Jerry Van Marter
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
March 17, 2019
So, I got into Stanford this week! Turns out I’m an All-American bowler! Who knew? It only cost two-million dollars! Of course, Eva’s under indictment, but hey, her roommate may very well be Felicity Huffman! Who wouldn’t want regular prison visits from William H. Macy?
Last week Deborah Fortel incisively and insightfully led us into our Lenten journey. She traced the early steps of Jesus’ public ministry from his baptism to the mountaintop experience of the transfiguration to last week’s mountaintop experience of a very different sort – Jesus being led by Satan to the pinnacle of the world, where he was offered dominion of a very different sort than God had in mind. We learned from Deborah – and from Jesus’ 40 days of temptations in the desert – that choices have consequences and that sometimes our choices lead us away from God’s intentions and to be people we never intended to be. Deborah taught us that temptation – and its consequences – are not just ours individually. Temptation is often embedded in systems of discrimination and injustice that are so familiar to many of us that we hardly notice them… until they hit the newspapers. As Presbyterians, we confess together because we are engaged with life, and temptation, together. The way of Jesus this Lenten season, as Deborah so eloquently put it, is “to remember that we can be better, we can choose more faithfully, more compassionately, and learn more completely what it means for us to be disciples of Jesus.”
Now we get to the more ineloquent stuff: today’s lesson. Thanks to the common lectionary, we skip from the temptation story in Luke 4 to Luke 13 where Jesus’ eye is now firmly on Jerusalem. After the temptation, recorded in Luke 4, Jesus begins by returning to his home town of Nazareth, where, after just one sermon, he is run out of town and threatened with being thrown off a cliff. Most of us preachers have experienced this, but only figuratively. This was the real deal. For the rest of this long section in Luke’s gospel, Jesus travels throughout Judea and Galilee preaching, teaching, healing, answering questions … and piling up enemies. And now, he is uncomfortably close to Jerusalem.
Today’s reading is Luke 13:31-35. Herod has had about enough. He had beheaded John the Baptist, only to now hear the talk from local prophets that Jesus was John resurrected. Herod clearly had heard more than enough talk, not just about pretenders to his throne, but to resurrected ones that he had already killed as well. How many of these guys was he going to have to do away with? And how many more than once?
Jesus, meanwhile, is threatened on all sides. When he talks about prophets being without honor in their own neck of the woods, Jesus is not talking about Nazareth, or even Jerusalem. He’s talking about human nature at its most fundamental. The biblical scholar George Buttrick said there are three kinds of people in any crowd: reactionaries, prophets and mutineers. The reactionaries, in their greed, condemn the prophet as a mutineer; the mutineers, in their bitterness, condemn the prophet as a reactionary. So who killed Jesus? The mutineers in the mob AND the reactionaries in the temple and the Roman state. No one sided with the prophet.
That’s because the prophets are ONLY interested in telling the truth – that’s all that matters to them. Not power. Not privilege. Not self-interest. Not appealing to the base.
“Always we must cleave to the prophets,” Buttrick says. “Without them we have no standard from God and movement toward God; life stagnates into foulness. Yet we kill the prophet. Jesus would cure us, but we say, with sores all over our bodies, ‘We’re not sick.’ So we kill him. Calvary is always at the gates of Jerusalem.”
Jesus is neither intimidated nor deterred by the threat. Demonstrating that political name-calling is not a contemporary phenomenon, Jesus calls Herod “a fox” and casts Washington … I mean Jerusalem … as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.”
The president released his 2020 budget plan this week. Those killed and stoned by it: Medicare and Medicaid recipients, the environment, teachers and students, food stamp recipients, immigrants and refugees, nursing home residents, home health care recipients, those on federal disability, renewable energy providers and consumers, after-school program providers and users, federal student loan recipients, and sanctuary cities.
In Frankfort, the Education Commissioner is demanding to know the names of teachers who exercised their first amendment rights and utilized about the only tool available to them – a work stoppage – to protest the hostility and threat to their livelihoods relentlessly pursued by the governor. Another city that “kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.”
And in St. Louis last week, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church once again denied full participation of LGBTQI Methodists in that church. The prophets in our midst are continually being killed and stoned.”
Nevertheless, our story today is a story of hope. Though Jerusalem has rejected Jesus and therefore become an abandoned city, Jesus concludes that they will see him again and at that time they will say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” – those familiar words we will hear again on Palm Sunday.
As with temptation, obedience – and this Lenten season — is a call to find our better, our truer, our essential selves. This story is a story about human will. Too often Jesus’ “I would” is answered by our “I will not.” It’s our choice: if God compelled our obedience, we might as well be clods of turf, lumps of clay, scoopfuls of mud. Only willed obedience is real. And, of course, that means willed disobedience is real, too.
In a marvelous sermon preached at the ordination of the Rev. Jieun Kim Han yesterday at Strathmoor Church, our own Johanna Bos reminded us that there is always more to us than our shortcomings. Going back to the always truncated story of Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, Johanna said that our histories, our stories, are always ambiguous. From Cain the murderer of his brother, came two strains of descendents – a line of equally violence-prone warriors and a line dominated by artists and musicians, who usually always comprise the prophets among us.
The good news of the gospel is that God never gives up — amid the resistance to Jesus’ call, amid the devastation that choices born of disobedience wreaks, amid the rejection of our better, truer, essential selves for something more glitzy, or more immediately self-gratifying, or more selfish, or more self-aggrandizing, or more politically self-serving – Jesus makes this promise: “You will see me WHEN you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’
WHEN, Jesus says. There is always time to repent, there is always time to receive pardon for sin, there is always time to welcome the reign of God. Jesus’ offer, in fact, will continue beyond the cross, beyond the grave, beyond the resurrection, beyond the ascension. And the offer is not just to Jerusalem, but to Washington, and Frankfort, and Louisville and to the whole world.
WHEN. May it be so. Amen.