LENT 2 2007 | Luke 13:31-35
Last Sunday night as I and a few friends were watching the Oscars, I
felt a thrill of triumph like I haven’t experienced since THE
RETURN OF THE KING took the best picture award two years ago. It was
that magical moment when Al Gore and his colleagues won the best
documentary award for AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. The rest of the evening
just paled in comparison to that one shining event.
It is undoubtedly a first in both the political and the entertainment
worlds. And before the film came out, what would anyone have said the
odds were to something like that happening? After all, Gore’s
book EARTH IN THE BALANCE was simply dismissed as a curiosity back when
he was vice-president. Isn’t it strange that it wasn’t
until after his humiliation that he gained some credibility?
And isn’t it delicious divine justice that not only did Gore win
the Oscar, but that the very next week the principal power company in
Texas was bought out by a another company that sees it as its mission
to convert TXU to renewable sources of energy? Simply amazing.
Yet, unprecedented as this story is on the political stage, it is still
a story we know well. Gore had to undergo a crucifixion and a
resurrection of sorts before anyone would listen to him. And why is
this? Because when people know you, for some reason, they feel like
they can simply dismiss you. In romance, we call this “the
contempt of the familiar,” yet it’s true in many spheres,
not just in love. When ChI students are preparing for ordination, often
one of the things they struggle with most is their family’s
acceptance of them as ministers.
“How can she be a minister?” you can just hear them say.
“She has a terrible temper, she made us move five times when I
was growing up, she’s divorced, and she has bad teeth! Who told
her she could be a minister?”
Jesus’ people couldn’t see his good points, either. He once
famously quipped, “No prophet is accepted in his home
town,” and that sums it up pretty well. And, as our reading for
today illustrates, he was not likely to be accepted in Jerusalem,
We’re used to seeing the Pharisees as the bad guys, but we forget
that Jesus was a Pharisee himself, and that he had supporters amongst
the Pharisees. In today’s Gospel, we see two of them who are not
trying to trip Jesus up, but are very concerned about him, and are
warning him not to go to Jerusalem, because they are afraid of what
will happen to him if he does.
Yet Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem anyway, knowing full well the
danger of his intended course, but walking it anyway because of the
love he feels for his people, because of his desire to gather
God’s children beneath his wings. The image reminds me of the
title of one of Clare’s CD’s—Jesus wants to cover
them with “Feathers of the Heart.”
And the Pharisees are right, of course. Trouble awaits Jesus in
Jerusalem—grave trouble. And all because Jesus doesn’t look
like what his people think a prophet OUGHT to look like. After all,
he’s not a wild man raving in the desert like John, clothed in
camel’s hair and eating bug-and-honey rolls, which, as you might
expect, gets a strong “9” across the board from the Olympic
And he’s not very fierce—remember, they thought the messiah
would be someone who could lead their armies in open revolt against
Rome. But Jesus didn’t fit that bill, either. Nor did he support
the ecclesial power structure in place, but mercilessly criticized it
at almost every turn. And then there was that pesky habit of his of
associating with all the “wrong” sorts of
people—prostitutes, political traitors, zealots, not to mention
the great unwashed, thousands of them. In fact, nobody who was anybody
listened to him until he was dead.
And even then, we don’t do a very good job of it. Jesus might
have been too familiar to his own people for them to hear him, but he
has a similar problem today. We are so used to hearing these same
stories over and over again that we simply don’t hear them
anymore. This is one of the reasons that the Christian church at large
switched from a one-year cycle of readings to a three-year cycle of
readings, so that we might be presented with stories that we
haven’t heard every year since we were toddlers, to make the
message fresh again. The Jews, similarly, have a tradition called
Midrash, where old texts are made new by retelling them with fresh
insights, unfamiliar details, and unexpected twists that make those
stories we think we know backwards and forwards leap up and dance in
ways that surprise and inspire us.
And as Al Gore reminds us, the “contempt of the familiar”
is not something that only happens to Jesus. In our own small ways,
most of us can relate. The people closest to us, the ones who know
us—and our stories—most intimately, the ones who have no
trouble making a list of our faults and flaws and will gladly do so if
we ask them, are the very ones who have the hardest time acknowledging
the things about us that are truly brilliant. Most of us have at least
one relative or friend would rather see their own intestines ripped
from their bodies by ravenous wolves than admit that they actually
admire us for any reason. It’s very sad, and it’s very
wounding, and it is, unfortunately, very common.
And what’s worse, we’re guilty of it as well. Sometimes we
are ourselves dismissive of those who are closest to us, and of
messages that are just too familiar, especially when the two come
together. Case in point, Richard has been speaking for quite some time
about the need to reorder the governance of our parish to be in
compliance with our bylaws and to make sure that vital matters of our
parish life are looked after properly. For a long time this has been
impossible because of our insufficient numbers, but it is now possible
again, and I will admit that whenever Richard brought it up again I
would roll my eyes and wish he would learn to whistle a new tune.
And I was wrong. I was wrong because I dismissed a message that needed
to be heard, and what is worse, I was dismissive of someone very close
to me, of someone I dearly love. And for that I am deeply, deeply
I am especially chagrined because of the message we preach in this
place. I am ashamed because I cannot always walk my talk the way I
would like to. But as Ric made so clear in his sermon last week, in
this Community of Grace, we are afforded the freedom to be completely
human, with all of our weaknesses and flaws, and are still held in love
as we strive to become more than we are. It is my experience that this
is a safe place to say, “I screwed up,” and earnestly try
to do better. I hope that Richard can forgive me, that you can forgive
me, and that as we make this Lenten journey together, that I can find
sufficient grace to forgive myself.
We do not, of course, need God’s forgiveness. The “good
news” that Jesus preached is that God holds nothing against
us—never has and never will. But we certainly have trouble
extending that kind of grace to ourselves, and often, to the ones we
We have the power to change a “desolate house” as Jesus put
it into a warm nest. As Mechtild of Magdeburg said, “God has
given us the power to change our ways.” This, it seems to me, is
a fine message for Lent. We are flawed, yes, but we are more than our
flaws. So are the ones we live and work with day in and day out.
I invite you not to wait until the drama of a crucifixion awakens you
to the potential and worth of those closest to you. Let us be
sufficiently aware of history and human nature to choose a different
course. Let us not be blind to their faults, but nor let us be blind to
the ways in which they truly shine. For these are the people that bring
light into our lives. These are the people we love the most. These are
the people that make our lives worth living. Why not say so? Why not
tell them? It’s not gonna kill you—but it might wound THEM
if we don’t. Let us pray…
Jesus, like a mother hen you desired to gather your people together
beneath your wings, to comfort and caress them,
but they were too close to you.
They could not look beyond your flaws and failures to receive the love
you held out to them;
not because they were evil, not because they were blind,
but because they were human, and that’s just how humans are.
Help us to learn from this example and to act differently,
to cherish the gifts and ministries those closest to us bring
however mitigated by their warts and passions and blind spots.
For we are each of us mixed bags, called to minister to the world,
and hindered by fear, fury, and the frustrating limitations of being human.
For we know how well you understand this, Jesus.
Have pity on us, and help us to extend this same grace
to ourselves, and to one another. Amen.