Monday, November 11, 2013

Sounding the Victory of Sacrificial Love and Reconciling Forgiveness. A Homily for 11.17.13 from Luke 21:5-19 for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Homily for 11.17.13
Thirty-Third Sunday in 
Ordinary Time C

Our time through this Liturgical year is just about complete. This also means our sojourn through St. Luke's Gospel is almost complete as well. Not to presume upon GOD’s providence, but in this Liturgical year we have only this week and then next — which would be Christ the King Sunday, and then the Gospel Lectionary moves to St. Matthew at the beginning the Liturgical year, and Advent.

It is important to reflect for a moment on the challenge that St. Luke has presented to us this year, especially with his unique understanding of Jesus. That is, throughout, in Luke's picture of Jesus we have been reminded of Jesus' urgent movement both toward Jerusalem for his confrontation with the powers -- both temporal and spiritual, and we have been reminded of his movement toward the final response of his people toward him in regard to coming judgment of the nation and Jerusalem by the Romans.

Said differently, Jesus has been offering his people the Jewish promised Kingdom, which you will remember several weeks ago how we outlined his Kingdom in this way:

The Kingdom...
  • is the surprise move of GOD, visiting his chosen people by becoming one of them... 
  • is the promised upsetting of the status-quo and the return of the world to what GOD meant it to be all along...
  • is the defeat of empire, the destruction of the powers of darkness and the return to holiness...
  • is the the inclusion of all people who wish to be part, who have ears to hear, and who respond to GOD's gracious rule by finding the narrow way...
  • is the upending of hate, greed, violence and finally that last, great enemy death, all through the accomplishment of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, on the cross, in the resurrection and in the ascension... 
  • is the final and glorious return of GOD's people from exile... 
  • is the fulfillment of Yahweh's promises to Abraham, including the blessing of the entire world...

Time and again, therefore, throughout this year of Sundays, we have reminded ourselves that Jesus' compelling message -- 
be Israel my way not yours
-- demands a response. 

But, we have also come to understand through this year that only those with eyes to see and ears to hear would be able to recognize the call to go beyond the nation's prideful status as the people of GOD to her vocation as the people of GOD-- to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth (N.T.Wright).

So, it is within this context that Jesus makes the startling statement in today's text concerning the temple:
“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
We know, of course, that easily, one of the most important symbols of Israel's GOD was the Temple, the place where the people met with Yahweh, the one true and living GOD, who is the I AM -- the Present One. But, we also know that Jesus has been offering himself as a temple replacement within the occurrence of his message of the new covenant. That is, Jesus presents himself as the new place where the people would meet with their GOD. But, of course, this meeting would occur only for those choosing to be within the new covenant that Jesus offers, only for those choosing to be Israel his way.

And make no mistake, choice is the key.

Or, said differently, there is an ongoing confrontation between Jesus and the symbol of the Temple. The clearest example of this is the moment when Jesus halts the sacrificial process when he overturned the tables and freed the animals ready to be sacrificed.  (Luke 19:45-48)

But, there were more subtle movements within this drama as well. 

Take, for example, the account of Jesus' confrontation with the religious pressure groups -- the Pharisees and teachers of the law, when Jesus was teaching and the paralyzed man was lowered down through his roof. 
17 One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by  (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal.18 Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; 19 but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd[h] in front of Jesus. 20 When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? 24 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the one who was paralyzed—“I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” 25 Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. 26 Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.” (Luke 5:17-27)
New Testament scholar N.T.Wright reminds us that when the 
"scribes and the Pharisees began to question, 
'Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?'"
they are bringing to the forefront the idea of not only who, but where sins are forgiven. That is, only GOD can forgive sins and for that to occur one must be at the Temple before a priest. So, here, Jesus, in offering himself as the location of meeting GOD and forgiveness, is offering a new and different way to be Israel.

No wonder the nation balked at Jesus' message! 

Enter, then, today’s text.

Jesus, in clarity, sees the way the wind is blowing. He has already ridden into Jerusalem. He has already offered himself to the people. But, he knows the Kingdom message has fallen of deaf ears. He recognizes that peace is hidden from their eyes. Now, broken before the ones he loves, he knows only judgment is coming:
41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:41-44)

And so, with this recognition Jesus begins to prepare his followers for the inevitable devastation that is coming when Rome responds to the heart of rebellion found within the city. All of this comes to fruition in 70AD, and believe me, the bloodshed was enormous. No wonder Jesus weeps as he sees what his nation could not. Judgment and destruction in the form of Roman wrath was theirs because they refused the narrow way, the way of peace.

Dr. Wright goes on to theorize that in today's text, Jesus was preparing those subsequent followers for the persecution they would necessarily face prior to this final rebellion and Rome’s brutal intervention. That is, before Roman judgment could occur, and because they simply were his followers, Jesus' disciples would be seen as Jewish undesirables by their own people, and because of this they would, as Jesus predicts, they will:
"arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name..."
This should serve to remind us of something that is easily forgotten, especially as we take our religious ease here in the West. Simply put, the world is not only at war with itself through violence and greed and hatred for the unlike-other, but the world is no friend of grace either, and it has no real desire to hear of Jesus' new life and his new way to live, and even less to submit to his Kingship.

The incredulity of Jesus message to his people is very similar indeed to the skepticism of today’s hearers as well, not the least of which among his own professed followers. 
Love others. 
Pray for those who use you. 
Turn the other cheek. 
Go the extra mile.
This is the the narrow way of King-Jesus. This is what it means to follow him. Clearly, these seeming way-of-the-doormat-instructions are as useless today as they were two-thousand years ago when they were first spoken! 

Or, are they?

We cannot see it much now, of course, but within the seeds and first-fruits of Jesus’ cross, resurrection and ascension the essence of the universe changed. In the cross and resurrection Jesus absorbs and defeats the powers of darkness, the evil of empire, and the brokenness of this weary old world at war with itself.

To be sure, what we now see is war and strife, but this only what the enemy wants us to see. We are supposed to believe that the persecution and betrayal that Jesus describes in our text is all there is in the world. Don’t believe it! Is this stuff still present? Of course, but this is not the rest of the story or the end of the story.

Soon, we shall again be reminded of GOD the Father’s love for his creation; soon we shall sing the songs of Advent. And with each refrain we join the longing of those persecuted and long ago forgotten, those who waited, as we continue to wait, for that moment when the King is made known to all. That moment when:
at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,  in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue should confess    that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:10b-11)

O Brothers and Sisters, take heart. This will yet happen. Some daybreak the Son will rise with healing in his voice and the balm of Gilead will appear, opening before the watching world the restoration of paradise and the return of the world to how the Creator and Covenant GOD always intended it to be.  

So, now we live in the not yet, but we live the way of the victory that is sure. We live the way of sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness even though it seems to make little sense to us to do so. Still, we choose to live the way of the Savior so that the watching world -- especially those with eyes to see and ears to hear -- may yet realize that hope is not on the frayed-fringe of the world, but rather lies at the very heart of the earth, which is the LORD's in all his fullness.


Gospel Reading: LUKE 21:5-19