a priest's musings on the journey

Friday, March 02, 2007

Sermonette: Lent 3 C 04 March, 2007

Luke 13:31-35

31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Last week we see Jesus fasting and praying, struggling to come to terms with his identity and his mission. In the midst of that struggle he faced doubts and temptations to accept an easier mission and to compromise his mission in the world. He was able to overcome those temptations, and to embrace God’s vision for him to reconcile the universe to God. Imagine how empowered Jesus must have felt after his time in the desert. He had come face to face with Satan, and had overcome. He had been given three opportunities to turn aside and take an easier path, and each time he affirmed his choice to follow the path God desired. He left the desert on a spiritual high, ready to conquer the world.

Luke continues the story by telling us that Jesus went back to his hometown, Nazareth. You may remember a few weeks ago when the lectionary told this story: Jesus visits his hometown synagogue and is given the scroll from Isaiah. He open the scroll and reads these words:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor

Once again Jesus was faced with the heart of his mission: to liberate the oppressed, to bind the brokenhearted, to heal the sick, to the deliver the enslaved, to give relief to the poor. Once again, Jesus accepted and affirmed God’s call for him. But, this was a mission that ultimately, his own people could not accept for him. Faced with rejection, and narrowly escaping a lynching, Jesus left Nazareth and went on to minister in another place.

Jesus continued to be faced with rejection. O sure, there were the crowds who followed him to see what miracle he would perform for them next. Occasionally, someone would have a moment of Epiphany and recognize Jesus as the Christ or understand the his true mission and seek to be a part of it. However, by and large, he was not accepted or understood, most especially by the religious leaders, who were convinced he was a heretic. In today’s Gospel reading, we see Jesus grieving, overcome with the pain of being rejected and excluded. In sorrow he cries out: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

This cry of despair is brought on by the news, delivered by a group of Pharisees, that Herod is looking for Jesus in order to kill him. Jesus knows that the consequences of his mission- and the people’s inability to embrace it- will lead to his death. Time and time again he tried to communicate this to his disciples. He also knows that this must happen in Jerusalem, the city that rejects and kills the Prophets of God.

It seems that we as human beings have this predisposition to rejecting those who are different than us; we turn away from those who challenge us or make us feel uncomfortable, sometimes out of fear, sometimes because we do not want to be confronted with the indictments that their words and lifestyles makes on our unjust living. This is part of what the doctrine of original sin is trying to explain. We seem wired to be territorial, exclusive, independent- and yet, our faith Story claims that God created us to be in community, to be subservient and humble, to prefer others over ourselves, to love and to serve unconditionally. Our inability or unwillingness to live this way is what we have labeled as sin.

Sometimes we are the transgressors as we exclude and ignore those who are different than us in our own lives. Sometimes we are the ones sinned against, when we experience the pain of hatred and rejection. When we are the one who has sinned, it is clear that God calls us to repentance, to amendment of life- after all, that is part of what we are doing during these days of Lent: reflecting on our lives to see in which ways we are not loving God and others as we are called to and making changes in our lifestyles to better reflect the morality that to which God calls us. However, when we are the ones being excluded, rejected, hated, and oppressed, our response is not always as clear.

Jesus warned us that if we followed him we would face the same rejection and persecution that he did. He said that we would have to bear our own cross and follow him to Calvary. All of us have lived through those Good Friday moments: and sometimes the darkness and pain is so strong that we forget that there is a Easter Coming. So, how do we live in the face of rejection? How do we go on? How did Jesus live in the face of rejection?

Today’s story shows Jesus- a very human Jesus- frustrated at being shunned, turned away, and rejected. And worse it shows him dealing with the stress of having received a threat to be killed. He is exasperated, forlorned, sorrowful… he longs for the love that he offers to be accepted and returned. Like a protective, nurturing mother he wants to protect those who are in danger of reaping painful consequences in their lives for pushing love away. He wants to spare them the pain that he knows is coming to them; and even though he is the Son of God, there is nothing he can do to prevent them from making the choice that they want to make. He can not force them to embrace his love and to follow his example of selfless giving and unconditional acceptance of others. That did not, however, prevent Jesus from continuing to serve, to love, and to reach out to every human being, even those who were rejecting him: even those who wanted to kill him. Jesus grieves, and then he gets up and continues his mission. He continues to heal the sick, to liberate the oppressed and to proclaim the Good News to the poor. He continues to love the world that is opposing the Reign of God. He loves so intensely, that he stretches out his arms on the hard wood of the cross to embrace all of creation and to draw them into the life of God. He never stops loving, not even when we are killing him.

It is this example of selflessness and unconditional love to which we are called to follow. The essence of the Christian life is to love God and to love our neighbors. To walk humbly in mercy and grace, to serve others and their needs before our own needs and desires. In our Epistle reading, Paul calls us to imitate him as he shows us how to imitate Christ the Servant. Paul never had it easy. He was verbally abused, stoned, shipwrecked, arrested, imprisoned, and finally martyred. Yet, none of his perils and tribulations dissuaded him from loving and serving and joyfully suffering for the cause of Christ. That is the example he asks us to follow. That is the example that Christ left for us. That is the example of living that leads to life and true blessedness. To live any other way, as Paul writes, leads to shame and destruction. That’s not a popular message. It is not a message that we hear in a culture that preaches prosperity and self fulfillment. It is not a message that the world wants to hear because it challenges their values of domination, superiority, and isolation.

In Christ’s vision the strong are not called to overpower the weak. The weak are not called to disempower themselves in order to serve the strong. Instead, the strong are called to stand in solidarity with the weak. The strong are called to serve the powerless and the helpless. The strong are called to defend the weak and to stand against those who want to oppress them. When we live our lives in this way, we will inevitably face suffering and rejection from the world. But the heart of our mission calls us to persevere, to bless those who curse us, to love the unlovable, to reach out to the one who continues to turn away from us, to invite those to God’s Table of Grace who continue to refuse to sit there with us. No matter what happens, we do not walk away from those who are weak or from those who hurt us and reject us. We can not walk away because God never walks away from us. No matter what- God does not walk away from us. We can mess up, repeat the same mistakes over and over and over again, we can insist on our own ways and refuse to listen to God. We can selfishly ignore the needs of others and live lives centered around our own needs. But God will never walk away from us: He will always extend his arms of love towards us, longing to gather us under his wings like a mother hen gathers her chicks. He will always be there, calling us to live up to the potential that He has dreamed for us.

Luiz Coehlo- a blogger who writes from a progressive, Latin American- Anglican perspective, wrote in a recent blog posting on his blogsite, www.wanderingChristian.com about how we live out our baptismal mission by gathering together to worship this God who never walks away from us. He reflects on how contradictory it is for a follower of this trustworthy God to walk away from the community of God’s family and refuse to share in the Eucharistic feast with his/her brothers and sisters- no matter what the reason. He writes that when this choice is made, we are called to steadfastness. “We continue gathering around the Table, even if they don’t come. We … offer the peace, even if they refuse to receive it for us.“ No matter what, we are still called to be faithful to our baptismal covenants. We are called to see Christ and to serve Christ even in the faces of our enemies and those who wish to harm us and exclude us.

This past Wednesday our Presiding Bishop challenged us in her webcast from Trinity Wall Street to incorporate this very virtue into our lives. In the midst of the controversy in our church, she believes that God is giving us a gift; that gift is the ability to listen and understand the pain and sufferings of those who are different from us, and in that listening process, to learn to recognize the face of Jesus and the image of God in everyone. Imagine how transformed our church would be if we could see Jesus in the faces of those who most vehemently disagree with us. Imagine how quickly we could find resolutions to or conflicts if we truly loved and respected each other as if we were loving and serving Jesus. Imagine what we could accomplish if we refused to walk away from our brothers and sisters during disagreements, and if we continued to offer them the peace of Christ, continued to reach out to them with respect, and continued to value their dignity and worth as a child of God. I know some will be tempted to dismiss this as the nonsensical musings of some Pollyanna. But this is the way that God calls us to live. This is the path that gives life and nurtures the fruit of the Spirit. To dismiss this way and to take any other path will produce tension, grief, conflict and death.

During these days of Lent turn to God, and reach out with the Love of God to those who need it the most from us. They might not accept it; they may turn and walk away. Offer it anyway. One day, reconciliation will come.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 11:46 PM


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