Gospel Reading: Luke 13:31-35
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” Jesus is angry. He’s angry that the people of Jerusalem have chosen to reject truth-tellers, to banish and kill those who seek justice and who seek to lead the people in the ways of God.
“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Jesus is also sad. This image of Jesus as a mother hen is at the same time tender and fierce. A mother hen keeps her chicks safe under her wing and is willing to protect them. Jesus longs for the people to gather together under his wing, but they’re not willing. It pains him to experience their rejection.
We’re not so different. While we’re not stoning prophets, we’re at least often shutting them down and refusing to listen to their truth. We’re telling them to quiet down, don’t cause such a fuss. We’re telling them to just be patient in matters of urgency. These prophets are truth-tellers, justice-seekers, God-messengers.
Prophets are the people demanding justice be served and leaders be held accountable for the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Prophets are the people changing policies and educating the world about modern-day slave labor. Prophets are the people striving for equal and equitable education.
Sometimes it all just seems too overwhelming and we shut the prophets out. Or we figure “out of sight, out of mind.” And still other times we refuse to take off our rose-colored glasses and see the hurt and the pain and the devastation.
Or maybe you have experienced the other side. Maybe you’ve played the role of prophet at times in your life. Perhaps you’ve consistently spoken up for the millions of peaceful Muslims in the world. Perhaps you’ve taken a stand to uplift gender equality. Perhaps you’ve engaged in collective action by protesting apartheid or other oppressive regimes. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you have taken prophetic action in your lives and experienced hatred and rejection from those unwilling to even hear your story.
We’ve got to stop doing this … for the sake of our neighbor, and of ourselves.
And this isn’t what God desires. God desires for all of us to be gathered under God’s wing, trusting our lives to God’s guidance and care. When a mother hen enfolds her brood, she brings them all not only close to her, but close to each other. When we’re gathered together under God’s wing, we can’t help but be close to our neighbors, to our brothers and sisters from all walks of life. And in this closeness I hope that we couldn’t help but truly know each other’s stories, joys, and sorrow. It’s pretty hard to ignore someone who’s right next to you.
I don’t doubt that you know these things. You know that being close to God changes your life, and you know that the well-being of everyone, no matter who they are, is important. But even for the strongest advocates and the best-hearted people, things can get in the way.
Distractions and selfishness shift our attention from where it should be. Fear keeps us from doing the right thing. Wanting to be well-liked keeps us from speaking up. And it all makes us wary of these truth-telling prophets who might just rock the boat a little too hard for our liking.
So we shut them out. And when we shut out the prophets, we’re also trying to push our neighbors out from under God’s wing. To push them out of the beloved community. You see, these prophets are speaking and taking action on behalf of people who are included in God’s fold … which is everyone.
When we don’t listen to the truth, to the struggles of our immigrant neighbors, to the fear of young women being harassed, to the cries of those never given a second chance … when we don’t listen to the truth the prophets speak, we’re saying we don’t have time or concern for our brothers and sisters. We’re saying we wish they weren’t there so we didn’t have to deal with their problems.
Now I said that when we shut out the prophets, we’re trying to push our neighbors out from under God’s wing. But that’s not what actually happens. Instead, we end up walking away from God ourselves. God desires compassion and truth and justice … when we ignore these, we’re the people that Jesus is talking about, the ones “who aren’t willing.” Jesus longs for us all to be gathered, and it grieves him when we choose to walk away.
When we walk away from Jesus, life takes awful turns. We eliminate remarkable prophets, like Dr. King, because we’re afraid of “the other.” We end up destroying creation because we’ve valued human excess over creation care. We end up with huge wealth inequalities because we always want more for ourselves.
So what’s the good news? What do we do? We examine ourselves, our motives, our relationship with God. We’re honest. We repent. And we seek God’s transforming ways. Basically we embody the message of the Lenten season.
The good news is that God continually extends the invitation to gather under God’s wing, and that changing our ways is always possible with God.
A place to start could be aligning your life with what’s expressed in the psalm for today. Psalm 27 reads, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” God’s light illuminates your path and God is your stronghold when standing up for truth gets tough.
The psalm goes on, “I will seek to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” This sounds like seeking to be in that community gathered under God’s wing. Lastly, it says, “Teach me your way, O Lord … Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries.” Adversaries could be people, or they could also be the things - like distractions and selfishness - that are keeping you from following God’s path. Shifting your focus daily to this psalm’s message can help you evaluate what you’re doing and why. It’s a good way to begin.
Secondly, you can take an honest look at the gospel and at who Jesus is and at the faith you are professing. C.S. Lewis once said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” You don’t need to be uncomfortable all the time, but seeking truth and justice, listening to the prophets, taking prophetic action … none of these are going to be comfortable. But they’re life-giving.
When we hear the truth of our neighbors and of the prophets and we act because we’re convinced we must, then so much good can happen. So much new life is given. I’d like to share two brief examples.
With some of my friends at Luther Seminary, I visited a church in the metro area. A member of this church told us how, at a different congregation, she and her son had been asked to leave because he was “too disruptive.” Her son had a mental disability and occasionally made noises during worship. In her current church, where we visited, she and her son were welcomed and they listened to her experiences. As a result, she was able to connect with other families who had special needs children, and together they formed an additional worship service that allowed for the noises, sounds, movements, and uniqueness of their children. Her truth-telling on behalf of her son made a difference. Their voices were uplifted and praised God. The church that rejected them certainly missed out!
Secondly, consider the partnerships we have with Wildfire. We could choose to be in competition with one another for members, seeing as most of us are relatively small. We could try do things bigger and better than the other churches, and promote only ourselves. Instead, we’re listening to the prophetic voices who decided to start Wildfire and to those who further its connections. It is prophetic to stand up and say we must work together in a world where so many, even churches, are in competition and are only looking out for themselves. Because we work together, our confirmation students can have fun and serve together, our choirs can praise God with a music concert together, we can hear different preachers during Lent, and ultimately we are nurturing our faith in ways we never could on our own.
These are just two examples of the many ways that seeking truth and justice change things -- there are so many powerful examples in our world. Take with you the knowing that while Christianity isn’t always comfortable, it’s always life-giving. And when things get tough, you can always depend on your God. So what truth have you been shutting down? What call for justice have you been ignoring? Choose to listen this week instead, ask God to teach you God’s ways and be your stronghold, and you might just find yourself as a prophet, welcoming more and more people under God’s wing. Amen.