The following sermon was given by Bishop Larry Benfield at Christ Episcopal Church.
When was the last time that you got the opportunity to name a church? In my entire life I had never given it a thought until this past week. Churches simply exist; you find one by driving by it or hearing about it or looking it up on the Internet, and then you go to it. But this past week I found myself working with Episcopalians in Maumelle as we begin formally turning that group of people who gather each Sunday into a congregation. That group now needs a name, and names are important. Whom do we honor in a name? What are we trying to say about who we are? What are we trying to say about who we want to be in the community in which we find ourselves?
I will not burden you with the discussions that we are having in Maumelle, but in reading today’s gospel about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, it struck me that St. Matthew’s might be a great name for a church that is able to admit that sometimes we get it wrong in our absolute reliance on fact and thus miss something larger that we cannot understand. Matthew wants every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed. In other words, he is one of us; he can miss the larger good news because he so desperately wants to get it “just right.” In so doing, Matthew on occasion can make Jesus look, well, ridiculous. Before you get mad at me for saying that, remember that all of us sinful Christians have that tendency as well. The health is in acknowledging it.
You may have missed what I am talking about when you heard the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry. After all, we tend to hear what we want to hear. When Matthew writes his gospel, he is sitting at his desk trying to make sense of the Jewish prophets and how their writings relate to this Jesus of Nazareth. He turns to Zechariah, who talks poetically of a the king coming in “on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” But Matthew cannot deal with poetry; he cannot deal with what he cannot understand. He gets stuck in the trap of literalism, in this case stuck with two animals that he needs to use. So what does he do? He says that Jesus rides both of them into Jerusalem. Those words change the image of Jesus, so long envisioned in art as humbly riding on a donkey, into a Jesus who is perhaps more like a circus act, the guy who straddles two horses as he comes into the center ring. It is no wonder that people were excited. Matthew, as dedicated as he is, momentarily turns Jesus into an entertainer, good news eclipsed by spectacle. Matthew is like one of us, for we all love religious entertainment.