Doing what has not been done before can be an adventure. Who doesn’t like to go to new places and meet new people? Hosanna in the highest!

So this holy week, this week coming up, consider what you need to do – what the Lord needs for you to do.

I think you already know what it is.

You probably already know where it is.

So go get it! In that village. Do whatever it takes to get that donkey just ahead of you. That village and that donkey!

The Lord has need of it.

AMEN.
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