Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How Jesus has wanted...

Sermon preached for the Second Sunday of Lent C, on Sunday, February 24, 2013.

    The Pharisees warned Jesus of Herod but it was not Herod who was the danger.  They were the ones who sought to kill Jesus, to silence His voice and discredit His Word.  Herod was hoping to see a miracle worker, a sideshow freak.  Like the crowds who followed Jesus, Herod had looked past Jesus and His Word to His works.  It was supposed to be the other way around – the works point to Jesus.  How quickly Jesus went from the miracle man who could do no wrong to the Messiah rejected by His own people!  In the middle of this, like the waiting Father of the Prodigal Son parable, Jesus opens His arms seeking to love those who refuse Him.
    If you were there when Jesus walked through Galilee, you would have heard all the buzz about Him.  We heard about it, too, as we made our way through Epiphany.  Casting out demons...  Healing the sick... Speaking the message of the Kingdom with authority...  Yes, Jesus cut quite the figure across the sleepy expectations of a people not used to prophets.  John was surprise enough but even John was not Jesus!
    As much as the whispered reports of Jesus' accomplishments aroused curiosity, they also created enemies.  The religious leaders of the day were not used to competition.  The ordinary folks down the block preferred the mundane even if it was boring.  The folks with high expectations were not looking for a Messiah so much as a political leader who would take up the liberation of Israel, a cause close to their hearts.  There was and there always will be rejection that accompanies Jesus or our preaching of Jesus' Gospel.  That should go without saying but it still needs to be said.     The scandal of the cross and the two edged sword of the Word means the Gospel arouses real enemies – then and now.  In the midst of all of this we have a Jesus who does not allow the adulation of the crowds to go to His head and neither is He preoccupied by those who were plotting His death.  He has a larger purpose.  He is here to manifest the love of the Father in the unlikely place of Jerusalem and the cross.  In the end it is the one and only place where redemption can be won.
    So Jesus goes to Jerusalem no matter who is against Him or what the dangers wait for Him there.  He goes with the purpose of suffering and dying for those suffering from sin and walking around with the mark of death in their bodies.  As He goes, He reaches out.  But Jesus will not be rushed.  His enemies are not in charge of the timing.  Jesus is in control of His destiny – no matter what His enemies think.  He will come to Jerusalem but on His own terms.
    Jerusalem is filled with sweet and bitter.  It is the city of God, the city of peace where the temple stands, where the seat of religious authority emanates.  It is also the city filled with rejection and plotters who will make sure that no prophet perishes except on the holy ground of God's city.  Now you might think that Jesus would be bitter or angry.  He is not.  He is wounded by those who reject Him.  He openly laments those lost to Him by unbelief.  He grieves for those who refuse His love.  He dies for those who crucify Him but those without faith benefit nothing from that death.  What a paradox!  The Savior dies for sheep who love to wander, says the hymn.  When we do not want to meet, we make the other party the one who refuses.  But God has not refused us.  His love has not rejected us.  His love has born with us sinners, enduring for us the consequence of that sin, dying our death to give us life.  His love seeks us even if we try paint Him the enemy.
    Even the lament of God cannot change the stubborn hearts of unbelief.  Not the blood poured out on the cross nor the love forgiving those who crucified Him nor the shock of the empty tomb will change the hearts of those who refuse Him.   So Jesus walks with the great sadness of love offered and refused, of redemption won but rejected.
    You hope for a story that builds step by step toward a triumphant victory, a happy ending.  Instead Jesus finds more and more rejection as He makes His way to Jerusalem.  But our Lord does not force us kicking and screaming into the Kingdom.  He offers the Spirit to plant faith in us but this tender invitation can be refused.  He is not come for judgment or condemnation but to be a refuge and forgiveness, life and hope, for all who believe in Him.
    We watch and listen but not as spectators to some divine drama.  This is also our story.  We are the unlovable who reject His love.  We must be wooed again and again by the Gospel working through the means of grace.  Is that not why we are here each week?  We confess that we have left the security of His wing and the sturdy foundation of grace to stand on our own and fall again and again and again.  Jesus loves us to salvation but that love begins with repentance and confession.  Our Lord laments each of us when we wander from the refuge of His grace, from the shelter of His healing wounds, and stand alone, apart, on our own.  So His Word beckons us again, His love woos us again, and His grace forgives us again.
    Here are the means of grace... Here is Christ.  Every Sunday Jesus stands among us with arms outstretched to shelter, hide, cover, warm, and love those for whom He has died.  He will not compel us.  He invites us.  He bids us come.  He sends forth His Spirit to break down the hard walls of our hearts.  We come not as spectators to see what He might do but as those who know what He has done... for us and for our salvation.
    Jerusalem would not see Jesus until they sang on Palm Sunday, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”  In just a few moments we welcome Him.  We sing with faith the words of welcome from today’s Gospel, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna."  We wandered but we are home again, safe and secure in the shelter of His wing, in the arms of His mercy, in the grasp of grace.  Amen.

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