Sermon from the Second Sunday in Lent

March 13, 2022
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Saint Luke 13:31-3

In nomine Jesu!

Most of us have heard of “thin places,” a term from ancient Celtic mysticism, made popular through the teaching of Franciscan Father Richard Rohr. Pre-pandemic, there was a growing trend to travel to thin places like Scotland’s Iona; England’s Stonehenge or New Mexico’s Ghost Ranch. “Thin places” are places in time where the space between heaven and earth grows thin and it is easy to encounter the Sacred. I experienced one of these myself, in a tunnel beneath the Arab Quarter in Jerusalem, along the buried portion of the Temple’s western wall, near the spot the rabbis identify as closest to the Holy of Holies.

Today, Jesus speaks about a different kind of “thin place,” to which none of us need travel because it’s exactly where all of us live. It’s the place where our faith life and our socio-political life touch most closely. The Bible’s shorthand for this is “the city.” Jesus names it “Jerusalem;” and naming it, Jesus weeps.

“Herod wants to kill you.” These words are not just a warning to Jesus; they are a warning to us as well. “Herod wants to kill you;” we hear, and the purpose of that warning could not be clearer. “Go another way! Avoid confrontation! Take no risks! Do not expend yourself!” Those who warn Jesus and us to avoid the Herods in our life — to take no risks, to avoid all confrontation — have an ulterior motive. They want to preserve themselves. They want to preserve the illusion of their own power. Jesus sees right through them. I wonder, do we?

Who are the Herods in our life? They are the very structures, the very systems we have created to order our lives and to save us; the very people we have chosen to use those structures and systems to preserve and protect us. Certainly that was the view of those who were warning Jesus. Better Herod, who was, however obliquely, one of their own; better Herod and his system with which they were comfortable and of which they had an, albeit small, part; better Herod than the Romans with whom we have no part; better Herod’s structures and systems rather than something else. Those who warn Jesus and us to avoid confrontation, to neither challenge nor confront nor even criticize familiar structures or comfortable systems are more concerned with preserving themselves and their level of comfort than they are concerned about Jesus, his ministry, or us.

This is not the way of Jesus! This is not the path Jesus urges us — and leads us — to take! Theologian Walter Brueggemann reminds us of the strong biblical tradition, represented in the Hebrew Scriptures by judges, kings and priests; and in the New Testament by “Sadducees, Pharisees, elders, scribes and priests” to “preserve systems and structures” and an equally strong tradition, represented in the Hebrew Scriptures by the prophets and in the New Testament by John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus’ followers “to embrace the pain.” Both are legitimate.

The first is even necessary. But “embrace of pain” is the way of Jesus. And that requires confrontation.

What do we do when our structures fail to embrace the pain of those outside it? The answer for followers of Jesus is painfully simple.

First, we weep. Jesus did. For Jesus, the disciples and those who warned them, Jerusalem was both church and state, local and national, civil, and home. Jesus wept because its very structures refused to embrace the pain of others, refused to be changed and resisted every attempt to point out the need for change, “killing the prophets and stoning those sent to it!”

As we fast on fear and feast on faith together, can we also weep with Jesus? Weep over the fact that our structures and systems push away the pain of our homeless neighbors? Weep over “the waste of our wraths and sorrows?” Weep over those intentionally excluded, intentionally marginalized, some of whom are among us? Weep when any member of Christ’s body is forced to bear their pain alone? One of my weaknesses is that I do. I weep over those whose pain is caused, exacerbated, or ignored by systems in church or state. I weep because these are not “categories” but individuals I know by name and face. One of my consolations is the knowledge that Jesus wept — and still weeps – for these too.

Yet Jesus does more than weep. Jesus stays the course; goes to Jerusalem, enters the Temple, and confronts both the abusers and the defenders of that system. Jesus goes to Jerusalem, to walk its streets, enter its courts and confront those who use religion, class, and social structures to afflict those who are sick, poor, different, or labeled “unclean.” Jesus enters Jerusalem and, alone on Pilate’s pavement, confronts a system that keeps good order but denies order’s blessing to “the least, the last and the lost.” This same Jesus nourishes us, walks with us, and leads us into those same places too.

The systems and the structures will not abide this confrontation. Even today, they still seek to keep him silent. God sees it another way. For Jesus, that’s “resurrection.” For us, “new life,” rooted in the promise that “our citizenship is in heaven” and from heaven Jesus “will transform the body of our humiliation to conform to the body of his glory by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.”

Abraham chose to believe that; to press on toward God’s promise; and God led the way. Jesus chose to believe that; refused to be dissuaded; entered the city; confronted its structures, systems, abusers, and defenders. They crucified him, but God raised him up and so we sing:

Risen Lord, shall yet the city be the city of despair?
Come today, our judge and glory.
Be its name, “the Lord is here!”…
…in this thin place, where God holds both heaven and earth is a single peace.

Amandus J. Derr
Interim Senior Pastor