Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2019 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Before beginning my sermon this morning, I spoke to the congregation about the terrorist shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. I let them know that there are times when the events of the week cause preachers to do a rewrite, or to approach a text in a different way than planned. And then I told them that I had not done that because I just don’t have the words, at least not yet. So I asked them that, in the meantime, I would like for them to show God’s love in the world. To respond to hate with love. That thoughts and prayers are an appropriate response to the killing of people in the very act of prayer. And then I encouraged them to give their prayers legs by standing up to white supremacy, white nationalism, Islamaphobia, Anti-Semitism and all the rest of the hate that plagues our world. We all must be God’s love in this world in order to turn hearts and bring God’s peace to all of humankind.

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 ++ Psalm 27 ++ Philippians 3:17-4:1 ++ Luke 13: 31-35

This morning, we find ourselves in the 13thchapter of Luke’s gospel with a rather bewildering text about Pharisees and Herod and Jerusalem. It might be helpful to situate ourselves a bit with this text, to figure out what might be going on and what might come next.

            Back in the 9thchapter, the same one in which Jesus feeds the 5,000 and Peter confesses Jesus as Messiah and Jesus is transfigured on the mountaintop, Jesus sets his face for Jerusalem. Everything that happens between then and Palm Sunday is on the road, somewhere. And that triumphal entry into the Holy City takes place in Luke’s 19thchapter, so we have ten chapters of Jesus on the road to his confrontation with the religious and civil authorities.

            Now, it’s not all that far from Galilee to Jerusalem, not quite 80 miles by the highway. So it could be comfortably walked in a couple of weeks. Yet it seems to take forever for Jesus to get there. It takes us six weeks to meander through in our texts, but there are a lot so stories, a lot of healings, a lot of teachings going on in these ten chapters and 80 miles (and, as you shall see, we detour into John’s gospel in a few weeks). Whereas Mark is always in a hurry to get where he’s going, Luke’s got things he wants us to know first.

            He wants to tell us about the people Jesus healed and recount to us the parables he told. He wants us to hear the teaching Jesus did with his disciples and others who gathered around. 

            When I go on a trip, I set the GPS and, come hell or high water, I get where I’m going in short order. Not Jesus. Jesus was living his life, knowing that his destination would be his death.

            Last week in our Episcopal 101 class, we talked about what we believe, and part of that conversation was about the creeds, specifically the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. I won’t go into all the nuances of what they say or how they differ, but have you ever noticed that these creeds say that Jesus was born of Mary and immediately move to his suffering and death? Jesus’s entire life is contained in a punctuation mark. A period.

            Many years ago when Tim and celebrated our tenth anniversary with a trip to France, one of the destinations on our Paris itinerary was Père Lachaise, the famous final resting place of such luminaries as Frédéric Chopin, Marcel Proust, and, yes, Jim Morrison. The oldest graves in the cemetery are from the 12thcentury. As you stroll through this beautiful burial ground, you can’t help but notice that everyone’s life is summed up in a date of birth and a date of death, separated by a hyphen.

            What adventures happened in between those dates, fully contained in that small grammatical marking we call a hyphen? Births and deaths and loves and children and careers and art and joy and sadness – it is impossible to contain a life within the confines of a hyphen. Just as it is impossible to contain the life of Jesus in a period.

            This journey to Jerusalem in the ten chapters of Luke is a significant part of that “period” we find in the creeds. We are so focused on the nativity and the stories of angels and shepherds and then the passion, death, and resurrection, that we can gloss over that there was a life of thirty-something years that God incarnate walked this planet and did many of the things that we all do.

            Today, I think we receive an invitation to pause, to consider that in these ten chapters of Luke as Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem with his friends, we are invited to pause and take a look at our own lives. What are we doing in that hyphen between birth and death? In that period between nativity and crucifixion?

            In these ten chapters between setting his face for Jerusalem and actually arriving, Jesus is living his life. Just as, in that hyphen space, we live our own. We work and marry and raise children and go on vacation, and, with any luck, we teach and model a way of life that looks something like the one Jesus lived. Maybe we don’t perform miracles or teach in parables, but we go about the business of living a life.

            The lament we hear from Jesus today about wanting to gather Jerusalem under his wings as a hen gathers her chicks is echoed upon his arrival in Jerusalem when he weeps over the city that just can’t seem to get herself together. He knows what awaits him, and yet he mourns.

            The Pharisees try to warn him for God only knows what reason. They tell him that Herod is out to get him, and Jesus brushes it off. There is a courage in that, but it is born out of his conviction of all that needs to be done between now and then: casting out demons, curing the sick, and getting about his business on the way. Jesus’s courage comes from his understanding of what he is here to accomplish. He’s basically received a death threat, and yet his face is set for Jerusalem.

            This whole scene of calling Herod a fox and wanting to protect Jerusalem exposes Jesus’s absolute vulnerability to what is to come. He won’t fight. He won’t resist. He knows the powers are out to get him and yet he continues on his way, healing and teaching a loving and eating and drinking and teaching with those he encounters on the way.

            None of us may face death by persecution. But we can become so preoccupied with all the things we have to do in that hyphen that constitutes our life, that we miss the life that is passing by in the daily encounters with family and friend and stranger, all of those interactions that make up the story of our life. 

            There was an extraordinary human life in the period between “born of the Virgin Mary” and “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” What life story is in the hyphen of yours?

ASEPSermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2019 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas