Our Gospel message comes to us today from Luke the 13th chapter, beginning at the 31st verse.
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He 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. Yet 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.’ 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! See, 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.’” (Luke 13:31-35, NRSV)
All mighty God, we thank you for your word and the way that you in it revealed to us who you are and what you've done for us in Christ. Now as we open that word we pray that your spirit may be present, that all thoughts of worry or distraction may be removed and that the Spirit will allow us to hear your voice. And so, oh God, fill us with your spirit through the reading and proclamation of your word this day. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.
“Nothing Can Stop Jesus”
A certain woman came to the pastor of a church out in West Texas. She asked if she could be a part of the Bible Study he was teaching. He gladly agreed, which eventually resulted in the woman's salvation. Curious, the preacher asked the woman what prompted her to come in and study the Bible. She told the minister that over a year ago her three-year old son was hit by a car and was critically injured and it was touch and go for a while. During that time, her next-door neighbor, who was a member of this particular church, was exceedingly helpful.
She took care of the mother's other son. She cooked dinner for the family, she did her shopping, she cleaned the house, washed the laundry. She did all of that without a single complaint or asking for anything in return. The lady continued by saying that she knew her neighbor had something that she did not have. She knew that she was a member of this church but that's all that she knew about her.
This neighbor was always friendly and invited the mother to church. But prior to her son's accident, this Mom had nothing to do with the other woman. That was because Her mother told her that members of the church were judgmental, rude, and obnoxious toward anyone who was not a member of the church.
She concluded tearfully that her neighbor was nothing like she had been taught. But instead her neighbor was just the opposite. While her son was in the hospital, her neighbor encouraged her to read the Bible. In time she began reading the Bible and she soon discovered that her neighbor had something that she did not have and that was a caring Savior named Jesus Christ.
The portion of Luke's Gospel that we read this morning takes place in the middle of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem. At this point, nothing will stop him, not even threats. These threats are seen by most Biblical scholars as being an honest warning. Not all Pharisees were opposed to Jesus, For example, Joseph of Arimithea and Nicodemus, the two men who buried Jesus after his crucifixion, were both Pharisees and secret followers of Jesus. Jesus had work to do, and he would not be deterred.
Herod Antipas was very subtle and sneaky. He used stealth to subdue his enemies. For example, he had John the Baptist beheaded because he made a foolish promise to his stepdaughter Salome in the heat of the moment at his birthday party. All told, he was like a fox. Those of you who know anything about farming know that foxes sneak into barns and chicken coops at night to prey on defenseless animals. The kingdom of God which Jesus came to preach and live was at odds with the entire political system in which Herod Antipas functioned. The two systems could not coexist in harmony. After all, what could Jesus say to someone who beheaded John the Baptist?
Like Jesus, the apostle Paul had a mission, and nothing would stop him. He actually had two missions in his life, and each case nothing would stop him. His first mission was to persecute Christians, and nothing stopped him until he had the famous encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. That encounter led to his second mission, which Paul described as "the high calling of God in Christ Jesus". He eagerly followed Christ's commission to all of us-namely, to go forth into the world and spread the Good News of Salvation.
Jesus' work was to restore our relationship with God. Unfortunately, his work would not be entirely successful, as his lament over Jerusalem showed. It was God's genuine grief over the hardness of the hearts of the people of Jerusalem-the same people who would eventually crucify Jesus. In spite of Satan's control over the people of Jerusalem, God was still available to help them. All they had to do was turn to him in faith.
Jesus wants to restore the covenant God made with Abraham, which we read in the readings from Genesis 15:1-12,17-18 earlier in our Lectionary Readings. Jesus wants us to imitate him. There is the old adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We are creatures of conformity, and Jesus wants us to conform to the way of life that he offers to us. When we imitate Christ, others will want to imitate us. We imitate Christ when we love others as Christ loved us. When we imitate Christ, we imitate God. Jesus demonstrated what it means to be fully human-to be right with God, filled with the Holy Spirit. When we meet the needs of others, we meet Jesus.
By being determined to go to Jerusalem in spite of warnings, Jesus put evil forces on notice. Jerusalem was the scene of the death of many of the Old Testament population. Jerusalem had persecuted and killed prophets not out of ignorance. It was not because they had been given only one chance and they blew it. The people set aside God in favor of man-made rules. They would not see any of God's blessings until they accepted Jesus as the Messiah.
In verse 35, Jesus was not referring to the words people will shout in Palm Sunday. Instead, they refer to his Second Coming. By that time Israel will have turned to God in faith or have been forced to acknowledge him on Judgment Day. In the later case, it will be too late. Jesus wanted the Israelites to seek shelter under his protection, and he wants us to seek his protection as well. Do we want him to protect us? Do we want to persevere in spite of obstacles like Jesus did?
As Christians, we have dual citizenship. We are both citizens of the world and citizens of heaven. We must not allow our worldly citizenship to corrupt our heavenly citizenship, but we must allow our heavenly citizenship to influence our earthly citizenship. Paul said in Philippians 3:20-21 that we can live in great expectation of Christ. We live in expectation by living as Christ lived-as a humble servant in faith. In other words, we can stand fast in faith, and we stand in faith when we worship Jesus and when we do his work in our world. When we gather together in worship and service, we encourage and help each other, and we hold each other accountable for our actions.
Paul contrasts the two kinds of citizenship. The citizens of the world are destined to destruction. Their god is their stomach. In other words, they are concerned with material things. Finally, their glory is in their shame.
Because we have dual citizenship, we will experience tension and temptations. We have to remain close to Jesus and recommit our lives to him daily. We must focus on the truth of God's word. We must be fearless in our obedience to God. In return, we have a secure hope in Jesus. We can trust that, and when we trust Jesus, we will be changed and we will be reconnected to him-and only then will Jesus' mission be accomplished.
All of us limit God's work in our lives to some extent. Even though we are forgiven in Christ and have begun to experience the new creation through him, there are times when we resist God's transforming work in us. Jesus must accept with sadness that there are people who will not accept the kingdom. His agony over Jerusalem and its hardness of heart is the same agony he has for the hardness of hearty of those of us here in the New Jerusalem. This does not diminish the reality of his absolute sovereignty over all that happens. Jesus, then and now, is in anguish over those who cannot accept the life he is offering, who have hardened their hearts to God's plea to come into his kingdom.
Jesus was saddened by the lost condition of people, and he is still saddened by their lost condition today. We need to have the same attitude for the lost today, because they are dead in their trespasses and sin. They are cut off from God. They are trapped in a downward spiral that will lead them to an eternity in hell unless we step in and show them that God loves them.
The truth of Jesus' divine sovereignty must not be used to undermine the sincerity of his compassion. No matter what we do, God's love for us does not diminish. He is always cheering us on. He is always ready to help us. God calls on us to hear his word for our lives personally and then proclaim God's Word in our world. That was Jesus' vision as well. Jesus understood his power. He wasn't afraid of earthly kings and their power. He knew the greatest danger to his mission was not Herod Antipas or another worldly leader, but the danger of being diverted from his mission.
Lent calls us to confront those things that stand in the way of our answering God's call. We answer God's call by doing his work in our world. We can volunteer and help in our churches. We can worship and praise God. We can take part in Bible studies. We have to ask ourselves three questions:
1. If we really allow God to guide our lives, what if we don't like the results?
2. Will God really be there to help us?
3. If we step out in bold faith, what if we look foolish?
Our desire for a safe, predictable, comfortable life can close our hearts to God's transforming work.
As dual citizens of heaven and earth, we can see beyond the earthly world to the heavenly world. Once we loosen the bonds of this earthly world, we can turn from earthly things that can destroy us to heavenly things that can help us and save us. We can serve as a good example for others to follow.
Making the rounds on the internet is a list called "Ten Things God Won't Ask." When I was doing my research for this morning's homily, I came across a version by a minister who had edited them down to eight. Here's his list, and it is a list that I agree with:
1. God won't ask what kind of car you drove, but God will ask how many people you drove who didn't have transportation.
2. God won't ask the square footage of your house, but God will ask how many people you welcomed into your home.
3. God won't ask about the clothes you had in your closet, but God will ask how many you helped to clothe.
4. God won't ask what your highest salary was, but God will ask if you compromised your character to obtain it.
5. God won't ask what your job title was, but God will ask if you performed your job to the best of your ability.
6. God won't ask how many friends you had, but God will ask how many people to whom you were a friend.
7. God won't ask in what neighborhood you lived, but God will ask how you treated your neighbors.
8. God won't ask about the color of your skin, but God will ask about the content of your character.
We have two contrasting pictures of religious zeal---Jerusalem and Jesus. Religious passion drove Jerusalem to murderous ends. Religious passion moved prophets and Jesus to fulfill God's mission at the cost of their lives. Will today's church follow the example of Jerusalem or Jesus? Will the church stand up and actively denounce the persecution of Christians around the world, or will it remain silent? Will we raise our voices in this world to defend our turf, or will we adopt the model of faithfulness to God's purposes even if it means persecution, vulnerability and suffering? We who are called to follow in Jesus' footsteps are faced with a challenge. How we respond to it will determine our eternal destiny.
Let us pray:
Merciful God, You call us to follow; to turn away from our own selfish interests, and to take up our cross and follow after You, even if the path is difficult to see, or is heading in a direction we would never have chosen for ourselves.
I will try this day to imitate Your example, to be like You, mild, humble, chaste, zealous, charitable, and resigned. I will redouble my efforts to see Your image in all those I meet and deal with this day, and to be as helpful to them as I would be to You. I will try to avoid this day all those sins which I have committed heretofore and which I now sincerely desire to give up forever.
Teach us to follow without fear, knowing that You are always with us, leading the way.
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The Bible texts of the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel lessons are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA, and used by permission. Sermon contributed by Rev. Craig Condon.
We who are called to follow in Jesus' footsteps are faced with a challenge. How we respond to it will determine our eternal destiny.