Sunday, February 21, 2016
Have you ever doubted God’s presence in your life, or questioned how God was leading you? I was a senior in high school, and I was at my after-school job at the public library when I had a very clear thought, as if God was speaking directly to me, “Rebecca, you should be a pastor.” I thought I was hearing things. I was going to be a teacher. I had wanted to be a teacher since I was in kindergarten where we had this project to dress a tagboard cutout of ourselves in the outfit we would wear when we grew up: fire fighter, doctor, dentist – I dressed my cutout by copying the clothes my teacher was wearing that day. But I had this nagging idea that kept coming to me as I entered college and started taking education classes towards my teaching degree…something wasn’t right. I wasn’t very happy in my classroom practicums and student teaching. More voices, now people I knew and trusted, not just voices in my own head, started asking me things like, “Have you ever considered becoming a pastor?” I was putting more energy into my part-time job as a youth director than my teaching classes. I was STILL convinced, for a long time, that this was not God talking, though, and even if it was, God had the wrong idea for me and my life. It took me six years from that first inkling of an idea to be a pastor before I “gave in” and applied to seminary.
And, I think I’ve shared this story before to some of you, you know what really helped me make that decision? My grandma died in the spring of my senior year of college. I had done some preaching in college at local congregations through our campus ministry’s outreach program, and shared those manuscripts with my grandma. My grandma at this point was living in a nursing home, so she had very few possessions. When she died, my aunt found those sermon manuscripts under my grandma’s pillow. They were the last thing she read before she went to bed at night. Woah. I realized that if my grandma believed in me that much, than maybe God didn’t have such a bad idea after all. It took a pretty major event in my life, the loss of my grandma, for me to listen to God and follow him. SAYING we want to do God’s will then DOING God’s will, no matter how that changes or affects our lives, are two different things, aren’t they?! And it is usually difficult to respond immediately in a willing, positive way to what God wants to do with us.
Today we hear a famous lament from Jesus in the gospel this morning: “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.” How often have we not been willing? Not willing to sacrifice weekend to get up to worship God on a Sunday morning? Not willing to consider another career path? Not willing to give a portion of our time or money to something outside our own needs, whether it’s serving here at church or doing volunteer work out in the community? Not willing to admit we need help to overcome addiction, or address dysfunction in our family, or work on our physical health, because things aren’t going so well? In many ways, we are still the people of Jerusalem that Jesus comes to save: we’ll go along with the crowd, wave palm branches and shout “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” when we first have a personal encounter with Jesus, just like the crowds did in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, but when Jesus asks us to make a regular commitment to follow him at the expense of other things that are on our plate, we’re just not willing.
Fred Danker, a wise pastor and professor I knew put it this way in his book Jesus and the New Age, “The things we love the most are at the mercy of the things we ought to love the least.” Fred Danker, Jesus and the New Age p. 267. How true that is. We love Jesus, of course we do – he’s our life and salvation! Our relationship with Jesus is more important than anything else in the world. But so often, other stuff in our lives creeps in and takes over, so that all that we know in our hearts deep down we love LESS than our Lord and Savior becomes our focus. I think this is one reason Jesus describes himself in a maternal way to those stubborn, hard-hearted people of Jerusalem. He talks about longing to gather us under his wing like a mother hen. I think anyone who’s been a parent, especially of teenagers, knows what Jesus is talking about. I have to admit that I still remember myself as a teenager, and while I was an angel compared to some that age, I’m sure, I remember my mother saying exasperatedly to me during one of our many arguments during my teenage years, “Why can’t you ever be nice to me? Everyone else always tells me what a nice person you are! I have no idea who that person is!” Like a mom of a teenager, Jesus desperately wants us to be in a close, deep, loving relationship with us, where that relationship comes first. And time and time again, like that teenager we walk away, or put less important things first.
Like a loving mother or father, Jesus does not give up on being in relationship with us. At this point in the gospel of Luke, he hasn’t even entered Jerusalem yet. He knows the dangers that the people he’s ministering to are facing. He’s casting out demons. He’s arguing with the religious authorities, the Pharisees. The Pharisees remind Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. Going to Jerusalem will not be a “success” in the eyes of many – Jesus himself knows it will lead to his death on a cross. Jesus pursues the people of Jerusalem’s hearts anyway. Jesus pursues a relationship with us, anyway, even though we are not always willing.
Paul put it this way in Romans 5:8 “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That is the radical good news of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ – Jesus doesn’t wait until everyone likes him and is ready to follow him like good, well-behaved, obedient children. While we were still sinners, while we were walking the other way as quickly as we could, while we were still NOT willing, Christ died for us. Jesus gathers us to himself on the cross even if we might get there kicking and screaming, so we might be saved and transformed to live life differently. On the cross, Jesus flips that quote I shared earlier, so that the things we ought to love the least are at the mercy of the things we love the most. Or if we use the animal analogy that Jesus uses, the chicken wins. The fox is defeated by the chicken! The rulers, powers, principalities and demons of this world are no match for the loving embrace of Jesus’ wings.
Lent extends us an opportunity for us to check our willingness to follow God’s lead. Jesus desires nothing more than to gather us back under his wings again. The prophet Joel calls out to us, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” Take the time to stop and reflect – are the things we love the most our priority? Do we put those we love including and especially our relationships with Jesus first? His arms are open. He is more than willing. Amen.