“Willing to Learn”
When I think about the state of the world today, and find myself railing against powerful and corrupt leaders and lamenting the selfishness or indifference of people, today’s Gospel text reminds me that I am in good company. Jesus also criticized the political leaders of his time, and lamented about the people of the Great City for their acceptance of injustice.
When a few Pharisees decided to warn Jesus that King Herod wanted to kill him, it’s not clear whether their goal was to scare him off with threats, or if they were actually trying to protect him. Either way, Jesus is not dissuaded from continuing his mission. He calls Herod “that fox” – a metaphor that paints the ruler as sly, cunning, and voraciously destructive.
Herod will not hinder Jesus from completing his work, however. Jesus vows to continue casting out demons and healing the sick – public acts that boldly demonstrate the power of God that is with him. And when he says that “on the third day” he will finish his work, those of us who know his whole story catch the reference to his death and his resurrection which takes place “on the third day.”
Although powerful forces of evil will appear to be winning when Jesus is unjustly arrested and killed, love will win over hate, life will win over death, and Jesus will be raised, bringing the promise of life and hope for us all.
As Jesus laments over the city, he cries, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! The city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” And indeed, they do have a sad history of rejecting the prophets of God: There’s at least the prophets Uriah and Zechariah, and others killed by Manasseh. And even the famous prophet Isaiah may have been killed in Jerusalem.
God has sent messengers to the people so many times before, and soon Jesus will be coming too. As he set his face towards Jerusalem, Jesus knows to expect similar treatment to the others.
Luke’s Gospel doesn’t have Jesus going to Jerusalem until the very end of his ministry when he enters triumphantly on a donkey just a few days before his arrest. Nonetheless, his lament expresses the fact that God has been reaching out to the children of Jerusalem for centuries, always with the same, sad result.
Expressing that long history of God’s care and concern for the people, combined with their continual rejection of the Holy One, Jesus laments: O Jerusalem! “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing.”
Parents and caregivers may understand that instinct to desperately want to protect your little ones to shelter them and comfort them, to keep them safe and hidden away from the “foxes” and other dangers of this world.
That’s the way that God in Jesus feels about God’s people in Jerusalem, but they have shown again and again that they are not willing. They want to be independent. They want to be free. They don’t think they need a mother hen’s help or protection or guidance for life.
Of course, this passage is not just about big bad Herod, and its not just about the stubborn people of one particular city. Just as we must recognize in Herod all the selfish, power-hungry, tyrannical rulers of history, we must also see ourselves among the people of Jerusalem for whom Jesus cried.
Jerusalem represented, and continues to represent, a centre of religious life. It was a holy place where pilgrims would come for the great festivals, where seekers would arrive looking to encounter the divine, and where the human institutions of religion were well-established.
As church folk, we’re among that smaller portion of today’s society that continues to engage with religious institutions, rituals, and faith practices as we wish to meet God too, and to shape our lives around God’s direction for us. What we must not do is let our “church stuff” distract us from our faith’s actual purpose, such that we miss Jesus’ presence among us or reject his guidance and help.
Because although we trust that God is with us in our worship, our structures, our programs, and our plans, the Scriptures demonstrate that God very often shows up in ways that upset the status quo and challenge God’s people to change.
Yes, that’s why so many of the prophets got killed – because they challenged the status quo, they challenged corrupt rulers, they named injustice, and called the people and the leaders to do things differently.
And rather than simply judging the people and punishing us mightily, God’s nature like a mother hen, was to gather us together, to protect us from harm, and to nurture and teach us God’s ways for our good and the good of all.
In the last few years in the church, it feels like we’ve been receiving a lot of prophetic messages from God. By prophetic, I don’t mean people predicting what will happen in the future. But I mean people revealing and expressing the truth about where we have been and where we are at right now. And our responses to those realities will, of course, have a huge impact on where we will end up too – as a church and as a society.
During this Season of Lent at First Church, we re looking at the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action that are specifically directed at the Churches of Canada. That work of hearing the calls, learning our history, and facing the current challenges of the intergenerational impacts of the Residential Schools is hard work.
In our session this afternoon, we’ll watch and discuss a TED Talk by Nikki Sanchez titled, “Decolonization is for Everyone.” It involves learning about our history of colonization, recognizing the ways that colonization continues to shape our relationships and society, and taking steps (which Nikki proposes in the Talk) to participate in the process of decolonization.
But our colonizing history is not the only truth that modern-day prophets are bringing to the attention of the church and society today. Over the last few years in our Presbyterian Church in Canada, we’ve been engaged in a process of listening to members of the LGBTQI+ community and recognizing the significant harm done to them by the church through discrimination, exclusion, and pressure to try to change who they are in order to conform to certain interpretations of Scripture.
I don’t expect that the Listening Committee, which came to be known as the “Rainbow Communion,” thought of themselves as prophets of God. But when they sent recommendations to last year’s General Assembly, calling the church to repent, to change, and to intentionally move in new directions of welcome and inclusion of all people, I think that was prophets’ work.
Meanwhile, there have also been recent cries that the racism that plagues our society with systemic discrimination against Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, also operates within the church. And yet again, the General Assembly established a Listening Committee to investigate and explore the experiences of racism within the church.
It would be easier to sweep aside the concerns, assuming that they are being blown out of proportion or that “good church folk” would never say, or think, or act in a discriminatory way. But I believe that when we engage in this work, when we read the reports, when we take seriously the Calls to Action or the recommendations of the Assembly, we are expressing our desire to be gathered together by Jesus, our mother hen.
One of the hardest things about all this work is the way it requires us to acknowledge our past mistakes – whether intentional or not. And the way it challenges us to examine our present behaviour, assumptions, and expectations.
It makes us feel very vulnerable to see and admit our sin. It embarrasses us to be discovering only now the harm that we have done. It humbles us to begin learning new language and new ways of living together in the church with all our differences and diversities being celebrated and given space to shape our communities of faith.
The good news is that our God is less like a harsh judge who wants to throw us in jail or punish us severely for our sins. In Jesus, we see that God is more like a mother hen who longs to gather us together like chicks being sheltered under her wings.
In this Lenten season of turning and returning to God, may the Spirit increase our willingness to be gathered and to learn. Jesus is not deterred by the power of corrupt rulers or the consistency of our sin and rejection of God’s ways. “Listen,” Jesus calls to us once again, “I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”
Let us trust that Christ is at work in our lives too, in our church and our society. And when we are willing to learn, God can accomplish the healing and reconciliation for which we are all longing.