February 24, 2013
- Lent 2. Year C.
- Dr. Lissa M. Wray Beal
Genesis 15:1-18 Psalm 27 Philippians 3:17 - 4:1 Luke 13:31-35
In the few months I have worshipped with you here at the parish of St. Peter, I have discovered that you are a people who journey.
I have discovered people who have trotted the globe over the years: visitors to far-flung places like England. . . Italy. . . Hawaii. . . even (!) Iceland (which I think is one of the most interesting choices for a holiday destination I’ve ever heard)! I’ve also talked with people who have travelled to Canada – making the long journey of a lifetime from a settled home in one country (India, perhaps. . . or one of the Caribbean islands), to a new home in frozen Winnipeg. Now that is an amazing journey! And there are those of us who are journeyers closer to home: travelling for work; visiting in Saskatoon, Regina, Toronto.
You are journeyers. You know the problems of delayed flights, of piston rods that blow (or whatever it is they do) when you are miles from nowhere. You know the ease of pulling into the driveway on reaching your destination after hearing the kids say ONE MORE TIME, “Are we there yet?”
Given our parish wanderlust, it is not surprising that we are familiar with the labyrinth walk – a revival of a medieval Christian tradition by which one (who is unable to make an arduous pilgrimage to Jerusalem), can make a pilgrimage of the heart, moving to that interior point signaling our openness to meet with, and hear, Jesus, and then journeying back outward to the life of the everyday refreshed after the time of contemplation and meeting.
1. Jesus is in control of the journey
So, here we find ourselves journeying once again – the journey of Lent. And our gospel passage today lets us pause for a moment with Jesus – on his own journey toward Jerusalem. In Luke’s gospel, the beginning and the end of Jesus journey is particularly marked: in Luke 9:51 we are told that Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” He “set his face toward it” and went “on his way” to the city in which he would, ultimately, be killed. His journey does not conclude until Luke 19 when we are specifically told about his entry to Jerusalem. So pointedly marked is this journey that scholars talk about the “Lukan Travel Narrative” (chs. 9-19).
As Jesus undertakes this determined journey toward his death, he has many encounters, tells many parables, heals many in need.
One of the things Jesus encounters on his journey is opposition. People want to control him: his destination; his message. The Samaritans try it in ch. 9 – and reject him when he is not what they want. The crowd tries to control him in ch. 11 when he casts out demons. The Pharisees take a turn at it in ch. 11, and the synagogue leaders in ch. 13 when Jesus heals on the Sabbath. Jesus definitely does not conform to what they think he should do, or say. It is, perhaps not that surprising that in our gospel passage, King Herod tries to do the very same thing—in an extreme way! He wants to kill Jesus: get rid of him, his message, the threat that he poses to Herod’s own power.
You know this Herod—this fox (Jesus is not too nice here: he’s calling him a “dirty dog”—something unclean!). It was his father (also called Herod) who killed all the babies in Bethlehem after Jesus was born. And the son followed in the father’s violent footsteps. He is the king who had John the Baptist beheaded. Jesus has nothing good to say about this King.
Herod tries to exercise the ultimate control over Jesus: by killing him. But Jesus does not bow to Herod’s power. He pointedly tells that fox that, as far as Jesus’ travelogue is concerned, the destination is set. NO ONE can interfere; NO ONE can change his mind. Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. He “must be on his way,” until he reaches his destination. There is something much bigger than Herod’s desire for power at work here. It is the power and plan of God—and Jesus exercises total control over that. He sets his face toward Jerusalem and will complete his journey.
This is the Jesus who walks with us on our own Lenten journey; and indeed, our whole journey of life. We go with one who knows the way and the destination. And one who (as our Psalm tells us) provides sustenance along the way. He is with us: whom shall we fear? Of whom shall we be afraid? Our own oppositions: perhaps our pride, or our anger, or our loneliness—those things we ask God to show us, particularly through the season of lent—are not so strong that they can overthrow Jesus’s plan for our journey. He knows the way out of those trials and has the power to make it so.
2. Jesus knows the end of his journey
What is particularly fascinating about our gospel reading, is that we can see Jesus not only knows where he is going (Jerusalem), but he knows what awaits him there.
ILLUS: we travel, and what we like to do is know where we are going, and how we will get there. So, we book our hotels in advance. All our ground travel (rent a car? Train? Ferry?) will be in place before we leave Canada. We generally have figured out how to get from the airport to our hotel; or our train to our hotel. We might even have a few things that we want to do when we get there. But by and large, we don’t know what awaits us when we travel. We like to leave our day-to-day time free. Maybe visit a museum? Walk in a park? Eat dessert three times in a day (here, I’m thinking gelato in Rome. . . ). The details we leave to serendipity. That’s how we know we are on holiday!
Not so Jesus. This was no holiday trip to Jerusalem. He knows he is going someplace that “kills. . . all sent to it.” When he says that he is going to Jerusalem. . . and on the third day he will finish his work—here, we have an allusion to his death and resurrection on the third day.
For Jesus knows he goes to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world. He sets out in ch. 9 and immediately TWICE tells his disciples that he will be killed in Jerusalem. It even seems he knows that he will die a violent death on a cross. He will again (in ch. 18, just before he reaches Jerusalem) tell his disciples of his death when he reaches Jerusalem.
Jesus has the travelogue. He knows his destination. But he also has the itinerary of events on his arrival: betrayal, mocking, beating, cruel death.
Not perhaps a journey we would undertake. But it is the journey of lent that we are called to—to ponder Jesus, as he walks with sure control toward the death he knew awaited him. To ponder our own sins and weaknesses which made the journey—and its destination—utterly necessary.
But if that death was the final word of the journey—if there was no stopping point beyond that death—oh, how pointless our Lenten journey would be! It would end in sadness. With no power to move beyond it. It would end in the triumph of death, with no hope for anything more.
3. Jesus calls us to see and believe
Ah. But here the story gets interesting. Here is added something that Herod (who only wanted to kill Jesus) could never have imagined, or believed if he could!
But it is something God could imagine—he of the large imagination!—and he has given us hints all along Jesus’ journey:
- Hints in the healings; in the casting out of demons –do you see it? Can you dare to believe it?
- Hints in the parables; of mustard seeds that grow very large; of clouds that speak of needed rain –do you see it? Can you believe it?
- Hints in the people changed: Zaccheas, a tax collector who turns honest; disciples who would dismiss children who learn that they are valued in God’s kingdom—do you see it? Can you dare to believe it?
- Hints even in the words the crowds proclaimed as Jesus came into Jerusalem in ch. 19: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” – this is Ps. 118, a psalm in which a king proclaims his victory over death. For a fleeting moment, the crowds believed that God was able to do such a thing. They saw it in Jesus. They dared to believe.
But of course, these are all hints of God’s great imagination that was demonstrated long before Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem.
Abraham and Sarah. Childless. Yet promised that God would—through their own descendants—bring blessing to all the world. Abraham. Asking God how on earth it could be—when he was childless and old—old as his wife.
And what does God do? He gives Abraham a glimpse of God’s large imagination: he takes him outside on a clear, dark night away from the glare of city lights. He shows him the stars—a myriad of them!—thrown across the darkness of heaven. And says, “so shall your descendants be.” God affirms what he has promised Abraham. Shows him the largeness of the promise’s fulfillment: as many descendants as the stars. Without number! To these will God bring blessing.
And that promise came to find its fulfillment in the determined journey of Christ to the cross. In his death. And in the ongoing journey of the resurrected LORD where he walks with his people, redeeming and renewing them through his own resurrection life.
For we do not walk this Lenten journey to commemorate—however sadly—only a dead God. But a God who in his own large imagination knew how to overcome all our difficulties; our sins; our sadnesses through his own death and resurrected body.
He is a God who in his resurrected life walks the road with all the world that so desperately needs to meet him there. We think of Him as safe beneath the steeple, or cozy in a crib beside the font," sings Bell in "Refugee." "But He is with a million displaced people, on the long road of weariness and want."
- He walks with the Oscar Pistorius’s who (rightly or wrongly) stand accused of murder
- He walks with the families of those murdered – such as Reeva Steenkamp’s
- He walks with abused women—and child brides—all over the world
- And he walks with us, in our own weariness and want.
And so, we journey through our own lent. And we ask ourselves: will we only see Jesus as a threat? Will we, like Herod seek to kill him?
Or will we, with the faith of Abraham, dare to believe the unbelievable? Will we let God birth in us the same faith that leapt into the heart of Abraham that long-ago night? That Jesus, who walked his own journey of suffering and shame, was able—in the powerful imagination of God’s workings—walk beyond the grave into resurrected life. Will we have the faith of Abraham that this Resurrected LORD now walks with us as we journey through lent?
For we are not alone. We walk with the God of Abraham. Jesus knows the road. He knows the destination—and he alone moves beyond that destination of death—to new life and hope.
Let’s walk the journey of lent, with this song on our lips: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD”.