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Sermon for 2nd in Lent - March 17 2019

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year C
March 17, 2019
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

[Genesis 15:1-12,17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35]

There’s a reason why Luke is called the Physician, despite there being no evidence for that name or profession in the books attributed to him, either the Gospel or the Book of the Acts of the Apostles.

It’s simply because he tells stories of healing a lot.  Yet that clearly does not make Luke’s Gospel unique.  So we dig a little further.

In his commentary, Alan Culpepper writes:

“The Markan Jesus is an enigmatic and tragic figure, misunderstood and abandoned. Being a disciple of the Markan Jesus means taking up the cross and following him.  The Matthean Jesus is a new Moses who fulfills Scripture and establishes the authority of his own words. Being a disciple of the Matthean Jesus, therefore, means keeping his teachings and making other disciples. The Johannine Jesus is the Word incarnate, the heavenly revealer who is not of this world but who was sent to reveal the Father.  Being a disciple of the Johannine Jesus means responding to the revelation with belief, being born from above, imbibing living water and eating the bread of life, and fulfilling one’s place and vocation in the community of the ‘children of God.’

“The Lukan Jesus is compassionate, a friend to outcasts. Luke also relates Jesus to the history of Israel, the Scriptures, contemporary world history, and the unfolding of God’s redemptive purposes in human history. Jesus is the Savior sent to seek and save the lost. For Israel, Jesus’ ministry has ironic and tragic consequences. The religious leaders reject Jesus, and like those who killed God’s prophets in the past, they hand Jesus over to be crucified. The people, however, are far more receptive to Jesus than are their leaders, and they are only temporarily implicated in his death during the trial before Pilate.”[1]

All the descriptions of early events in Jesus’ life point either to prophecy or are themselves prophetic of his adult ministry.[2]  As well, in his adult years, many of the events are pointing to the end of his ministry and his life.  Such a one is today’s passage. 

The Pharisees are in league with Herod Antipas – this is not the same Herod the Great the magi met in Matthew’s version, but his son.  Herod believes, and the Pharisees believe, that Jesus represents a threat to their power, possessions, and prestige.  I don’t think that in warning Jesus off they are truly interested in saving his life; more likely they are interested in not coming to the attention of the Romans, who would be quick to put down anything that might appear to be rebellious.  And getting Herod angry or stirring up the crowds in Jerusalem might look that way.

Today’s passage is in the midst of several vignettes that encompass a world being turned upside down by God, just as Mary’s declaration to Elizabeth, her “magnificat” promised.  The low would be raised up, the high brought low, the hungry fed, and the rich sent away empty.

No wonder those with even limited power and influence wanted him to go away.  But Jesus is having none of that; he sets himself in a long line of prophets who have spoken against abuses of power, and who were harassed, jailed, even killed because of it.  He sees Jerusalem as the center of the rot, the place where prophets go to die. And if prophets died there, so he will also.  It is not just inevitable, it is unthinkable that it be otherwise.  (So says Daniel Deffenbaugh, Hastings College, Hasting Nebraska.[3])

And yet, and yet, he voices sorrow and regret and love – and here is his compassion:  “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!”  Presiding Bishop Curry has written, “Jesus speaks in tones of abject disappointment and heartbreak at the refusal of his own people to hear and head the summons of God to draw near, to gather, and to come home.”  (Kindle 2708)

He knows the end that is coming. He accepts it with his whole being, and yet he also sorrows that it must be so.  The whole point is not his death, it is the saving of Jerusalem, the city that stands in for the entire nation and people of Israel, the children of the Mosaic covenant, for all the people of God.[4]  Even the Pharisees, and any who opposed his mission and message.  Their salvation also is envisioned and embraced.

Those who oppress are always, rightly, called to account, but the call is not that they should be killed or punished, but that they should turn and open their hearts and minds and spirits to God, to repent and to be penitent of their wrong, to seek forgiveness, to make redress, and to be welcomed home like some profligate prodigal by their loving Father.

Bp Curry wrote also, that “God’s passionate dream, compassionate desire, and bold determination is to gather God’s human children closer and closer in God’s embrace and love” – a dream that reaches not only to those in power, but all those on the fringes, as well – peasant girls and shepherds, “to bring in those cast out, to raise up those beaten down, to bring those on the extremities of the social order close to the heart of God.”[5] 

In so doing, God is forming “a new human community [emerging] from the great variety and diversity of humanity,” and ensuring that “the ancient longings of the prophets for a new humanity are realized: … that [God] will pour out [God’s] Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…” as Luke wrote in Acts.[6] (Acts 2:17-18)

Unfortunately for us, as it was in Jesus’ day, it is not hard to find things to weep about and to sorrow over.  When hatred causes people to kill, when disregard causes people to ignore the pain and loss others experience, when we make choices that threaten our future and the future of those who come after us, or stand silent while the powerful trample the lives of the powerless, all of us need to remember God’s compassion for all of humanity. 

We all may turn our backs on God from time to time; but we all have the option to turn back to God at any time and offer repentance and redress and seek forgiveness, and, then wonder of wonder, find it, so we can rejoice in and share the Spirit’s love.  That’s the point of Jesus’ life and death; that’s the point of the incarnation and the resurrection; that’s the whole point of God.  Fulfillment, not waste.  Joy, not fear.  Love, not hate.

 

[1] “The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” by R. Alan Culpepper, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX: Luke, John (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), pp 3-4.

[2] Ibid., 10-11.

[3] Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2. Kindle Edition, K 2579.

[4] Op cit. Leslie J Hoppe, Kindle 2689.

[5] Op. cit. Kindle 2724

[6] Op. cit. Kindle 2743