2nd Sunday in Lent
March 4, 2007
March 4, 2007
No doubt, you’ve heard the latest sensational news about Jesus.
If you haven’t heard, apparently, according to some people
with money to make from their books and movies,
Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.
Apparently he did marry Mary Magdalene.
Apparently they had a son.
And apparently they were all buried together
in a family tomb in Jerusalem.
The story that these people are trying to sell is full of holes,
and ought to sink nearly as quickly as the Titanic.
I’m not going to go through a lot of the details
of just how wrong their reasoning is.
If you have internet access
and want to read an intelligent refutation of this Jesus family story
by a renowned New Testament scholar
you can check out Ben Witherington’s weblog.
I can give you the web address after worship.
If Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension were a hoax
then our faith is in vain.
And the deaths of so many martyrs throughout history
were also in vain.
If the apostles who lived with Jesus
and witnessed his resurrection and ascension
were a part of this hoax,
then why did they put their lives on the line?
I’m not big on conspiracy theories.
I read The DaVinci Code and for me it was a fun-to-read mystery,
but a work of fiction.
The tomb that figures so prominently in this weeks news
was found nearly 30 years ago
but nobody made such a big deal about it then.
The writers and film makers who have now been all over the news
might be riding on the coat tales
of the DaVinci Code hype and popularity.
If they wanted to be taken seriously
they ought to have had reputable archeologists, theologians,
historians, and other scholars review and verify their claims.
Instead they make press releases
and get themselves lead stories on TV newscasts.
Now, I’ve been chastised before
for painting all of the news media with the same brush and,
to be honest the hype I was hearing about this story
has been on TV.
The news media is neither inherently good or bad,
it’s how different people use it that can make it good or bad.
The whole Jesus family tomb story
probably wouldn’t receive nearly this much attention
if it wasn’t a very famous movie director
who had made this documentary.
But I also think the hype has something to do
with secular animosity toward Christianity as well.
Our faith is frequently portrayed in a negative light.
And when some TV outlets do ask
for a Christian viewpoint on something,
rarely will they ask a Lutheran, Anglican,
Methodist, or Roman Catholic leader,
they always seem to go to Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson,
or other high profile Christian leaders
who are really on the fringes of mainstream Christianity.
Maybe it’s because they’re easier to ridicule
and perhaps that’s an underlying motive.
As I said, I’m not one to see conspiracies behind everything.
It was just that this week,
with the news about this Jesus family tomb being so prominent,
I had to wonder why this kind of baloney
receives such attention.
Then this week, as I was reading today’s Gospel lesson
in preparation for my sermon,
I saw a connection between the opposition that Jesus faced,
and the opposition that his church faces.
Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said,
"You had better get away from here!
Herod wants to kill you."
Usually when we hear the word Pharisee it comes across negatively.
Most times that Jesus encountered Pharisees
they were engaging him
in some sort of debate or controversy.
They usually differed strongly with Jesus
when it came to interpreting the law.
But some Pharisees also seemed to be open to Jesus.
In Acts it’s a Pharisee that is a moderating voice
when the Jewish council is dealing with the early church.
Acts even says that some Pharisees
were members of the church.
Paul himself, near the close of his ministry, acknowledges,
not "I was a Pharisee" but "I am a Pharisee."
In any case, here some Pharisees warn Jesus away
because Herod wants to kill him.
There’s no reason to think there’s any ulterior motive
behind their warning.
Jesus responds by calling Herod a fox.
"Go tell that fox, ‘I am going to force out demons and heal people...
I must be on my way...
After all, Jerusalem is the place
where prophets are killed.’"
And then Jesus bursts forth into public lamentation,
Your people have killed the prophets
and have stoned the messengers who were sent to you.
I have often wanted to gather your people,
as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.
But you wouldn’t let me."
We don’t do lament very much these days.
At least not publicly.
We keep it inside.
It doesn’t seem dignified to let out or show our sadness.
Maybe you’ve had this experience.
You attend a visitation at a funeral home,
and the place is crowded.
People are gathered in small groups,
engaged in animated conversation.
It looks and feels like any other successful social event.
People are usually dressed up a little
so if you had drinks in your hand
it could almost be a cocktail party,
except instead of a bar at the end of the room
there’s a coffin and flowers.
I’m not saying one can’t enjoy a visit with people.
At a visitation or funeral
often you meet people you haven’t seen in a long time
and you spend some time catching up.
And I’m not saying that every visitation
looks like the one I’ve described,
but some, perhaps many, are.
Have you ever been with a group of friends,
and somebody says that a particular couple,
well known to all of you,
is getting a divorce?
There’s an awkward silence.
Facial expressions turn serious.
Then somebody brings up a different subject,
and the conversation rolls along.
What’s missing from these two scenes is public lamentation.
In one case, somebody has died.
In the other, a marriage has collapsed.
In both cases there’s acknowledgment of what has happened,
but no public lamentation.
By lamentation I don’t mean that everyone has to begin wailing
and beating their chests,
but some kind of public acknowledgment is appropriate.
In the psalms there are songs of lamentation.
There’s a book in the Bible called Lamentations.
I was a seminary student on September 11, 2001
and one of the professors took her class to the chapel that day
and simply read through that book of the Bible.
Our new worship book has all 150 of the psalms.
LBW left a number of them out
and many of the missing ones were psalms of lament.
You may know that the hymns in the worship book
are group in various categories
that are printed at the tops of the pages,
and in the new book there is a small section of 8 hymns
categorized as lament.
It’s not wrong to express our sadness and grief.
That’s one of the recurring themes in my funeral sermons.
We’re sad when someone dies.
It’s okay to be sad.
It’s normal to be sad.
And in passages like today’s gospel reading
we see that even Jesus was sad,
and he expressed that grief out loud.
I myself am one who easily expresses anger,
just ask my kids.
The news reports that I talked about earlier
initially made me angry, and they still do.
But perhaps they should make us sad.
Why must the church and the very things we believe in
always seem to come under attack and even ridicule?
I think that maybe the reason this week’s story
has received so much hype
is that so many people find it fun to pick on the church
and what we believe.
But that shouldn’t surprise us.
And we know what sadness is.
Our chief symbol, the cross,
is the instrument on which our Lord and God
suffered and died.
The image Jesus uses in his lament is striking.
"How often have I desired to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
and you were not willing!"
I read something by a pastor who’s a city boy like me.
He didn’t know anything about farm life or chickens,
but he spent some time serving in Africa
and describes how he observed
the hen gathering her chicks.
"I spent several months in Tanzania
where each day and night I passed the chicken house
on the way to and from the campus where I taught.
Regularly, mother hens had new broods of downy chicks
that stayed close as they pecked around in the grass.
At night, one by one they climbed under her breast
and you could see nothing but the hen on guard,
her chicks lost somewhere under her feathers.
When a fox attacked by night,
she could not run away.
Not a mother hen!
She bared her breast and the fox took her first.
In the morning,
there was nothing but clusters of feathers here and there,
and little chicks running around on the own.
The mother hen represents a new form of power and leadership,
the one for others,
the servant leader,
the one whose extravagant love
considers the welfare of her own foremost.
Thus the means of survival
over against the attack of the wily foxes of this world
is provided not by retaliation or brute force,
but by gathering the innocent, the victims,
into a community in which the love of the mother hen
lives on even after her death!"
We can lament, we don’t have to hide it.
We can express our sadness over a death,
over the collapse of a marriage.
This week in our Bible Study we were talking about justice issues
and discussion about the food bank came up.
I give thanks for the food bank
and for the faithful service of the volunteers who work there.
But I wish we didn’t need the food bank
or the Out of the Cold suppers.
When I see families with children
making use of these excellent programs
it makes me sad.
It’s okay to lament, to be sad,
even to ask "Why God?"
It’s okay because God suffers with us.
God feels our pain.
But we also receive hope and consolation from God.
Jesus does gather us as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.
And he gives himself in sacrifice
so that we can be saved from the assaults of the enemy.
Let us live our lives in that trust and confidence.