by the Reverend David Malek
Oh Divine, most mighty, most merciful, our sacred stories tell us that you help and save your people. You are the fortress: may there be no more war. You are the harvest: may there be no more hunger. You are the light: may no one die alone or in despair. Oh Divine, most majestic, most motherly, grant us your life. Amen.
That prayer is an interfaith call to peace for Ukraine as published by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I thought it was an appropriate way to begin my sermon today. You see, as I prayed about what to preach this morning, I became aware of how much over the past few weeks I have been feeling increasingly anxious and afraid about so much violence, illness, and loss associated with the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine.
In our Hebrew Scripture reading this morning we heard, “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield: your reward shall be very great.” And this same theme was picked up in Psalm 27 as well. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
Luke the Evangelist spends quite a bit of time dealing with fear throughout his gospel. In fact, in the very first chapter we meet Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Luke writes, “Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard."
In the next story we encounter Mary being visited by the angel Gabriel:
“And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’
Luke continues in this same fashion at the birth of Jesus when he writes:
“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy...”
Later we hear Jesus saying something very similar when he goes to the synagogue in Nazareth after being tempted by the devil for forty days in the wilderness:
“He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he said, 'Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
I love this passage of scripture because in it, Luke is telling us that the kindom of God that Jesus has come to usher in by taking on our humanity is vastly different than what was imagined and expected.
Jesus has made it clear that he has not been sent for the benefit of the social, political, economic and religious elites but rather for the benefit of the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. And this brings me to our gospel story that we read this morning in which we heard that some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow."
Once again Jesus is proclaiming and bringing about God’s kindom by “casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow,” especially among the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. He refuses to become fearful or agitated and thereby distracted from his mission.
Here I want to briefly quote Sr. Joan Chittister who writes this in her book Insights for the Ages:
Agitation drives out consciousness of God. When we’re driven by agitation, consumed by fretting, we become immersed in our own agenda and it is always exaggerated. We get caught up in things that, in the final analysis, simply don’t count, in things that pass away, in things that are concerned with living comfortably rather than living well.
In our gospel, Jesus refuses to go there today. Despite the Pharisees trying to scare him away from doing his work, Jesus is simply saying that he is on a mission in the world which he is ready and willing to give up his life for – and that mission is our salvation. He goes on to say, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"
Here I want to share some commentary by the preacher Karoline Lewis who writes, “We need to be a community of love and belonging.” That’s her paraphrase of Jesus’ desire to gather together Jerusalem’s children, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.
Communities of love and belonging are beautiful yet rare; necessary, yet elusive; desired, yet seem always met with stipulations. Communities of love and belonging are those places and spaces of gathered folks that give you life, that nourish your soul, that remind you of who you truly are. This is Jesus’ wish, Jesus’ invitation — a community of love and belonging under Jesus’ wing; knowing the safety and protection of such a place which then invites you to imagine and live in to the person God has called you to be.
So church, this is what I believe God is calling us to do this morning. In the face of so much violence, illness, loss, anxiety and fear in the world, we must live into being the people that God has called us to be - we must be a community of love and belonging under the motherly wings of God. We have to hold fast to living out our baptismal promises by continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and the prayers. We must persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord. We are bound to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. We must seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves - striving for justice and peace among all people - and respecting the dignity of every human being.
Our presiding bishop Michael Curry notes that:
For Jesus, God’s passionate dream, compassionate desire, and bold determination is to gather God’s human children closer and closer in God’s embrace and love. That mission and commitment is at the center of Jesus’ work. Like a mother hen, God seeks to draw, embrace, include, and welcome God’s children into the family of humanity that God has intended from the dawn of Eden itself.
To close, let me say that in our experiences of anxiety, fear, violence, illness, and loss we must allow ourselves to be gathered closer and closer in God’s embrace and love under the wings of Jesus and continue to live into being the people that God has called us to be. Amen.
The Reverend David Malek serves as Curate at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis. St. John's served as his "sending parish" for his candidacy to ordination.
Various members of the St. John's congregation contribute to this blog. For editorial suggestions, contact Jeff McIntire-Strasburg at email@example.com
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