I don’t think anyone would deny that the general mood in our nation is particularly troubling. No matter what one’s political preferences might be, most of us, left or right, feel as if the country, our state, our culture is out of our control, that big money and political operatives are running the show and care little for the lives of ordinary people. It’s not just that we can’t seem to come together to solve intractable problems; it’s that the whole system is rigged for the 1% and their money and influence make it impossible for the rest of us—we end up fighting over an ever-smaller piece of the pie while the wealthy and powerful gorge themselves.
I was reminded again of this sharp divide in our nation on Thursday when thousands rallied around the capitol, and hundreds came inside Grace Church. Whatever the particular issues that brought the crowds of Latinos and their supporters to Capitol Square, for those I with whom I talked, their desire to lead full, flourishing lives in America, their hopes to be good citizens in a nation that embraced all that they have to offer and all that they are, was on full display. I heard about the back-breaking labor they had endured to achieve some measure of success, the grinding poverty and horrible violence in the places they had fled, and their hopes for the future.
One of the last families to leave was a couple with two or three small children, toddlers really. The girls were so sweet and beautiful, smiling faces. I wanted to pick them up and hug them. They waved as they walked out the door and shouted good-bye.. I wonder what dreams and hopes, what fears their parents have. I wonder that their lives will be like.
We’re caught up in the spectacle of American politics, especially of a presidential campaign that is unlike any we’ve seen before. Reflecting on all this spiritually, especially in this season of Lent, may be especially problematic. When candidates claim the mantle of Christianity and at the same time, act in, and say things, that seem diametrically opposed to the gospel, we struggle to make sense of it. It’s difficult to focus, it’s difficult to to open ourselves to God’s presence and to explore a deeper, more intentional relationship with Jesus Christ, when the noise of media, politicians, and our own concerns and worries rush in on us from all sides.
In today’s gospel, Jesus seems to be beset by some of these very same concerns and worries. We’re actually jumping around a bit in our reading of Luke. For the past several weeks, our texts have come from relatively early in the gospel. Last week we read the story of Jesus’ temptation, which takes place just before Jesus begins his public ministry. Today’s reading comes from Luke 13, and it’s important to note that it comes from a lengthy section—chapters 9-19, that Luke places is the context of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. It’s also important to note that Luke has moved one of these sayings, Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem. In Matthew, Jesus says this in the last week of his life, while he is in Jerusalem, and in fact, while he is in the temple.
So, Luke removes these sayings chronologically and temporally from Jerusalem and the cross, but even here, with perhaps months or weeks to go before Calvary, the crucifixion suddenly impinges on Jesus’ activity. Pharisees come to Jesus to warn him that Herod wants to kill him. Jesus offers a rather care-free response, first calling Herod a fox, and then saying that whatever Herod intends to do, Jesus will go about his work—casting out demons and healing people. He won’t be distracted from his ministry by Herod’s machinations.
There’s a full range of emotions on display in these few verses. Jesus expresses courage in his refusal to turn away from the threat; he shows his sense of purpose in continuing to go about the business of his daily ministry. He is resolute about his fate, as he reminds them that he is on his way to Jerusalem, and that he knows that like other prophets, he will be killed there. And in spite of all that, he expresses deep love and concern for the city to which he is travelling. The tenderness with which he speaks, comparing himself to a mother hen protecting her chicks, is a world away from the defiance with which the passage begins.
I was talking with someone yesterday about the difficulty we have in maintaining our Lenten disciplines. Sometimes, it’s not that we find it too difficult to resist the temptation of that thing we’ve given up; sometimes, it’s that we are so busy and have so many distractions that we forget it’s Lent. The routine of daily life, or the press of new cares and concerns so overwhelm us that we neglect our spiritual lives. There’s just not enough time, or we lack the energy. Some of us may have been so busy or distracted, that until we came to church last Sunday or today, we didn’t realize that Lent had begun. You may not even know what Lent’s all about.
That’s OK. We don’t need to beat ourselves up about this—and trust me, I’m preaching to myself as much as I’m preaching to you. Lent is a time when we should try to be more intentional about our relationship with Jesus Christ, a time when we focus on our spiritual lives, but sometimes, life intervenes, as they say. So even if you haven’t done anything special for Lent, or if your good intentions have gone the way of New Year’s Resolutions. There’s still time. We’re still early on in the season, and if you would like to explore a Lenten discipline, we still have plenty of Lenten reflection booklets on the table in the back. Pick one or two up and take them home and jump in.
The wonderful thing about this is that Lent is also a time when we can be honest with ourselves and with God, when we can confess our sins and shortcomings, ask God’s forgiveness, and move forward in newness of life. The image of Jesus as a mother hen, gathering her chicks under her wings, is delightful, playful, and reassuring.
There are times when we need to admit that we aren’t self-sufficient, times when our strength and courage fails us, times when our weaknesses overwhelm us. There are times when we need God’s comforting presence, the embrace of God’s loving wings. When we admit our weakness, failures, brokenness, our need, we open ourselves up to God’s healing love.