Luke 13: 31-35
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish me work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Today’s Gospel lesson is depicted in window 24 of our beautiful 36 stained glass windows depicting the story and teachings of Jesus. Only seven of them do not have Jesus in them. Those are the Annunciation Window which is the first one. In it you see the angel telling Mary that she will give birth to God’s promised one. Also, the last window does not have Jesus in it as it is the one depicting Paul’s conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus. The artist depicts the Spirit of God falling upon Saul who became Paul in a very dramatic and forceful way. The force of this is incredible as you get the feeling that Paul is literally struck by a bolt of lightning and loses all balance. If you move further down on both the lectern and pulpit sides, there is one with the wise men or the magi, one depicting the empty tomb, and then three which depict Jesus’ teachings and parables. So, 29 of the windows have Jesus in them. But in only one of these, the one from the text today, has Jesus facing away from us. Look at the window or the front cover of your bulletin and notice how Jesus is turned away from us. His out stretched arms reach for the city about which he speaks. The three men standing next to him could be his followers or possibly the Pharisees that came to warn him of the danger if he enters Jerusalem. The third man who is partially hidden is most likely one of the many windows in which the artist Joep Nicolas has inserted himself. It is fun to find him in the other windows always looking on over someone’s shoulders.
The story tells us that while outside the city, Pharisees arrived to warn him that he was in great danger. Jesus, of course is well aware of what lies ahead for him in the final week after he enters the city. Matthew and Luke only have Jesus, entering Jerusalem once in his ministry, our Holy week, while the Gospel of John has him going and going from the city throughout his ministry. Whichever is accurate, we do know that Jesus was aware of how and where he would die and that he was not naïve to politics. And the Pharisees were here to warn him that the politics in the city were dangerous. That Herod was out to get him. Jesus almost laughs off their warning. He calls Herod and old fox. What we need to know here is that while we in our society might think being a fox is a complement to our looks or our wily and sly nature, it is meant in a derogatory phrase meaning a destructive and unprincipled person. Jesus says he was busy working outside the city for a few days casting out demons and healing the sick, and after that he would deal with what lay ahead in the city.
Jesus knew that people living together were people living in politics. He knew that the city that lay ahead was filled with political systems and that some of these systems were to be his demise. We live in a world that in obsessed with politics and always has been as it is within politics that we gain our status and power. Think of the stench of our base humanity that we are finally getting over from our last election. People trying to make themselves look good and their opponent look incompetent to gain your support and your vote. It got ugly and did not at all show humanities best side! And, we have politics within our workplaces as well. Think of the office politics you endure when a co-worker takes credit for something they did not do or profits from someone else’s ideas. Think of the politics within even our church. Where we should be at our best is often where our worse side comes in to play. Politics can be extremely humbling!
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr was fascinated by humanity and it’s trying to be moral and good. He wrote how we needed society to help us be our best. He felt that we needed to have the moral and just principals that we find in the teachings of our scriptures to guide us as we create a society where people are loved and people are cared for out of principals of justice and righteousness. Niebuhr knew that is was hard for us to create and live in a moral society. He felt strongly that the leaders of society needed to balance their politics with the teachings of Christ. Only then could we make societies, make cities that were a part of God’s realm.
And Jesus was not naïve to these politics. My guess is that he looked over the city of Jerusalem after the warning from the Pharisees in the same manner we look at our children misbehaving yet again. His lament is not a final judgment. It is God’s will to protect the city from its self. “How often”, Jesus says, “do I desire to gather you my children together like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings”. Out of my love for you, I want to protect you. Out of my love for you, I want to make your society good. Jesus looks at the city with outstretched arms as depicted in the window and shows that he is indeed not intent on destruction of the people, but on salvation. He wants to bring in those who feel cast out. He wants to raise up those who feel beaten. He wants to bring back society to the heart of God.
Jesus laments over the city. It is not that the city itself is bad or evil. The city contains the same people that were found out in the suburbs, out in the countryside. Remember that he was out in the countryside helping people with the demons that possessed them. He was out in the suburbs healing people who were sick. He was out in Cleveland Hts. Ohio helping the likes of you and me! And while out there he found the same people with addiction issues, with anger issues, with marital strife, with financial burdens and unemployment in the country as he found in the city. There were the same people hurting themselves and others by obsessing in their self- interest, with bigoted thinking, and with not thinking of the greater good, with not putting their heart and trust in God and God’s love. But you can see it in the city. You can stand on a hill like Jesus does in the window today and look down at the city and see the sin of our ways. And the message Jesus says is that he loves us. He loves all of us and wants to care for us as a mother hen cares for her children. We should look at the city and feel the same. It is our place as followers of Christ to not condemn the city for its ills, for its violence, for its pains. We are to look at society and see how we can turn it in to a moral and good place. We have been given a moral compass in the life and teachings of Jesus. It is our place to take these lessons and apply them to our lives and our society.
There is one last message I want to share with you about this passage from Luke. A lot of our ministry at Fairmount is focused on the city. We help feed our brothers and sisters at community meals at Bethany, North, and Calvary Presbyterian Churches in the City of Cleveland. We have partnered and continue to find ways to link up with our inner city sister church North. We advocate for healthcare and education for people whose voices need to be lifted up in our ministry with the GCC. In all this, it would be wrong to create a “them and us” attitude or to assume that our role is that of a mother hen to a chick. That is God’s role with all his children. Our ministry to our city neighbors will finally be God-like when we are working to bring about God’s just society together and where we all will know that rich or poor, city or suburban, we are equally flawed and equally loved by God.
As you know Lent is the season when we center our thoughts on how we live as followers of Christ. Together we focus on our spiritual journeys and how we can be better disciples. In the next few Sundays of Lent, Pastor Eric and I will be preaching from Gospel texts and focusing on the beautiful stained glass windows which tell the teachings and parable of Jesus. I hope that you will continue to journey with us on this faith pilgrimage of “The Way of Christ” reflecting on the beautiful stained glass windows of our sanctuary.