a sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, Luke 13:31-35
Jesus was not here to play games. The Pharisees, if not the enemy up to this point, were at the very least the “home team” when it came to the Jewish religious authority of the day to Jesus’ controversial upstart underdog movement. That fact notwithstanding, the Pharisees do inform Jesus of Herod’s supposed plan. Jesus however, is not interested in playing their games. Jesus sees through the Pharisees, sees through Herod, and grounds himself in the knowledge that God’s plan will trump any moves by the authorities of man until the time is right.
This is a strong move by Jesus. Jesus has and will continue to engage in open dialogue with not just the Pharisees but religious and legal authorities the like, throughout his ministry. But here today, Jesus is not playing into the fear, into the temptation to take the bait and play into the political game that is being waged. Jesus should rightfully be afraid of Herod. Herod (albeit perhaps somewhat unintentionally) has already had the head of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and forerunner, served up on a silver platter. Jesus could have taken this warning from the the Pharisees today and moved on. Instead, Jesus stands his ground, declares that the political machinations at play in this world will not impact his work, and that he will die when he is ready to do so, as is destined, as is his right as a prophet, to preach the Good News in Jerusalem, be betrayed, and in dying, fulfill the greatest promise to creation that has ever been offered.
Jesus declares today that he is not done yet. He directs the Pharisees to listen, listen to me, I AM God’s son, I AM the savior, I AM, and because I AM, I will do what I have been sent to do, without interference, without playing into the preconceived notions of what is expected of me, without playing into the political games that you want to trap me into, without acknowledging power that was never yours to begin with. Jesus is not done because he has the work of casting out demons and curing those who are ill. Jesus is not done because his Good News is not yet shared. Jesus is not done because the work of Christ is never done. Even in his death, Jesus was not done.
And, the work of Christ cannot be done, because the city of Jerusalem, the seat of God’s chosen people, has yet to be touched by the physical grace of God for this final time. The city of Jerusalem has had its chances. God’s chosen people have gone back and forth with God since the creation. God and the creation have learned and grown from each other, but, the creation has consistently turned away, relying instead on our own ability to reason and make judgment, relying instead on our own ability to create peace and justice without a reliance on God. And, they have been failing miserably. Jesus Christ himself is a symbol of this continued utter failure by the creation to understand that the presence of God in their life is a necessity to co-creating with God. For it is only through co-creating with God that we can create the peace and justice we want to see in this world.
Jesus takes this opportunity in declaring that his work is incomplete, that he has no worry of games of the Pharisees and Herod, to call out to Jerusalem on behalf of God once more. Jesus speaks to Jerusalem directly, a way of speaking to all of God’s creation and God’s chosen people quite specifically. Jesus laments: “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!”
“How often have I desired…”
There is a definite sense of frustration bubbling underneath the words of Jesus. There is also a sense of desperation, exasperation that the people of God have not yet grasped the foundational concepts that God has been trying to instill since the beginning of creation. This is a sense that we are all familiar with. Who here has never had their point gotten? Explaining once, twice, thrice, and received blank stares in return? I do not have children yet, but adopting a puppy this week, I can confirm that she has absolutely no idea what I want her to do half the time. There is a sense under the surface of this message from Jesus today that reflects a very real human reality, that sometime the work, the very hard work, of spreading a message, particularly one that is countercultural can be taxing, tiring, exhausting when the intended party has no interest in listening (or in the case of our puppy, simply doesn’t get it). This is a very real reality, a very real human experience that shows the humanity of God through Christ, that shows the somewhat desperate measure that is being undertaken by Jesus Christ, knowing that death is certain, and trudging on to it anyways.
And, this is where Jesus departs from what many of us are able to accomplish, because, even with the prospect of death looming on the horizon, Jesus does not let the frustration, the desperation and exasperation, stop him from continuing to spread the Good News with passion and fire. We however often face the very real danger of burning out. When we become frustrated, tired, done, we allow that to win over. When we burn out, it affects us deeply. we lose our motivation. We lose our ability to follow through. We lose our purpose. Burn out takes away something that was life-giving. Whether it be from constantly running up against roadblocks, being caught in a situation where your ability to perform is taken away, or simply never making the head way that you thought possible, burn out takes us from once promising, to another crushed spirit.
But, it does not have to be that way. Burn out happens because we lose sight of what we were working so hard for in the first place. Burn out happens because we never were working hard for something that mattered deeply to us. Burn out happens because we try to take it all on, and forget that without a deep, strong foundation, we cannot succeed. Jesus knew this. Jesus drew deeply on his relationship with God to not only avoid burn out, that common human ailment, but thrive under a situation where he faced opposition at every turn, to thrive in a place and time that had already received every chance imaginable and refused to listen. When we recognize the signs of burn out in our life we have to ask ourselves why? Why am I allowing myself to get beat down by the world? Why am I at a dead end? What am I missing?
If you ask yourself those questions I think you will find the answer lies in your relationship to God and how you are living into that relationship in your life. It is true that sometimes we may be stuck in a place where it seems that everyone around us can’t get their stuff together, and you may wonder how your relationship with God can help then, but remember the why to the what you are doing. Remembering the why, the purpose for what you do, recenters our focus on God. If we find that the why itself is not centered on God, on living into our life as faithful Christians, then perhaps it’s time to rediscover how it is we are called to share the Good News of Christ in this world through the example of our life and actions.
Jesus declares today that he is not done. Jesus declares today that the work of spreading the Good News that is the love of God, that is the forgiveness that awaits our seeking repentance, is so important that the political games of the Pharisees and Herod are not worth his time, that he is so confident in this work that he will not ever face death from Herod for that work is reserved to the city of Jerusalem, and even then, he is still committed to sharing the Good News once more with them. It puts our own frustrations into perspective a bit. We are only human, we will face frustration, desperation, exasperation, and we will be tempted to give into those emotions and burn out, allow the head bashing to win out, allow our reliance on only ourselves to dictate whether or not we are successful.
But, we must look to Jesus in these times. We must see that when we put our faith into God. When we put our reliance on the work of God in this world, we cannot burn out and we cannot be defeated. Rather, in reflecting our understanding of God, of the Good News of Christ, through our life, through our work, we can never burn out because we are sharing a fundamental truth with the world: that God loves, no matter how broken we are. This fundamental truth can only serve as motivation. This fundamental truth carries us through, and if we are committed to sharing it with the world, then however we go about doing that, we will do so with the same passion and fire of Christ, because this fundamental truth is something which cannot be challenged, it is the truth of the Good News, it is the truth that is our right as the creation of God.