Sunday, March 17, 2019

"What Makes Jesus Weep?" A Sermon from Littlefield Presbyteria Church on Luke 13:31-35

Mosaic on altar in Dominus Flevit chapel on Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. "How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"   

"What Makes Jesus Weep?"

Luke 13:31-35

The first time I visited the Holy Land in 2006, I felt very moved by the sight of the Dominus Flevit chapel every time we drove near it on the bus. So, I made sure that, when I led a small group on a pilgrimage in 2009, we took the time to walk down the Mount of Olives and visit Dominus Flevit. The chapel was built near the spot traditionally said to be where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. The church’s name, in Latin, means “the Lord wept.”  The shape of the church is in the form of a tear drop.
            The church features a beautiful picture window that faces west, overlooking Jerusalem, in the direction Jesus was looking as he wept over the city.[1]
         Below the window, on the front of the altar, is a picture of what never happened in that city.  It is a mosaic medallion of a white hen with a golden halo around her head, which reminds us that Jesus compared himself to a chicken.  The mother hen’s wings are spread wide to shelter the pale yellow chicks that crowd around her feet. The hen looks ready to protect her beloved chicks.
        The medallion is rimmed with red words in Latin.  Translated into English it reads, "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!"   The last phrase is set outside the circle, in a pool of red underneath the chicks’ feet: “You were not willing.”
            How often have I desired. As John Wurster wrote in his recent blog post, this phrase points us to something significant about who Jesus is. Jesus yearns to gather us to himself, to shelter us, to be in relationship with us. How often have I desired to gather you, and you were not willing?  Too often, we hide. We resist. We follow our own way, try to live by our own version of the truth. And yet God keeps longs to be in relationship with us and keeps seeking us out.[2]
            It’s a very vulnerable stance when there are foxes or other predators around and you're the mother hen. When told that Herod wants to kill him, Jesus replies, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out 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.'"   
Jesus is in very clear and present danger as he faces Jerusalem.  He knows this. The prophet’s job is to speak truth to power, tell hard truths that people don’t want to hear. We know the prophet is right when the point to a sin that entangles us—when they name those fragilities we most fear.
As Eric Baretto says, if we know how and where to look, we find prophets today in all kinds of places. “Prophets don’t predict what is next. They look at the world as it is and, through their God-suffused imagination, see it transformed. What if violence and death were not the order of the day? What if compassion, not selfishness, reigned in our midst? What if we could all see ourselves and our neighbors as God sees us?
Baretto continues: “The prophet plants herself in the present, in all its blessedness and mire, and says God is present here. She declares a new world, and in this bold, courageous declaration, God acts. In the very act of speaking a God-inspired word of consolation and hope, prophecy comes to life in our midst—as we lift our hands to serve our neighbor and move our feet to go to the most desolate places and discover there that God and God’s servants are very much alive, very much present. We find that such places are not so desolate after all.[3]
Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and certain death. He uses the image of a mother hen who shields her chicks with her own body—and her very life, to express the wondrous love of God.  
         "I must be on my way,” Jesus said. Must.  Jesus uses that word over and over to indicate the divine necessity to which he must be obedient.   Jesus had already announced to his disciples, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."[4]  This is what Jesus is about-- delivering God's grace because it is his divine calling.   It is what he must do.  
            Jesus went to Jerusalem to gather that city and the whole world under the protective wings of God’s grace.  Isn’t this a wonderful guiding image for the church’s ministry?  When we see the protective mother hen as an image of strength and God’s protecting grace in Jesus Christ, it can be the pattern for our life together as the church. Acting as a caring hen, the church needs to seek out God’s children everywhere to bring them under the protective wing of God’s grace.
That’s a tall order. Where in the world do we start? 
         I think we start by looking around our world and asking ourselves, “What makes Jesus weep?”    
            I see things that I believe surely make Jesus weep: the violation of basic human rights of so many of God’s beloved children… people in one of the richest nations of the world who lack adequate shelter or don’t know where their next meal will come from… so many of God’s beloved children being killed by gun violence… systemic racism and poverty…Islamaphobia…ethnic cleansing in the land we call “Holy”… God’s good creation being ravaged so carelessly… warfare… children in Yemen dying of hunger…children around the world dying of malaria and AIDS… families separated at our nation’s borders. The list could go on and on.
            When people asked Jesus what the most important commandment was, he very clearly said it is to love God completely and to love one another as ourselves. In his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, he declared that the spirit had anointed him to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to free those who are oppressed. In word and deed, Jesus called his followers live as God’s beloved and loving people, to see all of God’s children as beloved, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
            So, I believe that the hatred and injustice we see around us in the world, the neglect and outright contempt for the poor, the idolatries in Church and culture, the fearfulness and violence surely make Jesus weep.
            This past Friday we woke up to hear that at least 49 Muslims whomassa were gathered for Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand, in a brutal act of terrorism. (The death count now is at least 50.)  A gunman mercilessly shot hundreds of rounds of ammunition with a weapon that was scrawled with neo-Nazi symbols and the names of white right-wing extremists who had killed others because of their ethnicity or faith. A manifesto released online laid his motivations out to bare: to kill Muslim immigrants. He cited white nationalist extremists in the United States and France and elsewhere as his inspiration.
            When we look around and consider all the things we think make Jesus weep, it can be overwhelming. It may seem impossible. But because we can’t do everything is not a reason to do nothing. We are called to do what we can.
As a congregation and in our personal lives, we need to look for the things in our world that make Jesus weep. And then—because we can’t do everything—we need to focus on where the world’s pain and need meet our deepest passions and our gifts and what we have to offer in service. We need to do what we can do.          
            I think we can learn a lot from history, from prophets and activists who saw something that was wrong and did what they could. In his book Bury the Chains, Adam Hochschild tells the story of a mass movement in Britain swayed first public opinion, and finally Parliament, to abolish the slave trade and later slavery itself within the British Empire.[5]  I  think that any of you who have a passion for peace and justice and interfaith could learn from them and would enjoy the book.
I’m sure it seemed like a hopeless cause to a lot of folk. But activists formed a broad coalition, energized by Quakers and evangelical Christians, but reaching across the political and social spectrum, including people of prophetic faith and shrewd politicians, progressives and conservatives, elites and outsiders.
            William Wilberforce introduced his first anti-slavery motion into Parliament in 1788.   It was defeated, and would be defeated nine more times until it passed in 1807.  They kept working until slavery was abolished altogether, in 1833.

         In the United States, Christians were an important part of the Underground Railroad. In his book, Bound for Canaan,[6] Fergus Bordewich tells how ordinary people, black and white, slave and free, joined together to do what they believed was right, in a movement of civil disobedience that challenged prevailing social mores and local and federal law.  Bordewich estimates that the network of men and women who harbored or conducted fugitive slaves, plus those who assisted with food, clothing, and legal assistance, numbered more than 10,000, and that they carried an estimated 100,000 fugitives to the far northern states and Canada.   
            I believe our Christian faith calls us to a truly prophetic faith--- a holistic faith that is united with the struggle for peace and justice.  
            This faith informs my thinking when I ask, “What makes Jesus weep today?”
            I see Jesus weeping over our cities… over our world… over the way humankind has acted…  weeping over how we have failed to be the loving, generous, joyful people we were created to be…  weeping over the violence and oppression in our world.   I hear God lamenting over our unfaithfulness.  God grieves for us… and longs to protect us. 
            Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem follows a collection of parables that call for repentance.  I believe that Jesus’ lament over the city of Jerusalem is less a final judgment on the city and more a call to repentance.   It calls us to listen for God’s word for us today, and to respond faithfully.

Here at Littlefield, we’ve been working for several decades at practicing hospitality that welcomes people who are different into our building for English as a Second Language classes and preschool programs and interfaith programs and interfaith worship services. Some of you have attended interfaith events at local mosques and enjoyed the warm hospitality there. These are some of the ways we build bridges of understanding and nurture relationships. It’s hard to hate somebody or to be afraid of them when you’ve shared meals together and prayed together for healing and peace.
Some of you are growing in your willingness to be uncomfortable in your own spaces, even in your own families, and risk speaking up when someone says something Islamophobic or anti-Semitic or racist.  Those of us who live in Dearborn have neighbors and friends who are Muslim. I know that some of you have had relatives or acquaintances say something that shows their lack of experience or understanding, like “What’s it like to live under Sharia law?”

Now, to those of us who live in Dearborn, that’s a ludicrous question. But we have people in our lives who live elsewhere, and some of them seem to get their information from propaganda industries that promote fear and hatred.
It may seem like a small thing when you respond to their questions or remarks by saying, “I wouldn’t know. We don’t live under Sharia law in Dearborn.” Or, “I have wonderful neighbors who bring me food and help me shovel my snow,” or whatever. It may be a small thing, but it makes a difference.
There is so much misinformation and fear-mongering and hateful stuff circulating in social media. So, though it may seem like a small thing, we can commit ourselves to actively using social media for good, by sharing posts that promote respect and compassion and understanding.
Another thing we can do is to show up. As many of you know, I make it a priority to show up in the community when there’s a crisis or something that calls for a faithful, neighborly response. When the travel ban went into effect, some of you were there to represent, holding your signs that quoted scripture passages that command us to treat immigrants with hospitality and justice, and reminded us that we are commanded to love one another as ourselves, and some signs that proclaimed, “We love our Muslim neighbors.”
I’ve lost count of the number of candlelight vigils and interfaith services I’ve attended in the past few years. There have been too many terrible mass shootings. I’ve lost count.
So, Friday, when I heard about the massacre in the mosques in New Zealand, I decided it was important that I reach out in solidarity. I attended Friday prayers at one of our local mosques. And then I attended the vigil at the Islamic Center of America and was asked to offer a prayer.  Since Friday, I’ve gotten multiple emails and Facebook messages and phone calls from Muslim friends, thanking me for showing up, and telling me how much my friendship means to their communities.
It seems like a small thing, but it means more than you can imagine to people who are grieving and afraid. Just as we show up for funerals in our community, it offers comfort and shows we care when we show up when our friends and neighbors are in need. It isn’t something that only pastors can do.
It’s something any of you could do, maybe by going out two-by-two, to reach out in friendship and solidarity, to embody God’s love for all God’s beloved people by showing up.
We follow Jesus the Christ, who proclaimed the reign of God…and broke the power of sin and evil…and calls us to follow him on the way of self-giving love.  This same Jesus claims us as his own and promises to be with us always…and gives us the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us further into God’s truth and freedom, and to work with others for justice, freedom and peace.”
Amen.  So be it!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
March 17, 2019

[1] Luke 19:41-44

[2] John Wurster, “Looking Into the Lectionary, 2nd Sunday in Lent,” at Presbyterian Outlook blog.

[3] Eric Baretto, “You Don’t Want to Be a Prophet (Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11), at Huffington Post.

[4] Luke 9:22

[5] Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves. Mariner Books, 2006.
[6] Fergus M. Bordewich, Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America’s First Civil Rights Movement. Amistad, 2005.

No comments:

Post a Comment