Transcribed from the sermon preached February 21, 2016
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: Genesis 15:1-11, 17-18, Philippians 3:14 – 4:1, Luke 13:31-35
Most of us were touched deeply on 9/11 when, as terrified and panicked people covered in dust ran from the trade center, firemen headed into the buildings to save anybody and everybody regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, orientation or religion. You are the firemen and women of the twin towers of our culture, freedom and community. Why? Because we are followers of Jesus, and Jesus went in to save us first.
On his way to Jerusalem Jesus goes town to town, healing, eating, preaching. It would appear from the text that he has gotten close enough to be within Herod’s reach of terror. Some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ We tend to think of the Pharisees generally as the bad guys, but Jesus frequently interacts and eats with them. While it is possible that these particular Pharisees want Jesus to go away, and they warn him to scare him away, it would be a mistake to think all the Pharisees were against Jesus. It is like hearing an African American who speaks of white racists and systemic white racism. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of white folks who are in solidarity with blacks for equal justice and opportunity. Jesus was Jewish with a Pharisee education so, so it would be a mistake to think all Pharisees were a part of the problem. The prophets are most critical of their own people and nation. Why? Because our nation is our responsibility. Take the log out of your own eye before the speck from your neighbors. God’s gonna trouble the water.
While Jesus knows he will likely die in Jerusalem, he does not accept the threat of Herod as reason to turn away from the city. Fear is not what drives Jesus, and this itself is an overturning of imperial power. Rome intimidated people into submission with the fear of violence. But Jesus responds, “tell that fox for me, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow.” He would not alter his ministry and mission. Regardless of the power of the state, he has a plan and he is sticking to it.
But soon enough he will arrive, because it is impossible for prophets to be killed outside of Jerusalem. This is a strange saying, but I think we get here a distinction between conscientious objection and civil disobedience. We see the difference between a guru, monk or teacher and a prophet. And, we see the difference between any notion of enlightenment or salvation as an individual task or journey, and the Hebrew notion of covenant.
And this is why I am a Christian and not a Buddhist. I have been drawn to Buddhism, and for a time considered transitioning from Christianity to Buddhism. It would be a fairly easy transition, because Christian and Buddhist notions of dying to this world of grasping and being reborn or reawakened are very similar. While Buddhism has the notion of the Bodhisattva, who having achieved enlightenment returns to work in the world until all beings are free of suffering, this is a peripheral teaching, with few incarnate examples. On the other hand, for Jewish and Christian prophets, the very enlightenment of the divine calls them to be servants within the community to nurture and call forth divine grace, justice and peace in human life and creation. The righteous anger and audacious love in the face of the violence of gangs and governments is front and center.
We certainly want to preach, to receive the healing, we want the faith by which Jesus, in his grace, can cast out our demons and heal our personal wounds – this is what he was up to on his way to Jerusalem. Yet the notion that once we have received our personal salvation through Jesus we are somehow free from paying attention to the needs of those around us has been a sad distortion of who Jesus was and calls us to be. As Pope Francis noted, “One who speaks only of building walls and not of building bridges is not a Christian.”
We should not be surprised that the Pope’s comments were quickly dismissed “For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven.
Jim Corbett, cofounder of the Sanctuary Movement and author of Goat Walking, talks of the importance of wilderness in religious traditions, as a way to gain distance from the political and economic power of organized society and get a sense of a higher law. He writes,
“In every culture and in all ages, human beings have turned to wilderness when searching for life’s fundamental meanings. Taoism, Buddhism, and Vedanta emphasize the importance of wilderness settings for the cultivation of individual insight, but, because the prophetic faith is rooted in a whole people’s response to the revelation at Sinai, prophecy is primarily concerned with the community’s revealed task rather than the individual’s enlightenment. Israel goes out as fugitive slaves and is reborn in the desert as a covenant people. Out of Sinai’s stillness the community hears itself called to complete its part of creation, to become a people that hallows the earth.” (p.82)
The reason we bring our children to Church, the reason we come to church, is to set the grounding and purpose of our life and work. It is to teach the Law beneath the law, the culture of righteous community that undergirds and provides stability to the culture, regardless of what the winds and tides are doing from one day to the next. Today and tomorrow we are going to be about our business of healing and building a community of peace regardless of whom it threatens. We come to have the law written on our heart so that whether or not our civil government, our friends and pop stars get it right or not, we know what it is. In popular culture there is a lot of talk of freedom and unity, of oneness, but not a lot of actually being and living it. Right here, that is what we are about. In our freedom we seek unity. The prophetic individual – the one, who is free enough to go his or her own way against unhealthy or exploitative or prejudiced government and culture, chooses to return with grace, peace and love.
Jesus is not going to Jerusalem to overthrow the government. He is going to Jerusalem to be the government – to be for what it should be for – to be a mother hen rather than a fox, to protect and nurture rather than eat the chicks.
So too we come to church to step out or the rat race, to rest a moment in the wilderness and talk to God, to reaffirm our covenant with God and each other, and to gain courage to return to Jerusalem, to our families, to Berkeley, Sacramento and Washington, to share and be the Good News.
There are foxes out there no doubt, but we know the power of God will have the last word. On that faith, while others run in fear, circle the wagons, build walls, blame scapegoats, we go to live a message of freedom and peace. May it be so.