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Lament for Jerusalem - Sermon on Luke 13:31-35

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How do we demonstrate love and kindness even in the face of adversity, even to those who would wish us personal harm? God calls us to mercy to others, but (s)he doesn't call us to roll over. Calling out can also be done with understanding and compassion, even if we think the object of our calling out doesn't want to listen.. 

Please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

February 21, 2016 - First Sunday in Lent

"Lament for Jerusalem".  Text is from Luke 13:31-35

Jesus is now well into his mission, and is on his way to Jerusalem when he is stopped by this helpful group of Pharisees who wish only to warn him away from the evil intent of Herod Antipas, who had recently executed John the Baptist and was absolutely a threat to Jesus. And you can be certain that these men, in fact, had convinced themselves that they were only wishing to help this man who they'd been hearing about and come to know as a possible Messiah, because, after all, what good is a Messiah if he's simply going to be going to get himself killed; and Jerusalem is a rough place and nobody can control what potentially might happen there. 

But lest we think these Pharisees are being helpful, it is good to remember that while Pharisees are not the villains they appear in Matthew's gospel, neither are they purely altruistic in Luke. There is inevitably a hidden motive. They may sound like they are being helpful but their help is ultimately a means to turn Jesus away from his mission. They are not actually doing this for his sake, but their own, because they have their own ideas of what a Messiah is all about, and it might not have a lot to do with all these healings of the riff-raff, and sitting down with the absolute worst kinds of sinners...prostitutes, tax collectors... Gentiles. Come on Jesus, be the Messiah we all expect you to be! 

But Jesus has something particular to say about it all. Because Jesus in no way has anything to fear from Herod, who Jesus calls a fox and not in any kind of complementary way. The fox in those times was usually contrasted with the lion. The fox was a lesser predator, one who was cowardly and resorted to subterfuge in order to achieve its goals. We might liken the reference to calling a person a weasel in modern English, so we know that Jesus was not saying anything nice about Herod when he suggested the helpful Pharisees return to Herod and warn him away of pointless attempts. 

But Jesus goes on to describe a new character, one which becomes infinitely more dangerous to him. Because whereas Herod is a false danger, one to Jesus is mere bluster, this new person is one that in fact kills. In describing prophets, we have no question here that Jesus is talking about himself. And Jerusalem, who Jesus is personifying in describing its dangers, has given a personality to it and a character that sets the stage for the entire passion narrative that we will look forward to. 

But Jesus does not describe Jerusalem with any sort of fear, in fact, Jesus is quite clearly lamenting for this city that is about to kill him. Jesus describes a longing to protect the inhabitants, the very people who will, almost as one, be the ones to destroy him, because in looking forward to his death and resurrection, Jesus, and Luke, by way of him, is also looking forward another 35 years to the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman Empire. 

Hen with chicks, Raisen district, MP, IndiaRather than hating the people who he should be fearing, Jesus describes a love and need to protect them in the most unusual terms available.  Like a mother hen, Jesus desires to gather together the brood and take them under his wing.  What an incredible and unusual choice of words Jesus uses. Jesus is not a lion or an eagle or some other great and powerful beast that is surely able to beat all the odds against a foe, but he has chosen the image of a mother hen to describe his desires to care for those under his wing.  Jesus loves those people who would do him harm and longs to protect them from the evils that are to come. 

It may be the fact that you can see and hear about practically any bit of awfulness these days even if you don't watch the television news. If you have enough friends on Facebook, all you need to do is log in to see this or that news report about some figure somewhere saying something particularly awful about immigrants, people of color, people in poverty, or women. All of those make me angry as heck, but the ones that get me particularly riled up are the ones where people have destructive and divisive things to say about queer people. I don't mean simply the ones who feel compelled to speak out against same-sex marriage, because those are all over the place, particularly during this political season. But some public figure somewhere will periodically quote Leviticus 20 about the punishment for male/male sexual relations, taking a single completely out of context and ignoring every single one of the other Levitical codes and using it to justify stating that gay people should be killed, just look it says right there in the bible. 

I don't know about you but I know for me it's hard to forgive people who want to do me harm without even knowing the first thing about me. I want to ask what is behind such hatred and antipathy, and why, even at a time when acceptance of queer people is at an all-time high, why is this shrinking minority getting louder and louder.

And then I find the answer in those very words. These people see the world changing and they are not necessarily filled with hate but fear. They take scripture and twist it to meet a certain end because they've lost the argument in the science world and they're rapidly becoming irrelevant in the court of public opinion. And so they believe that screaming louder and louder will stop the tide from taking them and drowning them. 

And while it is hard to love someone who actively wishes me harm, I can certainly lament them and pray for them, and try to love them as best I can, even if is pity I take on them. 

Is this a way we can demonstrate being like Jesus, being able to find compassion for our enemies, even those who want to put us to death? There is still a part of me that feels as if I'm rolling over, offering a kind of tolerance and forgiveness that I have no right to offer, because even if these hateful voices are not affecting me directly, there are young people who will hear them in areas where those voices have the greatest affect and are on the verge of coming out and will find themselves either in self-hatred or hatred of their peers or both, and will be the next Matthew Shepherd or Tyler Clementi.  

But pity and love is not tolerance, and finding compassion for people who wish to do me harm can still be done while speaking out against the harms that they are doing. I can call what it is, hate without hating them. God's work in the world can be done with my hands even in opposition to other, narrow-minded perceptions even as my heart is open to feeling the pain that causes their ugliness. 

Because I want to feel safe, and I want others to be safe and secure as well. I feel compelled to call out this homophobic evil that pervades a certain part of the Christian world will help somebody who is in need find the safety and security that the church is meant to be, that Christ intends.

  And it is here that Jesus's use of mother hen imagery becomes especially relevant. Because the chicks remain safe and secure because of the great deed the mother hen has done in protecting her young.  And how important is it for us to hear that mother imagery from Jesus, to be reminded that God is not only our father but our mother as well? That God loves her creation as a mother hen loves her chicks, seeking to keep us in her wing, and protected from the outside world, those foxes that would seek to consume and destroy us.

At the heart of the gospel is God's love which protects us from rejection and remaining unheard. It keep us safe and gives us a place where we can be ourselves, our whole selves, who God desires us to be.  In the bosom of Jesus is a place of security and rest, that his promise grants us a means to be God's beloved creation, in order that we can stand against the rejection of the world in order to be the good news that God calls us to be. 


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