For The Love Of God

Luke 13.31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting our demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 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! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

On Friday afternoon, a man parked his car in front of a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. He calmly walked into the building while the community was in the midst of prayer, and he pulled out a gun. However, right before he began firing the first victim’s final words were spoken aloud, “Hello brother.”

By the time the extraordinarily unprecedented acts of violence came to an end, 49 people were dead, and another 48 were in the hospital being treated for injuries. Some of whom were young children.

New Zealand’s Police commissioner spoke on television during an evening news conference that night to share the horrific news with the country and he urged everyone to avoid mosques and encouraged all mosques in the country to close their doors until they heard from the police.

New Zealand Mosque Shooting

What a horrifically horrible thing to take place. The reverberations of such were felt across the world as mosques here in the US had extra security for their Friday and weekend services. 

Sadly, many of them already have to have security for their worship services.

Can you imagine what it would be like if we were told that this place, our house of worship, was off limits because of violence? Can you imagine how it would feel in the pits of stomachs if we were told to avoid churches because they were no longer safe?

And yet, we don’t have to imagine what that is like.

Whether it’s a church, or a synagogue, or a mosque, we know what violence can do to places of worship.



Sutherland Springs.

And those are just the places in the last few years.

Here we are, in worship, on the second Sunday of Lent – the season of repentance and introspection. In scripture we confront the tones of abject disappointment from the Messiah as the cross get sharper and sharper on the horizon. 

Jesus, it seems, has grown frustrated with God’s people refusing to hear and heed the summons to come home. 

Jesus, it seems, doesn’t have much time for the ruler of the people because he has better things to do. 

Jesus, it seems, sees few alternatives left other than the one that we adorn our sanctuaries with.

Are we surprised that as Jesus’ ministry progresses, his frustrations increases just as the obstacles standing in his way increase?

The political and religious establishments are threatened by this poor rabbi and his message of the new kingdom. Can we blame them? They know what it means to be in the places of prestige and power and then this wandering Jew shows up with his ragtag group of followers with talk of the meek inheriting the earth.

Which makes this passage all the more strange. It’s rather particularly peculiar that the protective warning comes from the Pharisees who, up to this point in the Gospel, have been anything but concerned for Jesus’ wellbeing.

“Go away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

Are they really worried about him? Or is this but another part of their political machinations to ultimately get him killed?

Scripture doesn’t answer our questions, but it is clear that Jesus is determined in spite of the warnings, to reach his goal. No cunning fox and no city of rebellion will keep him from doing what he must do.


In fact, those two will ultimately be responsible for Jesus paying the ultimate price in his ultimate place.

During the season of Lent, the scriptures appointed for us compel us to keep our eyes on the cross. Just as the city of Jerusalem is now on Jesus’ radar, so too it is for us. Jerusalem is the end of this marathon of ministry. And Jesus loves Jerusalem.

But it is a strange love.

He compares his love for the city to a mother hen’s love for her chicks. 

Even though Jerusalem has responded to God’s love with rebellion, with selfish ambition, and with violence.

Somehow, Jesus holds that two incompatible things together.

He loves Jerusalem, but in the end his love for her will be the death of him.

And though it’s hard for us to admit, the same holds true for us – Jesus’ love for us, in the midst of our rebellion, it such that it eventually leads to his death.

Jesus is on an unstoppable journey toward Jerusalem, and all that it holds for him, which of course means that Jesus is on an unstoppable journey toward us, the very people who still persist in following our own way.

One of the most difficult things to reckon with in the gospel accounts is how much the ministry of Jesus transcends all of our understandings of right and wrong and first and last and good and bad. It cuts straight through the margins that exist in our world and creates something so new, so very new, that we are still afraid of it, even all these 2,000 years later.

Throughout the gospel of Luke, Jesus is unwavering and persistent in his desire to bring in those who were once cast out, to raise up those once beaten down, and to gather near those who were once lost. 

Which, ostensibly, sounds like good news.

And yet, it’s as if we haven’t heard it.

Or, at the very least, we act as if it isn’t true.

The kingdom of God is always bigger than we can imagine. Or to put it another way, the scope of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are always larger than we limit them to be. 

But, throughout history and even today, the longer we make the table, the more upset we become.

The man who marched into the mosques last week leaving a trail of blood in his wake did so with white supremacist slogans painted on the side of his weapons. For whatever reason, he could not imagine a world in which those whom he killed had any worth or value.

The same holds true for just about all of the expressions of religious violence that have taken place in the world. Whether it was the young man who walked into Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, to the crusades, to the massacre of 6 million Jews, to just about anything else we can remember or imagine, they, in some way, boil down to the fact that people could not stand being with other people. 

There was a story that was reported following the attack at the mosques in New Zealand that received very little coverage. While news outlets were entering the foray of gun control debates and whether or not political leaders would denounce white nationalism, the entire Jewish population of New Zealand agreed to close their doors for Sabbath observance on Saturday – not out of fear or the expectation of violence, but simply to be in solidarity with their Muslim brothers and sisters who were told not to enter Mosques.

Think about that for a moment.

An entire religious institution agreed that rather than doing what they wanted, rather than continuing to maintain the status quo this weekend, they would choose be in solidarity with those who were marginalized and attacked. 

Meanwhile, these two groups, in other parts of the world, have absolutely nothing to do with one another and are often at the forefront of antagonism.

The violence that took place in the mosques was absolutely unprecedented, but so too was the response of the Jewish community in New Zealand. 

In many ways, that’s what the work of Christ looks like. It is beyond out ability to imagine or even comprehend. It is a willingness to be with the very people who rest at the root of our frustrations. It is a witness to a faithful belief that all really means all.

Or, to use the words of another preacher:

No one is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

Each person’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in humankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bells tolls,

It tolls for thee.

And yet, how many days will it take before most of us are distracted by the next problem or the next tragedy? How long will we continue to keep certain people far off while gathering in the people we like?

There is something deeply profound and deeply troubling about the cross. It is, of course, a marker of our delivery from the captivity to Sin and Death. But, in it, we also discover our mutual rebellion from the one who came to live and die and live again for us.

There is a great leveling on the hill called Golgotha. Because until that moment, as Jesus says, the house was left to us. And, we can admit on our better days, when the house is left to us we like to chose who is able to join us in the house. We like to create our own rules about who is first and who is last, who is right and who is wrong, who is included and who is excluded.

But so long as the house is left to us, it will not look like the kingdom of God. 

Instead it will be a place that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. 

It will be a place where every attempt at making the table longer results in more anger, in more vitriol, and in more violence. 

It will be a place of our own making, and therefore our own doom. 

God in Christ desperately desired to gather us in, all of us, like a hen gathers her brood under her wings. And again and again and again we were unwilling to do so. Whether it was our voice that led to the exclusion of others, or we ourselves felt the wrath of being excluded, the door remained closed.

So Jesus leaves the house to us.

But not forever. 

“Truly I tell you, you will not see me until the times comes when you say, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Those are the words sung by the crowds waving their palm branches as Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back on a donkey. Those are the same words we will be singing in a few weeks.

Jesus does not abandon us to our own devices and to our own houses. Instead he arrives in the strangest of ways and triumphantly declares, through his death, this is my Father’s house!

Blessed is Jesus who comes in the name of the Lord because he is so unlike us! He continues to work to gather all of us in even while we push away. He still mounts the hard wood of the cross knowing that we often choose the wrong thing or avoid doing the right thing. He still breaks forth from the tomb even though we think the house belongs to us!

This Lenten season, it is good and right for us to confront the frightening reality of our reality. Whether its in New Zealand, or in our back yards, this world is full of people, people like us, who simply cannot fathom the other being our brother or the stranger being our sister.

But the cross is free to all, and from it flows a healing stream for all.

And all means all.

Whether we like it or not. Amen.

Life After Christmas – Sermon on Matthew 2.13-23

Matthew 2.13-23

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord though the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”


A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

After the magi had spent time with the baby Jesus, presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they left. The new parents were now alone with their relatively unexplained child, forced to fend for themselves with this baby Messiah. Christmas had come and gone in that tiny village of Bethlehem and life after Christmas was starting to settle in.

One night an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and called him to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt, because Herod was after the child. And so, following the commands of the Lord yet again, Joseph took his family and went to the land that God had called him to travel to. There he waited until Herod died.

The wise men, on their way to meet and greet the baby Jesus had shared the news of this newborn king with Herod, who asked to learn of his location and identity after they found him. Because of a dream telling them not to return, they withheld the information regarding the baby Messiah to which Herod was infuriated. He gathered together hordes of soldiers and commanded them to travel to Bethlehem in order to kill any child under the age of two in and around the village.

Later, after the death of Herod, Joseph brought his family back to the land that had been promised to his ancestors, but traveled to the area of Galilee and settled in Nazareth, which would become the boyhood home of Jesus.

When I was 17 years old, I spent a lot of time at my home church. If I wasn’t practicing drums with the worship band, then I was at a boy scout meeting, or helping with youth group, or immersed in a bible study, or running the sound system for worship services, funerals, and weddings. Every Christmas Eve the church would hold multiple services and I would sign up for multiple shifts in order to have the sound system function properly for one of the highest attended services of the year. When I was 17 I was blessed, and I mean that ironically, to run the system for the 3pm and the 11pm services.


The 3 o’clock service went as well as could have been expected. It was the family friendly service with a cacophony of children all running around and climbing over their pews while their parents attempted to listen to the sermon and not lose their place while singing the hymns. The sermon was spot on about the depth of Christmas and the graceful coming of God into the world in the form of a baby in a manger.

The 11 o’clock service was the complete opposite.

Instead of families with young children, the sanctuary was filled with older adults sitting scattered throughout the dozens of pews. Instead of children climbing over pews and dropping pencils everywhere, there was a profound silence within the worshipping body; a completely different sense of reverence. The sermon was the same, though it felt a little dull with the patterns of repetition throughout the afternoon and evening, however, you could feel a sense of wonder and awe flowing throughout the people that night, as they gathered together to celebrate God’s coming into the world.

By the time I was able to leave, it was already past midnight and I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was drive home, get in my bed, wake up, and open presents. As I drove back to my house I made my way down the George Washington Parkway with the Potomac River on my right thankful for the end of another Christmas Eve.

Right after I turned off the parkway to head up my street I saw flashing red and blue lights underneath the bridge that went over the road I had just drove on. I’m not sure why, (maybe it was the eagle scout in me) but I immediately pulled my car over and ran down to the road to see if I could help.


The details of what I saw there on the road that night will stay with me for the rest of my life, and there were things that I should never describe from the pulpit. Suffice it to say that, before I arrived, a terribly sad man had been standing on the edge of the bridge for sometime. The drop was nothing to speak of, maybe 13 feet, so he just kept standing there, waiting. He waited until he saw a large SUV coming toward the bridge, and when he felt that it was just the right moment, he jumped.

The SUV was carrying a family on their way home from an 11 o’clock mass from one of the Catholic churches in Old Town Alexandria, a family excited for the prospect of heading home after a wonderful service to get the milk and cookies ready for santa, a family ready to go to bed in order to wake up for Christmas morning, a family whose lives would be forever changed.

I don’t know how long I stood there, but one of the police officers made his way over to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Go home, and try to forget ever seeing this.”

Life after Christmas can be one of the best, and one of the worst, times of the year. Its that strange time that often never meets our expectations. After weeks of preparation, hanging all the lights, decorating the house, wrapping all the presents, planning the meals, sending all the Christmas cards, Christmas comes and goes. We wake up and before we know it the holiday has arrived and departed. And for all the prep that we do, our expectations can almost never be met perfectly. We never receive all the gifts we want, we never have the perfect interaction with our family without fights and arguments, we never get to experience God and faith exactly the way we expect and hope for.

Life after Christmas can be a real shock if we’re not ready for it. We build up this wonderful holiday moment through the songs on the radio, through the worship services of Advent, and even with the sales promotions at all of our favorite stores.

Its no wonder therefore why there are more incidents of hospitalizations for depression, and attempts at suicide during the next few weeks, than any other time during the year. For all the joy that we muster together on Christmas Eve, life after Christmas can hit hard and low.

Life after Christmas for Jesus was filled with trial and tribulation as well. In the wake of his birth in one of the most inhospitable of places, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had to flee to Egypt in order to avoid the wrath of Herod. It is curious that we receive little detail regarding Herod’s desire to kill all of the children in Bethlehem, only that he was infuriated by the deception of the wise men. It would seem that Herod feared for the loss of his position of power and control and he then decided to eradicate any remnant of this supposed “Messiah king” that could usurp his power.

If we only read this story on the surface, hearing about the new family’s retreat to Egypt, their patient waiting for Herod’s death, and their inevitable return, then we will be stuck with the devastating imagery of Rachel weeping for the children, the imagery of Herod killing innocents babies in Jerusalem, and a family’s terrifying experience of fear and isolation. But the story contains so much more.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus comes to be understood as the new Moses. He will deliver a sermon on the mount with his commands for the ways we are to live our lives, just as Moses stood on the mountaintop to deliver the ten commandments to the wandering Hebrews. It is important for Jesus to be understood through a Mosaic lens because he will also deliver the people out of slavery – not slavery in Egypt to foreign pharaohs, but out of slavery to sin and death.

Here, in this story, we get the beginnings of Jesus’ connections with Moses.

During the time of Moses’ birth, the Pharaoh in Egypt had all of the young males murdered in order to maintain the reigns over the Hebrew slaves. It was during this child massacre that Moses was saved by his mother. In a similar way, Jesus was saved from Herod’s massacre of the children because of the warning from God. Just as Moses would come to lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt toward the Promised Land, Jesus would eventually return to Galilee from Egypt in order to begin his ministry.

I wonder what it must have felt like for Mary and Joseph to raise that baby under such circumstances; to be told to leave all that was familiar, to enter a foreign land, because a ruler wanted to see your baby murdered. I wonder what could’ve sustained them through the days, weeks, months, and years of unknowing, the periods of fear and isolation.

I wonder what it must still feel like for that family that hit the man on their way home from church. What kind of emotional roller coaster does Christmas bring for them each year? What sustains them through that time of year when joy is so intertwined with fear?

Christmas, for us, is the reflection of that great event where God came to be with us. That time of year where we attempt to set aside all of our disappointments from the past, and look forward to that new beginning that we can hopefully emulate in our own lives.

Why is life after Christmas less ecstatic than the weeks leading up to it? Why do we let ourselves fall into states of sadness and the blues when we were just singing Joy to the World, and Angels We Have Heard On High? What is it about this time that makes it so much harder to get out of bed every morning, and get back into the routines of life?

opt-the-day-after-christmas from Life Magazine Jamie Wyeth

Life after Christmas is almost never easy; not for us now, not for that family driving home, and it certainly wasn’t easy for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. As we continue to step forward into this uncertain time let us not hold fast to the decorations, and the pomp and circumstance, and the presents, and the meals, and all the other elements that make Christmas what it appears to be, but instead let us hold fast to the hymns we sang together as a church, let us hold fast to the fact that Christ is the light of the world that shines in the darkness, let us hold fast to the faith that we have in Jesus Christ as the Lord of all.

When you really get down to it, Christmas isn’t just a day, or even a time of year that we celebrate. As a faithful community, Christmas happens every single time we gather together. Every worship service, every bible study, every quilt for a cause, every Men’s club meeting, every UMW gathering, every youth activity, every thing we do reimagines the Christmas message for us. To be the church, to be the body of Christ for the world, means that we are continuously celebrating the fact that the greatest thing that ever came to be, came to be with us.

The fact that God humbled himself to be like us, for us, and with us, surmounts everything else in the world. For all the disappointments that we might face, for all of the ways we have fallen short of God’s glory, nothing will ever compare to the love of God in Jesus Christ manifested in a man’s life who changed the world.

It is okay to feel hurt and sad during life after Christmas. It is okay to feel the emotional tide that comes and goes while we rest in the awkward time after celebration. But we must never forget that though death, and suffering, and fear are real, they do not have the final word. God’s glory and grace surpasses all things. God’s love for you is eternal, it extends beyond all things, and is present in the ways that we love one another. Jesus, our Moses, came to deliver us from the bonds of the world, to help transform the way we live, and to share with us life eternal.

And so, If we take seriously the faith that we confess in Christ, then life after Christmas should really be the most wonderful time of the year.