2nd Sunday of Lent
What if Jesus was a Seattlite? What may he have been up to any morning this week? I imagine him waking up before sunrise – exhausted from the previous day’s walking of the streets, impromptu meals, offering companionship to people that were struggling (they seem to find him these days, he doesn’t have to go looking for people) and then there are those conversations that kept him up way too late. But he is grateful for the couch that some new friend had provided him for the night. He stretches as he gets up, and quickly prepares a cup of gentle tea – to fill his travel mug. His stomach hasn’t quite recovered from those 40 days of fasting, and he still can’t look a full meal in the face without his stomach turning. Jesus leaves a thank you note for his hosts and heads out. It is a long walk to the library, but he wants to get there to read the morning paper and catch the headlines. Before he ends up there, he heads over to the post office to see if any mail has come to his post office box, and buy his Real Change paper from whomever is selling out there today.
The paper was full of headlines:
Woman fatally shot outside Tacoma School, gunman killed by police.
Panhandling crackdown urged by Seattle council member.
‘Avatar’ is the most satanic film Mark Driscoll has ever seen.
Parks Code goes Flip Flop: Homeless left with few options.
Tenants threaten to sue Seattle Housing Authority.
It appears that the only good news headlines are the ones touting US dominance at the Winter Olympics.
Oh well – I imagine Jesus saying to himself – maybe there is some better news in the mail. Let’s see, Oh, a note from Melanie Neufeld – she thought I might be interested in reading this email she received in response to a recent newspaper article written about McDermott Place being opened up in Lake City. She is asking for advice as to how best to respond.
“In my opinion North Helpline is the best vehicle to get these druggies off our streets and revitalize generalised Lake City Community. The reporter I thought was very objective and good. He has to balance the needs of the priorities for our downtrodden arm pit of the Lake City area. There are now a lot of syringes in and around our community that I keep on picking up.
I believe we need to take notice of Officer Ken Turner who is the only one who means well for our community. If you feed these freebies you can’t let them do drugs at 3:20 AM in the wee hours. You know Mennonites and every other so called community supporters is fast sleeping and I am awake to go against these anti social elements kind of people at 3:00 am and confront them. Most of these so called druggies in the disguise of homeless community are timid and are taking undue advantage of the system.”
Oh – and he has a fan who also writes…
“You hit the nail on the head, I have been saying this all along and no one listen to me. They close thier doors at 5PM and go home for none of them live in Lake City. Keep up the good work, maybe they will listen to you.”
Jesus decides at that moment to hit the streets – casting out darkness and doing miracles of healing. It is what he has to do even when his heart is heavy with sorrow and longing – there is so much that incomplete and wrong in this city. O Seattle, Seattle, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers. How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem.
Last week, Beth invited us to enage the interdependent work of prayer. That when we pray, we release our thoughts and yes, even our will, to God, trusting God to do what God can and will with those prayers. We are welcomed and encouraged to pray “without ceasing.” But we also recognize that we do not control what it is that God does with our prayer. We pray and release, pray and release with the rhythm of breathing – and trust that God will work in the world toward bringing it to where it can be. Holding onto hope in prayer, and letting go of the outcomes.
Daniel Deffenbaugh speaks about the journey through Lent, as “emphasizing deliberate reflection on the obstacles that beset us in our spiritual life and the hope for new direction as we look ahead to the promise of Easter.” This morning I want to invite us to consider how Jesus in Luke practiced the art of holding on and letting go – in response to the obstacles and resistance he faced on the road toward establishing a Peaceable Realm of justice, wholeness and peace.
Verse 31 begins with ‘a few minutes later’. A few minutes after what? This phrase connects today’s scripture to the previous section which begins with Jesus going through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked Jesus if only a few would be saved. Jesus responded that there would be some disturbing surprises. Those who thought they would be among the saved will find themselves left outside where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, while people from all over the world will come and take their places in the Kingdom of God. Those who counted on being amongst the saved, such as the people of Jerusalem, will find themselves left out – or at least – seated with people they didn’t expect to be sharing a table with.
For those who had bet on Jerusalem and invested in the religious nation-state of Israel as the vehicle for the realization of the Peaceable Realm – such challenge, although not new, would have raised defenses. Herod Antipas ruled a 4th of the former kingdom of Herod the Great, who we know from the nativity story. Back in chapter 9 of Luke, we know that Jesus has Herod Antipas feeling spooked and confused. After beheading John the Baptist, people were saying that Jesus was John risen from the dead, while others were saying that Jesus was Elijah or some other ancient prophet risen from the dead. This can’t have been comforting at all – disposed revolutionary teachers coming back from the dead. Ascetic, extremeist voices shouting repentence and judgement in the city square. Herod was already worried and puzzled, and now it seems that worry had morphed into murderous plans.
In the face of this threat and criticism – shared with him by the Pharisees – what did Jesus cling or hold on to?
First – Jesus holds on to a firm resolve in the face of threat. As I read this passage of scripture together with staff and the community at God’s li’l Acre this past week – words like stubborn, focused, defiant – all were used to describe Jesus who was not be be distracted, scared off, or intimidated by the opposition he came against. Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem fully aware of the awful danger that lies ahead.
Second – Jesus holds on to hope for the city and all its inhabitants, and mourns thier stubborn, death dealing ways. This includes Herod and the blind beggar. This includes Roman soldiers and tax collectors, demon possessed persons. Jesus calls out death-dealing strategies by name, and outs the wiley fox tactics that the authorities use to cause havoc. But as Kate Huey writes, Jesus “sees them all as barnyard chicks lost in a storm, too afraid and too stubborn to find shelter under the shadow of mother hen’s wings. What these overlords want to be heard as a fearsome canine growl emerges as an almost comic cheeping.” The lamenting words of Jesus are not “surprising just because they present a feminine image for God but because of the poignancy of maternal tenderness that enables us, perhaps, to see that God loves all of us, and grieves even (or perhaps especially) those who most violently turn away.”
Undeterred by the ones who would reject him, we can ask with Margaret Aymer, “how would it affect our Lent if we took the opportunity to lament the most unlikely people? What might Lent look like if one of our Lenten prayers were a call to lament on behalf of the unjust? What might a lament look like for those who are contemplating budget cuts to Medicaid? What might a lament look like for people that have stolen the life of another – through murder, sexual assault or abuse? What might a lament look like for those coordinating the American global military assault, preemptive terrorism? What might a lament look like for those in our neighborhood who cling to prejudices about homelessness? How easy is it to criticize, argue with, and judge the choices of others – and how challenging is it to embody the firm resolve required to face the challenges, with the fierce devotion which motivates any mother. Timothy Shapiro writes that Jesus is “the mother hen who will pursue her child through think and thin, through good school days and bad, through stupid moves and violent outbursts; he’s the mother hen who folds the covers down on the bed and puffs up the pillow, and kisses their child good night and says ‘tomorrow is a new day’. Really – the love of a mother hen as a model for love of enemy cannot but alter the typical patterns of engagement.
In case we are tempted to lament only for ‘those other’ people, we also must note that Jesus grieved over Jerusalem and all its inhabitants – Roman and Jewish, synagogue adherents and temple worshippers – and so as people seeking to be Jesus followers, we must also put ourselves in the picture, and lament our own silence and collusion with local and international crimes of poverty, hunger, and prejudice. We too, are like chicks lost in a storm, too afraid and too stubborn to find shelter in God. Richard Swanson observes that “Herod (in any century) has always found allies in among people of faith” and “Lent is a time to take seriously the ways we live as signs of death rather than of life, the ways we steal from the earth rather then sprout from it”. Standing at a distance and looking over the landscape our the city and the lives of the people who struggle each day, Jesus cries. His love for the city and all who live there is exceedingly patient and he longs for a new say. Lamenting the accumulation of suffering caused by systems of oppression -Jesus enters in. Holding on to his resolve to stand with people and offer whatever compainonship love requires of him.
So if our Lenten journey is to involve holding on to, or clinging to – a dedication and determination to walk in the example of Jesus, and longing for the restoration of our enemies, with the same hope that we have for ourselves and the people we love – what are we to be letting go of? In this passage from Luke, and in many other places in the gospels, one response to the questions is: tears. The expression of longing and the release of tears. In Phillipians 3, one of the other lectionary texts for today – Paul writes “Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes…” Jim Perkinson, one of my seminary profs, suggests that perhaps a primary task of discipleship is learning to weep, since we inhabit a culture that inhibits such unprofitable activity. It is perhaps a good test – the last time we cried, what did we cry for? Who did we cry with? What do we usually cry for? Do we cry? Biblically, it is not clear that it is possible to fulfill the prophetic mission if we cannot cry. Tears open the door. Tears prepare the way. Sorrow reveals our longing and hope, and honest feelings about the state of our city, and all who are seeking a home in it.
May our tears, the tears of our neighbors and the tears of our enemies, be the letting go that brings the lost, afraid and stubborn chicks to find shelter under the shadow of God’s wings. For Jesus, 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. AMEN