If we are to be called the church that follows Jesus Christ, we need to be a community of love and belonging. I borrowed these words from Caroline Lewis, a professor at Luther Seminary. As we look at today’s lessons, we can see the longing and desire to belong to someone or something greater than we can ever be.
We will also see the longing to be loved as much as we love, but this love isn’t returned. By looking into the stories, we see how relationship and faith grow in our lives. We learn why the church needs to be a community of love and belonging as we grow in faith as part of it.
In the Old Testament, the very first Bible book, Genesis is the ancient story of the ancestors and their new and changing relationship with God. In the lesson today, poor old Abram is about to begin his relationship with God. Before this time, God spoke and Abram listened. But now Abram has questions to ask and this relationship between them will change.
Years before, God promised Abram both land and family, but now Abram’s wondering when God’s promises for land and family will be given to him. As it is now, he’ll die without an inheritance to give and without a son to give it to. Abram has questions and God gives Abram visions into the future, so Abram can see what God can see.
Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward will be great, God announces as Abram is drawn into God’s vision. It’s the desert sky, in the dark of night, ablaze with brilliant, glittery stars. Count them if you can, God says. Your descendants will span many generations.
I am the Lord, who brought you from the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess. But how can I take this land, Abram asks, people are already living here? God tells Abram to prepare a sacrifice and when Abram falls into a deep sleep, God comes to it and approves the sacrifice, making a covenant with Abram. I give this land to your descendants from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates. It was a lot of land and the land had many different rulers, as kings and kingdoms came and went. But through it all, God continued to be faithful to the people called precious and beloved.
The writer of Psalm 27 writes centuries later, in the same land, but with a different experience with God. God made several covenants with the people, as their relationship deepens and grows stronger. These people know that they are loved by God and they love in return-sometimes. The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Living in the land God gave them, being ruled by the king God has chosen, the people live in a time of peace and safety. But we know from the stories of the Bible and our own lives, that life is always moving and changing.
We are forced to change with the changes and they don’t always seem like good changes. Yet, it’s amazing, because God has the power to work through whatever or whomever happens to be in power, to bring about God’s kingdom. If we read through the next 15 books of the major and minor prophets who spoke for God, we would see how God continues to be faithful to God’s people, even when the judges, priests and kings were not.
In the gospel lesson, which is supposed to be the good news, we read some not very good news. Earlier in Luke’s gospel, Jesus predicted his impending death by crucifixion-but the disciples didn’t believe him. On the mountain of transfiguration, Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah and received the mission that he would soon accomplish. Turning toward Jerusalem, which would be the final showdown, Jesus began the journey he had to make.
Throughout the gospel, Jesus’ work of teaching, healing and saving people continues. He meets people wherever they are; he meets the demon possessed in the graveyard among the tombstones, he meets people with the skin disease leprosy in the garbage pit outside of the city where they were sent to live, he meets the widows, the orphans and the beggars on the roads that lead from one village to the next. If there was ever the need for a community of loving and belonging, it was here. And here is where Jesus Christ ministered to all people, bringing the healing and health and the salvation that God had promised long ago.
Jesus goes about his work, very much aware that time is running out. Today, he’s warned by the Pharisees that King Herod is looking for him. This same Herod who beheaded John the Baptist is now looking for Jesus, but Jesus brushes off their words. Remember, this is a battle of wills here and Jesus assures us that God’s will WILL be done, no matter how difficult, frightening and impossible it may seem. If Jesus could defeat the devil’s temptation in the wilderness, Jesus will handle what comes next. While facing sure and certain death, don’t forget the hope, love and promise of resurrection. It belongs here.
In the middle of all of this, the pressure of time working against him, Jesus looks back on the Jerusalem he sees and it’s not a good sight. Jesus sees a city that kills the prophets and apostles sent with God’s word-a clear reflection on Herod, who now wants Jesus’ life, because killing John the Baptist didn’t solve his religious problems.
But there’s a quiet moment here, when Jesus dreams of the Jerusalem that he would have them be. While the foxy Herod tries to kill Jesus, God would gather the Holy City into arms of security and forgiveness. Jesus would pull them together under the canopy of a hen’s wings, which are soft enough to protect, yet wide, powerful and strong enough to resist what could kill. With this protection, God would hold the city as the holy city it had once been and could be again. But Jerusalem has a different idea; it does not want to be gathered into God’s arms or Jesus’ salvation. It wants to be left to it’s own destruction. And so it is.
Jesus ends his lament with the resignation many parents feel when they see their children heading in a direction that isn’t good for them. Being a community of love and belonging sometimes means standing by, until the lost have found their way back to the wholeness that the community offers. Sometimes loving means letting go, in the hopes that there will be a change of heart and a happy return. But at this moment of resignation, Jesus warns, See, your house is left to you. You will not see me again until the time when you say, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.
Rev. Dawn Richie