Toorak Uniting Church

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A weeping God

Psalm 27     Luke 13: 31 – 35
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
7 March 2004, 10.15am

Today’s scripture reading is full of contrast. On the one hand there is the condemnation of Jerusalem, reminding us of some of the doom and gloom we find among the prophets in the Old Testament. On the other hand there is the soft and moving image of a hen gathering her chicks under her wings to give them shelter and protection.
There is the lament over a city that makes wrong decisions, both in the past and in the present. A city that kills the prophets that are sent to it from God, a city that seeks to please the fox rather than to protect the chicks and doesn’t know what is good for her. At the same time there is love and sorrow over looming disaster and a desire to protect.

It shows us a Jesus that is torn apart over a place and people he loves deeply. A place that has been central in the faith of his people for centuries. The place where he knows he is going to meet his death.

Why doesn’t he heed the warning of the Pharisees? Why doesn’t he turn around, away from the fox Herod and others that are after his blood and return home to his father’s carpenters shop? Why this heart-breaking cry over a city that he knows will bring him down?

It is not without a struggle Jesus continues on his way. It is not an easy road he travels. There is agony in his cry, there is the pain of unrequited love, there is the frustration of not being able to turn the people of Jerusalem around, a city that is most dear to him.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, why?????

"Hear O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! Do not hide your face from me!" One can imagine these or similar words on the lips and in the heart of Jesus while he wrestles with his destiny, with his disappointment over the people of Israel, with his future. He could still turn back. The Pharisees in the text embodying what common sense would have him do: Come, go, turn back before it is too late.
Time and again in his gospel, (more than 40 times in actual fact) Luke writes that "things had to happen", and indicates in this way that there is a plan to Jesus’ life. That there is a route to follow, a track laid out by God Himself that Jesus has to travel. And that Jesus, in prayer and through the Holy Spirit, is keeping to that path in a way nobody has ever done before. True to God’s vision, true to God’s plan, true to God’s intentions.
But not without difficulty.

The words of faith and trust, words like those at the beginning of psalm 27, "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear, The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid", are mingled with sorrow and fear, with a need for support, from his followers and from the heavenly host. Later on in Gethsemane an angel will descend from heaven to wipe the blood and tears from Jesus’ face.

A Jesus that is very human Luke paints us. A Jesus torn apart by love, frustration, destiny and a desire to ward off the evil that is coming towards him.
Why? Why do you not come to me and let me shelter you? Why is it you kill those who come from God rather than welcome them and live by their words?

Words that could be directed at any city, at any community of people living in this broken world. Cities where people get intimidated by Herod and his power, or by Pilate and his soldiers, cities where people rather hang on to what they’ve got and cut a few corners where matters of justice and peace are concerned than choose for the radical way of living the gospel Jesus proposes. Jerusalem, Jerusalem.

God laments the people that reject him. It breaks his heart to see the city go to waste, the people suffer, the righteous killed. It breaks his heart to see them make the same mistakes over and over again.

Come, I want to gather you under my wings, come turn from your destructive ways, stop being intimidated by the likes of Herod, follow the path I have laid out for you and come to new life with me…..

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?
2 The Lord is my stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
3 When evildoers assail me, to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my foes, they shall stumble and fall.
4 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
5 One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
6 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent, he will set me high on a rock.

"Hear O Lord when I cry out loud……"

I have wondered if these words were in Jesus heart. Age old words from the psalms he would have been very familiar with.

And then it made me wonder how do we approach Jerusalem? How we approach those places we encounter in life where prophets are killed and foxes rule? Where hens seek to protect their chicks in vain and where the righteous are unwelcome visitors? Is it with the words of the psalm on our lips, with the vision of the Kingdom clearly leading us? Or are we more like the Pharisees: ready to turn around whenever we think we might antagonise those in power?
Or are we, so much part of the world we live in, of the society that surrounds us that we don’t even notice there is a prophet calling for followers on a hill somewhere just outside our city, the place we live?

Don’t despair if you are. It is for those that Jesus travels on, for those he enters the city and takes Herod and his companions on. Into the heart of the lion’s den he takes his gospel, trying to move, trying to turn round, trying to make Jerusalem and its people see.
And even death is not able to keep him from it.

To whom do we turn for shelter? The Herods of this world that build beautiful palaces and seem to be above the law in their power and might? Or to that man with his arms outstretched on a cross on a hill just outside the city walls, welcoming us to another life and another order?

What is the prayer on our lips? Are we following Jesus into the city bent on building a community of justice, love and peace? Or are we in the city waiting, sitting tight, holding on to whatever we’ve got organised for ourselves right now, regardless of the fate of others?

A hen gathering its chicks. A beautiful image of warmth, softness and protection. A city killing its prophets, a man walking to his death. The contrast could not be bigger.
And yet.

They are both part of the same picture. Of a God become man, wrestling with love and rejection, torn apart by the contradictions of life, desperately longing to bring those who are straying safe under his wings, seeing the sky darken, the gloom deepen, knowing there is no other way to life than through death itself. Ready to go to the utmost extreme to show his love even to those that have rejected him.

Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004


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