Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent March 17, 2019
It was a terrible shock to turn on the news early Friday morning and hear of the terrible massacre of innocent people at prayer in their place of worship in New Zealand. A gunman or gunmen with automatic rifles entered two mosques and killed 47 people. The Prime Minister of New Zealand called the murderer a terrorist. The killer had posted a manifesto burning with hatred of human beings who were not white. He felt immigrants of color were a threat to the future of the white race. He targeted Moslems to fulfill his desire to revenge killings in Europe by Moslem extremists. Is there anything Christian about hating people of color? Is there anything Christian about hating people of another religion gathered for worship and praying peacefully? Is there anything Christian about finding immigrants a threat to your race? Of course the answer is a resounding negative. Unfortunately we are dealing with an ideology that has several names: white nationalism or white supremacy to name a couple. In the United States this has been a problem for many years. This ideology turns violent: last fall we had a terrible tragedy in Pittsburg when a white nationalist, who hated all Jews, killed people who were at their synagogue. But now New Zealand has experienced this horror: and just think the murders were perpetrated in New Zealand’s largest city with the name of Christchurch.
Today we lament the senseless killings of innocent people. A lament is an outpouring of grief over the troubles burdening one’s life or grief over what is going on in the world: tragedy over the brokenness, sinfulness, and the power of hate that imprisons the human heart and mind. In today’s gospel we heard a lament on Jesus’ lips.
The lesson began with a fearful warning. Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” We usually think of Pharisees as religious people who opposed Jesus. But here we have some who felt Jesus should be warned of danger. The name Herod would send chills down the spines of the people of his day. Herod was the ruler of the region of Galilee, the territory where Jesus did much of his ministry. Herod was not your friendly neighborly politician, he already was known for arresting Jesus’ relative John the Baptist and beheading him. So if someone told you Herod wanted to kill you, it just might be prudent to skedaddle and get out of his jurisdiction.
But Jesus was not intimidated. He said to the messengers, “Go and tell that fox: “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.” Go tell that fox, what are you going to arrest me for: what crime have I committed by bringing spiritual and physical healings to the citizens under your rule. Go tell that fox that I will continue my work, empowered by the Holy Spirit of bringing good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, release of the captives, and to declare the year of the Lord’s favor. This is why Jesus’ message can make tyrants nervous. Jesus came with good news from God, the power of the gospel to lift people, liberate people, and love people when tyrants prefer violence and fear. Today the church remembers Patrick, Bishop of Ireland. Patrick was not Irish, but born in England during Roman times. Although born in a Christian family, as a young teen he had little use for the church. But in those violent times he was captured by Irish raiders and sold as a slave in Ireland. During that time he began to pray, and he experienced a religious conversion, and then felt it was his vocation to minister to the Irish people. After some years he was made a bishop in Ireland and with courage stood up to an English prince who had conducted a raid, captured some of his Christian folks and sold them into slavery. Patrick insisted that English prince be excommunicated.
Jesus, however, was not planning on working in Galilee and be an irritant to Herod. Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem. Now we hear Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem: “I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside Jerusalem. 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!” There is a lot of pain in those words. Jesus knew he would be taken captive and crucified. But the pain is deeper, a deep well of sadness. Jesus will eventually enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey, not a war horse. Jesus would come in peace. Jesus continued his work under the cunning eyes of Herod, the fox. He would come to Jerusalem under the watchful eyes of the Roman eagle, ready for its prey. Against such violent human predators what does Jesus say about himself? “How often have I desired to gather you children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” It is a motherly image, and a mother’s love is strong. One may wonder why Jesus did not use another animal for maternal love, why not a mother bear protecting her cubs—that sounds more noble and fierce. In the book of Exodus the rescuing love of God was compared to an eagle, “I will bear you up on eagles’ wings.” But a hen, a chicken—in our minds we use a chicken as a symbol of cowardice.
But Jesus was not chicken. Maybe Jesus, in a rural village, saw a mother hen gathering her brood, and that sight inspired his speech. But I think Jesus used the image of a mother hen to show his vulnerability. Jesus would be nailed to the cross. He would not resist. He would not hand out swords to his disciples and mount an attack. He would not call in the angel special forces to liberate him from Pilate’s grasp. Jesus did not jump down from the cross and speak words of condemnation; instead from the cross we hear him say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus’ lament would show the full pathos and power of his love. He longed to gather the children of God under his wings but they were not willing. Isn’t that the deep sorrow of human sinfulness? Jesus comes to us to cast out evil and perform cures, to gather us under his love, but we are not willing—and the human race does not seem to be willing. Notice that Jesus did not give up his mission. He would die for sinners unwilling to be gathered under his wings. We can be so unwilling to leave our thirst for revenge; we can be so unwilling to leave behind uncharitable thoughts about immigrants, Moslems, Jews, and others we misunderstand and are fearful of; Jesus desires to show us a better way, but we would not.
My study material invited me to look up online a painting by a 16th century artist by the name of Franz Floris. The painting is titled “Allegory of the Trinity”: the painting shows Jesus on the cross. Above Jesus is the traditional image of God the Father, an old man with a white beard. God the Father is looking down on Jesus with sad eyes. On Jesus’ head is a snow-white dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. But most interesting behind the cross and covering the length of the painting is an outstretched hen’s wing. People standing by the cross are under this wing. And in case we do not get the symbolism, at the bottom is an actual hen with her brood under her wings. This is where Jesus desires to gather us then, under the cross. Countering our sinful stubbornness and unwillingness is Jesus desire and willing love to draw us together. Under his wings Jesus welcomes all sinners. Under his wings Jesus casts out the evil ploy of convincing us that God would not want us. Jesus reveals the truth of today’s psalm, ‘though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will take me in.” Under his wings Jesus provides the therapy we need all through our lives, his healing love to remove hatred, bigotry, bullying and insult, and create in us new hearts. Under his wings is Jesus’ embrace for all who are broken by grief and sadness.
As we know all too well, there is much suffering in this world. Whether the suffering is in the world or something we are dealing with personally, faith may struggle. Our confidence can be shaken as we heard in the Psalm. The Psalm said “Your face, O Lord, I will seek” which means “Lord, I am counting on you.” But then in suffering we may wonder, will God turn away? So we lament, we bring our sadness and fear to the Lord, and even complain. But in our honest prayers, confidence and faith win out over doubt and fear. The Psalm concluded, “This I believe—that I will see the goodness of the Lord. Wait for the Lord”, meaning “Hope in the Lord and be strong. Take heart and hope for the Lord.” We hope in Jesus, and believe that on the third day Jesus did finish his work, he was raised from the dead for us. Jesus is ever with us now, and continues his work, his faithfulness enabling our faith, his love teaching us to love, and his living presence ever giving hope.