Second Sunday in Lent, Year C, 2016
Donna G. Joy

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Here in Luke’s Gospel Jesus has been warned of a plot against him, and contrary to the more common human response of revenge and retaliation or self protection even, his response is to weep for the city of Jerusalem, to weep for their habitual sinful state, and he calls the people to repent. And today, on this Second Sunday in Lent, Jesus weeps for each and every one of us, and calls us to repent.

At this point in Luke’s Gospel Jesus is moving steadily toward Jerusalem, toward his death on the cross. And as he does, seemingly without any consideration of his own fate, he takes a moment to warn Jerusalem about theirs, and by extension, to warn us about ours. He takes a moment to weep for our habitual sinful state, and to call us to repent.

Lent is the season of repentance, 40 days of honest reflection upon our identity as sinners; yet... sinners who, by the grace of God, are being redeemed through Jesus on the cross. We are constantly in the process of being redeemed through the work that Jesus accomplishes in Jerusalem, but in order to be free to receive that gift, we must repent. The giving of this gift of redemption and forgiveness is not dependant on repentance; the receiving of this gift is dependent on our willingness to repent.

On Ash Wednesday we gathered here to worship and to begin the season of Lent – to begin the 40 day Lenten process of acknowledging our sinful ways and repenting. As Christians, we also acknowledge that through Jesus on the cross we are forgiven – we are set free. This gift is always there for us to receive, and repentance (true repentance) creates an openness to accept this gift. Within the context of this Ash Wednesday liturgy we acknowledged some of the really tough behavior patterns that we need to identify within ourselves, along with the need for self-examination: our lack of reverence for the beauty of God’s creation; our tendency to go along with / support behavior that is hurtful to others. I’m reminded of Edmund Burke’s words, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing." Indifference is a type of evil that needs to be named and confronted. How often do we support bad behavior by saying nothing to challenge it? In our prayers on Ash Wednesday we named our tendency to avoid facing truth (how often, for example, are we so locked in to seeing things in a particular way, that we are not open to new insights, thoughts, ideas... and, of course, this includes a sense of arrogance which we also named as behavior for which we may need to repent...) We were encouraged to identify those people and things that we worship more fervently, more faithfully, than the God who longs to be the center of all our adoration and worship. We confronted our behavior that is pompous and rude (my guess is that we might choose to believe this simply does not apply to most of us... although, is there anyone here – myself included – who doesn't know that experience when we’re intolerant of others whose opinions may differ from our own... there is a pompousness/arrogance to this, because it is assuming that my opinion is better than, greater than, yours...) Also in our prayers on Ash Wednesday, we named our laziness, our selfishness, our self-indulgence, our self-pity. And, of course, we named the ways in which we simply do not take seriously enough the needs of others.

After these prayers, we were all given the opportunity to write our own prayer of confession on a piece of paper – bring those prayers forward and place them in a basket on the way to receiving the imposition of ashes, where we were reminded of our human frailty with the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

This Ash Wednesday liturgy is full of theological wisdom, as we are reminded that this acknowledgement of our human frailty is what opens us to identifying our sinfulness, and identifying our sinfulness is what prepares us to receive and accept the gift of forgiveness. Following the service, these prayers were committed to flame, and the flame was doused with water. The flame represents our intention to put an end to our sin, and the water represented the grace of God washing our sins away. The celebration of Easter will represent a new day – a new time – a new beginning. For those of you who were not able to attend this Ash Wednesday service, it’s not too late to write your own prayer of confession, burn it, douse it with water... and allow that prayer to be your focus throughout the rest of this Lenten season.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, that place where we discover our sin is destructive and serious. The self-serving sinful behavior that committed the Son of God to a horrible, terrifying, excruciatingly painful death on a cross is the same sinful behavior that we find in ourselves.

And, indeed, it was a whole host of sinful acts that put him there. His friends betrayed him – fell asleep when he needed them most – denied that they even knew him. Evil persisted because good people – his own friends – said nothing. He was put there for daring to challenge the political and religious authorities of the day. And he was put there, not only for the things that we usually identify as ugly and evil, but also for the things that we often think of as good. He was nailed to a cross by religious people who thought they were following scripture, doing the will of God. So Jesus’ cross confronts the sinfulness intrinsic within the human condition and warns us of the perils/consequences of our sin. Sin destroys life; that is, the lives of those who commit the sin, and those who are affected by it.

Yet, by the grace of God, the cross serves as a sign that God forgives, that Christ takes our sin on himself, bears it, shoulders it, embodies it, and forgives. Jesus embodies (carries with him) all the sin that put him on the cross, and with his resurrection that human sinful state never again will have the last word.

So, it is on the cross where we find our hope; our only hope in the midst of our own sinful state. Jesus moves toward Jerusalem, not to punish – but to call us to repentance. He offers the promise of forgiveness and new life to a people who have a long history of turning against the prophets, of ignoring the truth.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Jesus knows only too well Jerusalem’s sinful state, and he will not give up on them.

I think that one of the most oppressive, counterproductive notions that we so often hear and promote is that “People don’t change.” This, as far as I can tell, is one of the main reasons why people stay trapped in the pattern of destructive behaviour. I’ve heard people who serve as chaplains in correctional facilities say that there is a huge amount of cynicism among the staff. When an inmate is released some staff members will wager bets over how long it will be before he or she is brought back in. It's hard to establish new beginnings when the people around you don't believe that you can do it.

But we are reminded today that with Jesus as the foundation of our lives, this notion is completely overturned. Even at the end, even as he moves toward his sure and certain death, Jesus calls on people to change. He calls on Jerusalem to repent. One might have thought after all of the teaching, after the centuries of prophetic warnings, it would be impossible to imagine that Jerusalem might change. But clearly Jesus never loses hope; clearly Jesus is convinced that it is never too late; there is always time to repent.

In Jesus, there is a probing, transforming power unleashed. There is a power greater than anything we – ourselves – can manage. When God created us, Genesis says that God’s image was stamped upon us. Admittedly, we continue to damage that image with our sin. But God intends to have God’s way with us. By the gift of God's grace, we can change.

To repent is to have a change of heart; to turn our lives away from those things that destroy and toward the way of Jesus. As Jesus called his disciples to follow him, he was calling them – in effect – to repent - to turn away from their old lives and toward a life with Him at the centre. The greatest example of repentance is the Apostle Paul – one who turned away from persecuting Christians and toward a life with Jesus at the centre – a life that was to become completely devoted to living and sharing the gospel. Paul was open to seeing truth in a new way.

So today Jesus urges each and every one of us to an honest examination of our lives – especially those corners of our life that we would rather not see. Today each of us is called to ask, “How have I wandered far from God’s way?” “What are those habits, those inclinations, those propensities that need to be changed; need to be turned around?”

Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, a virtual ode to hopelessness, includes the following remarkable sentence: “The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Repentance can be painful. It does involve a kind of breaking. Yet Christians claim that it is in such breaking, in such stooping and humility, that our true selves are discovered. Here is a stooping that leaves us standing taller – and freer; a breaking that – with the gift of God’s grace, makes us faithful and strong.

In her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Kathleen Norris writes:

Once a little boy wrote a poem called “The Monster Who Was Sorry.” He began by admitting that he hates it when his father yells at him; his response in the poem is to throw his sister down the stairs, and then to wreck his room, and finally to wreck the whole town. The poem concludes: “Then I sit in my messy house and say to myself, ‘I shouldn’t have done all that.’” “My messy house” says it all: with more honesty than most adults could have mustered, the boy made a metaphor for himself that admitted the depth of his rage and also gave him a way out. If that boy had been a novice in the fourth-century monastic desert, his elders might have told him that he was well on the way toward repentance, not such a monster after all, but only human. If the house is messy, they might have said, why not clean it up, why not make it into a place where God might wish to dwell?

So, today and throughout this season of Lent, each of us is called to put our house in order – to turn away from those things that are harmful to ourselves and others – and toward Jesus, whose death on the cross restores us to new life. Amen.