February 21, 2016 – Second Sunday of Lent

Lent 2 Feb 21, 2016 (Ps 27, Genesis 15:1-6, Philippians 3:12-4:1) Luke 13:31-35 *************************************************************

There are times when the gospel doesn’t seem much like good news… At least on first hearing. Today’s gospel reading may be one of those times. The word gospel means good news. So when the gospel doesn’t sound like good news we should look deeper, and ask God where is the good news.

As we meet up with Jesus today, he’s been on his way to Jerusalem for some time (about five chapters in Luke’s gospel), teaching and preaching, healing the sick, casting out demons, causing a stir wherever he goes… Just before where we rejoin the story today, Jesus has been preaching the difficult side of the gospel – telling crowds not to assume we’re all going straight to heaven, without passing go… Telling us – tread the narrow path, walk with him, listening close to everything he says…Because the way to God’s kingdom is hard, few there are who choose it… And many who are first will be last… And some who are last will be first… And at this very hour, as Jesus is saying all this…

Some Pharisees come on the scene to tell Jesus ‘Better get away from here quick. Herod wants to kill you.’ Usually the Pharisees, remember, are not known as friendly supporters of Jesus… And some suspect what they say here may be a story they’ve cooked up to get Jesus out of the neighborhood… But in Luke’s telling of the gospel, the Pharisees (the strictest sect of their day) are not always all bad… Here their intention seems good.

And whatever their motivation may be, the threat is surely real. Herod, who rules Galilee on behalf of the Roman Empire, has already killed John the Baptist (a cousin of Jesus), and murdered one of his wives, two of his sons, and many of his political enemies… “Fox” seems far too good a word for this guy, who embodies political evil. (Who makes our current brood of national wannabe rulers look like house pets by comparison….) But…

Jesus says ‘go, tell that fox – I’m casting out demons and healing many – today and tomorrow – and on the third day I complete my work… Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must continue on to Jerusalem…where all prophets go to die.’

Not all prophets literally die in Jerusalem. Jesus, speaking in parables, is saying Jerusalem, spiritual center of the nation, is ultimately responsible for the deaths of all the prophets.

And it will take Jesus more than three days to reach Jerusalem. Again, Jesus, speaks in metaphors, letting us know he will continue healing, curing, casting out demons – bringing good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind…all the way to Jerusalem…

Where he knows he will be put on trial, condemned, and executed as a criminal… And on the third day, rise again.

Jesus has been telling his followers all this for awhile now. They have heard… But they still don’t understand…

By now, his disciples know Jesus is the most fearless person they’ve ever seen. They’re probably not surprised to hear him mocking king Herod’s threats, and staying on course to Jerusalem… They understand this kind of courage… the courage as of a soldier heading to war, thoroughly trained, and ready to die if necessary… (Some of you have been there.)

His disciples are also courageous, most of the time, for the most part. They’ve left homes and families to travel with Jesus, depending on those who offer hospitality…Probably often not knowing their next stop…They have courage for the journey. (As so many of you do.) Courage cultivated by doing many small acts of courage, day-in, day-out, for a long time… The disciples have the courage of the carpenter, the fisherman, the teacher, the nurse, the farmer, the tug boat crew member…People who go off to work every day, no matter the weather, no matter how much you might feel like staying home…or doing something easier…

What the disciples of Jesus probably don’t understand nearly as well yet about Jesus… What most of us may not know quite as well yet about Jesus… (I’m guessing)…

Is the side of Jesus I’m noticing finally this week… As Jesus describes himself as a mother hen – who greatly desires to gather her children under her wings.

We all know Jesus is a strong man, who has worked with his hands as a carpenter most of his life. We know Jesus is a strong leader… Indeed, the anointed king of creation…

But now here’s Jesus… Telling us to think of him as a mothering hen – who yearns to enfold us under his wings, protecting us… like a mother…

Probably very few people ever hear everything Jesus says… And maybe not picturing Jesus very often as a mothering hen has something to do with why… Jesus says we won’t be able to see him – not as he really is – til we cry – “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord….”

A quote from Psalm 118. And probably we remember… When Jesus comes into Jerusalem, on the day we now call Palm Sunday, his disciples will be crying out “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord…”

Though few if any of them really recognize Jesus yet… for who he truly is… Still, it’s a good sign they remember his words…

And as I’ve been recalling all the ways disciples of old didn’t quite get all the good news as Jesus taught it… I’ve also been thinking about all the ways I still fail to recognize Jesus for who he really is… and…

I’ve been remembering this week… How, a few weeks ago I had three different young people come to me asking help with various emergencies…. I gave them all some help from our church pastoral discretion funds…

Long story short… They all really were in need of help. They all had or were about to have young children. But I also found out, later, that all of them were also leaving out and/or making up parts of their story…attempting to get more money…

I referred one person to another pastor in another town, where that person had moved, and she had received generous help from that other pastor. But she called me and told me the pastor had not been much help. I knew that wasn’t true, since I’d just been on with that pastor. Who’d called to let me know what he’d done to help her. I knew that part of story was not true.

And it was very sad and unsettling for me to hear this. (I do need to hear this part of the story, if only to be less naive in the future.) But if I get stuck thinking only about the darker parts of the story – where’s the good news? If we only hear the desperate bad news side of the story, what makes our life different from all the bad news we hear on the tv, radio, internet news, day after day… People lying, cheating hurting, mistreating, even murdering one another… We get way more bad news than we need to hear, in this age of instant information.

But thanks God, as I continue to reflect on the week that was… What I’m remembering most now… is how the pastor that I referred that young woman to put it all in perspective for me. Telling me, “Tim, I always expect people to lie… People usually do that, when they want something…”

“But I figure (he said)… If there’s any chance at all… that helping somebody…might help them get to know the love of Jesus…Help them get Jesus in their life… Then whatever I give is a very small price to pay… for helping Jesus save someone who needs saving…”

And instead of blaming me for referring someone to him who cost his church time and money… Pastor Mike called me back with yet another update after I’d left him my voice mail update. I kept his voice mail… and listened to it again several times… Because he had such a great perspective… As he told me again, not to worry, and signed off with a blessing, saying, “keep up the good work…”

Demonstrating the undeserved grace that is the gospel. Which has me reviewing my own story… Remembering so many times when, I’ve told half-truths, speaking to God… Made big promises about following Jesus every day, all the way…

Promises I so often forget or fall far short of keeping properly… Falling back instead on excuses…Falling again into self-centered ill-temperedness, irritability, judgementalism…(Behaviors I battle, and perhaps make a little slow progress with…Behaviors which at least serve to remind me… to go easy on judging others.) I still need reminding… Because…

The darkness is still there – in my story, our story, even the gospel story…

But….If we focus overly on the darker side of the story… We’re missing the good news… Missing the point of what Pastor Mike said about helping others find Jesus being the main thing… If we focus overly on the dark side of the story, most of all we’re missing out on what Jesus says… As, facing the homicidal wrath of Herod the deadly fox…Facing also the frail faith of his followers…

Jesus speaks of himself as a mother hen…Who knows very well her children… Who don’t know enough to take shelter… and come in out of the storms of life… to safety…under her wings…

And the good news of the gospel is –

Jesus knows our every failing. All our human sin – all our broken relationship with God and neighbor…All our lack of faith, hope, and love…

Mothers often do have a way of knowing everything their children have been up to…(as if with eyes in the back of the head)… And even better than the very best mother… Jesus knows all the ways we fail, falter, and fall in our faith walk…

Yet Jesus loves us, so much…He never even really considers doing anything but… continuing on to Jerusalem…Where he will die for us.

Rise from the dead for us. To show us the way home to God.

He is the way. Our Lord, our God, our Savior, our Friend, who loves us forever.

Here is our Good News.

Thanks be to Jesus. Amen.