Homily: February 21, 2016
February 21, 2016, YEAR C; Rev. Rena Turnham, Deacon
“Are we willing”? ____________________________________________________________________________________
Today’s readings beckon us towards God’s care and comfort and away from our own fears and earthly things that will pass away.
This is always a good message, but especially for us now, during Lent.
In today’s Gospel, we have a lot going on with this very rich and multilayered text.
We have the Pharisees being somewhat uncharacteristically supportive of Jesus. They’re warning him that the authorities, Herod in particular, “the fox” who beheaded John the Baptist, are out to kill him. Tension is rising.
And, of course, we know where the story is going...even without Jesus reminding us of how Jerusalem treats her prophets.
He knows he will be no exception.
But he’s got more work to do in the next few days. Work that’s more important than fleeing from harm and hiding himself away.
There’s seriousness to his work, his calling, his mission.
He’s on his way to the cross, which leads to his death. This is all part of Jesus’ mission: the establishment of the Kingdom on earth and our call to be a community of love and belonging.
This gospel passage is an invitation to all of us as followers of Jesus to reflect on the meaning of Jesus’ life and death....and his mission.
So today, for a moment, I’d like us to think about the part we play, each of us, as individuals, and for us as a congregation, in continuing his mission.
Jesus often uses a pairing to highlight a contrast. Here we have the fox, Herod, juxtaposed with the hen, Jesus.
“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,”...
“and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you.”
Lent is a time of intentional self-reflection and turning toward God and turning away from whatever separates us from God.
Our primary sin remains the same, our unwillingness; our unwillingness to be still in the presence of God and to surrender and accept this loving embrace and the life we’re called to.
Like Jerusalem, we have not been willing. We, with our plans, driven by our imaginations and our fears, the things that make us feel vulnerable to the world around us, we, the unwilling.
Yet this isn’t condemnation we hear from Jesus, it’s lament and persistent grace, a deep longing for us to draw near, to surrender.
I’m reminded of a time when I myself was egotistically unaware of my own unwillingness. I was in need of a real break as I was slogging through my discernment process to be deacon. I was at a crossroads as to whether or not to continue. I had been working myself, and the process, to a pulp. The road ahead was unclear. I had a moment where I was fed up, afraid, frustrated and exhausted.
I remember that moment vividly. I was alone in my home. I raised my fists into the air and I shouted, “God, I can’t do this all by myself”!!
I fell silent as the words left my mouth and the tears ran down my hot face. In that moment, all at once, my heart sank and I was set free at the same time, as I realized that I ‘d been over functioning, not recognizing God’s work in me and all around me.
What would happen if we really believed that we were uniquely gifted and called and that God adequately resourced us for our mission, God’s mission? What if we knew where God was calling us? Then the only thing that would be stopping us from living into that would be ourselves and our fears, and our distractedness: our busyness and our addictive over-functioning that keeps us from seeing and believing that there is a different way, the way of Jesus.
That’s the tragedy of Jerusalem and our own sometimes tragic role, like that of the brood. Turning towards God is difficult, and even, sometimes, seemingly impossible.
Yet this invitation is always there. And we’re called as Christians to accept this invitation, over and over, again and again, as well as a congregation, over and over, and again and again, and to carry this invitation to others through the ministry of all our members.
This takes great courage. The kind of courage exemplified by Jesus. The Jesus who thumbed his nose at Herod as he continued to cast out demons and perform cures.
In preparing for my sermon for today, I was forced again this week to reflect upon my own addictive busyness and distractedness, my own unwillingness, borne out of my own fear that keeps me from the work God has called me to. It was a good reminder for me that we can be easily caught up in getting things done rather than just being who we are and being present to those around us.
I think that this is the struggle we have as Christians here in this culture of consuming and producing.
I’ve also been thinking about what this has to do with our ministries at Gethsemane as well as the downtown collaboration we’re exploring with St. Mark’s Cathedral. So I’d like to take a moment to update you on our work.
A couple of week ago, after months of conversation with leadership from both congregations, we’ve finally widened the conversation circle to create a large downtown collaboration team of folks from both congregations.
This is the “hard start” of our work together.
The work of this team is to see what’s happening downtown and how we might be called to engage in God’s mission, together, whether that be something new or looking at the outreach we’re already engaged in, and perhaps even teaming up together to make it more effective and meaningful for all. We’ve just begun to investigate the needs of the downtown community and eventually we’ll look at potential local agency partners for mission.
We’re going to examine if what we’re doing, or could imagine doing, brings us into the role we've been given to play in the continuation of Jesus’ mission: bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed.
More importantly, we’re going to be still and we’re going to pray together and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And the, at some point, we’ll be faces with a decision:
Are we willing?
David Lose, a biblical scholar and preacher had this to say, about our gospel text:
“What if in this passage we see Jesus not merely acting courageously but embracing who he was called to be for the sake of those he loved, and thereby inviting us to be who we are called to be for the sake of those around us? What would our community look like if we decided together to live whole-heartedly, making room to name our vulnerabilities in a cross-shaped confidence that God is with us and has given us sufficient resources – including each other! – to not simply endure the challenges before us but to flourish as we discover that God meets us most reliably precisely in our places of vulnerability?”
Maybe, this Lent, we might consider giving up our fears: to name them and to let them go, to make ourselves vulnerable, vulnerable and courageous at the same time. Like Jesus.
Are we willing to take the promise of the kingdom more seriously than our perceived threats? Are we willing to be co-creators in the Kingdom here and now? Are we willing to make God’s mission, OUR mission? Are we willing?