TITLE: You Were Not Willing! SCRIPTURE: Luke 13:31-35
There are easy scriptures and there are hard scriptures:
-- It is easy to write a sermon on John 3:16 -- "For God so loved the world." That is reassuring, and people like to hear it.
-- It is easy to write a sermon on Psalm 23 -- "The Lord is my shepherd." It is lovely poetry and lovely theology. It assures us that God is with us in life and in death.
But it is not easy to write sermons on scriptures like our Gospel lesson -- scriptures that spell out warnings -- that pronounce judgment. We are happy to know that God is a God of love, but we don't like to hear that God is also a God of judgment. And so, we often classify the Bible, saying that the Old Testament portrays a harsh God, a God of judgment -- but the New Testament portrays a God of love. Nothing could be further from the truth. God was a God of love from Day One -- and is a God of love throughout the Old Testament. And God is a God of judgment -- even in the New Testament.
The purpose of God's judgment, however, is a loving purpose. God's purpose is always to redeem -- to bring us back into the fold. However, when we refuse to be redeemed, God's purpose is to separate bad from good -- to keep the bad from infecting the good -- to purify and to make holy. In the story of Noah, for instance, the purpose of the flood was to cleanse the world of sin, and to re-establish a holy people of God.
There are stories like that throughout the both testaments. One of the most significant for our purposes today was the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. The people of Israel had persisted in sin, in spite of prophets who tried to lead them back to God. The prophet Jeremiah wept over Jerusalem, because he could see what was coming. Because of the people's sin, God was going to abandon the city, and the result would be disastrous.
That, in fact, was exactly what happened. Babylonians attacked Jerusalem, killing most of its people and taking the rest into slavery. They leveled the city -- utterly destroyed it.
Some decades later, a handful of Jews was allowed to return so that they might rebuild Jerusalem. They were like Noah and his family -- a remnant -- people chosen by God to rebuild, not only the city, but also a holy community -- a community dedicated to God.
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus warns Jerusalem that it will happen again. Jerusalem has rejected God's ways and God's son, and God is going to abandon it. God protected Jerusalem in the past, but now, because of its sin, God will withdraw his hand -- leaving the city open to its enemies -- ripe for destruction.
And that, in fact, is exactly what happened. A few years after Jesus' death, a group of hotheads revolted against Rome, and Rome responded by leveling Jerusalem and slaughtering its people.
How often have I desired to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
and you were not willing."
"You were not willing!" God could force us to do it his way -- could take away our choices. But to give us freedom to be great, God must also give us freedom to be evil. God loves us enough to do that.
Today’s gospel is most profound; I’ll focus on only three messages today.
The first profound message in this gospel, kind of catches us by surprise, since it’s not what we’re used to hearing. The first message is this: Some Pharisees actually are described by Luke as having concern for the well-being and protection of Jesus. They come to him and say: “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” This warning to Jesus by some Pharisees certainly places them in a positive light—for they come across here as being genuinely concerned for Christ’s welfare and protection.
I find this rather instructive for us in light of the fact that most of the Gospels, most of the time, describe the Pharisees in a rather stereotypical fashion. In most of the Gospels, most of the time, the Pharisees are the bad guys; they’re the ones wearing the black hats; the villains, almost always out to get Jesus; they’re his enemies trying to trap him, trick him, find him guilty of something in order to do away with him.
However, our gospel passage today, along with a couple of other passages in the Gospels challenge this terrible, negative stereotype of the Pharisees. Here we have some Pharisees coming to Jesus, trying to protect him. On a couple of other occasions, the Gospels tell us that Jesus was the dinner guest of a Pharisee. In John’s Gospel, we are let in on a most engaging conversation between Jesus and the Pharisee, Nicodemus. Although Joseph of Arimathea is not called a Pharisee in the Gospels, he was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin and a secret disciple of Jesus. He also knew Nicodemus, since both of them saw to it that Jesus had a decent burial.
As Christians reading the Gospels, we need to remember that not all of the Pharisees during Jesus’ day were the bad guys, out to do him harm. Some Pharisees were good guys; friends of Jesus; who genuinely cared for Jesus. This Gospel fact opens up new possibilities for improving relationships between Jews and Christians. When we stereotype any person or group of persons we not only distort the truth about them—we also destroy trust, friendship and love between them and us. God’s love, in the person of Jesus, has broken down all stereotypes. This love is offered to everyone. Therefore, our calling and work as Christ’s followers is to break down all stereotypes too.
The second profound message in this gospel passage is this: Jesus’ lament, his grieving and sorrow over the city of Jerusalem is the pain he shares with God because of people who have been offered God’s message of love, forgiveness and salvation—but, many people rejected it. Nothing in this world hurt Jesus more than when people rejected God’s love after it had been freely, unconditionally offered to them.
Martin Luther had a great insight into people rejecting God’s love. For this love, is in the highest degree a lost love, poured out upon those who reward it with ingratitude. Only one of the ten lepers returned to Christ and thanked Him for His beneficence; it was lost on all the rest. 2
The worst tragedy of all is that God offers his love over and over again—yet, people repeatedly reject and turn away from that love. The tragedy didn’t end with some of the people of Jerusalem rejecting God’s love either—we too, in our sinful, ungrateful ways have also rejected God’s love. We have been offered God’s love, forgiveness and salvation—yet, repeatedly, we too have rejected it. We have received countless blessings in our lives from God. But what do we do? We take them for granted; we fail to realize and appreciate how valuable they really are; we minimize them and we treat them as if they’re worth next-to-nothing; we sometimes even complain about them senselessly, failing to realize what our lives would be like without them; we may even deny the fact that our blessings come from God—in a twisted, distorted way of false pride, we take credit for them ourselves. So, in one sense, then, God’s love is lost on us; Christ is lamenting over our rejection of him and his love offered repeatedly to us.
However, the reverse of this is also from time-to-time true. It’s true that God’s love is a lost love. Insofar as we follow Christ’s example; insofar as we accept his love and respond in sincere faithfulness to it; our love as Christians is also lost.
Once again, Luther has an insight to teach us: It is not the way of Christians to go back and withdraw the hand, but to go on and remain in love, that there may be a divine, free, unceasing, yea, indeed, a lost love for people, and the kindness thus thrown away and lost, as also Christ has found. For how should Christian love fare better in this world than the love of God and of Christ?
In other words, whenever Christ and his offer of love is being rejected by the world; whenever we as true Christians offer the love of Christ to the world and they reject it: we too, share with Christ in lamenting, grieving, sorrowing over that lost love of God. One could say that to live a life of faithfulness to Christ is to experience the hurt and pain of lost love; to lament in grief and sorrow over the world’s sad state of affairs precisely because people still reject God and God’s love, forgiveness and salvation. After awhile, one wonders how God puts up with, tolerates the constant rejection of God’s Self and God’s love by so many people in the world. Yet, God does—why? Because God’s love is unconditional and eternal; it never stops; it never gives up.
The third profound message from our gospel today is also like the first one; in that we may not even see it right away because it doesn’t show up in the Bible all that often. The third profound message is this: Jesus speaks of God with a female metaphor. He says that God is like—Jesus himself is like—a mother hen gathering her brood of chicks under her wings.
This image, this metaphor of God being like a female bird with wings is also present in other scripture passages, for example: Deut. 32:10-14; Isa. 31:5; and in several of the Psalms—17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7. This image, this metaphor of God being like a mother hen gathering her brood of chicks under her wings is true to real life. Hens are willing to spread their wings in protection over their chicks whenever a predator like a snake or a cat or a hawk comes along. Moreover, they are also willing to sacrifice their own life by protecting their chicks. Other birds do this too. Indian Christian, Sadhu Sundar Singh tells us the following story about a bird protecting its young in a fire. When the bird’s nest caught fire, he said to himself:
‘Now the mother-bird will fly away.’ Instead, to my astonishment, I saw her fly down and spread her wings over the young ones. In a few minutes the poor bird was burnt to ashes along with her youngsters. I had never seen anything like it before, and said to those standing near: ‘Are we not astonished at this wonderful love? Think how much more wonderful must be the love of Him who has created such an unselfish love in His creatures. The same infinite and unselfish love brought Jesus Christ down from heaven into this world to become man that, by giving His own life, He might save us who were dying in our sins.
Christ our Mother Hen loves us; protects us; even dies for us so that we might have life, forgiveness and salvation. For this immeasurable love, thanks be to God!