We've been warned
SERMON: 2 Lent C 3 17 19
Last week we had the devil to discuss. We had different images to consider in the newsletter and on the bulletin. Our Bible study discussion was quite animated. Differing views were expressed.
The notion that there is someone lurking about to draw us into some mess or trouble is very old, very potent, and in a way, very helpful. To some degree it keeps us on our toes. It helps us remember we don't want to leave the path of faith we're on. We want to fulfill our Baptismal Covenant. We've been warned.
In reciting the Great Litany this morning we said out loud many of the ways we can acknowledge our shortcomings. We asked to be delivered from evil, wickedness, sin, blindness of heart, pride, vainglory, hypocrisy, envy, hatred, malice, want of charity, inordinate and sinful affections; deceits of the world, the flesh and the devil; false doctrine, heresy, schism, hardness of heart, contempt of God's Word and commandment. This isn't the entire list, but it's most of it.
Later we asked God to stop wars, bring peace and freedom, show pity on prisoners, captives, the homeless and hungry, the desolate and oppressed. It would seem as though we were asking God to motivate us to do those things; it is we, the people, and our governments which have started war, imprisoned millions, permitted homelessness. Are we asking God to motivate us to do something about this? I think so.
After all, if we asked God later in the Great Litany to forgive our enemies, persecutors and slanderers (and to turn their hearts), should God be doing that alone, or do we have to engage and do a little forgiving ourselves, even without the hearts of our enemies, persecutors and slanderers being turned?
This Litany is a perfect example of what we mean when we refer to ourselves as members of the body of Christ. We are asking God to do with us what we know needs to be done. We are asking God to change us in ways we do not seem capable of changing ourselves. And, frankly, when we state it so clearly that we need this very specific kind of help we are effectively admitting we are desirous of doing this very specific kind of work.
But all those things we asked God to take care of and to motivate us to pay attention to, all those things came from somewhere and possessed us, if you will. They took over our minds and our spirits and left us angry, blaming, hurt, violent, cold hearted and indifferent.
God knows we don't want to be that way and every now and then we come to realize it is ourselves. That's once excellent reason to pay close attention in this season of Lent. We learn about ourselves and our own need for realignment with God's purpose for us. When we pray the Great Litany we are effectively confessing our need for God's help in these areas. It's a good if uncomfortable reminder.
Jesus also wants to help us with these things. But Jesus has a few other things on his mind. He's been warned that Herod is angry and wants to do him in. Despite Jesus' healing miracles and generosity to Herod's people, Herod is threatened and seeks to execute him.
We get a sense of Jesus' frustration in today's Gospel. The Pharisees warned him and Jesus responded, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work."
We don't quite know what to make of Jesus calling Herod a fox until he tells his followers, "How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"
It's always interesting for us when Jesus uses a figure of speech that we understand kind of instinctively. His use of the fox and the hen with the chicks is about as clear as it could get. We are the chicks, he is the hen and the fox isn't just Herod, it is all the hypocrites in officialdom, in the religious world, in the community, all the people who won't see the good in what Jesus is doing, they are so intent on dispatching him one way or another.
As if that wasn't bad enough, we know that Jesus was frustrated by his followers, because they weren't willing to follow Jesus' guidance their own lives. They were not willing to Gather as a people and assert their intention to follow Jesus in a way that would reveal their numbers and their power. They would forget they knew Jesus or refuse to admit they were interested in his teachings if there was any hint of getting in trouble for it. So the authorities felt they could do whatever they wanted with him and his few outspoken supporters.
Jesus didn't expect to win an election or a Mr. Popularity contest. But it seems he did expect people to be a little more outspoken about their desire to follow his spiritual message. Instead they scattered, like little chickens. And the hen can't do much for her brood if they are scattered.
And scattered they were.
In our collect we prayed, "O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ..
We speak of those who have gone astray from Jesus' ways as though they were someone else. In doing so we may obscure from ourselves the fact that this is all of us. None of us is as perfect as we would like to think, not to mention how far short we fall from God's dream of faithful followers.
Who loses out here? The easy and straightforward answer is everyone loses out. We lose out because when we fail to amend our lives in alignment with our confession or the Great Litany or our occasional recitation of the Baptismal Covenant we miss the clues on where we fall short and we create an ever greater divide between ourselves and God. We may think we're making life easier for ourselves, perhaps cutting a couple of convenient corners, but actually we are endangering our connection with the Almighty, the connection that enlivens us when we take the time to appreciate God's goodness to us and our desire lived out in our parish lives to love God and love our neighbor in return. We are also harming our relationships with family and friends, relatives and co workers, those we encounter near and far. Our spirit is harmed and we pay a price.
Jesus told us in today's Gospel that we wouldn't see him --we wouldn't get it--until the time came when we said, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord," meaning until we believed and honored him and those who followed him. This season of Lent is a time to explore the ways in which we need to repair our manner of living so that we recognize and respond properly to the one who comes in Jesus' name. Amen
A sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Lent, March 17, 2019, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector