Christ Episcopal Church
February 21, 2016
The Rev. Samuel Torvend
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17 – 4:1; Luke 13:31-35
In his insightful and entertaining book, The Gift of the Jews, Thomas Cahill writes that one of the greatest gifts of the Jewish people to the world is this: the capacity to break out of a dull, a disastrous, or a death-dealing life and move – and move – not knowing where one might end up. And so the voice of God whispers to Abraham: Leave the unchanging and static world of Mesopotamia and go to a new place. Yes, go to new place with no guarantee of anything other than this, says the Voice, that I am with you.
And this: Leave Canaan, says the Voice to Jacob, and take your entire clan to Egypt in order to escape famine. And so the settled and extended family becomes a group of refugees fleeing starvation and certain death yet entering an empire where they do not know the language, an empire ruled over by a man who thinks he is a god and thus holds absolute power over all his subjects.
And this: the Voice says to Moses, the reluctant leader, Go to pharaoh and tell him to Let My People Go. And so, this group of slaves leaves behind the world of oppression and heads through the waters into the wilderness – the decision to leave, the decision to walk out of the house of pharaoh marked with terrible risk: will this group of immigrants survive the desert? Will they actually find a land flowing with promised milk and honey? Will there be work to sustain their children and their children’s children?
And this, too: Jesus and his followers leave behind the Galilee, their native region, and make the dangerous journey to Jerusalem where Jesus will urge people to give their loyalty to the Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of the Emperor, which was a deathly kingdom filled to overflowing with violence, exploitation, and anything but forgiveness. It is on this journey to Jerusalem that Jesus is warned to avoid Herod Antipas: Herod that middle-aged man who was so enthralled by the lascivious dancing of his young stepdaughter that he ordered the execution of John the Baptist. I wonder if you caught the ironic juxtaposition: Jesus insults Herod by calling him a fox – the nocturnal animal that destroyed Israelite vineyards and gobbled up domesticated chickens – and then speaks of himself, Jesus, as a mother hen who gathers and protects her brood, who sets herself between the voracious predator and her chicks, her children.
It is not uncommon to hear that the 40 days of Lent are the time in which Christians make a journey to Easter, a journey in time – from Ash Wednesday to the Great Vigil of Holy Saturday. I mean, as far as I know, we’re not going to leave Tacoma and travel to Jerusalem for the Easter mysteries [that is, unless I win the lottery]. But let’s be clear: our movement toward the Three Great Days does not take place in a vacuum as if an hour or so in church, as if 40 days, are hermetically sealed from the world around us. You and I know well that refugees are entering our region as they flee escalating violence in Central America. You and I know well that immigrants, seeking work and food for their families, are detained not far from this church. You and I know well that there are many in this world and in our own nation who prefer aggression, prefer torture, prefer destroying land, and prefer gobbling up the innocent to the far more difficult work of diplomacy, of compromise, of conservation, of seeking reconciliation. [O Jerusalem, O America, O Nations of the Earth: you kill those who promote forgiveness rather than retribution; you silence those who prefer the work of peace to the dogs of war.]
And we know this well – or do we? – that you and I have been washed into, marked, and nourished with the Body and Blood of Jesus the prophet: not Jesus your free ticket to heaven; not Jesus a simply better version of you or of me; not Jesus our polite and very private friend – but Jesus the prophet who is angered by the injustice visited by some on others; who does not hesitate to speak publicly in defense of the vulnerable; who, with a whip, goes after those who pervert religion into a money-making scheme; who breaks the laws of society and religion that hide the love of God from those who need that love the most.
I wonder: is this the Jesus we are called to follow in Lent? The “reasonable” voice in each of us might say that it would be better to spend our time by praying a little more, giving a bit more charity – to the needy, and skipping that extra glass of wine or beer – you know, our nod to the Lenten fast. All that just feels so much safer and polite. But, then, you and I might need to reckon with this salient fact: no one has ever been crucified because they were charitable or polite. The mother hen will fight to the death to protect her vulnerable chicks and the prophet will not cease from disturbing the status quo until he or she is silenced, and then raised from the dead, raised into you and me.