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.
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.
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.