February 21, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Trouble was brewing and people were out to kill Jesus. When people get that upset there are two things a leader can do – give in and let the people have what they want and tell them what they want to hear, or stand up, be courageous and tell the truth. How tempting it must have been for Jesus to heed that advice and take the easy way out. But as we heard in last week’s gospel lesson, Jesus didn’t give in to temptation. He stood firm in the promises of God and what God’s mission was for him no matter how hard it was.
When the Pharisees warned Jesus of Herod’s desire to have Jesus killed, you’d think Jesus would have been a bit afraid – and I’m sure on a human level he was, because no one wants to die, especially a brutal death like Jesus knew was coming his way – but instead Jesus answered with what was sure to get those who were against him even angrier…”Go and tell that fox for me….” Followed by words that said essentially he would go to Jerusalem when he knew the time was right, not according to the schedule of others. Those are bold words from Jesus. He had to know he was not making friends by saying these things. Why didn’t he just stop. I’m sure the disciples wondered, “Why didn’t he just back off and lay low for a while? Why did he have to keep riling up the crowds?”
Because he loved them, deeply, entirely, like a mother loves her children, and when you love that much you do what’s best for that person, not necessarily what they want. . “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!” This lament from Jesus tells us where his heart was. He wanted to gather the people together like a mother hen gathers her brood of chicks under her wings. Jesus wanted to protect them. He wanted to nurture them. He wanted to be the one they would come to for life. Jesus didn’t want to push them away, he wanted to gather them in. But like a mother hen or any other mother or parent, Jesus’ job was to embrace them with telling them the truth in love. And that’s not always easily received. Jesus knew what was best for them, but what’s best isn’t always what’s easy and that’s not always well received.
I remember- and maybe some of you do too – being sick as a child and my mother saying to take a certain medicine that would make me well. She’d say it won’t taste good, but it will cure you. She was right; some of it was just revolting. In fact, I learned that if I held my nose before I swallowed, it wouldn’t taste quite so bad! It was awful, but it did cure the illness. Yet you know, not all children – or pets for that matter (including my cat) – are quite so compliant. They’ll hold their mouths shut so tightly that you need a crowbar to get it open. They know it’s going to taste horrid, so they will resist no matter what. It can become a real fight. And it’s not that the mother or parent wants to hurt the child – despite the angry words to the contrary – but that they want the child to get well. The mom knows the only way to cure the illness is to do what’s necessary.
It’s the same way for achieving any goal be it weight loss, an athletic accomplishment, renovating a house, academic achievement, or spiritual disciplines. These things take hard work and sacrifice and courage to keep at it day after day, week after week, year after year. It means standing firm in your commitment to do what’s necessary by keeping focused on the outcome. It’s understanding that opposition is a part of the journey and there will be people that try and stand in your way, but if the goal is worthy, then the suffering is not in vain.
And there will be suffering. No great achievement comes without suffering and sacrifice and that’s not easy to hear, but that is the truth that Jesus speaks to us. That’s the truth in Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem and for us today. He knows that many are not willing to hear the truth because it’s sometimes a hard pill to swallow, but it is the only thing that will set us free. Jesus spoke the truth in love, but often it was seen as too harsh, like go and sell everything you have and follow me, or you’re your enemies, or forgive seventy times seven. Jesus could have taken the easy path. He could have said the words people wanted to hear and been the kind of leader they wanted him to be, but that would not have been true to who he was and what he was called to do. So Jesus allowed himself to be vulnerable and courageous both at the same time. He was vulnerable in that he was willing to stop at nothing to protect us even if that meant death. He was equally courageous as he spoke the truth from his heart. We as Jesus’ followers are called to do the same.
It’s a courageous call that we all have as Jesus’ followers. It’s not for the weak of heart. And the temptation is to turn back. To tell people what they want to hear, to say yes to everything so as not to hurt someone’s feelings, or to just sit back and give up because the effort is too much for us. For anyone who has cared for children – whether your own or someone else’s – you know how hard it can be. Teachers who work long hard hours with little respect know it too. It’s easy to want to give up, but we need to follow the example of Jesus and not give up.
Being a disciple of Jesus can be hard because we are going against the grain of what society tells us. We’re told to seek the things we want rather than discern what God wants us to do. I know for myself, that doing what I believe God is leading me to do and speaking the words I feel called to speak are not always received with the grace and love in which they are intended. Sometimes being a pastor means saying things people don’t want to hear, even if it’s for the good of the whole church. We’re all comfortable with doing things the way we’ve always done them, and when someone suggests a different way it can ruffle some feathers. Instead of talking it out with the person, the temptation can be to talk about the person. But Jesus commands us to treat one another with the kind of love he has shown to us, and to not give up.
This congregation has been through a lot over the years – death, and more death, and sickness, and conflict and uncertainty. I know right now that many are concerned about finances, and this is causing a lot of anxiety. There’s an uncertainty about the future that can cause people to react in ways they normally wouldn’t, and a temptation to want to retreat to the way things used to be. But we hear in our readings today to “stand firm in the Lord” and God tells us through the prophets “do not be afraid…I am your shield.” We may be facing uncertainty in our congregation and uncertainty in other areas of our lives, but God is with us to give us courage and perseverance. God is our shield and protection, and will gather us under holy wings if we are open to be vulnerable to that embrace. When anxious times surround us, we can remain steadfast in the security of God’s faithfulness.
This week, as our Lenten journey continues, Jesus calls us to rely on the ever gracious and loving embrace of Jesus who gathers us together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. Jesus calls us to embrace one another with that same motherly love. If you are angry with someone go to them and be reconciled with one another, even if it’s me. And know that every day I am praying for each and every one of you and for this congregation.
Let us pray, O God you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!