Toorak Uniting Church

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The journey towards Easter

Luke 13: 31 – 35
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
4 March 2007


Lent is the time to think about who Jesus was from the perspective of his death and resurrection. As Advent is the time to think about Jesus from the perspective of his birth, his incarnation.

Colour purple: Colour of Kings, very difficult to produce in ancient times, at the same time the colour of suffering for the Church, of turning in and thinking about Jesus’ journey and how it connects to us.

Purple fall and purple stoles with symbols about the suffering of Jesus and what it means for us.

Desert – forty days. Passionflower – crown, thorns, nails for the cross, halo, seeds of the fruit, grows on a vine that grows and attaches itself to whatever it happens to encounter in its path. Happens to flower in the Northern Hemisphere around Easter.

Stoles: Tree of life, suffering of Jesus somehow brings life and healing. The snake: Garden of Eden, the fall, but also the snake Moses held up for the people of Israel to be healed in the desert when they were afflicted with terrible illness. Green leave, new life already germinating out of seemingly dead wood. Symbol of hope even with the treat of death on the horizon.

Our reading from scripture this morning fits very much in that context. Jesus is approaching Jerusalem and the threat to his life is becoming more and more pronounced.

The questions he is asked and the answers he gives becoming more severe and radical. Just before this passage Jesus has talked about the Kingdom as a leaven leavening the world. He has said that the Kingdom can only be entered through the narrow door, and that some people will be turned away because they are not doing the right thing.

At this point, at this very hour when the contrast sharpens and the chasm between Jesus and the religious leaders widens there are some Pharisees who come to warn Jesus. They don’t want him to come to any harm and feel if only he could change direction a little bit, be more sensible, less extreme, less outspoken perhaps and keep his head down for a while it would be better for every body. Herod has killed other prophets, John the Baptist one of them, and they can see Jesus heading for the same fate. If only he would be sensible!

These Pharisees pose as friends, but they really are not. They are not really interested or supportive of his mission, but they are good people, good citizens who don’t want anybody to come to harm. They like a good meaty discussion, but they don’t want to take things too far. They don’t want to rock the boat. Their faith very much a faith informed by the comfort of the stability of the status, their religion very much focussed on being good citizens and keeping themselves out of trouble rather than seeking the justice, peace and healing Jesus promotes in his work.

And lets not judge them to quickly for that. I don’t know about you, but I would probably find it easier to identify with those Pharisees than with Jesus. And won’t most of us avoid suffering if we can, won’t most of us tone down if we feel speaking up and standing straight will get us into trouble with the authorities, or even with the people next door? Wouldn’t most of us prefer life to be smooth and easy and not too difficult?

Jesus makes another choice, his priorities are not informed by fear and anxiety and the very human tendency to avoid unpleasantness where we can, his priorities are informed by people and their needs. Healing, casting out demons, speaking up for those with no voice of their own, standing up for the values of God’s Kingdom, day after day is what informs and guides Jesus’ choices. The old Fox, Herod, can go and throw tantrums as much as he wants, Jesus is going to stick to that mission. Jesus does not seek suffering, but if it occurs as a result of his preaching and his actions, he is not going to change his course because of it.

There is a deep sadness that accompanies that defiance of Herod and all he stands for in Jesus. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem," he says, "if only things were different." Jerusalem, the centre of religion, holy as much than as it is now, has become a place that kills instead of giving life and that fills Jesus, whose only desire is to gather those who are there under his wings and provide them with healing and loving protection with despair. What should be good and life giving has turned into a place of death and despair.

Where are we in the story?

How strong is the voice of that Pharisee who lives in all of us: led by anxiety and fear, avoiding any unpleasantness even at great cost to the coming of God’s kingdom?
And how strong is the disciple who also lives in us, wanting the follow Jesus and not count the cost but stand up, like he did, for the Kingdom and its values to take priority in the world?

Can we hear Jesus call, feel the pull of the hen gathering its brood, inviting us to head for a place where we are under his wings?
Do we have the courage, like Jesus, to speak up, stand up, bring healing, promote justice and peace and love, even where it comes at a cost to ourselves and our equilibrium?

Lent is a time for us to consider these and similar questions. To wonder where we stand in relation to Jesus suffering. How much we would be prepared to take it on ourselves, how much we are, through the choices we make and the priorities we have part of the problem? How far does our discipleship go? And how deep is our fear when it comes to rocking the boat and persisting in our following of Jesus.
Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2007


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