2 Lent proper 2C
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 13:31-35 Sermon
February 28, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
587 "Jerusalem My Happy Home"
379 "Rock Of Ages, Cleft For Me"
62 "O Christ Our King, Creator Lord"
580 "My Jesus As Thou Wilt"
LOVING THE UNLOVABLE
TEXT (vs. 34-35): "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
Her name was Annie; and Annie could be described as just plain mean. I don't know what made her that way or why she seemed to thrive on meanness, but she did. Absolutely nobody liked her or had any time for her.
Annie was an elderly widow living all by herself. She lived in a badly deteriorating weatherboard house with a sagging verandah at the front. Her yard was badly overgrown with all sorts of weeds and brush. Surrounding the house was a rusty wrought iron fence. In its day, the house would have been very attractive; but as the result of years of neglect, the house was allowed to become run down and a huge eyesore.
Annie had an old car in her ramshackle garage that she'd use once a week to go to the grocery store, or to go to an appointment somewhere. But usually she would just stay at home by herself.
Over the years, people had tried to befriend her. People had volunteered to come and help her with her house and yard. In fact, one church group just showed up at her house one day with a variety of yard tools. They knew she was old and probably couldn't handle the yard work anymore. So they went up and knocked at her door. And instead of being grateful for their assistance, she unleashed a whole barrage of swear words at the top of her voice. They patiently explained to her that they just wanted to help her out and that they didn't want any money for their labor. She just shouted all the more while waving her cane at them. Then she threatened to call the police if they didn't get off her property immediately. Sadly, they had no choice but to turn and walk away.
These church people weren't the only ones who had experienced her wrath. She had just as much contempt for her neighbors, and had gotten into property line disputes with every one of them. She was forever calling in complaints to the police department. One summer day, her next-door neighbor was hosting a birthday party for their six-year-old son in their back yard. Annie called the police on them for disturbing the peace.
And so it went. All the kids in the neighborhood knew to stay away from her. If a ball were to accidentally land in her yard, nobody dared go in after it. One high school boy tried to recover a football one time, and Annie took after him with a garden rake, almost injuring him. Even the Jehovah's Witnesses wouldn't come near her place. Annie just hated everybody, and nobody wanted anything to do with her. That suited Annie just fine.
Are there any "Annies" in your life? I know I've had a few. For some reason, there are people out there that despite our best efforts, they just want to hate us. We try to show love and acceptance and support, but it's all to no avail. They've got their minds set that they want to be our adversaries, and there's no convincing them otherwise. And as it is so many times, we just have to walk away.
I'd like you to keep this in mind as we look at our text for today, which is our appointed Gospel lesson. At the very beginning of this account, Jesus is approached by some of the Pharisees. We all know that the Pharisees were like "Annies" in Jesus' life. Despite everything Jesus was trying to do for them, all they could do was to spew hatred at him and reject him.
But in this instance, they are coming to Jesus with a warning. Verse 31 records their message to him: "Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you."
To get a message like this from an adversary is rather puzzling. If they wanted Jesus out of the way, why not deliver him into Herod's hands instead of warning him to flee? It hardly makes sense. But yet, they come to Jesus with this warning, almost like they were his best friends.
Jesus' reply to them in verses 32-33 is rather stern and abrupt. He says, 32..."Go tell that fox, 'I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.' 33 In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day--for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!"
The only way this makes sense is to put the whole thing in context with Satan right in the middle of things. Jesus had to go to Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy of being the Saviour of all humanity. He had to go there to eat the Passover with his disciples in the upper room. He had to go there to be illegally tried and convicted. He had to go there to receive the beatings and abuse. He had to go there in order to be sentenced to death so that he could bear the punishment for all sin for all time. Jesus had to go to Jerusalem because it was the way of the cross.
Remember that Satan was doing everything he could to get Jesus off-track. The last thing he wanted was for him to be successful in his mission to save the world. And he would use every trick in the book to get this accomplished. Satan would even employ the use of the Pharisees to warn him against Herod Antipas.
Jesus of course knew what they were up to. The Pharisees basically just wanted Jesus to go away and never return. He was a continual thorn in their foot.
I'm guessing that all of this was something contrived by the Pharisees, and that Herod probably wasn't part of it. Certainly Herod Antipas was no friend of Jesus. He was both jealous and paranoid, and he had a bad temper right along with it. He regarded Jesus as a threat to his throne.
However, we can find no indication that Herod was looking to kill Jesus. A little further on in Luke chapter 23 verse 8 we read, "8When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle."
So Jesus decides to call the Pharisees' bluff. In verse 32 he says, "Go tell that fox...." Of course that was an accurate metaphor to use about Herod. But for Jesus to actually call him that was an act of insubordination of the highest degree. A person didn't go around insulting the king if he wanted to live! With just those four words, Jesus was signing his death warrant as far as Herod was concerned. But we all know it was the Pharisees that wanted Jesus dead, and Satan was certainly using them every way he could.
The message Jesus tells the Pharisees to give to Herod was more of a message for the benefit of the Pharisees. In verses 32-33 Jesus continues on to say: "'I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.' 33 In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day--for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!"
As we consider these words, we know that they would have meant very little to Herod; but for the Pharisees, those words were very pointed. There could be no doubt in the mind of the Pharisees and the whole Sanhedrin that Jesus wasn't going to be scared off by a thinly veiled threat. He was going to do what he came to do, and there wasn't any two ways about it. Jesus was very resolute about his mission, and nothing Satan could do would discourage him.
So now the scene changes a bit. He stands on the Mount of Olives looking west across the Kidron Valley at the city of Jerusalem. The name "Jerusalem" means "city of peace," but it was far from that. The city harbored many enemies of God's Church; enemies that attempted to silence God's Word by abusing and killing those whom God had sent to them. God's people had taken on Satan's mindset in many ways; so much so, that God's will had become something foreign to them.
The temple in Jerusalem that was supposed to be God's house allowed prostitutes and thieves to practice their trade in the courts. The Jewish hierarchy consisted of rich, greedy, and otherwise contemptible people. Everything was completely wrong, and God's way was considered more of a nuisance than anything.
So Jesus stands there, tears in his eyes, and laments this condition. Verse 34 records this lament: "34 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!"
Remember Annie in my opening illustration? This is what Jerusalem had become--a whole city full of Annies! But unlike those who just walked away discouraged from Annie, Jesus stands there and sorrows over them. Why are there people like this who treat God's love in such a contemptible fashion?
Jesus uses the metaphor of a hen gathering her brood of chicks under her wing to describe his feelings for this "city of Annies."
Do you know what the implications of this are? Commentator N. T. Wright makes a good observation: "those cleaning up [after a farm yard fire] have found a dead hen, scorched and blackened, and live chicks sheltering under her wings. She has quite literally given her life to save them. It is a vivid and violent image of what Jesus declared he longed to do for Jerusalem and, by implication, for all Israel. But, at the moment, all he could see was chicks scurrying off in the opposite direction, taking no notice of the smoke and flames indicating the approach of danger, nor of the urgent warnings of the one who alone could give them safety."
As we consider ourselves in the picture, we know that we've been "Annies" too many times in our lives. We have sinned time and time again. We have wandered off and gone our own way. We have left the protecting wing of our Saviour and followed Satan who, like a fox, only seeks to devour us.
But we see Jesus who very patiently and lovingly continues to call us back to safety under the shadow of his wing. And like the mother hen in the fire, we have a Saviour who gave his very life on our behalf so that we might live.
Jesus is the one who loves us beyond our human understanding. Through the Gospel, he invites us to come under his wing of protection. Through the Gospel, he promises to forgive us for all of our sins and give us life.
When we come to him in faith, we receive all of the love he has for us. And regardless of how contemptible we have been, regardless of how many times we've pushed him out of our lives, regardless of anything we have said or done, Jesus still loves us. He continues to love us and accept us and forgive us, and promises to keep us safe from the destructive forces and empty promises of Satan.
I can imagine how frustrated Jesus was looking at Jerusalem on that day. It must be something like those people felt who were trying to be nice to Annie. But Annie wouldn't be persuaded. She kept on being mean and shutting people out of her life.
Annie's story doesn't have a happy ending. Nobody really cared when they didn't see Annie around, in fact they were thankful for every day they didn't see her.
Then one day, somebody from the gas company went to her door. There had been trouble on the line, and they went to check her pilot lights. He sensed that something wasn't right, so he contacted the police. They went to do a welfare check, and wound up breaking down her door. And there they found her decomposing body sitting up in her easy chair.
I won't describe what it was like, but I can tell you that it was an absolutely horrible sight. They found her in April, and according to the pile-up of mail under the mail slot in her door, there were postmarks back as far as mid-November. As near as anybody could figure, she died from either a stroke or heart attack.
Nobody missed her. Her social security was directly deposited, and most of her bills were automatically deducted from her bank account, so nobody suspected a thing. There was no funeral either. They just cremated her body. And Annie simply ceased to exist. What a sad situation.
They were able to find a nephew of hers out-of-state, who was her only surviving relative. In the house they found several hundred thousand dollars of cash she had stashed away, which the nephew inherited along with everything else. The nephew had the house bulldozed, and he gave it to the city for a park. He buried her ashes under the flagpole in the middle. He chuckled as he thought about his Aunt Annie, who hated people and children so much, would now be buried on her home property where people would be welcomed--and she couldn't do a thing about it.
Our text for today shows just how much Jesus loves the Annies of this world--the Annies in Jerusalem, and even when those Annies are the likes of you and me. Jesus knows how precious a human soul is, that's why he died to save each and every one. And that's why when those Annies come into our lives, we learn to look at them in the same way Jesus does.
And so, as we seek refuge in our Saviour, let us pray with the hymn writer: "Oh spread thy covering wings around, 'till all our wanderings cease, and at our Father's loved abode, our souls arrive in peace." (SBH 519, v. 4)