February 28, 2010

“When The Going Gets Rough”
Luke 13:31-35

Phillipians 3:21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

Luke 13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

I cannot believe that we are witnesses to yet another disaster, Chile, as the most recent victim, even as Haiti is still reeling. I do not know what it is like to experience hardship of that magnitude. Nor do most of you. But hardship of one kind or another we have known and I am impressed by the resiliency of the human heart, to keep going.

You may think that I am going to offer a sermon today based upon the Hallmark Card, “Foodsteps.” Maybe the title caused you to anticipate a message on God’s unwavering presence, carrying us where we cannot walk because the journey is too hard. It is not that kind of sermon.

Perhaps you expect me to sing…sing the song by Billy Ocean, “When the Going gets tough, the tough get going.” Fortunately, my voice will not permit it.

I am going to speak about a difficult stretch of road, about this travel narrative, that’s what they call this part of the Gospel. Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem, teaching the disciples many lessons along the way. And the road gets rough.

Not all travel is, well, exciting. Some of it is to be loathed. In this instance it is the destination.
I had an assistant once who said she liked to go to the dentist. That sort of freaked me out, you know?

Sometimes you don’t want to go because you anticipate the destination.
I make the confirmation class go to a funeral home. I’ve heard all kinds of excuses as to why they cannot go.

Sometimes the hardships along the way, and the awfulness of the destination make your feet like clay.
It’s a truism now that ours is an age of fear and anxiety. Whether it be terrorism or further economic decline, we are a people who are assaulted daily with the message that everything might fall apart. And in some cases, the messengers are right. As poet Adrienne Rich once wrote in An Atlas of the Difficult World,

only takes a bit of ice on a road or a few cells dividing out of control to steal away our loved ones. We have become so accustomed to the daily litany of what might destroy us that we might not even notice the way the headlines seep into our consciousness as we lock our doors, hold our purses closer on the street, and never let our children out of our sight.

We can collect these stories of loss as warning signs, constantly telling us which paths not to go down, until finally we are stuck in our “safe” zones, limiting our activities, our relationships, our sharing of resources with others. We could spend so much time guarding our health, our possessions, our safety that we miss the point of traveling this life at all. But if Jesus’ life is our model, if Lent has anything to teach us at all, we dare not imagine that the safe path is always the faithful one.
How do we do it? I am not talking about your own hard road. I am talking about a road that perhaps a loved one, or a stranger even, is forced to travel; and, you are going along too. How do we do it?
They are the couples who — one blind and one lame — still find their way to church together. There are the elderly women who have lost husbands and children, yet still give themselves over to loving new strangers that walk into their lives. There are those who have undergone job loss after job loss, yet still give generously to those who have less. They are people hobbled by mental illness or addiction, who still manage to get out of themselves and truly give to others. They are Christians who have been told by the institution that they are not welcome because of their sexuality or their color, yet have said, in essence, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” There is no doubt that the journeys of these folk are more difficult than mine, but for them following Jesus brings joy despite the risks and when I see them along the road, I am compelled to travel with them.
Sometimes we just know that it is something we have to do.
One of my favorite lines from the mouth of a disciple at this point in Jesus’ life is from John’s gospel, chapter eleven, when “Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” I do not hear this as courageous, but rather, resignation. Still, that sometimes motivates us.
Sometimes we are compelled on journeys like these…by love.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “At risk of his own life, Jesus has brought the precious kingdom of God within the reach of the beloved city of God, but the city of God is not interested. Jerusalem has better things to do than to hide under the shelter of this mother hen’s wings.”… She then describes the meager resources of a mother hen attempting to protect her brood against a vicious and well-armed predator, with “nothing much in the way of a beak and nothing at all in the way of talons.” Taylor’s is perhaps the most heartbreaking sentence in all the commentaries: “At the very least, she can hope that she satisfies his appetite so that he leaves her babies alone.”
Sometimes we do it because we want to be with One who goes that same difficult road, and teaches us something along the way.
Jesus doesn’t back down or run, which does not surprise us. He goes to Jerusalem, not because he is “safe” from the cross (quite the opposite), but because he knows who God is, and what “the plan” is. This is the Jesus who we accompany on our Lenten journey, and on every path of risk and faithfulness we travel, no matter what we encounter along the way. What he teaches us is what it means to be a person of faith, and what he gives us is Hope.

So that is why, despite earthquakes in Haiti and Tsunami’s on the Pacific Rim; Illnesses at home that strike just as randomly; and losses that we’ve done nothing to precipitate, nor do we deserve; that is why we gather together today and listen to ancient words that we call the good news. And, that is why we baptize babies: Not to conjure some magic protection, but because we are a people who want to share our strength, our faith, and sprinkle what we know as hope on the forehead of the innocents.

That’s what we do when the going gets rough.