Philippians 3:17 – 4:1; Luke 13:31-35
Second Sunday of Lent
St Barbara’s 17.03.2019
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Crisis? What crisis?
Those were the words allegedly used by Prime Minister Jim Callaghan shortly before his government came crashing down in the late 1970s.
Crisis has been a word much in use to describe our political situation in the last few days.
Its a word I am somewhat reluctant to use. Some of you here have lived through the second world war; others through the food rationing that followed; others through the 3-day week and the winter of discontent that brought Jim Callaghan down; others through the Falklands War. Other countries around our world today are suffering utter devastation caused by war or drought, millions of people starving to death or fleeing their lands. So a little perspective on Brexit is needed.
But it is true to say that we are living in strange times. This week it was revealed what were some of the contingency plans in place if we were to leave the EU without a deal at the end of the month. They included placing police outside supermarkets because they fear riots as people panic-buy food; and having commercial airlines reserved to fly emergency medical supplies into the country. We have a government so lacking in authority it is unable to govern; an opposition party so conflicted, it is not sure what it is opposing; and a civil service so overwhelmed by the current uncertainties that many parts of government life have simply been put indefinitely on hold.
This is serious stuff. Maybe not on the scale that previous generations have lived through; and certainly not on the scale that other countries suffer as a daily reality; but it is more than merely a national embarrassment.
The irony is that first century Israel at the time of Jesus looks remarkably stable in comparison. Yes, it was under Roman occupation; yes, any form of dissent was ruthlessly suppressed; but for now things seemed peaceful. As long as nobody rocked the boat.
But Jesus saw something else. Looking beyond the superficial veneer of peace and stability, he saw significant troubles ahead. His insights were enough to bring down death threats upon his head from Herod, king of Galilee, and others in power in the region.
For Jesus predicted that Israel’s unfaithfulness to God would ultimately lead to its downfall. That was not unique. He stood in a long line of prophets – people like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah, Elisha – who down the centuries had warned that the consequences of turning away from God were national crisis and suffering. The people of Israel had occasionally listened. They would step back from the brink, start worshipping God again and start living just and compassionate lives. But all too often the message was ignored, the messengers killed, and disaster ensued.
But what Jesus foresaw – the absolute destruction of the Temple, of Jerusalem, indeed of the nation of Israel itself – was far worse than anything that had gone before. And indeed this is what materialised less than 40 years later. The Romans sacked the city and utterly devastated Jerusalem. The Temple, that very symbol of Jewish identity and favoured status, was left as rubble, never to be re-built.
Jesus does not speak these words of warning lightly. They do not blithely trip off his tongue. There is no sense of grim satisfaction that those who oppose him, indeed those who want him dead, will suffer. Far from it. What we encounter in Jesus is grief and compassion.
We hear Jesus’ sadness, his heartbreak, in those words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…” When he arrives in Jerusalem before the week of his death and resurrection, he will weep over the city: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace…” Indeed, the only other time we know of Jesus weeping is outside the tomb of his dead friend Lazarus. He weeps over a city that has rejected him, in the same way he weeps over a dead friend. He sees what lies ahead. His love moves him to grief.
I wonder, as we seek to follow in the footsteps of Christ, what moves us to grief? We heard in our first reading of Paul moved to tears because of his love for those who have rejected Christ. What causes us to weep? If you are like me, it is easy to become hard-hearted, or to turn a blind eye. But love means we hurt as well as delight; we suffer as well as rejoice.
We may be tempted to weep tears of frustration over Brexit, but do we weep tears of grief too? Over a process that all too clearly exposes our divisions as a nation; over the loss of focus on issues of poverty and healthcare that need urgent attention; over our obsession with ourselves when world events cry out for compassionate response. Are we in danger of losing sight of the evils of extremism, so horrifically highlighted this week in the tragic events in New Zealand? And maybe we should weep because the struggle within Parliament all too easily reflects the struggles within our own lives, the divisions, the conflicts, the obsession with self.
Look around the people and situations that you know; the plight of the nations. Where are we being called to grieve today? What should be touching our hearts?
Jesus was moved by love to grieve. He was also moved by love to action. In one of the most tender images of the Bible, Jesus says: “How often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” There are a number of maternal images the Bible uses to describe God – Isaiah, for example, spoke of how “as a mother comforts a child, so shall God comfort you” – and here, we see that incredible maternal instinct to protect, to safeguard, applied to Christ. Whenever there is danger, whenever there is threat, the mother hen will bring her chicks together under the safety of her wings. This is not just for re-assurance; this is for their protection.
There are moving stories where farmyard fires have broken out, leaving animals and birds with no time to escape. Those clearing up the debris afterwards have occasionally found a dead hen, scorched and blackened – with baby chicks, still alive, sheltering under her wings. The hen giving up her life to save her chicks.
Hearing Jesus’ words in the light of his death, we can see how appropriate those words are. He gives up his life for us. He protects us from the full force of sin, that we might have life. Jesus knew he was heading to Jerusalem to die, and he longed that everyone would come to seek the protection that he alone could give.
I wonder, do we place ourselves under the protection of Christ. When we face challenges and hardships, when we encounter things that are wrong or unjust, do we simply grit our teeth and keep going, or do we place ourselves under his wing? Do we pray: “Jesus, I cannot cope with this alone. Please help me.” That calls from us humility – none of us are beyond needing God’s help. And also it calls from us a right view of ourselves. We may feel at times, “I don’t want to bother God about this… who am I to ask God’s help”. But hear again those words of Jesus: he longs to take us under his wing. He delights when we turn to him.
That is true for us as a nation too. He longs to take us under his wing. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have called for people to pray for our nation at this time. It is a call worth all of us heeding.
I know that when one of my children is upset one of the things I most long for is for them to turn me, to let me know what is going on, to ask me to help. How much more our heavenly father with us. I wonder, where do we need to come back under his wing today? what do we need to bring to him in prayer?
Lets take a moment of stillness, of silence, now, in the middle of our service, to offer up to God our prayers.