The Second Sunday in Lent
“How often have I desired to gather your children together.......and you were not willing.”
So, I'm going to kind of throw out two moments to you, two kind of stories from my life in the past couple of weeks, and for me they relate to today's Gospel, but just hang in there with me and hopefully I'll be able to show you why. Last time I preached two weeks ago, I spoke to you all about a new friend of mine who is dying of cancer, and unfortunately, the days that have followed up until now have continued to be heavy. When it rains, it pours, as they say, but that does not mean that within that heaviness, within those dark or hard times, that God is not present or that somehow we are unable to see His light. Last Monday evening, a classmate of mine, Ashley, a 30 year old mother of two and beloved wife to a great man, died after a 3 year battle with breast cancer. While, even though she was more than an acquaintance but not really a close friend, what I believe stood out and was apparent to anyone grieving her death besides the fact that it just hit way too close to home for many of us, was the extreme closeness and beauty of her faith in her relationship with God. One only need to read over just a few of her caring bridge entries, a kind of public journal on the internet, or see the incredible things said about her on facebook as an inspiration to many, to witness and realize truly how strong, how positive, how unafraid, how sure in our Lord, even in the face of death, this incredible young woman was. A shining example of a heart reoriented towards, and completely submitted to Christ.
Another special moment, certainly not as a comparison to the previous one, but rather as an intimate glimpse and important learning. A young girl, just starting out, with so much talent and possibility before her, finds herself at rock bottom, grasping for any hint of light, wondering if it is still there, questioning whether she's worthy of it. A combination of several factors, family depression, family addiction, along with the perfect mix of new found freedom and little past experience with young experimentation, I find her in detox from a deep addiction to narcotics. Lost, afraid, alone, and yet not quite completely without hope. I found myself moved, honored, privileged to rediscover with her the reality that it isn't that God is actually absent at rock bottom, but rather that at times we each are so embarrassed and sorry for finding ourselves there, for allowing ourselves to get there, that it becomes extremely difficult to accept the continual offer of His eternal embrace. After all, how can we accept such an immense and profound love, if we've even forgotten to love ourselves? So, the work of reforming, of reorienting, the work of reestablishing that most important relationship in trust and vulnerability begins anew.
This morning's Gospel message is an interesting passage for many reasons. In the first half of this text, which only appears in Luke, we have an uncharacteristic description of a group of Pharisees painted in a slightly positive light, warning Jesus away from Herod, and yet paradoxically and unknowingly pushing Him on to Jerusalem and to the Crucifixion. We hear Jesus use terms we aren't used to hearing like fox and hen, one an insult and the other a way of revealing a truly compassionate and some might say maternal side of God. This passage is also interesting in that, even though this story also occurs almost verbatim in Matthew, the place where the author of Luke chooses to insert this Scripture in a way almost forces us to become aware of the presence of symbol and double meaning in Jesus' words. It is almost impossible to miss the timelessness of Jesus' message.
So, whereas when Jesus laments over Jerusalem in Matthew His words seem to be a clear reference to Jerusalem's past history with prophets as well as an expression of Jesus' desire to change that history during the few days He recently spent there, in Luke, Jesus had not yet been to Jerusalem and therefore His words take on a whole new level of meaning. The important thing for us to realize today though, as we engage these words looking for our own guidance and message from God, is that when Jesus expresses this lament, this desire, this cry about Jerusalem, God's people, He is not only pointing to the past and to the history of what had happened to the prophets and messengers which God sent to Jerusalem, nor is He only pointing to the Jerusalem of His time and what God's people will do to Him shortly, but in His words at the time, as well as here today, now, Jesus is pointing to US. In Jesus' lament over Jerusalem, over the story of God's chosen people, over the entire history of God's relationship with humanity, Jesus points to US and our own relationship with God. You see, for me, that is what today's Gospel is all about. It's about our relationship with God.
Today's Gospel is about our realizing that Israel's story, Jerusalem's story, the story God's relationship with the human race, is really OUR story as well. We are Jerusalem. We have the same story as Israel. We struggle to live into right relationship with God just as all of humanity has from the very beginning. Though it may sound rough or exaggerated, when you think about it, Jesus' lament over Jerusalem and Israel's rejection and killing of the Prophets, might as well be a lament over our own internal struggle with or our own rejection of God's messengers or messages too.
You see, just as we see God doing throughout the entirety of Scripture, God is constantly reaching out to us as well in our daily lives, desiring a true and full relationship, desiring to care for us as Jesus illustrates today. But the reality is, that more often than not, just like the faithful followers before us, we end up rejecting God's offer as well in order to choose something deceivingly more desirous. The reality is that more often than not, we end up choosing to place ourselves first over God and over each other, violating the trust and respect required for any healthy relationship. While, as followers of Christ Jesus, we live with the assurance that our ultimate and eternal relationship with God is in good standing (though we do have a group here at Ascension which meets weekly on Tuesdays that would be happy to debate that belief with you), an honest look at our daily and living relationship with God our Father and Creator ends up leaving something to be desired.
So, my friends, as I thought about this Gospel lesson, about Jesus waiting with open arms to gather us in, and as I thought about our living into this season of Lent, this season of reflection and introspection, it occurred to me that this just might be the perfect time for us reevaluate that most important of relationships as well. Now just might be the perfect time for each of us to intentionally set time apart to work on strengthening our relationship with Christ. Now just might be the perfect time to redirect ourselves, to reorient our souls, towards that ever open and loving embrace of Jesus. Today, I want to encourage each of us to leave here after our service with that as our charge, and to actually commit ourselves to truly look for ways which we can foster a healthier relationship with Christ (and if you find that you need help doing that, just let us know. That's what we're here for.) Because, the truth is that just as I, and I hope each of you, were able to see in my two friends this morning, though we all might proclaim “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” the true status of our present relationship with God, and therefore our happiness, our purpose, our completeness, actually depends on our own willingness to be vulnerable with and our own ability to finally allow ourselves to fully accept His eternal loving embrace.
Our quality of life directly depends on our willingness to live into a true and working relationship with God with all its ups and downs. For some of us, maybe that just means continuing to find and refine ways of communicating with God and seeking His will in our lives. For some us, maybe that means completely relearning, or actually learning for the first time to allow God to love us. For most of us though, depending on the day, or the time, or the moment, I suspect that its probably a little bit of both, and its probably about learning to finally give as much importance, if not more, to the true gift we have in the ability to engage in a real relationship with God, as we do with that of our own family and friends. The point, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, is that you are loved. Truly, you are forgiven. So now, let us accept that gift, that fact. Let us live into the love of God which makes us who we are, and let us allow ourselves to truly be willing to enter into an actual relationship with Christ, so that not only our own lives might be transformed, but the entire world as we know it as well.