preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 21 February 2016 by the Rev. Ewing W. Carroll, Jr.
The scripture readings that day were
Have you ever been to a place that you hope you will never visit again?
Well, you’re not alone. Jesus had a
similar problem. He loved Jerusalem, but
his memories of the city were not so good. Yes, it was the cultural and
religious center of Jewish life. Yes, it
was also an important part of the Roman Empire.
However, the New Testament records several stories of Jesus’ difficult
and unpleasant experiences there. These
included opposition from many religious leaders; chasing moneychangers out of
the Temple; and of course, finally, his cruel death on the cross on Good Friday.
In today’s Gospel lesson we hear Jesus’ painful cry over the city, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills
the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” But like so many stories of Jesus, the
importance of this passage is NOT so much about Jesus’ feelings towards Jerusalem.
Rather, it’s more about the incredible love that God gives to the entire
world. A very tender love in a tough
world. On this second Sunday in
Lent, I invite us to look together at two kinds of tender love we see in today’s
Firstly, fearless love.
Talk about a tough world! Some
Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him. But this was nothing new to Jesus. Surely, his parents had told him about their
escape to Egypt when Jesus was only a few days old. He would have known that the older Herod had
ordered the killing of Jewish baby boys.
Now in the midst of his earthly ministry, Jesus shows no fear of the
mighty power of Herod. Look again at his
response, This is how, in his modern version of the Bible [Message] Eugene
Peterson translates this passage, “Tell
that fox I’ve no time for him now. …I’m
busy…” He was busy casting out demons, healing the sick and bringing new
hope and possibilities to the least and lost.
The Biblical scholar William Barclay reminds us that in Jesus’ time the
Jewish people had three distinct views about foxes: 1.] sly, sneaky; 2.] the most destructive
animal around; and 3.] worthless and insignificant. Wow!
Describing Herod, the top political figure of Jerusalem like that! “Herod is no longer around, but there are
plenty of Herod substitutes in our lives – anger, jealousy, greed, selfishness,
and laziness; wagging tongues; unkind words spoken; abuse of many kinds; - the
list in longer than a dragon’s tail.
In today’s Genesis passage God spoke to Abraham in a vision, “Do not be afraid.” And we know the results – Abraham moved from
fear to faith. That’s what happens when we accept and try to live the fearless
love God gives to us in Christ. To say
“NO WAY” to the foxes that may control our lives. You’ve probably heard the story of St.
Polycarp many times. He was a bishop in
the early church – during the time of Roman persecution. One day he was surrounded by an angry mob
that wanted to kill him – because of his faith.
A Roman official took pity on the
old man and urged him to pledge his loyalty to the Roman Emperor. “All
you need to do is say, ‘Caesar is Lord‘ and I will protect you.” Polycarp’s
response? “For 86 years I have served Christ and He never did me any wrong. How can I lie to my King who saved me.” Polycarp was stoned to death because of his
fearless love for Christ.
Some one has written“Too many of
us are not living our dreams because we’re living our fears.” Listen again to the words we sang in our
opening hymn [based on Psalm 27]:
the Lord is my salvation, is there anyone to fear?
As a citizen of heaven why should I feel worry here?
In a world that’s lost and broken and where sin and death abound,
we rejoice for God has spoken: we are safe, on solid ground.”
During this Season of Lent; amidst a growing number of fears about the
future of Hong Kong; I believe God is calling us NOT TO AVOID, but to look
beyond life’s dangers and challenges – to grasp the opportunity to live more
faithfully and fully in the fearless love of Jesus Christ. As 1 John 4:19
reminds us, “There is no fear in love;
but perfect love casts out fear…”
Secondly, protective love. Oh, we love to sing, “A mighty fortress is our God,” or “On Christ the solid rock I stand.”
Somehow, we feel so safe and secure in describing God with words like power, might, majesty, strength and force.
All true – but not enough. Lent is a time to widen our understanding of
God’s love; a love that includes, but goes
beyond strength and power; to a love that dares to be tenderer.
In today’s Gospel lesson I think Jesus was not only speaking to Herod
and the Pharisees, but to you and me. “How
often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her
brood under her wings and you were not willing…”
Years ago, I lived on Saipan – a small American island in the middle of
the Pacific Ocean. Several times a week
I went to the local hospital to visit both patients and staff. Over a period of five years, every time I
neared the car park I could see a mother hen and her babies on a hillside. She was looking for worms and insects to feed
them. But when she heard the sound of a
car, she would gather her babies under her wings - to protect them from any danger. I’m sure that if anyone had tried to hurt her
children, she would do anything, including sacrificing her life, to protect
them. Her love was both fearless and protective. That’s tender love in a tough world!
There’s probably no more frustrating or hurtful experience in life than
to have offered our love to someone and have them reject us. To say, ”no thanks,” or “go away” or “I don’t
want you.” My friends, that’s what you and I often do – to God and with one
another. Dare we admit how often we say
“No” to God? I pray that we might see this Season of Lent as an invitation; an
opportunity for us; not to avoid but to accept God’s loving presence. Even if/when we feel insecure, uncertain,
unsafe; we will still feel Christ’s fearless and protective love for us.
Shannon Adler writes, “The most
glorious moment you will ever experience in your life is when you look back and
see how God was protecting you all this time.” But even if we don’t always feel safe, we can
always feel Gods love.
As we greet each new day of this Lenten Season, let us keep before us in
thought, word and deed, these words from George Matheson:
that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
A Tender love in a touch world!