Lent 2C Sermon (2016)

2nd Sunday in Lent
Texts: Luke 13:31-35;
Phil 3:17-4:1; Gen. 15:1-12, 17-18
Imagine that you are home with your elementary-aged child, and the local storm siren goes off. It’s a tornado warning. You look outside and your insides lurch a bit because you see a funnel cloud. You grab your child’s hand and rush to the safe corner of your basement. Wrapping your child in an embrace, you assure her, “I’ll make sure you are safe — that nothing happens to you.”
Now, in this strictest sense, these words aren’t true. You can’t promise that nothing bad will happen. You know that if a powerful tornado hits your home directly, you could still be hurt. But your child is huddled up, terrified of the storm. It’s not time for full disclosure. It’s time for the truth of feeling safe in the very best protection that you can provide. It’s time for comforting words.
I hesitate to get even more intense on my first day here as your Interim Pastor, but I think our Gospel reading calls for it. Imagine an even more frightening scenario that’s unfortunately a part of our times. You are in a public place with your child — a movie, a shopping mall, a sports event — and a heavily armed man walks in for one of today’s horrific scenes, a mass assault on innocent people. Again, you wrap your child in an embrace, trying your best to act as a shield. Promising to keep your child safe will probably ring hollow even to her. Can you at least say something like, “He won’t be able to hurt you without going through me.” Or you simply utter a prayer, “God, please help us. Keep us safe from harm.” Are there any comforting words in the face of such terror?
We live in violent times. So did Jesus and his followers. There was the brutal reality of life on the margins of the Roman Empire. You had to do things their way or suffer the consequences from the most powerful army in the ancient world. Still, many of Jesus’ people were constantly rebelling, and constantly being put-down. The Roman army was brutal in subduing such uprisings, stacking up lots of casualties, and reserving for the rebel leaders one of the most horrific forms of execution ever devised: hanging naked on a cross, to die excruciatingly slowly and in utter humiliation.
This morning’s Gospel opens with news from the Pharisees that Herod is looking to kill Jesus. No doubt word has begun to spread that Jesus might be the promised Messiah. Four chapters earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Peter has represented the disciples in proclaiming of Jesus, “[You are] the Messiah of God” (Luke 9:20). Herod, even though he is a Jew, is a puppet of the Romans. Having a new anointed leader for his people is unwelcome news for him on two fronts: it displeases his overloads, and it threatens his own claim to power.
Here in chapter 13, as earlier, Jesus does nothing to dismiss claims of Messiahship. But his response is very puzzling, if not shocking, to the messianic expectations of his followers. When Peter had proclaimed him Messiah, he had responded with this startling anticipation: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (9:22).
Let’s be clear: this is not the expected response of a hoped-for Messiah. These are violent times! The Jewish people suffers greatly under a brutal empire. They long for protection from their God from their enemies. The Messiah is the longed-for leader who will liberate them, rescue them, from these violent times.
Notice how again Jesus’ response must have been underwhelming to those hopes. To news that Herod the “fox” is trying to kill Jesus, followers of the Messiah might have expected at least a wolf. Better would be talk of the Lion of Judah, the symbol for mighty King David himself. A lion trumps a fox any day of the week, perhaps even the eagle of mighty Rome. What are they treated to instead? A mother hen protecting her chicks under her wings. Not exactly comforting words — words of reassurance that their God would protect them from their enemies.
So what’s going on here? This is the point to go directly to the Gospel word, the Good News. For we know the end of Luke’s story of Jesus. Sure enough, God does not protect his Messiah from suffering and death. BUT on Easter morning God does rescue the Messiah from death. There is the ultimate Good News that our last enemy death has been defeated, so that we need never fear death in the same way. Even in the face of death itself, we are to hear words of great comfort.
But, since Jesus is a different kind of Messiah who does not protect us from our enemies, these are also words of courage to stand up to our enemies in a different way. To the fox Herod, Jesus doesn’t regale us with stories of a wolf or lion to eat up the fox. Jesus gives us a mother hen giving her life on behalf of the chicks. That’s really a different kind of Messiah! And here’s what you will hear me say about that difference over the coming weeks and months: Jesus came not only to be God’s anointed, the Messiah, in a new and different way. He came to show us a new way to be human so that we could begin to be healed of our violence and live in peace. When he called himself the “Son of Man,” as in today’s Gospel, it was a way of saying, I’ve come to show you how to be children of God in a way that makes for peace.
What does that mean? I think the easiest way to explain it is that Jesus flips upsidedown the usual human thinking about power. In his day Caesar and the Romans had what we usually see as the power. They called the shots. But Jesus came as one on the margins of the empire to show us how God’s power comes from the margins rather than the center, from below rather than above.
OK — let’s look at an example: the Faith welcome statement [extemporize around the following points]: It’s a wonderful statement.
• But how do power relations happen in a situation of welcoming outsiders into a community? Who has more power: the welcomers, or those welcomed? Isn’t it usually the welcomers who have more power? The term “outsiders” should be a clue.
• So how can the welcomers share power, or even flip power relations like Jesus did?
• Example: Asian, Latino, black, white (first line in wlecome). You are mostly white folks. How do you become more truly welcoming to People of Color. Learn more about racism — make antiracism a part of your mission.
• Example: gay and straight (another line in welcome statement). Listen to the voice of gay Christians, their experience of not feeling welcome in churches. Ask them: What would it take for you to feel more welcome in church? Would it take support of marriage equality?
It might mean shaking up some of the ways we usually do things. But Jesus comes here today not just with simple words of comfort, but also words of courage — courage that we might take some risks on his behalf to begin living his new way of being human. So here’s the question I leave you with today: As Faith moves forward into the future, what risks might be involved to be a welcoming community of Faith? What risks might you undertake to follow the Messiah who comes as a mother hen not a fox or a lion?
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Faith Lutheran,
Saginaw, MI, February 20-21, 2016
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