Filed under: Christianity, Church, faith, God, Grace, Inspiration, Jesus, Lent, Religion, Revival, Sermon, Spirituality
Mrs. Cooley was quite an unassuming woman. Yet, every child who graduated from her 4th grade Sunday school class was left with a deep impression of her. This 65 year-old-woman seemed so old when I first met her at Rosemont Alliance Church. In her horn rimmed glasses and flower print dress it would be considerate to say that Mrs. Cooley was no taller than 4’ 11”. Over time her frame had assumed a slight hunch that made her seem much more delicate. None who met this extraordinary woman would for very long consider her to be weak or timid.
Mrs. Cooley spoke boldly and emphatically. She always accepted prayer requests from adults because she was what we liked to call a prayer warrior. I do not remember the exact lessons she taught in her class, but I remember that she held our attention rapt for an hour as she recounted the old stories with drama and passion. I could tell that these stories really mattered to this woman and that she had zeal in trying to convey their importance to me as a child. The highlight of that year was a signed Bible with our names embossed on the cover and a picture of all of us around that woman.
Although I am sure that I owe Mrs. Cooley a huge debt for my own passion for the old stories in the good book, that is not primarily what comes to mind when I remember this remarkable woman. After the Vietnam War an influx of refugees came searching for a place to live. These were families of soldiers and government official from South Vietnam. One of the main organizations that helped facilitate placing this new group of displaced people was Catholic Charities. They found congregations and individuals who sponsored large groups of these new neighbors. You wouldn’t think that Nebraska would have been the first choice for some of these individuals from the subtropical Southeast Asian geography, but that is where a large population was placed.
Our church decided to sponsor families and allow a Vietnamese church to meet in our fellowship hall. This act of benevolence was fine for a while, but over time the cultural and language barriers strained the relations of both groups. Then in fourth grade four of the Vietnamese children wanted to attend my upstairs Sunday school class. Whispering began and my classmates were not the most welcoming group to these children that looked, acted and spoke differently than us.
“Everyone is the same in my class!” Mrs. Cooley snapped. With that simple pronouncement these children began to attend her class and became some of my closest friends. Since no one in the church would cross Mrs. Cooley our congregation was forced to accept more integration than was originally intended by our church’s initial act of charity. We knew that she loved all of her students and that is why we, in turn, loved her.
This simple woman had made a deep and lasting impression on both of us. What had she done that was so spectacular? She did the simplest things possible, she took time, listened, showed care, concern and love.
It is amazing to me how simple it is to have a major impact on someone’s life. Often it is as simple as caring. Think back to those who have had the greatest positive influence on making you who you are. Who has the greater influence on your life? Is it President Reagan or the father who encouraged you not to be afraid to take a chance, the mother that helped you to explore your own creativity, the professor that saw something in you that needed nurturing, the friend who listened when you had made your greatest failure or the neighbor who brought you food when your mother died? So much of the miraculous occurs in the banal and ordinary workings of our day-to-day existence.
Does Jesus really make a triumphal entry? There are some of the prerequisites of a powerful Hebrew king. There is the chanting crowd. They are throwing things in his path and proclaiming that he is a prophet. The city that he is entering is terrified by this royal presence from the Davidic line. He is entering the Holy City, the nation of Israel’s historic seat of spiritual, economic and political power. The setting is right, the crowd is excited and everyone is ready for the return to the glory days of the Kingdom.
The only thing missing is someone of royal stature. Jesus is riding a donkey in regular cloths. There is not even a crown on his head. Where are all the servants, the flowing parament, the soldiers, the show of power and the jewel-encrusted gold? To tell the truth Jesus looks relatively powerless and weak.
In this unassuming act on the donkeys Jesus illustrates what his ministry has been about all along. He is the Christ Emmanuel God is with us. His talk of the Kingdom of God being present now is the ministry of this strange prophet. Jesus has pulled down the presence of God’s kingdom into the human realm. He reminds us just a few chapters earlier that when he is gone we will also have this power, maybe even in greater portions. How did Jesus pull down the presence of God’s kingdom amongst us? He gave others food, visited the sick, ate with drunks, talked with tax collectors, children, prostitutes, religious leaders, disciples, friends and strangers. There is something miraculous in the fact that most of what Jesus’ ministry consisted of was teaching, encouraging, healing, socializing and feeding so many in the course of only 3 years.
For once a frenzied mob got it right, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” It is the prophet who teaches us about salvation, and how we can bring about salvation to one another in a conversation, a loaf of bread, a hospital visit, a gift, an encouraging word and one act of love at a time.
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