The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Who’s really in charge here? Enemies come to warn you someone’s out to kill you, really? How would they know what Herod’s thinking, and why would they warn Jesus to run? He’s been rattling their cages – threatening their security. You must admit, this is a weird story. Who’s in charge of your life – besides you? To whom do you listen and entrust your life. Jesus embodies for us, total trust in God – regardless of what the future brings.
Speaking of power and trust – how about our present state of politics and presidential candidates? I feel like I am stuck in a bad dream. Do you remember that old song, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right; stuck in the middle with you?” That could be Jesus’ song, too. He’s not stuck between Pharisees and Herod. He’s bothered neither to the left nor right. He trusts God. He’s focused on God, and gets stuck with the like of us.
Herod doesn’t bother Jesus: “Go tell that fox for me, I’m doing what I’m doing, and no one stops me until I’m finished.” Jesus is in charge. The Herod’s and rulers, Presidents, Kings and Congresses of this world are irrelevant and anemic to what God is doing. Their time is limited. Their power’s short-lived when held up against the backdrop of God’s eternal kingdom.
Jesus is on the move – headed for Jerusalem, the place God loves so much and embraces always – home to those who turn from God so often. Jerusalem is toxic to God’s prophets, sent to call God’s people to their senses. God also leaves them to their choices, weeps over them, and yet never lets them, or us, go. Motivated by love, not disgust, God finally sends Jesus.
Do you ever think of God as a mother – mother hen, a jilted lover, a woman giving birth, or a mother feeding her child? All are biblical images. I’m reading a book, Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome. I’ll let you guess what it’s about. Some people get raised on abusive images of God – unpredictable, judgmental, cruel, bipolar. Neuroscience says if that’s all we know that becomes our reality, and sets off all sorts of bad things. So I offer the God Jesus reveals – a God who longs for our love; for us to love one another; wants to gather and protect us under her wings. That’s the God Jesus takes to Jerusalem as God’s last, first and continuing word for us.
In Luke’s story God never gives up waiting for our repentance and reconciliation, so we can receive divine pardon and healing, as we receive the one who comes in God’s name. God keeps reaching for you and me in love, and then let’s us deal with it. Jesus goes to Jerusalem not to satisfy a judgmental god, be a ransom, or accept punishment to get us off the hook. He saves us not from God, but for God. He embodies, as Paul says, that neither life nor death, rulers, powers, principalities, nor anything can separate us from the love of God. God chooses to be vulnerable to the evil and enemies, the stubborn, and even people like us – regardless of the cost. That is the God of Jesus – the God Jesus dies for – so we can know how much God wants to embrace us under wings of protection, shelter and love. Hold that image.
A long-time friend recently published an article, “Why leaders are a pain: Truth-telling in the parish.” He writes of warning a recently ordained pastor, “the church hands us hard work few expect, and none are trained for.” Her response: “I thank God I’m not only a pastor but also a mother. Motherhood has given me lots of experience in telling painful truths to people I love.”
God doesn’t send Jesus to hurt people. Telling and hearing God’s truth can be painful, and get you in trouble, fired, ignored, or even killed. I try to avoid hurting people. It’s safer. And truth be told – Jesus isn’t going to Jerusalem to die for us to sit in comfortable pews, sing Kum Ba Yah, mumble some prayers and serve on committees. Jesus goes to Jerusalem to bring God’s kingdom to earth, sending the Spirit to empower us, teach us, give us new hearts, transform us to go transform the world. We are transformed transformers – tell our children that – I think they’ll really it. We are sent to go from here to love and serve the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart – which means like Jesus.
Do you know that millennials really are open to churches with beautiful liturgies, sacraments, grounded in tradition and in arts? Look around. We have a beautiful building. Our people are gifted with many talents. Visual beauty, music, and authentically loving people living faith, awaken God in others. These are not ends, but means, truth be told, to refocus our mission onto God, and off of numbers, attendance, survival. Our purpose is to make disciples who will join us in changing the world for God’s sake. In this election year, that’s the only revolution we need.
This Lent embrace passionately the God who turns our heartbreaks and fears into blessings, who weeps with and over us, and sends us beyond our Jerusalem to those who’ve been abused and neglected by the church, to build bridges and tear down walls – that’s God’s revolution.
Someone once told me after a service, “You stepped on my toes today.” I look back, and wish I’d responded, “Thank you. That’s part of my job.”
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I desired to gather you. You were not willing.” Are we willing – to trust God fully – for now and for the future? Who is in charge here – who do you trust?