Sermon 2 Lent Yr C

2 Lent Yr C, 28/2/2010

Lk 13:31-35

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Christ’s lament”

What would you do if you knew that your friend’s life was in danger? Wouldn’t you want what was best for your friend, try your best to protect them and warn them of the life-threatening danger? Most of us, I believe, would want our friend to escape the life-threatening danger and do what we could to try and help them.

Well, in today’s gospel, we learn that “some Pharisees” were friends of Jesus by trying to protect him from a life-threatening danger. These Pharisees came to Jesus and spoke the following words of warning: “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” Now I think this is a rather instructive story for us concerning the Pharisees. Perhaps the most common picture or view of the Pharisees in the four Gospels is that they are the enemies of Jesus, not his friends. Moreover, ever since the beginning of the Christian faith, there have been Christians who tried to justify anti-Judaism and antisemitism. Over the centuries—particularly during Lent and Holy Week—Christian preachers and theologians ramped up their rhetorical hatred of the Jews and incited parishioners to persecute and commit crimes against the Jewish people. The Jews were labelled as “Christ killers” and became the scapegoats for all of society’s problems. One could go on at length about the horrendous crimes Christians committed against the Jews, all in the name of Christ and Christianity. However, that is not my purpose today.

Coming back to our passage, I say this is an instructive text for us because it gives us a more positive picture and description of “some Pharisees.” In other words, not all Pharisees hated Jesus, or considered him an enemy of theirs deserving death. Today some biblical scholars who have read and studied all four Gospels carefully have observed that there are three major categories of the Jewish people in the Gospels. Some of the Gospel passages refer to the Jews in a negative way as enemies. Other Gospel passages refer to the Jews in a neutral way—neither as enemies or friends. Yet other passages refer to the Jews in a positive way as friends or even family. So, when we read our Gospel today, we discover Jesus’ fellow Jews, “some Pharisees” as his friends or even family. We notice too that the word “some” is employed in front of “Pharisees.”

During our Lenten journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and his suffering and death there; we need to remember that not all Jews or their leaders plotted the death of Jesus or were collaborators with the Roman authorities in the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus. Again we must employ the word “some” Jewish leaders and people were involved in Jesus’ death. As Christians we should never blame all of the Jewish people and leaders in Jesus’ time—or in any other time—for his death. So, then, Lenten gospels like the one today open up the door for us Christians to continue to work for a better understanding of the Jewish people, which results in a deeper love for them and desire to live in peace with them. The season of Lent then affords us Christians with the opportunity to resist and condemn rather than promote or justify anti-Judaism and antisemitism.

Back to our gospel today, Jesus answers the Pharisees in a prophetic way, first of all justifying his public ministry of bringing in God’s kingdom through the exorcism of demons and performing cures or healings, and then by predicting his work being finished with his resurrection “on the third day.” The irony of Jesus’ answer is also in his calling Herod “that fox,” which could have been taken as an offensive way of addressing Herod. Foxes are often viewed as crafty creatures and certainly predators of chickens. Ironically, Jesus speaks of himself as being like a mother hen. Herod the fox and Jesus the mother hen—what chance of survival does a mother hen have against a hungry fox? Ultimately, in the natural world the way it exists right now, put a fox with a mother hen and the fox will 99.9% of the time, kill and eat chicken for dinner.

Herod’s malevolent desire “to kill” Jesus and Jesus’ courageous determination to face rather than flee from Herod represents the clash of two kingdoms. Herod’s earthly kingdom is temporal, rooted in sin, based on the coercive use of power to rule by an iron Roman fist, and the fear of punishment if one disobeyed Roman laws. Herod’s power existed by enforced slavery, oppression and injustice. In stark contrast, the kingdom of God that Jesus was ushering in is, in part temporal, but in its completeness eternal. The kingdom that Jesus was bringing into existence was rooted in love and forgiveness, based on the freedom to follow God’s will by serving others and making the ultimate sacrifice for them—of laying down one’s own life on a cross. God’s kingdom attracted many people because of the levelling of all people as brothers and sisters in God’s family as equals, living under the power of forgiveness, mercy and the gentle rule of peace.

Yes, the collision course is in Christ’s mind and heart inevitable. Christ knows what he has to do, saying: ‘I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ No other option is available for him but to go to Jerusalem and die if he was to be faithful and freely accept his heavenly Father’s will. Here we have an example of Christ’s courage and single-mindedness towards his mission—nothing; nobody can stop him from going up to his death on a cross in Jerusalem. Do we face hardships as willingly and freely as Jesus did in order to do God will by choosing the way of the cross? A question that we may wish to ask ourselves during Lent is: what things do we need to die of in order to gain abundant, eternal life? Do we, like Jesus, need to follow his way of the cross by dying to the temptations of power, wealth, wisdom, and popularity? Or are there other gods that we need to renounce if we are to be faithful to God’s will and purposes?

As our gospel continues to unfold, Jesus goes into a lament over the city of Jerusalem. In my chaplain’s office hangs a picture of Jesus sitting on a mountainside and looking over at Jerusalem in the distance. The picture depicts Jesus in a thoughtful, yet sorrowful way. He looks to be all alone, no one is with him. He must face his final earthly destiny alone, despised and rejected by sinful people of his day and of every time and place, including you and me.

Jesus, lamenting over Jerusalem, like the prophet Jeremiah who once cried out: “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (Jer 9:1) And the lament of the prophet Ezekiel, quoting the LORD’s words: “As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek 3311) In the tradition of prophets like this before him, Jesus speaks a prophetic word of judgement upon Jerusalem. The words are not easy to speak, nor does Jesus rejoice in speaking them. He does not desire the punishment and destruction of his people and the city of Jerusalem. In the midst of this lament, Jesus gives us the most beautiful picture of his love towards his own people and the sadness and pain of his love being spurned. He sees himself as being like a mother hen who wants to protect her chicks by placing them under her wings. Here Jesus gives us a feminine image of gentle love, yet courageous protection. Jesus sees himself in this way and his own people as chicks that are not willing to be gathered under the protective wings of a mother hen. The gentle love and protective courage of a mother hen towards her chicks is true to real life. Listen to the following story:

Somehow one spring a hatch of chickens was born behind the barn. The children of the family had never seen range chickens before. They wondered how they’d keep warm without a heater. They were thrilled to discover that the mother hen sheltered them under her wings. They wondered how they’d be safe from the cat and were amazed to see the mother hen fly at the cat and scare it away with her loud noises and her beak.1

Jesus is like the gentle, loving, courageous, protecting mother hen who is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of laying down his life for his people, including you and me. His sacrificial death on a cross means that we are given life—abundant life now, and eternal life beyond the grave. For that, thanks be to God! Amen.

1 Cited from: Emphasis, Vol. 24, No. 6, March-April 1995 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 23.

 

 

Inspiration from Evelyn Underhill

Inspiration from Evelyn Underhill

For our Lenten devotions this year, we’re reading Lent With Evelyn Underhill: Selections from her writings, edited by G.P. Mellick Belshaw. Here’s what Underhill has to say for the first Sunday in Lent devotion:

God, as Brother Giles said, is a great mountain of corn from which [hu]man[ity], like a sparrow, takes a grain of wheat: yet even that grain of wheat, which is as much as we can carry away, contains all the essentials of our life. We are to carry it carefully and eat it gratefully: remembering with awe the majesty of the mountain from which it comes.

The first thing this vast sense of God does for us, is to deliver us from the imbecilities of religious self-love and self-assurance; and sink our little souls in the great life of the race, in and upon which this One God in His mysterious independence is always working, whether we notice it or not. When that sense of His unique reality gets dim and stodgy, we must go back and begin there once more; saying with the Psalmist, ‘All my fresh springs are in thee.’ [Hu]Man[ity], said Christ, is nourished by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Not the words we expect, or persuade ourselves that we have heard; but those unexpected words He really utters, sometimes by the mouths of the most unsuitable people, sometimes through apparently unspiritual events, sometimes secretly within the soul. (pp. 22-23)

How beautiful and mysterious is the grace of God!

Fasting anyone?

Fasting anyone?

From time immemorial, human beings have, for a host of reasons, engaged in fasting. In Judaism and Christianity, people of faith like Moses and Jesus fasted to communicate more closely with the divine.

Yet, in both faiths, fasting has been a mixed blessing. This is clear from the following biblical texts of Isaiah 58:3-7 and Matthew 6:16-18.

“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you seek the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

In other words, fasting is not a public display of piety by abstinence from food or drink and wearing sackcloth and ashes (traditionally the clothing associated with fasting, mourning and repentance) as it is more engaging in acts of justice, mercy and kindness.

In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches: “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Again, according to Jesus here, fasting is not about public displays of piety—rather, it is to be done privately, without anyone but God knowing about it. The reference to the hypocrites and those who engage in public displays of piety may not necessarily be exclusively Jews who practice Judaism, but may also include followers of Jesus (Matthew’s community, Jewish Christians) who were prone to public displays of piety.

Down through the centuries, fasting was associated with the season of Lent and combined with prayer, the imposition of ashes, repentance, and almsgiving. I find it rather ironic that the very teaching of Jesus in Matthew, which is read on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is precisely what Christians today are guilty of in worship services—i.e. public displays of piety.

In our contemporary times, fasting has all but fallen by the wayside in the Western Church at least. There may be a few folks who engage in fasting, but in the churches I’ve served, it has been very rare—unless, of course, they are actually practicing Jesus’ Matthean teaching, which I highly doubt. In a culture of unprecedented affluence, food is all around us. Most people find it extremely difficult to abstain and fast. Furthermore, when folks are busy as Neil Postman once said, “amusing themselves to death,” it is not likely that they shall be too interested in the Isaiah 58 kind of fast!

What about you? Do you fast? Have you ever fasted? If so, for what reason(s)? If not, why not?

Prayer & Benediction Transfiguration Sunday Yr C

Prayer of the Church, Transfiguration Sunday, Year C

 

God of Light: we praise and thank you for the prophet and lawgiver Moses and his legacy of faithfulness as he communed with you on Mount Sinai by receiving the two tablets of the covenant and delivering them to the Israelites. Help us, like Moses, to commune with you in prayer by listening for and then doing your will each day. God of Light: C: Your mercy is great.

Mighty King, lover of justice, equity and righteousness: in times of trouble and suffering, prophets and priests called on your name in prayer on behalf of your chosen people; you answered them and forgave their sins. So, too, in our times of trouble and suffering may we turn to you and call on your name in prayer; trusting that you shall deliver us and forgive our sins. God of Light: C: Your mercy is great.

Holy Spirit of the Lord: we are most grateful for the freedom you have given us to love and serve you and our neighbour. Shine your holy light into us and give us a lifelong hunger and thirst for the truth of God’s word; commending ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. God of Light: C: Your mercy is great.

Father of the human race: shed your light of divine truth, wisdom and knowledge upon all leaders and governments of the world, including our own. May they govern with justice and mercy; especially protecting the rights and freedoms of the weakest and most vulnerable of their citizens. God of Light: C: Your mercy is great.

Christ, Light of the world: shine your light into our hearts, minds and lives; open our eyes to the bright light of your Gospel that we may be more committed to the regular study and reading of your word; which strengthens us in faith and service. God of Light: C: Your mercy is great.

Jesus our Transfigured Lord: you have given us a wonderful example of how to live and pray. Assist us in our communicating with you more frequently in prayer that we may receive a clearer vision of you and your holy will for us; for without this we stumble about blindly and can do nothing. God of Light: C: Your mercy is great.

(Additional petitions and thanksgivings may be inserted here, ending with: God of Light: C: Your mercy is great.)

High and Holy One of Israel and the Gentiles: send us out into the world with courage and enthusiasm to share Christ’s Transfigured Light like your first disciples long ago; this we pray in the Holy Name of God our Father, Jesus our True Light, and the Eternal Spirit. C: Amen.

Benediction

The blessings of God of the Torah and prophets; the freeing love of the Holy Spirit; and the cleansing light of the Transfigured Christ be with you today and forever.

 

 

 

Annual Study Conference

Annual Study Conference

This past week I attended our annual Synod Study Conference in beautiful Canmore. Our keynote speaker was the Rev. Dr. William Willimon, a U.S. Methodist bishop from Alabama. He is considered one of the top twelve preachers in the English-speaking world and a prolific author. I had never met him before, and was quite surprised by his Southern accent. He delivered two lectures on the topic of “Worship as Pastoral Care.” In addition to the main content of his message, Willimon regaled us with his bottomless well of stories, anecdotes and folktales. Here are a few of his pearls of wisdom that I jotted down:

After 911, people in the U.S. were jolted and in grief. They went to church seeking comfort and to alleviate fears. The church cares in the name of Jesus, and people don’t always want that kind of care.

There is a temptation to ‘run errands’ for people in our culture where ‘desire’ is jacked up to ‘needs,’ and needs are jacked up to ‘rights.’ ‘Desires’ become a bottomless pit; we live in a supermarket of desires. It is dangerous to ‘care’ for such people when there are no limits. Drowning people tend to drown their saviours.

Shepherds were business people—they fattened sheep up for market. Caregivers are considered honourable people. However as preachers, preaching sets the goal of our care. Our care isn’t always what people want.

‘Detoxification,’ that is baptism. What does it mean to have this revived as the primary metaphor of ministry?

What does it mean when all or most of our prayer requests are for health needs? Isn’t it curious that the worst thing that can happen to folks is ‘bad health’? Why can’t people accept that the aging process is normal and that we are mortals? Jesus never mentioned good health in the Lord’s Prayer, which is our model prayer. There is a danger among Christians of ‘good health’ becoming idolatry.

The sermon, according to Martin Luther, is a ‘cutting into the soul.’ Preaching the sermon is a countercultural act in that we say what the world wants kept quiet.

In our culture, ministry and the Gospel get reduced to being therapy. The Gospel can be therapeutic, but it should not be reduced to that. As Lutherans, we believe that nobody gets saved by our performance.

Quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bishop Willimon stated that in preaching the risen Christ walks among his people—that should be our goal in pastoral care too.

You’ve got to worry about the Church where Mother’s Day is bigger than Easter.

In worship, we are with our people in the most intense way as pastors. Worship is at the centre of our life in Christ. This is at the heart of the matter, and gets most explicit about how God has got us and how we worship and serve God.

A lot of people are in pain today because they’re ignorant. It takes training to pray and to confess the Trinity. Lutherans, surmised Willimon, may be in a stronger position to do this than other denominations on account of our catechetical tradition, along with our hymnody, liturgy, and educational institutions.

Thriving congregations today have at least sixty percent of their membership in small groups.