Some days you wake up and you just know that this is the day – this is the day you are going to face a confrontation. It may be that you’ve known this was coming for a while, and you are sensing that whatever it is needs to get sorted out now…today. Perhaps you have to confront a family member with some tough love. Or you know that you can’t put off any longer taking a long, clear look at your finances. Or maybe you have an appointment with someone to deliver news that they don’t want to hear.
Or you might be on the receiving end of that kind of appointment – asked at the close of the workday to meet with your supervisor first thing next morning, and you have a sinking feeling that you are not going to like what you hear. Some days we just know these things in our gut.
That’s probably what Jesus was feeling when he responded to the Pharisees’ warning that he was in danger from King Herod - who had already beheaded John the Baptist for his public condemnation of the king’s immoral marital arrangements. Just prior to the warning some Pharisees’ gave, Jesus had been preaching that not everyone who heard his offer of salvation would be willing to receive it. In fact, some of those who rejected Jesus would be those who were the religious and political leaders of the people. The Pharisees were right to warn that Herod’s anger would be inflamed at such words.
But Jesus would not be deterred. He announces very clearly that his work of healing and deliverance will continue – today, tomorrow, the next day….and will not be finished until the Resurrection, which he refers to as “the third day.” Not only will Jesus not be deterred, but he’ll be headed straight into the line of fire, the lion’s den: Jerusalem. This is Jesus speaking and acting as Messiah, as the archetype of the hero who will not rest until his mission is completed – think Star Wars and the Jedi Knights; or The Lord of the Rings and Frodo and Aragorn; or Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games; or Joan of Arc; or Harry Potter. Jesus has a strong sense of what is awaiting him in Jerusalem, and he does not turn away. He knows he goes to face not only human power and aggression, but also the spiritual powers and principalities that stand behind them – as St. Paul puts it.
But in the very next breath after identifying Jerusalem as the arena, Jesus laments over the city whose name means “Dwelling of Peace” or “Foundation of Peace”: “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!” Jesus longs for peace and wholeness and well-being and justice for Jerusalem’s people, for all God’s people, and yet time and again God’s messengers and agents were rejected and killed. Jesus is not denouncing Jerusalem as much as he is weeping for them, giving voice to his sadness like a hen gathers her brood under her wings.
In the service of baptism in the older versions of the Prayer Book the prayer that the priest said when he made the sign of the Cross on the forehead of the newly baptized went like this: “We receive this Person into the congregation of Christ's flock; and do sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto his life's end.” It made very clear and specific that we who are baptized are to take our place in Jesus’ mission, to soldier on against the forces of darkness, evil, and injustice.
Our current Prayer Book puts it less sharply: “Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon this your servant the forgiveness of sin, and have raised her to the new life of grace. Sustain her, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give her an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works”….and then: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever”… after which the congregation says: “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”
But whichever prayer is used, we understand that in baptism we are becoming like Christ. The concerns of Jesus are to become our concerns. The qualities and character of Jesus are to be our model – and we are always a work in progress. So this holy boldness with which we hear Christ speaking is to become our holy boldness when we need to confront the sinful and de-humanizing forces of our own day – forces like fear, poverty, greed, hunger, racism, divisiveness, ignorance, environmental degradation – all of which hurt and corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, and which we have promised to renounce at our baptism.
If all that sounds kind of scary, and you are saying to yourself – “Woah! I did not sign up for that!” I don’t blame you. There are days and times when being a Christian is not easy at all. If it were, there would be no martyrs, no witnesses, no heroes in the faith. Christianity has a cost to it. If we are following Jesus, then there are times that we will be called on to put ourselves out there with both strength and vulnerability, and there may well be consequences.
But it’s also important to remember that God doesn’t want us to be perpetually at war with the world, full of suspicion and trepidation. God has made a good and beautiful Creation, and made us human-beings in his own image, and loves us with a generous and self-sacrificing love; and he calls us, with him, to build the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven for the good of all that God has made. As much as we are to confront the evils of this world, we are also to be like Jesus the Mother Hen, gathering her brood under her wings – protecting, comforting, nurturing – to make a Dwelling of Peace in our own time and place.
Jesus’ work of healing, saving, redeeming, delivering, and blessing this world goes on: today, tomorrow, and the next day, and every day after that until his return. And we are the foot-soldiers, the fellow-workers, the messengers of hope, the bringers of peace – called by Christ to be, with him, the Light of the World.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, we give thanks that you have received us into the congregation of Christ's flock; and have been signed with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter we shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and bravely to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto our life's end. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Second Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2016