a sad and scary story

a sad and scary story

Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem is one of the saddest stories in the gospels—right up there with him weeping over the death of his dear friend Lazarus, or rearing back when Judas leans toward him on the night of his arrest: “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” (Luke 22.48). There is such sorrow in these stories, such crushing disappointment at the way things have turned out–in spite of Jesus’ higher vision for his disciples and the world, and his life’s labor and love on their behalf.

In the case of Lazarus, Jesus intervenes, bringing his friend back from death into life using powers we do not have. In the other two cases he is more like us, suffering things he cannot (or chooses not to ) change. He laments over a city that has killed people like him before and seems bent on doing it again. On the night of his arrest, he watches the police push Judas aside, then stops his friends from trying to save him by force. “No more of this!” he says, when one of them pulls out a sword and cuts off a trooper’s ear. The trooper is not the enemy of course — the sword is the enemy, but they don’t see it yet. Just in case anyone has missed the point, Jesus heals the man’s ear, which is Jesus’ last act of physical healing in the gospel of Luke. Then Jesus holds out his hands for the cuffs, as it were, turning his face to the city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it.

This is not just a sad story, it’s a scary story, at least for those of us who claim Jesus as our exemplar. This is a story where lament over the disconnection between the way we hope or expect the world, our lives, or ourselves to be and our current reality propels us into the charge of faithful and authentic living that any rational person would be afraid of. We understand in our gut the tension between who we want to be and who we are, or the values we want to see our world portray and the harsh reality that we’ve dramatically missed the mark as humankind, and we are called to resolve it through our faithfulness, by doing that which is right, which often is by doing that which is most terrifying to us.

This story is scary because Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem and went there anyway to die. He deliberately went into the place he rationally would have feared the most, because somehow his lament released in him the clarity, purpose, and passion, which connected him to his higher vision, the “why” of what he was doing, so he could endure the “how”, even though it meant his death. Sometimes we are called to walk into that which we fear the most, and allow it to die, so the “why” of what we are doing can shine through. Noticing the disconnect and allowing ourselves to lament the space between is so often our Lenten journey and is most likely behind the verse in Amazing Grace, when we sing, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.”

This story of Jesus’ heart-wrenching lament compels us to follow him into naming and overtly weeping over that which we wish, with all our hearts, was not true. This call to be brave in our honesty can uncover our deepest fears, or best-kept secrets, the conversations we thought we could never have with others, or the seemingly unreconcilable chasm between our true self and the falseness we present to the world. It can be the awareness that what we say we believe does not fit at all how we act. It can be a scary challenge to live authentically, and yet, your brave vestry members at our retreat yesterday, claimed as one of our parish’s top three values, living authentically, that means living out of that true place within us and among us in Christ.  Your leadership is honest and true, having the courage to name and own the disconnects between who we think we are and who we are, or who we thought we were and who we are today, or to talk about topics which seemed forbidden to approach in the past, such as money and our parish’s faithful response to God, with perhaps some lament, but like with Jesus, a sense of renewed passion, clarity, and openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit into the right action, which was the second of the three parish values articulated yesterday.

Just as Jesus’ weeping over the city of Jerusalem renewed his passion for his ministry of healing and reconciliation that he desperately needed to carry through to fruition: the traverse into and through death. We too as a parish are becoming renewed in our passion around the ministries which the Holy Spirit has made clear to us we need to carry through to fruition.

When I was at the church erected to mark the spot of Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Kidron Valley, and seeing the sprawl of the city of Jerusalem below, what I noticed most in the church were the very large glass containers of healing anointing oil. This place of Jesus’ uncontrollable weeping of the disconnect between what he had hoped would have changed by his presence in the world, that Jerusalem would have been righted in their faith, that he would not be a prophet in the line of those the city killed, was marked as a healing place. Somehow, we know, going into that place of deep awareness which causes us immense pain, places us on the path toward healing and resurrection. I often think this is one of the most remarkable things about God – resurrection does actually happen in our lives; from death erupts new life; from fear, hope is created anew; from grief emerges joy. We need to experience the sorrow deeply and probably often, and we can bear this only because we can trust that God will never leave us in that hard place, because we are centered in Christ, another observation of our parish by the vestry members, and that means possibilities always abound.

As Jesus was lamenting over the city of Jerusalem, we can hear the weeping of his heart over his thwarted desire to gather the people of Jerusalem as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. For Jesus’ passion is to fulfill God’s passionate dream and compassionate desire and bold determination to gather God’s children closer and closer in God’s embrace and love. This commitment is always at the center of Jesus work and, not surprisingly, emerged as the vestry’s articulation of the third of the parish values, in which we live and move and have our being: inclusive thinking. Like a mother hen, Jesus seeks to draw, include and welcome God’s children into the family of humanity that God has always intended. And the Church, following Jesus, is also called to be “fluffed up”, offering warmth and shelter to all kinds of chicks. There is a poignancy of maternal tenderness that Jesus exemplifies in our story today, that shows us the way to be with one another. In response to fear, to crushing disappointment, to lingering lament, we are called to open our wings to the image of God in friend and stranger. We can imagine others responding to a threat on their life by fight or flight, but Jesus opened his wings, so someday we can all be gathered into God’s kingdom. Someday, the falseness of who we have become can be replaced by our true selves. Someday, the brokenness within us can be healed. Someday, the chasm between what we hope to be and who we are right now will be bridged. And someday, we will all gather together in the new human community that emerges from the great variety and diversity of humanity. Someday, we can presume the goodness of other people. Someday, we can put aside our swords. Someday, we can all gather to witness to the love of Jesus, to count ourselves among a long line of Christians who witnessed to the pain Jesus felt of the scattered nature of humanity, whom he only wants to draw together in the eternal embrace of God’s love.

Now, of course, I can’t finish my sermon without a passing remark about the reference to Herod as a fox in our story. For those who may not know, I had a really bad encounter with a fox this summer, so it pleases me immensely that Jesus makes it very clear the fox was not going to win. The fox, was known in the Hebrew scriptures as a force of destruction and in Greek culture as clever, sly, and unprincipled. Jesus was pretty clear that that the fox Herod was not in control as much as he thought he was and that’s God’s plan would unfold as God had planned. Luke implies that Jesus’ enemies, as clever as they may seem, have no power over him, until the time set by God for Jesus’ passion and death. Love would prevail over destruction.

On my first day in Jerusalem, a few years ago, we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is the location of both Jesus’ death and resurrection. There was a cross placed on the hill of Calvary, which had once been outside the city walls but now is within them, and the opened tomb. Being in this most sacred place was a chaotic experience. I was very aware of the disconnect between what I had imagined this holy place to be and its reality. I began to wonder if I too would weep over the city of Jerusalem for the commercialism and the division among God’s people which still plagued the city. I understood Jesus’ desire to turn over the tables of the money-changers in the temple and his great lament over the people of God who found endless ways to divide themselves. I must admit, I was a bit afraid that all our experiences would seem contrived and “Disneyland-like” as opposed to being places where I could find the truth of Jesus’ resurrection within the sites and within myself. I felt the disconnection. I felt the pain. I yearned to experience authentic living, inclusive thinking, and evidence of an openness to the Holy Spirit moving among the people of the city. But love prevailed over the destruction of my expectations and perceptions. And it actually emerged within that holy chaos of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. As we were touring the building, as our group was held up in the flow of traffic in a particular part of the church, for everything seemed orchestrated and contrived, I put my hand up against a wall that had thousands of tiny crosses etched into its surface. I was startled at the uniformity of crosses that were made by pilgrims over many centuries. I imagined the person who carved each cross, carefully, faithfully, and with precision that echoed the clarity of their heart turned toward following Jesus. In that marking the sign of the cross, over and over again on the wall of this holy site of pilgrimage, I found myself lined up among the pilgrims who like Jesus, have cried out from the depths of theirmy hearts against the injustices and forces of destruction in our world, who have lamented the disconnect between God’s dream for us and our reality, who yearn to gather God’s people together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, who wants to be like Jesus, finding strength and conviction in the hardest places of our lives and living it out in the truth that love will prevail.  This story becomes real for each one of us when we make that mark of the sign of the cross on our hearts and faithfully follow Jesus into the places that no rational person would traverse. That’s how we find Easter in our lives. Amen.

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