Lent 2 • 21 Feb 2016

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

Rev. Chris Udy

Last week we read the passage in Luke
where Luke describes Jesus
setting the course for the rest of his life -
the story we call the Temptations.
One of the temptations Jesus faced and rejected
was the option of becoming a political leader.
In the story the Tempter offered him
all the kingdoms of the world through time,
with all their authority and glory -
“You can have all this”, the tempter said,
“all you have to do is worship me.”
The reply Jesus gave was
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve him only.”

In this week’s gospel reading
that theme is developed a little -
but the reading isn’t straightforward.
It reads like one of those traps and stings
that seem to be a feature of politics.

First the Pharisees come to Jesus
with what looks like a friendly warning:
“Get away from here” they said,
Herod wants to kill you.”
But the Pharisees were anything but friends of Jesus.
They’d already decided
they had to find some way to bring him down
after Jesus called them hypocrites. (11:37ff)
He accused them of doing
everything required by the law,
tithing everything down to their cumin seeds,
while completely ignoring
the needs and hopes of their neighbours.
So a warning from the Pharisees to Jesus
was a bit like advice
from Malcolm Turnbull to Bill Shorten -
[Australian Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition]
it wasn’t quite what it appeared.

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem,
where the Temple and the Palace
stood next to each other.
In Jerusalem the Pharisees were a political force -
they had influence over the people
and the ear of King Herod,
and they didn’t want Jesus arriving in Jerusalem
and disturbing the balance.
They’d found a nice accommodation -
and if that meant bowing to the tempter now and then,
well, that’s what it takes to stay in power.

“Get away from here” the Pharisees said,
“Herod wants to kill you”.

“You go and tell that fox for me,” Jesus replied,
because he knew these messengers and communicators
had easy access to the King
and were as compromised and dishonest
as some see parts of the media today -
and by the way,
associating someone with a fox
was anything but complimentary -
“Go and tell that fox for me:
‘Listen, I am casting out demons
and performing cures today and tomorrow,
and on the third day I finish my work.
Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day
I must be on my way,
because it is impossible
for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.’”

Jesus had set his course,
and threats by those in power
could not divert him.
His time frame
was nothing like that of the politicians,
who measured their success
by how long they held to power.
One term wasn’t enough,
it had to be more and more -
and whether it was measured
in reigns and dynasties
or multiple election cycles didn’t matter,
it was holding power that mattered,
not what happened to the people
as the years went by.
Deals and lies are normal in politics -
maybe even necessary -
because deals and lies are what it takes
to buy the endorsement and loyalty
of people who’d much rather you were gone
and they were on your throne.
Those who live for power
can never give
those who want their power
what they want -
so they make deals, and tell lies,
and over the years their debts and fibs mount up
until the balance tips and the tables are turned
and someone else sits on the throne for a while.

But for Jesus the only throne that mattered
was not one that he could fill;
the only reign that mattered
was the reign of God,
and anything that could be bought with a lie
or secured with a deal
was worthless.
Jesus had already grasped
that none of the things he lived for
could be achieved while he was still alive,
so he lived with a different timeframe
to those around him.
“Today and tomorrow I am casting out demons
and performing cures” he said,
“and on the third day I finish my work”.

On the day God finished his work
he declared a Sabbath:
a day of reflection, thanksgiving and rest.
The day Jesus finishes his work
is Easter day:
a day of resurrection, transformation,
a day of peace and communion,
and it hasn’t yet fully arrived.
Every Sunday is meant to be
a little foretaste of the day
when the work that Jesus began is fully complete -
and every Sunday we get together
to remind ourselves that we’re still on the way,
to welcome new friends to travel with us,
and remember where we’re going.

For Jesus the destination was Jerusalem -
but not because when he got there
he would either be high priest or king:
you remember he shut down the temple,
and the crown he received on Good Friday
was an instrument of torture -
he was going to Jerusalem
because Jerusalem, then and now,
is the holy city -
the place where faith and power stand together.

Jerusalem is a symbol;
a profound symbol of human community:
a city where politics and religion
have always been deeply connected,
always been fascinated, one with the other,
and always been in conflict.
Today, no less than at any other time,
Jerusalem is a city divided and at war,
where the deep divisions of our humanity
find their expression in bricks and mortar,
walls and bridges, bodies and blood.
Muslims, Jews and Christians,
orthodox and liberal, secular and religious,
politically to the right or to the left,
women and men, soldiers and civilians,
all of them are there,
all of them trying to live in a city
that draws them together so closely
that their differences are unavoidably confronting.
Jerusalem has always been like that;
that’s how it became a symbol,
and for Jesus it was the only place
where he could offer himself
and what he hoped for,
and what he believed in,
as God’s response to the world’s divided soul
and God’s desire for healing.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he said,
“city that kills the prophets
and stones those who are sent to it!
How often have I desired
to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
and you were not willing!
See, your house is left to you.
And I tell you, you will not see me
until the time comes when you say,
‘Blessed is he
who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

Jerusalem is a symbol -
nothing more than a symbol -
but symbols are also powerful.
There’s nothing magical about where Jerusalem is,
or what it’s made of,
or even who lives there,
but what it stands for
in the minds and hearts of many millions of people
is worth our reflection and understanding.
Just as it was when Jesus was on his way towards it,
Jerusalem is the city
where politics and religion are inseparable,
and where their connection
breeds violence and corruption for both.

Some believe that peace and justice
can only be achieved
when either religion or politics disappears:
when people grow out of religion, for example,
and leave politics to people of science -
or when only righteous, wise and holy folk
get to make all the decisions.
The problem seems to be
that when righteous, wise and holy folk
are given power,
it corrupts them, and they make oppressive decisions -
and when people of science disagree
they end up sounding very, very religious.
What we believe affects the way we care about people,
and the people we care about affect what we believe.

Jesus had set his course for Jerusalem,
because it was in Jerusalem
that God’s reign of peace with justice
had to be declared,
where the violence and corruption
of both religion and politics
had to be confronted,
and where the deep divisions of human life
had to be addressed and resolved.
All those who study the life of Jesus seriously
agree that Jesus saw Jerusalem as the place
where his life’s purpose would be fulfilled -
not by deposing Herod, becoming king,
and taking over the palace,
and not by removing the religious authorities
like the Pharisees from the Temple,
but “by gathering Jerusalem’s children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings”.
As Jesus moved deliberately to Jerusalem
he brought with him
the people politics and religion had failed -
people who were poor, or chronically ill,
people who were blind, or disabled in any way,
women who’d been compromised or neglected,
children, foreigners, Samaritans,
all those who were despised
and had been rejected by other people;
all the people who are still let down
by corrupt politics and heartless religion.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem
they were the people who welcomed him:
Jerusalem’s children –
not only those who lived there,
but all those who depended
on the Palace and the Temple
for shelter, education, nurture and protection.
And it was Jerusalem’s children -
both those who lived there
and the older ones who’d travelled there with Jesus -
who would call out, as Jesus entered the city
“Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord.”

When Jesus was finished his work
Jerusalem would be different
from the city in which he arrived.
In addition to the Palace and the Temple
Jerusalem would also become known
as the city of the cross,
and this city of profound symbols
would accommodate an even deeper dimension.
Jesus clearly understood
that what he was doing was dangerous.
Neither Herod nor the Pharisees
would be in the least bit worried
at the idea of taking out a threat to their power.
Jesus obviously knew
that when he arrived in Jerusalem
his life would be on the line,
but he kept going,
because he believed God’s care for all God’s children
was of greater importance to God and to him
than political stability, or religious purity,
or even his own life.
So Jesus stayed with the revelation
he’d received in his baptism,
that God, in unlimited grace,
has declared his love for all his children.
He stayed with choice he’d made
out there in the desert with the tempter:
he would worship the God of love and grace
and would serve him only.
And if that led Jesus to confront
both the Temple and the Palace,
and if that confrontation
led to his suffering and death,
then that’s the way that Jesus had chosen,
and he wouldn’t turn aside from the way of the cross.

Over the next few months
we also face choices -
some political, some religious.
In a few weeks’ time
we’ll have our congregation planning meeting.
That might seem insignificant
in the larger scheme of things,
but it’s in meetings like this
that we work out our choices,
and set our directions as a community of faith -
and if we come to them thoughtfully,
and open to God’s calling,
even a little meeting like ours
can plant a seed of hope and transformation.
It looks like we also face Federal elections,
and what we learn from Jesus about them
is that those who follow him
will need to be serious and hopeful
about the way we exercise our choices.
Those who follow Jesus
already have a ruler - the God of grace -
and no political leader or party or system
can claim our ultimate loyalty away from him.
Those who follow Jesus
have citizenship beyond any earthly city or nation -
we’re on our way to the heavenly Jerusalem,
where, the vision in the book of Revelation says,
there’s neither palace nor temple,
but everyone and everything finds harmony
in the love and grace of God.
So when we make our choices
we must make them as Jesus would,
with courage and grace,
not to enrich and benefit ourselves
or people like us,
but on behalf of all Jerusalem’s children -
everyone who needs to be gathered in
to God’s justice and God’s peace.