February 21, 2016 – Lent 2C – Jerusalem, Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Jerusalem – Lent 2C – Ps. 27:1, 5-11; Lk. 13:31-35
St. Mark’s – 2/21/16 – Lorraine Ljunggren

We’ve come to the Second Sunday in Lent which means we are already well on our way toward Jerusalem with Jesus.

‘Really?! we might ask.’ But, wasn’t it only last week that we left Jesus, tired and, no doubt, hungry, emerging from his 40-day experience in the Judean wilderness?

That’s true. Even so, we find ourselves today having taken quite a leap in the narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry. It is left to other parts of the church year to experience the calling of the disciples; of healing on the Sabbath; of some remarkable sermons recounting the woes and blessings of life; of numerous pithy sayings; even healing a Roman Centurion’s slave – talk about crossing boundaries there; bringing life back into a man in a city called Nain. And, oh the parables!

The chapters in Luke’s Gospel between last week’s number 4 and this week’s number 13 contain a wealth of information about Jesus, his priorities in life, the ways in which he brings God’s love to life for people in all sorts of circumstances. From temptation to the cross Luke has Jesus taking a different path to Jerusalem – a path without repeated visits to the Holy City found in other Gospels.

Still, we find ourselves companions on Jesus’ journey. Even though we know or have heard what happens to Jesus once entering Jerusalem for what appears, at first glance, that last time, we still re-create parts of the journey during Lent. We still go back and re-read some of the stories which surround this movement from the transforming moment on the Mount of Transfiguration through the wilderness to the events of what we call Holy Week – events which will end up inviting a whole world to transformation.

We know, Jerusalem was, and is, more than just an ordinary city. Jerusalem is a powerful symbol to peoples of three great world religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as being a powerful political symbol.

The sweep of biblical history tells us Jerusalem is a city of prophets, priests, and kings, and of rulers who have held sway over great empires. Jerusalem draws people of faith to herself because ancient stories tell us that God finds Jerusalem a special place – that in Jerusalem we can expect to meet God in a special way. It is also a city in which great political might has been exercised over millennia; many people have fought and died to call Jerusalem their own. Jesus journeys to a Jerusalem living under the weight and suppressing might of the Roman Empire. Jesus goes to a Jerusalem which, he points out, “kills the prophets and stones those were are sent to it!” (Lk. 13:34b)

In whatever way we follow today’s news, it is plain to see that Jerusalem is as unsettled and divided today as she has been for so much of her history.
And yet, like so many spiritual pilgrims before us, we are still drawn to her. Perhaps because Jerusalem also represents hope – the hope that God dwells there for all time – making God’s-self known to God’s people in every age – the hope that in the fullness of time a New Jerusalem will come down or rise up, bringing peace – true peace – bringing peace and prosperity to all.

During the Season of Lent “…we travel a spiritual journey to our own Jerusalem, to our center of power and our place of hope, to hear the word of God to us.” (Homilies for Christian People, p. 427)

What word of God are we hoping to hear along the way? What words are we longing to hear to sustain and renew us in this weighty age in which we live? What words of hope do we need to reassure us that power and hope can work together for the common good? To whom or to what do we look?

We learn from an early age that political power is claimed and exercised in places like Washington, DC, and Raleigh, NC – in capitals near and far as well as in local commission chambers. And, in times of prosperity, that’s okay with us.  If we have secure jobs or retirement plans, if our educational system is equipping our children – all our children – and if our tuition levels hold pretty steady; if our businesses are successful or we think we and other people are getting a fair shake in the workplace or at school, then we don’t spend much time worrying about the sources of power. If government regulations favor us, then regulations are okay.

The same thought process is true for religious institutions. If we’re feeling good about our church or other faith community, if things don’t get too controversial, then we are more apt to spend our time and energy focusing on our ministries. If we feel as though what we’re doing as Christian people is being affirmed, then we are apt to be fine with the ways in which our own denomination or others exercise their structural power.

In what we might call ‘good times’ we don’t worry too much about power. Partly because ‘good times’ are generally characterized by hope – hope that the future will be a mirror image of the present. That if everything is okay today, then surely everything will be okay tomorrow.

But, that all changes if or when life gets tough. When government regulations step on our toes, when political leaders make decisions which impact our personal ability to pay bills or get an education, or when government regulations disenfranchise or hurt a lot of people, then everything changes and our ideas of power and who should have it change.

When ‘the church’ gets too vocal about issues we’re rather not talk about, or when ‘the church’ stands up for something which scares us, then everything changes. Then we call into question the leadership we follow… we want to know why things can’t just go back to the way they were – whatever that means – and, truth be told, it means different things to each of us. In times like these we formulate our own ideas about the workings of the church.

The thing is, this is a pretty normal human response. In good times it’s always easier to be satisfied and to have hope for tomorrow. In rough times it’s hard to be satisfied and hope can seem beyond our reach.

Which means, making this Lenten journey to our own Jerusalem is a great opportunity to spend some time praying about and thinking about our centers of power and our places of hope. In Lent, and all throughout the year, we each construct our own Jerusalem along the way – we each come up with our ideal of what life is supposed to be like in God’s holy place – in all of God’s holy places.

The psalmist understands the seeming dichotomy of power and of hope. The psalmist shows us a path to hope – the psalmist reveals to us the One on whom we are to rely. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1) “For in the day of trouble [God] shall keep me safe in [God’s] shelter; [God] shall hide me in the secrecy of [the Lord’s] dwelling and set me high upon a rock.” (Ps. 27:7)

We are encouraged by the psalmist to center our hope in God’s mercy and saving grace. Whenever we do so, we can be confident that God will be ever present with and for us. In times of trouble we can do what the psalmist does. We can call out with our voices or in the quietness of our hearts, “Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me. You speak in my heart and say ‘Seek my face.’ Your face, Lord, will I seek.” (Ps. 27:10-11)

As Christian people we know “…we are called to make Christ…the new Jerusalem…the center of our lives. Through the power of Christ we become partners in transforming the world [and in realizing and sharing hope]. None of the institutions of our society, not the government, business, education, the judicial system, not even the church, can transform the world. When we put our faith in those, we discover they give only illusionary peace and prosperity.” (op.cit.. 428)

Like the Psalmist, like Jesus, we are to put our faith and trust in God. The only true source of transformative power. The only way we can be individuals and a community with the power to transform ourselves and our surroundings, is by looking to the power of God. And God’s power is exercised very differently than worldly powers so often do.

God’s power is one of reconciliation and of healing, of compassion and of love. That’s the measure by which we are to account for our lives, our faith, our loves, and the way each of us exercise the power which each of us possesses.

Jesus is willing to go to Jerusalem as a witness to the power of God’s love. Jesus goes to Jerusalem to bring hope to a world sorely in need of hope. Jesus knows full well that the world’s hope rests on the power of a loving God.

“O Jerusalem, 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!” (Lk. 13:34a, c)

“Christ calls us into the protection and care of God, into the challenge and responsibility of being God’s people. Christ calls us to face rejection when we proclaim God’s word, to receive and bear God’s life and love. Christ calls us to be Jerusalem, the people of God.” (op.cit., p. 428)

As we wind our way through our own Lenten journeys, we can discover anew that in us other people can get a glimpse of this new Jerusalem – this new place of peace and hope – a new and renewed source of the only true power – the life-giving, liberating power of God’s love. Amen.