I have a couple of confessions to make.
Before a pastor can become a pastor, they have to undergo an exam. There is a written component that you prepare and provide to your examination committee. They take that written exam and analyze the answers for about a month. And then you sit in front of that committee and they talk to you about your exam and ask you questions. One of the things that I had to do when I wrote my exam, was write a sermon on a particular text. Today’s sermon is that sermon.
I haven’t preached it yet. And since it fits with today’s texts – I thought I would share it with you. Hopefully, it’s still a good sermon.
The second confession I am going to make today is this:
I am an ideologist of the worst kind. I like the rules. Oh, I really like the rules. Throughout the years, my friends have developped all sorts of nicknames for me that relate to my passion for the rules. My two favourites are: “Encyclopaedia Balogh” and “Rules Monkey.”
In fact, if I sit down to play a game with my closest friends, they know that I like to have a set of the rules in plain sight.
Close to me.
When I am learning a new game, my hands twitch on the tabletop, subconsciously reaching across to the sheet of paper as someone explains how the game is played.
You see, I want things to be fair, and I know that life, like game manufacturers, has rules in place for a reason. Since I have been a child, I have wanted to make sure that everyone else sees and understands that rules are in place for a reason too. This can make me a little hard to live with.
In fact, I had a roommate once confront me in the kitchen of our shared residence.
“You have such high expectations that no one can possibly live up to them, ever. And we all get so disappointed in ourselves because we feel like we’re failing you all the time. So, I’ve decided I’m not even going to try anymore. You deal with that.”
Rules, rules, rules.
The reality of law is that it seeks to judge and condemn. Rules are put in place to order life in a particular way, ideally to make things fair, but they can also be turned and used to tear down any confidence we may have in our ability to live at all. Rules and judgement can cause feelings of inadequacy to rise like floodwaters and overtake us, drowning out the life within us.
It’s harder still to hear judgement from someone you care about.
My roommate was a trusted friend, who felt condemned by me, and in turn passed a judgement for their own sanity that showed me how my behaviour was destroying something truly precious: relationship.
Throughout Lent we are, hopefully, spending our time preparing ourselves to experience Jesus on the cross.
Today’s passage shows us that Jesus too is preparing for his death. It’s interesting that Jesus says: “…today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.”
Jesus dismisses the judgement of a political ruler, who according to the Pharisees, desires to kill Jesus, and focuses instead on his death as God intends it.
This focus shifts to include a lament for Jerusalem. Both Jesus’ life and death are about establishing the kingdom of God.
The lament and judgement over Jerusalem should be brought into our own context:
- Who or what is the ‘Jerusalem’ of the day in our lives?
- Is it the political and civic sphere? Is it the religious sphere? Or is it both?
- How can we make sense of our lives as a part of the establishment of God’s kingdom in our world?
- If Jesus were to lament over us and speak prophetically to us, what would his message be?
- How have we resisted God’s messages and kingdom?
- How have we played the tragic role of Jerusalem?
- And perhaps, on the other hand, how have we recognized God’s messages and kingdom, and how can we continue to do so?
Unlike where we live today, Jerusalem was a centre of both political and religious power and activity in the days of Jesus. But it refused to heed its prophets, and was perhaps more concerned with the actions of the political rulers of the time. Jesus would have seen and heard of many so-called ‘false prophets’ and ‘false messiahs’ who would be taken to Jerusalem for judgement and death. There would be more people still that would suffer under the law of the land.
But it is not the law itself that is bad – it is the human use of it for power and control that is. A situation that always seems to arise where law is concerned.
And so, Jesus prepares for his “three days” because it is in the death and resurrection of Christ that we find our hope and our way to make sense of our lives as part of God’s kingdom in our world. The Gospel brings us life from the midst of death and condemnation. However, in some ways, not quite yet.
Lent is about a time of waiting. Today’s psalm states it clearly: Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Each line of the psalm is like a breath prayer, an inhalation and exhalation of new reflection on God: activity and where we might find God. There is a sort of confidence that grows with each line.
Martin Luther believed firmly that theologizing about whom or what God is would not sustain the heart in times of trouble. It is the confession that this God is “for us” — the stronghold of our lives — that is crucial.
I was told that Luther once wrote that if God came to his doorstep tomorrow and announced that on second thought God was not going to save him, Luther would respond, “Too late, I have your promise.” Not a pious reply by any means, but perhaps one we might expect from Luther.
It is, however, appropriate when we know the promise in Gospel. It is God who reaches out into the world. It was Jesus who made the trek to Jerusalem, despite the warnings from the Pharisees that Herod would kill him. It is a promise of relationship made by God, reaching out to us to save us from the corrosive power of condemnation and judgement.
And so we, as the church, looks to the future, standing on the side of God’s will for a just, secure, and peaceful world. We trust that because God loves us and wants the best for us, we will do our best to be the best that God wants for us. Not because we need to keep trying to live up to the expectations, the rules, the Law, but because the hope of promise and grace are fulfilled at the coming of the Blessed One, who comes in the name of the Lord.
I turned around from unloading the dishwasher, which I was doing because the sink that I wanted to use was full of dirty dishes sitting in equally scummy water, which was supposed to be this particular roommate’s chore, to unleash my anger and the lack of rule following and my surely quite simple expectations at my roommate. I looked right into the face of someone who seemed utterly defeated but also quietly determined, and I all I could think about was how my rules had broken this person down. How we were living a broken relationship because my expectations were breaking this person down rather than supporting and building them up.
In the briefest of moments I saw my own condemnation and judgement was doing to each of us, and I was so, so, sorry. All I could think to say was: “Okay. I still love you.” My roommate was surprised by my reaction and left the kitchen quietly. I resumed cleaning up the kitchen.
This Lenten season gifts us with time for reflection and introspection; it is a preparatory time, we are moving with single purpose towards the Passion Week. But is that it? Do we linger in the Lenten season only in the hopes that somehow Eastertide will be more meaningful this year? That we may see, really see, the promise of Christ this year?
For some, it really is a time to linger a little while on the path that leads to crucifixion. For some it is time to correct habits, behaviours, or lifestyles. For some it is a time for thinking on inadequacies and lifting those feelings of self-condemnation to God. For some it is choosing to focus on love, rather than law.
Perhaps the Lenten season gifts us the chance to think about the Jerusalems in our own lives, and in so doing, it moves us to hear the beckoning of God to live a faithful life–one that is challenged to risk and try to live up to the rules and one that knows full well that the rules aren’t the most important thing.
For God so loved the world…
Let Us Pray,
Holy Trinity, thank you for creating the way to live out our lives: in relationship. Encourage us to seek the ways of just, peaceful, and harmonious lives that work together for the benefit of all people. Help us to turn from ways that seek to level the law against our neighbours in ways that are harmful and hurtful. Make us bold to stand against the corrosive power of judgement and condemnation. Create some space for us on our Lenten journey to examine the ways in which we can live and be the best you want us to be, not because we need to keep living up to the Law, but because the hope of promise and grace are fulfilled at the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.