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A gospel that surprises – Part Two of Lent

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Second Sunday of Lent – March 12, 2017

Luke 13:31-35 and Psalm 122

An extraordinary journey to the top of the world, the documentary adventure “To The Arctic” reveals a compelling tale of survival. Narrated by Oscar winner Meryl Streep, the film takes audiences into the lives of a mother polar bear and her twin seven-month-old cubs as never before captured on film, as they navigate the changing Arctic wilderness they call home.

Captivating and intimate IMAX footage, currently at the Telus World of Science as described to me, brings moviegoers up-close and personal with this family’s struggle in a frigid environment of melting ice, immense glaciers, spectacular waterfalls and majestic snow-bound peaks. There are quite a few clashes between the mother polar bear and some enemies.

The most dramatic of these clashes, caught on film, began when the ever-vigilant mother picked up the scent of an approaching threat. Greg MacGillivray recounts, “With a warning bark, she sent her cubs scurrying into the water ahead and dove in behind them to block the male during what became a gruelling four-mile pursuit. Snarling and snapping whenever he got close, she finally stopped and held her ground, growling as if to say, ‘If you want to kill my cubs, you’ll have to kill me first.’ Finally, the male turned away, ending the longest and most thrilling chase I have ever captured, says Greg MacGillivray. 1)

The mother bear’s instinct is courageous and also vulnerable.

Last week Jesus taught two different people how to show mercy and follow Him. In today’s lesson, Jesus is once again talking about the need to “repent” or turn back to God. Next week, Jesus will show how important mercy and repentance is in God’s kingdom. He will eventually show that same mercy to all of humanity with is death on the cross.

Jesus, according to our reading today, is on his way to Jerusalem and on that way, Pharisees encounter Him. Do they oppose Jesus here, or are they protecting Him? They say it upfront: “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

Jesus’ whole mission to earth and to humankind was certainly not a joyride. Jesus wasn’t into protecting Himself. Was He perhaps like the mother bear, intent on saving and protecting God’s children, people like you and me? Jesus marches to Jerusalem and embraces the cross that awaits Him there out of profound love for the people around him, a mother’s fierce love that will stop at nothing to protect her children. His figure of a hen trying to gather her chicks under her wings to spare them from the ravages of fire will have special poignancy for anyone who has seen after a grassfire the burned carcass of a prairie chicken or pheasant that has sheltered and saved perhaps one or two, though seldom all, of her chicks.

Back to Jesus’ role of going into harm’s way for us. Does it mean that any of Jesus way would be easy? Not at all. It was going to cost Jesus his life, it was going to be a battle that would mean being persecuted. It would mean controversy. It would mean suffering to the utmost. I would mean that insulting things would be said about Jesus. He would ultimately stand trial and be killed on a cross. Jesus proclaims it outright: “…it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.”

How do Jesus’ onlookers, his audience respond? Jesus says that his desire is to gather the people of Jerusalem, Jerusalem’s children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and (they) were not willing!

How often does this not happen to the folks on the inside, so to speak? The people of Jerusalem are supposed to be God’s so-called “chosen ones”, they are supposed to be the religious establishment, but they are the ones who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to them.

The real surprising element of Jesus’ mission seems to be the fact that He gets sent to save and to redeem people for God and to heal them. Jesus’ intent is like that of a mother hen, taking care of us. However, there is a fox out there, king Herod, representing the authority, ready to to devour not only Jesus, but all who are trying to fight the good fight.

We here this morning are not excluded from this enormous opposition. Those who live out the example of Christ, those who are kind, caring, loving and who have the best of intentions, quite often encounter the harsh opposition of foxes who can be ruthless. I bet Jesus had something of this fox versus hen type of relationship in mind. King Herod acting in a cunning and ruthless way, as opposed to Jesus’ position of protecting like a hen gathering her chicks in the face of the actions of the fox.

So, the surprising element might be that Jesus’ courage shows up in Jesus acting in sheer vulnerability.

The TED talks speaker, story-teller, Brené Brown fleshes out the idea of being vulnerable. Through her TED Talks and books, Brown the “story-teller/researcher” invites us to recognise that while vulnerability inevitably opens us up to feeling things we might want to avoid, it also spurs us to be more authentically human and more caring, compassionate, and courageous than we could otherwise be. Brown reminds us that courage comes from the Latin cor, “heart”, and defines courage as living from the heart, the willingness to embrace our vulnerability in order to be our authentic selves. Christian courage, then, might be the kind of whole-hearted living that comes from believing that as God’s children we are enough and that those around us are also God’s beloved children and therefore deserve our love, empathy, and respect.

What if in this passage we see Jesus not merely acting courageously but embracing who He was called to be for the sake of those he loved, and thereby inviting us to be who we are called to be for the sake of those around us? What would our community look like if we decided together to live whole-heartedly, making room to name our vulnerabilities in a cross-shaped confidence that God is with us and has given us sufficient resources – including each other! – to not simply endure the challenges before us but to flourish as we discover that God meets us most reliably precisely in our places of vulnerability?

“If you want to kill my cubs, you’ll have to kill me first.” Like a mother bear does, there is this relentless quest that Jesus pursues to the very end, for God’s childrens’ sake. We are followers of Jesus Christ, the One who courageously became vulnerable.

1) From notes for “To the Arctic”, an IMAX movie

 

Copyright 2017 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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