The Second Sunday in Lent – March 17, 2019

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Sermon preached by the Reverend Louise Kalemkerian
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Second Sunday in Lent

In the name of all-loving God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.  AMEN.
Sometimes the lessons we get on Sunday morning are hard to connect with our 21st century lives.  And sometimes the connections are a little too close for comfort. Today, I think is one of those.

While the lesson from the Hebrew Scripture sounds a little over the top, the author is trying to tell us that God keeps God’s promises. Abram complains, God listens.  Abram whines, God listens. God cares about our problems and concerns.  And then to show Abram that God understands, the two engage in this ancient covenant ceremony, where God takes the responsibility and risk for them both, by passing through the dead animals as smoke and fire.

Lent is a slow march toward Holy Week – a pilgrimage we take every year to Good Friday and Easter. We’ve been down this road before. We know the challenges of the trip, and so does the writer of Luke. What is called Luke’s ‘journey narrative’ begins in chapter 9 where it says, “he set his face to go to Jerusalem,” and it chronicles Jesus’ journey right through chapter 19 – the long trip Jesus takes from town to town, making his way to his ultimate destination – Jerusalem – where he will face his death.  Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is the primary focus of the Luke’s Gospel; Jerusalem is mentioned 99 times.

In the Hebrew scriptures, Jerusalem was the center of the nation. David moved the Ark there to put God at the center of the people’s lives.  The Temple was understood to be the home of God, where heaven and earth met. Jerusalem means city of peace, shalom. In Christian understanding, Jerusalem is more than just the city, it is a stand-in for all humankind, all of God’s beloved children.

The more we enter into scripture and listen, the more and more scripture will startle us, move us, convict us, and turn our hearts.  On the second Sunday of Lent we hear Jesus’ song of lament over

Jerusalem, a lament that pits his own desire for his people against their own penchant to violence.

“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!”

Prophets then and now challenge the prevailing authority structure. Prophets speak and teach about God’s truth, about God’s power, which threatens the truth and power of the day. In Jesus’s time, his words and actions threatened the religious authorities in their control of how the people were to understand God. Jesus questioned the integrity of those in power, challenging the power structure they worked so hard to create, an arrangement that centralized authority and wealth in the hands of a select few and made the common citizen feel powerless.

Jesus had been making his way through towns and villages, teaching and healing the sick. He had just told the story of the narrow door. He had said many would yearn to enter the kingdom, but only a few would make it in. Just then a group of friendly Pharisees arrived to warn that Herod wanted Jesus dead. His first reaction was quick and instinctive. “Tell Herod he can’t stop me. I will not turn away from my goal.” Then in two short sentences he utters a plaintive a cry from the heart over Jerusalem.

Bob Dannals reminds us “The Bible is full of lament and judgment, stuff that is hard to hear. One way we deal with the hard stuff is by reading the harsh words as addressed to others: The Pharisees of Jesus’ time, the Jerusalem back then… or some other ‘enemies of the cross of Christ.’ So then we make this text is all about the ‘bad guys’ who killed the prophets.

“But when judge others and grant easy grace for ourselves, we scapegoat and make others into enemies, and we do not let scripture work the way it is meant to… So, a fundamental principle of reading scripture:  The hard stuff is for us.  This is hard stuff — Jesus’ lament. A lament is a song… naming grief, describing loss, giving voice to pain.”[1]

Jesus’ cry is filled with frustration, grief, and the hope that God’s children, his children, could somehow come together under the wings of God’s love. And that was the Jerusalem of 2,000 years ago. The tragic truth of today is that if Jesus agonized and wept over Jerusalem then, I think his tears would be flowing non-stop now.

I imagine Jesus sobbing over the murders of his children in their mosques in New Zealand, committed by another of his beloved children.  I imagine Jesus weeping when some of his beloved children embrace the white supremacy ideology and demean and denigrate others of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, often in his name.  I imagine Jesus weeping when his beloved children are separated from their families and held in detention for wanting to immigrate.  I imagine Jesus weeping over our degradation of God’s beautiful creation. I imagine Jesus weeping over the Methodist Church’s refusal to ordain LGBT clergy and perform same-sex weddings. I imagine Jesus weeping over the division, name-calling and disrespect which dominate our discourse.  I think Jesus weeps over a lot of other inequities as well. Yes, Jesus’ lament was not only for Jerusalem 2000 years ago, it is for us as well. His lament cries out for divisions to cease and for respect and peaceful coexistence to reign.

The bottom-line truth of our faith is that God loves us.  Each and everyone of us, every person who has ever lived, every person living now.  Remember the best-known verses in all of the Bible, God so loved the world.[2] The whole world.  Every person of every race and ethnicity and religion and nationality.  Every person.  God loves Brenton Tarrant. God loves the 49 people he killed. There are no limits to who God loves.  God loves us as if there were only one of us.  And there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love.[3]  Nothing we do or don’t do will make God love us less. God loves us as much and more as a brooding hen loves and protects her chicks.

God keeps trying to tell us this, that all persons are beloved, all of us are valued and valuable, that God cherishes all of us.  Because we’re all made in God’s image. God yearns for us to listen to God’s message of love. And yet we continue to reject the radical equality and love of the Gospel. Instead we reject one another, we demean one another, we harm one another. Jesus came to show us love, love for God, for self, for neighbor, for stranger, for alien, for outsider, for outcast, and even for enemy, as he himself modeled.

It is a tall order to live as Jesus did, to love those who threaten harm to us, to love those whose values and words are different than our own, to reach out to those we think undeserving, to forgive those who hurt us, to refrain from hurtful language toward those we don’t like.  I acknowledge that I fall short every day.  At the same time, I have to keep trying.  This ethic is difficult when we’re faced with the most virulent examples, such as a mass shooting. Jesus’ example does not excuse these behaviors and actions; he does not encourage us to become a doormat. We are to confront evil at every turn, and whenever possible to respond with greater understanding and compassion.

On this journey to Jerusalem Jesus was healing, teaching, casting out demons. You and I can participate in his ministry this Lenten season. Every time we help to feed another person, we are casting out the demon of hunger and want, and rejecting the world’s tyranny that insists we reduce benefits for those who need them most. Every time we pray for someone who is ill, alone or overwhelmed we reject the world’s implicit message that only the strong and powerful matter. Whenever we listen to another, we are offering the love and ear of Jesus, even when others might reject them as hapless or hopeless.

Actions like these bring prophetic hope to the world, making God’s love real and tangible, and standing against the demonic voices of hatred, violence and death. And in community, in this community,  where we come together to worship, to be fed by Word and Sacrament, we are strengthened and empowered to do so.  This is our call, especially in this Lenten season.

[1] The Rev. Robert Dannals, eDevotions, March 15, 2019.

[2] John 3:16.

[3] Romans 8:39.

Categories: Sermons