Lent 2—Year C
February 21, 2016
Genesis 15:1-12,17-18, , Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35
Years ago I was at a single-A minor league baseball game in Kinston, North Carolina when the pitcher threw a wild pitch nearly hitting the batter in the head. The batter picked himself up and glared at the pitcher, who glared back and motioned for the batter to come out to the mound if he were man enough. So the batter started out to the mound at which point the pitcher took off for the outfield and hid behind the center fielder.
Jesus is told that King Herod is out to kill him, to which Jesus responds, I’m going to keep doing my work of healing and casting out evil, and then I’m going into the belly of the beast, which is Jerusalem. You tell that to that old fox, Herod.
Jesus’ mission is to embody the Kingdom of God in the face of the Kingdom of Caesar and his minions, in the face of the Powers of this Present Darkness.
He heads toward his own date with death in order to do what God has wanted to do from the beginning: to gather all her children together, like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.
We notice first of all that this is an image of Jesus speaking for God who is portrayed as a mother protecting her children. God is not only father but also mother.
And second we notice that even though the children continually have resisted being gathered together under the love and protection of God, Jesus is going to Jerusalem to do just that. This is why Paul says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
It is precisely because we engage in a self-destructive resistance to God that Jesus is coming to save us. I was watching an okay Kevin Costner movie the other night called “The Guardian” in which Costner plays a Senior Chief in the Coast Guard who trains Rescue Swimmers to jump out of helicopters to save those who are drowning at sea. Of course, one necessary talent a rescue swimmer must have is the ability to overcome the violence of the drowning person, who is so scared he can easily drown the rescuer and himself.
Jesus jumps in the water to save us but it costs him his life.
But the power of God in Christ is stronger than our violence, so that we are loved and saved whether we want to be or not. When we acknowledge that we have been rescued by Christ we have to decide what effect this will have on our lives going forward. Will we retreat to the hills where we think it is safe, or will we join our savior in the dangerous work of rescuing others?
It depends on whether we think we belong to Christ or to ourselves. Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi tells the people that now that they have been saved by the cross of Christ their citizenship is in heaven.
But what does that mean?
This sounds very strange and is usually interpreted to mean that we are going to heaven when we die. But that’s not all that it means to the people who first hear it.
Augustus Caesar created a Roman colony at Philippi after major battles in Philippi and Actium several decades before the birth of Christ. As N. T. Wright tells us, a Roman colony serves two purposes: First Roman citizens living in Philippi know that it is their job to extend Roman influence and culture around the Mediterranean world, creating networks of people loyal to Caesar.
Second, being a Roman citizen means all those old Roman soldiers do not have to return to Rome, which would have been hard on the overcrowded capital, but they can stay in Philippi spreading Caesar’s power and glory, and if there is trouble they know Caesar will come to their rescue.
To be a citizen of heaven, for Paul, means we are called to spread the influence of heaven wherever we are and that Jesus, our savior, Lord, and King—which are all titles of Caesar—will come again to transform our humble bodies into glorious bodies, so we can live in the New Creation.
To be a citizen of heaven means we serve our King by bringing his values and virtues into our own time and place, through his power in the Spirit. We speak with a distinctive accent, just like our friends from Wolverhampton.
Wright says, “Jesus is risen; therefore Israel and the world have been redeemed. Jesus is risen, therefore his followers have a new job to do….To bring the life of heaven to birth in actual, physical, earthly reality” not through our human power but through the power of the Christ working through our surrendered selves. Surprised by Hope page, 293
That’s why we pray: “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”
On Palm Sunday Jesus heads to his cross in Jerusalem to inaugurate a new creation in which, as Wright says, “every deed done in Christ and by the Spirit, every work of true creativity—doing justice, making peace, healing families, resisting temptation, seeking and winning true freedom—is an earthly event in a long history of things that implement Jesus’ own resurrection and anticipate the final new creation and act as signposts of hope…” Ibid. 295, Italics original
Bishop Will Willimon says that in almost all the churches in his convocation the prayers of the people are usually a list of prayers for the church members and their friends, most of whom are over 65 years old and fighting off the approach of death—for after all “God means to kill us all in the end…it’s not personal it’s just the way things are.”
But one of his pastors said that after the prayers for the old people, one day he asked if anyone had any other prayer requests and a young woman stood up and said she needed prayer because her husband, George, had left her and the girls and she didn’t know how they would survive since she didn’t have a job.
The pastor said, well do we need to ask God to fix this or is there something we can do ourselves? A man said he had just lost his secretary and the job was hers if she wanted it. Another woman said she could help out with driving the girls where they needed to go after school. The pastor said, bring the girls to church so that they can be shaped and formed into followers of Christ, on and on it went. Will Willimon Podcast, “Ministry over the Long Haul—number 2”. If you are into podcasts, download his and you will be in for a theological and humorous treat
That church showed it is an outpost of Heaven on earth.
I was relieved to hear all the Wolverhampton kids made it safely home. One of my recurring dreams is showing up at the airport to fly overseas and realizing I’ve left my passport at home, which turns the dream into a scrambling nightmare.
What passports do we carry?
I guess you could say when we are baptized we gain dual citizenship. This Lent Jesus calls us to get clear on which citizenship is the most important one, the eternal one that gives life and peace. We are called to see ourselves first of all as citizens of heaven who join with and work with Christ as he transforms the world into the Kingdom of God, who loved us and gave himself for us, like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings.