Psalm 27 (selected verses); Luke 13:22 & 31-35
SERMON Interruptions on the Road to Jerusalem
We are making our way through Lent, travelling with Jesus and his disciples on their journey to Jerusalem.
In the preceding two Sundays we experienced firstly, that incredible moment on the mountaintop when Jesus and his closest disciples encountered Moses and Elijah. In the presence of two of the greatest figures in the history of the Israelites, God confirms Jesus as God’s chosen one.
The next Sunday we saw how they moved from a mountaintop experience to the loneliness of the desert where Jesus overcame the temptations set before him.
Today’s story begins with a strange scene. The Pharisees warn Jesus that King Herod, Rome’s appointed puppet king of the Jews, was planning on killing him.
The text does not explain why these critics of Jesus warn him in this instance, but it does sound odd. His reaction; “Tell that fox (or in our lingo—tell that coyote…) I’m busy with God’s work. I’ll see him in Jerusalem.”
Two things we can focus on in this story;
The first concerns Jesus’ work. What was the work he was doing from which even death threats could not distract him, and,
How does that inform our lives?
Teaching, listening, comforting, exhorting, healing, forgiving, restoring, broadening the invitation, these were all part of what Jesus saw as his work? It was the work of a prophet. We could summarize his work as, building God’s Kingdom.
Jesus used the Kingdom of God as a counter and contrast to the Kingdom of Caesar. Back then people understood kingdoms and empires.
Just like Moses, Jesus wished to lead the people out of the slavery. But this was a different kind of slavery. This was a slavery of selfishness, materialism, greed, and spiritual hypocrisy, that limited one’s life.
For Jesus there is a very clear distinction between Caesar’s Kingdom of injustice, violence, greed and oppression and God’s Kingdom of forgiveness, justice and equity, fairness, compassion and selflessness.
Jesus demonstrates how God’s kingdom brings life and hope, as he heals, forgives, restores and admonishes.
People flocked to him because in their struggles they heard the Word of God in a new way. In him they heard the old, old message but in a new way.
And like the great prophets before him, he was not fazed by the might and power of those who abused the people for their own gain. In this context, it was the power of Rome and Rome’s surrogates. This included the Temple authorities who benefitted greatly from their Roman collusion.
The second part of our thoughts today center around our own place in the world of today. Where do we fit into this story? Are we part of the ordinary people seeking to live our lives as best we can? Are we victims of empire. Are we colluding participants in it? Where do we fit in? What guides our values. Have we ever questioned our own lives to see whether we are building the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Rome? When we pray, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, do we take that seriously or has that just become part of the rote liturgy we participate in every Sunday?
Lent is time to ask hard questions of ourselves. Lent is an invitation to check whether we live lives aligned with God’s vision for us. Is our Christian journey ongoing or has it stalled somewhere? Are we willing to make Jerusalem our destination, just like Jesus did or do we only use our Christian identity as a quick fix solution for when we run into trouble?
If you are like me, you will probably answer to all these questions with one word: “Sometimes.”
Sometimes we are focused on God’s intentions for us.
Sometimes we collude with the empire that promises us all kinds of false securities and happiness.
Sometimes we experience the presence of God in our own mountaintop experiences and sometimes we fail at resisting the temptations when the wilderness of life overwhelms us.
Sometimes we love our neighbors as we love ourselves and sometimes we abandon them.
Life lived in 2019 is neither easy nor simple. But that does not change the fact that we are called, as disciples of Jesus, to complete the race of life with honor—not to give up; not to concede to Rome or whatever empire it is that lures us into its empty promises.
On Friday we heard the news of a person whose alignment with the empire of white supremacy gunned down dozens of worshippers at a mosque in Christchurch, NZ.
These are the overt signs of the evil intent of empire-ideology. These were individuals who died as innocents. Their families will suffer from this tragedy for the rest of their lives. The damage is incalculable.
But the danger and damage done by covert-empire ideology are equally destructive and diabolical. Racism, materialism, sexism, homophobia, and some expressions of nationalism.
How do we live our lives?
Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Caesar?
The world as we know it is in flux. There are great changes at hand. It is crucial that God’s people take the time and make the effort to question who we are and where we fit in. What our calling is and what our destination will be. The Kingdom of God needs people of good will and great courage.
It is reported that the last words of one of the greeters at the Mosque in Christchurch was; “Hello Brother.”
May our life and practice here in Old Steeple Church always reflect those words; “Hello Brother; hello Sister,” and may we practice the assurance, “here you are safe, here you are welcome.
May we remain focused on our vision to be a community united in our resolve to serve and build the Kingdom of God. Amen.
God is my light
and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
God is the stronghold
of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh —
my adversaries and foes —
they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp
my heart shall not fear.
Though war rise up
yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of God,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of God
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of God,
and to inquire in God’s temple.
Luke 13:22 & 31-35
22 Jesus* went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 32He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me,* “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” 34Jerusalem, 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! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when* you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’