a sermon, based on Luke 13.31-35, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 2nd Sunday in Lent, February 21, 2016
If you knew or suspected that someone wanted to hurt you, to kill you, what would you do? Given the intensity of my self-interest, the immediacy of my desire, my need for self-preservation, I would run. As I read the Bible, I have good company…
Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal, proving that his Lord was God and infuriating the chief benefactors of the cult of Baal, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, who sent word to Elijah of her vengeful murderous intentions. Straightway, Elijah “fled for his life.”
Jesus, on the night before his crucifixion, predicted that his disciples would abandon him. All declared loyalty. Yet, at his arrest, they, fearing the same fate, “deserted him and fled.”
When facing the potential, the promise of death, taking flight makes sense. However, asking that proverbial question, “What would Jesus do?”, we behold another answer.
Some Pharisees came to Jesus. These members of the Jewish party devoted to obedience to God’s Law would prove to be Jesus’ adversaries, considering him a challenge to the status quo, his gospel of inclusive love too radical a departure from the observance of the commandments as they practiced them. This time, however, they come with a warning of danger. Herod, Israel’s puppet monarch installed by the Roman Empire, wants to kill him. Herod, who already beheaded John the Baptist, viewed Jesus as yet another disturber of the peace or even, he feared, John raised from the dead! Jesus, with uncompromising defiance, refuses to yield: “Go tell that fox, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow” (Jesus’ ministry, from the beginning, has centered on deliverance and healing from all that separates us from the health and wholeness of God) “and on the third day I finish my work” (an allusion to his resurrection), “yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way” (Jesus will continue his ministry according to his timetable, not that of Herod or anyone else) “because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem” (Jesus knows he is on a journey to his death).
What compelled Jesus “to dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe”, Herod, who possessed all authority to destroy him, thus, “to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go”? Perhaps because Jesus was subject to another, greater authority. What was that “heavenly cause” that led Jesus to “march into Hell”, into the face of his own death?
Jesus, a prophet, forthteller of God’s word, summoned a city to its calling, a people to their purpose. Jerusalem, the great metropolis, the nation’s capital, the home of the temple, the house of God, the iconographic locus of the people’s history and destiny, had grown flaccid in obedience, lifeless in worship, given to outward sign over inward virtue. Jerusalem, even in the time of Jesus, had a reputation for rejecting and killing prophets, those who, in God’s name, called the wayward to repentance.
Still, something more than mere, even devoted duty drove Jesus. I believe it was love; unconditional benevolence that seeks to do good, that seeks to honor God. Even more, prophetic love that wills and acts in the best interests of another even if the reward is rejection and the result, death. This was the “another authority.” The “heavenly cause.” The power greater than fear. In truth, Jesus didn’t act in defiance of Herod, but in commitment to his calling; one that bore the burden of his soul-deep awareness that his killer would not be Herod, but Jerusalem, for which, out of love, he wept in lament: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
This prophetic love didn’t die with Jesus. Countless are history’s examples…
On April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., went to Memphis to lead yet another non-violent march in protest of the denial of equal rights. A nearly successful attempt had been made on his life, and detractors and supporters had urged him not to come. Yet it was a prophet’s love that compelled him to be on his way. On the eve of his assassination, King addressed a gathering, closing what would be his final sermon:
I don’t know what will happen…but it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop…Like anybody, I would like to live a long life…but I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will…And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But…we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
This prophetic love didn’t die with Martin. Countless still are history’s examples. How about you? Me?
Lent is a time of self-examination. So, I ask: What is our “another, greater authority,” “heavenly cause,” power greater than fear? What glory have we seen? What is our vocation (from the Latin, vocare, “to call”) of prophetic love that pulls, pushes us to be and do the best for another even at the risk, the cost of trouble?
Speaking always and only for myself…
Nearly ten years ago, on a six-month sabbatical, whilst traveling around the world purposefully putting myself with people who didn’t look, think, feel like me, thus, in places where I was the “other”, the “outsider”, I found my truest calling. To be obedient, open to love and learn, to strive with compassion to comprehend those who are different from me, even at the risk, the cost of trouble and more. For I have come to believe that when I know for what and for whom I, in the name of the love and justice of Jesus, who is my “another, greater authority,” am willing to die, then I know what it is freely, fully, faithfully to live.
This is my “heavenly cause”, my power greater than fear. What’s yours?
 See 1 Kings 18.20-19.30.
 See Matthew 26.31-56.
 See Luke 9.7-9; Mark 6.14-16; Matthew 14.1-2
 From The Impossible Dream, lyrics by Joe Darion.
 From the sermon, I See the Promised Land, preached at Mason Temple, Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968.