Two summers ago, a small group of folks from JMPC went to Ch’ijtal, Mexico to help build a Christian education and office building with members of the local Presbyterian Church there.
Ch’ijtal is pretty far up in the mountains of Chiapas in southern Mexico.
When we got to the worksite, we found out that the building was to be built way up on top of a steep hill.
My first thought as I looked up the long flight of stairs to the church was, “How will they get all the blocks, gravel and cement up there?”
The answer was simple.
People would carry it.
Carry blocks, cement and gravel up the hill on an uneven stairway of around 90 steps.
90 steps is about the same as a 5-story building.
Who was going to do that?
It turned out that it was the job of older men, young boys and women.
Each one would tie a strap to a big sack.
Into the bag went blocks or cement or gravel.
The bag would get hoisted onto their back and the strap was set on the forehead to help support the load.
Up the stairs they went they went, bent over.
Up and down.
Over and over and over.
Until the materials were all at the top.
Every day, more would arrive.
Up the stairs they went they went, bent over.
Up and down.
Over and over and over.
How many blocks or how much cement or gravel in the sack was up to the one heading up the steps.
When I saw this on the first day, I decided to give it a try.
I have no particular construction ability but I can carry stuff and walk up stairs.
The young boys thought I was funny.
This gray-haired white guy hauling the stuff up the steps!
They wanted me to take “tres” blocks.
I said, “No! Dos!”
We all laughed and up the stairs I went.
This was my job for the week.
I kind of liked it.
It certainly kept me in shape.
I’m pretty sure that no one in Ch’ijtal remembers that I did that.
They might remember that gray-haired white American who hauled all those blocks.
They don’t remember my name.
I never expected them to.
But what they do remember is that a bunch of people from the United States came to Ch’ijtal to help them build that building.
And that building is where they will teach their children about Jesus for years to come.
What, you might ask, does this have to do with Palm Sunday?
Let’s look at today’s text.
Mark 11: 1-11
11When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and 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. 3If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
11 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.
Today is Palm Sunday and our last lesson on the Strange Companions who were Jesus’ disciples.
We have talked about Peter, James, John, Matthew, Thomas and Judas.
On Palm Sunday I decided to talk about two disciples who are … well … anonymous.
We just heard the Palm Sunday story.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem.
When he gets close, he has to get prepared for the big, dramatic, triumphant entry.
There is really only one chore Jesus needs to have done.
Jesus needs a colt from town to be brought to him so he can ride it through the gates of the holy city.
Two disciples are dispatched to get a colt.
We are not told their names and while many have tried to figure out who they were, the two disciples remain anonymous.
They are given instructions by Jesus and go and do what they are told.
They bring the colt back and throw their coats on it.
Jesus climbs on and heads down the hill to Jerusalem.
Once he rides into Jerusalem, Jesus goes into the Temple, sizes things up and then, apparently walks back to Bethany where he is spending the night.
No mention of the colt.
The colt was probably given back to the owner.
That’s what Jesus said they would do.
Going back to the beginning of the story, I have this vision of Jesus at Bethany on his way to Jerusalem, pointing to two of the disciples and saying something like, “Hey, you two, go into town and get a colt for me to ride in on.”
I wonder what they thought.
“Seems sort of menial.”
“Can’t one of those folks who follow us around go instead?”
But they go and get the colt, follow Jesus into town, watch him in the Temple, and then Jesus leaves!
Without the colt.
I wonder what the two disciples thought about that.
“We went and got the colt and that’s it?”
“What was the point?”
What was the point indeed?
Why does Jesus need to ride the colt?
He’s been walking around Judea for three years.
And Jerusalem is not that far from the Mount of Olives.
No, Jesus needs the colt to make a point.
To demonstrate that he is the Messiah Zechariah predicted.
Zechariah 9: 9
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Without that colt, Jesus’ proclamation that he was “that guy”, “your king”, might have been lost on his disciples and his other followers.
Jesus was putting on the messianic mantel, so to speak, with this short demonstration.
And the one thing he needed was that colt.
Folks got it.
As Jesus rode by, they were singing Psalm 118!
A messianic psalm!
Our Call to Worship today!
26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches …
This is the one sent by God to save us!
And they did in fact join themselves to the festal procession with branches.
Without that colt, maybe there would have been no singing.
Maybe no palm branches.
If that were so, no Palm Sunday?
Maybe Jesus would have been ignored.
The Temple authorities maybe unimpressed.
Pilate is never involved.
“Nothing to see here!”
Maybe no crucifixion, no resurrection and no Easter?
OK, I won’t go that far, but still, getting that colt seems to have been critical to the plan.
A seeming menial task that contributed to the deliverance of the world.
And no one even bothered to remember which two disciples it was who went to get the colt.
In all four Gospels they are simply “two disciples”.
This reminds me of an urban legend (it has many versions), that has the same point.
According to the story, President John F. Kennedy was touring the NASA headquarters.
It was late and he saw a janitor mopping the floor.
Kennedy walked over and said, “Hi. I’m Jack Kennedy. Why are you working so late?’
The janitor reportedly answered, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”
While that story might be just a legend, it does not change the fact that 400,000 people did what might have seemed to be menial and unimportant things that did in fact help put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon!
Andrew Carton, a professor of management at The Wharton School, studied the process that started with Kennedy’s vision and ended with the moon landing.
He is quoted as saying this about his many interviews of the workers.
“Rather than talking about, ‘I’m fixing electrical wiring’ or ‘I’m stitching space suits’ or ‘I’m mopping the floors,’ they would actually identify their work as ‘I’m putting a man on the moon.’ It was a strikingly unique period of time where many people across the entire organization had these kinds of perceptions”.
Like the menial but critical colt retrieving required of the two unnamed disciples, the small tasks carried out by each NASA worker ultimately put Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon.
If you think about it, that’s the way of many things.
It’s how products are developed and made.
It’s how sports are played.
It’s how churches work.
Everybody has a part.
Each worker does their part to accomplish the mission.
And while some, like Armstrong and Aldrin, get famous, most remain anonymous or are simply forgotten.
Like the guy in the command module.
What was his name?
It’s also how this church works.
A while back in my “state of the church” sermon I tried to list all the people who have kept JMPC going over the past year.
There are two problems with making such a list.
First, too many people get left off the list.
Second, some of the people on the list, don’t want anyone to know what they do.
For those who get left off the list, they probably never had any expectation that their efforts would be recognized in that way, but to be overlooked could have been irritating.
Happily, none complained.
For those who want to remain anonymous but were on the list (and there are several people at JMPC who have done yeoman’s work for JMPC but absolutely forbid any recognition) hearing their names could have been irritating.
Happily, none of them complained either.
But I did learn this from that act of list making and then reading this text.
Doing the work of the Lord without fanfare is what disciples do.
The goal is not fanfare.
The goal is the Kingdom of God.
I have seen what that looks like here.
I came to JMPC in October of 2014.
I was told that I was about to witness a miracle.
The Christmas Affair.
I was told that the church would be transformed from church to craft and food bazaar then back to the church in three days.
In fact, the “back to church” part would only take a couple hours!
It was all true.
Was it a miracle?
We just all worked.
Everyone had a job.
Some jobs were small.
Some jobs were big.
No one expected nor wanted individual recognition.
Everyone did their job and $11,000 went to charity.
Here is another example.
A couple of weeks ago, I conducted the funeral of one of JMPC’s charter members.
I did not know her, so I asked if anyone did.
No one remembered her.
We checked the rolls and sure enough, she was a charter member.
She was one of the folks who started what we see around us.
One of those who started JMPC at William Penn School and then took it up on this hill.
And none of them had any expectation that their names would be remembered.
What they did expect was that Jesus would continue to be known, glorified and served by the next JMPC generations that would follow.
We are the current “next” generation.
We need to carry on that work to the next, next generation.
We need new folks like the charter members of this church.
Like the janitor at NASA.
Like the folks carrying bricks up the stairs in Ch’ijtal.
Like the anonymous two disciples.
Folks who are willing to do what is necessary to accomplish our mission that will benefit folks who will not likely remember them.
That is what being a disciple is about.
When you do things for the Lord, we don’t seek recognition.
We seek the Kingdom of God.
We don’t know who those two disciples were, but we have seen the results of what they were part of.
They are part of that great cloud of witnesses.
And we see the results of what those unnamed folks have been doing anonymously as disciples of Jesus for almost 2,000 years.
That’s what Jesus calls us to.
And we need to keep doing it.
Not for fame and fortune.
But to be disciples of Jesus.
What is your part?
If you know, keep doing it.
If you don’t, take a look at the list Ruling Elders.
Which of those Pillars has a job that JMPC (or, if you are just visiting, your own church) needs to have done?
Trust me, there is a lot to be done as we emerge from this pandemic.
So, join us in getting those things done.
Not for fame of fortune.
But to be a disciple of Jesus.