Luke 13: (22-30) 31-35
21 Feb 2016
“Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Let’s set the scene for today’s gospel lesson by backing up just a few verses. Luke says this: “Jesus went through one town after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Can you imagine with me what it was like to travel with Jesus as he walked toward Jerusalem? The roads are dirt, stony in places soft in others. The sun burns down from a cloudless sky. We are traveling as a community gathered around a remarkable teacher. There is the core group, those closest to Jesus. They’ve been with him the longest. There are others as well who come out from the villages as he travels and follow along for a time. Naturally Jesus’ reputation precedes him. So they come out in anticipation. What will this new teacher have to say? What will he do? Are the stories that people are telling true? At each village Jesus stops to teach, offering parables by way of illustration. As he reaches out people somehow are healed in mind and body. Other’s follow along when he leaves a village. They are intrigued after hearing him teach, amazed after watching him heal. They wonder, no doubt, what will happen next.
They know well their own human limits and are drawn to his obvious power. Who is this man who speaks with such authority, casts out demons and heals the sick? And besides, Jesus has said that he will die in Jerusalem. What does he mean? Someone asks a question: “Lord, will only a few be saved?” Jesus replies: “Strive to enter through the narrow door…many I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able…Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” It’s a perplexing answer, isn’t it? Conversation ebbs and flows like the dust stirred up by all those walking feet as those who travel with him try to work out his meaning. But wait, what’s this? Here is a new group coming out, Pharisees by the looks of things. Well, this should be interesting.
Certainly it seems many of the Pharisees are interested in starting arguments with Jesus, trying to trap him in theological debate. Whispers spread through the crowd. Hush, for heaven’s sake, let’s hear what’s going on. Suddenly it’s very quiet, everyone straining to hear. You heard what the one said. “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” How will Jesus reply? His voice is clear speaking into the stillness of a bright warm day. “Go 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”. Jesus is so very certain. He speaks with such authority. It’s really remarkable and a little spooky too. Where does he find the courage to send such a message to Herod? That cruel ruler holds so much power. A shiver runs up your spine. Has Jesus just predicted his own death again? Muttering runs through the crowd. You stain to hear what he is saying as he continues: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” What are we to make of it, we who hear the story today, we who listen with our twenty-first century ears and think with our twenty-first century minds? It’s a strange passage, part warning, part lament, the two joined by the word “Jerusalem”. It’s also a revealing passage. First and foremost God is clearly in charge. Things will move along in God’s good time. For us, accustomed to thinking ourselves as free individuals, that notion grates. Beyond that, isn’t it hard for us to admit that there is always something in our nature that resists Gods will? But Jesus is clear in his prediction. In just a little while his ministry on earth will be completed. He will be killed in Jerusalem. That much is in God’s hands. We humans can never effectively stand in God’s way. But notice this. We may resist, we may foolishly turn our backs, but God does have a definite will for the course of our lives in this world. Jesus makes it clear that, against all human odds, God is actively at work for our salvation. Jesus speaks for God in that desire to gather us safely as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. It’s just that we are not willing. Maybe its self-concern in a society that makes much of individual achievement, maybe it’s a sense of not being good enough, able enough, maybe it is simple fear, you know what it is for you I expect. Still and all, this gospel tells us that there is time yet to repent, time to receive pardon for our sins, and to welcome the kingdom of God. Good news indeed. God wants to gather us close and works for our benefit even while we turn away. God has provided us with just what we need for salvation and has given it not just to a chosen few but to everyone. So, here’s the question. What is the gospel calling us to do? How are we to live in the face of God’s great love for us set against our own ability to turn away? Look at Jesus. Jesus himself shows us how, shows us what to do. Notice that Jesus, with both word and action declares unswerving devotion to doing God’s will no matter the cost. It’s a little simplistic I suppose, but in a way, those WWJD bracelets that were so popular several years ago got it just right. They answer the critical question. What is the gospel calling us to do? Jesus is our best example. We do well to ask; “what would Jesus do”, and then do it. Notice, to begin with, the security that comes with his commitment to God. Jesus knew for sure that God alone is able to sustain us, no matter what. He lived obediently out of that trust. Remember that reversal, the last will be first, the first last. Those with apparent power in this world stand at the end of the line. Those who depend only on themselves, those who stand tall on the riches they acquire for themselves miss their chance in God’s kingdom. Doesn’t that just lead to another question though? If the elite, those with money or power or health or whatever it is you think would make everything just perfect, don’t get in, who does? In light of what Jesus says perhaps it is those who don’t pride themselves on their virtue, those who are willing to admit they don’t have the last word on what’s true. Just maybe it’s the ones who can admit the vulnerability that lies at the heart of being human, the ones willing to be gathered like chicks under God’s eternal wings. What an image. Can you think of anything more defenseless, more vulnerable, than a newly hatched chick? Here’s the thing. As we look to Jesus and grow in willingness to love and trust God we become less trusting of the idols that compete for our loyalty. When things go wrong, as they certainly will, and it seems as though evil will finally have the last word, when we lose what is dearest to us, our best self or dearest love, the thing that defines us, we can lean on Paul’s truth, “our citizenship is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Remember that you are dust” we hear on Ash Wednesday, it’s a good reminder. This impermanent world was never designed to be our permanent home. It may be all we see clearly now
but God will have the final word. Jesus shows us that clearly in his life, his death, his resurrection. We can “stand firm in the Lord” as Paul tells the Philippians. Join Paul in imitating Jesus, let God be God, devote yourselves to doing God’s work, God’s will, and you will find the freedom that allows you to live without fear into the fullness of life that God holds out to you now and always. Amen