The Psalmist said, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all God’s benefits – who forgives all your sins, who heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from destruction; who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, … Bless the Lord, O my soul.”
Pray with me: Lord we remember how you acknowledged who you are and whose you are during your travels through the desert as you were tempted by Satan. We pray this day for your Spirit to enable us to make the Lenten journey of self-appraisal and repentance for the sins that cling so closely to us. Give us the courage to be open before you, and to trust your love to bring us home. Be with your servants in this place and in this moment so we may hear a word from you. Amen.
We have come this day to continue our journey with Jesus through Lent. We remember how Jesus wandered around for 40 days without water and food. We recall that Jesus was tempted three times in the desert before the tempter left to return at a more opportune time. Let us be clear, Jesus was committed to being in and honoring the covenant that God had made with God’s people including Jesus.
Today we see in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus being warned of a plot against him, and he is being encouraged to leave Jerusalem, and so Jesus weeps for the city. Jesus weeps for Jerusalem because Jerusalem will not heed the prophetic words and repent. Jerusalem will not turn toward God, admit to her past, to be honest about her history and begin again. In light of all God had blessed Jerusalem with, recognizing from whence they had come so they could proceed towards transformation proved to be difficult for them. They wanted to stay the same.
They were living with the mistaken impression that things would always be the same, at least those in charge believed things would always be the same. Having no story that enabled them to truthfully tell their story, they attempt amnesia. They wanted to be in the same place, doing the same things, meeting the same challenges, contending with the same worries, stressing the same stresses. They lived with the mistaken impression that things would always be the same. It does not matter whether that same is positive or negative, same provides a certain amount of security. And so, they wanted sameness to remain with them.
Anything that is not the same throws things off course. The people of Jerusalem became confused and lost when Jesus replaces same. There is a tension in the air, there is a difference that calls for change. Jesus coming into town upset the applecart and to get things back on track, they want him gone. And so, they do something they would not ordinarily do, they warn him of the plot against him. They were not enamored of Jesus. Up to this point the Pharisees have been increasingly hostile to Jesus. They want same back. Same is comfortable and secure. Same means there is nothing to fear. They want Jesus gone. There is no discomfort about the rightness or wrongness, oughtness or shouldness, because it is the same.
Jerusalem has turned away from God’s will for her people’s lives and betrayed God’s love for them. They were given the power by God to be honest about their sin, to confess all the ways that their lives had betrayed the love of God. And then they had been given the gift of forgiveness, the ability to start over. Because of Jesus, Jerusalem still had time to repent, to receive pardon for sin, and to welcome the reign of God. This offer is not only to Jerusalem but to the entire world. It is an offer to us today.
Like Jerusalem, we stand in need of a transformed perspective of who Jesus Christ is and what the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives can mean. If we loved our towns, our cities, our nation as well as we say we do, then there would also be a great need for weeping today. If Jesus were weeping for us today, in our society, what sin might cause Jesus the most grief? The criminal justice system, racism, sexism, orientation, gender, nationalism, poverty, education and on and on the list goes.
We live in a time where we want to make our history irrelevant. We want to make the present situation of this country into something that it is not, something strange. We need to recognize our past for what it was and is and not explain it away, excuse it, or justify it. It is a past that is filled with some of the ugliest possible examples of brutality and degradation in human history. Having done that, we should then make a good-faith effort to turn our history around so that we can see it in front of us, so that we can avoid doing what we have done for so long. Why can’t we say that same is not welcome here anymore?
Like Jerusalem, we have been chosen, named, and blessed. We live in a special relationship to God, and under a special responsibility. How will we confront the grief that torments Jesus so grievously? A first step would be to confront and own our history. Another is to determine how it is possible to live together despite our past. How is it possible to be honest? It is possible because of our special relationship to God. God is our means of facing the facts without either hating ourselves for our past or hating those who remind us of our past. How can we be free?
During Lent, we say that we have been subsumed into a story, a story that enables us to look upon our lives truthfully, to tell our story straight because God has made our story God’s own. And because of this God’s Spirit urges us to make the Lenten journey of self-appraisal and repentance for the sins that cling so closely and ask for forgiveness.
In this season of Lent, we spend time in remembering and repentance. Repentance does not come naturally. It involves learning a story and practicing moves that help us tell that story truthfully. Repentance means realizing, on the basis of the story of Jesus’ betrayal by his own disciples, that we have a past, a past which we can neither deny nor undo on our own. I am what I am because of what I have been and done, good and bad. My self is woven out of a great web of complicated motivation, reflection, intentions, and actions, some of which have turned out to be creative, while others have been destructive for myself and for other people. We need to see and accept all of this, to take responsibility for some things and to accept the inevitability of others – to own the whole of ourselves to acknowledge realities both past and present, to destroy all the crippling illusions about ourselves that lock us up in selfish fantasies about our power and independence.
Where do we find the resources for honesty, particularly honesty about the past, which is most painful, particularly that past which still determines us, but which was not immediately of our own doing? You see, that is a hard history to get over in our culture of denial. We stand in need of a transformed perspective of who Christ is and what the presence of Christ in our lives can mean. This calls for a belief in forgiveness just as much as it requires a matter of faith.
Quite often we have labored long under the false pretense that we know who we are, and that the world offers us freedom – only to discover the limitedness of our understanding. We are held captive by the whims and fancies of this world and our self-centered existence. Ahh, but faith says we are Christians, who are answerable to a story which says that God forgives, even from the cross—God forgives. How difficult it is to accept the truth when we are confronted by Christ!
Let me tell you, church, that there is a man named Jesus, who can free us from our whims and fancies, as he moves steadily toward Jerusalem, toward his fate on the cross. And as he does so, without a thought for his own fate, he does however take a moment to warn us about our fate. He takes a moment to call us to repent. He promises a people, who have a long history of turning against the prophets and of ignoring the truth, a promise of forgiveness and new life. This divine willingness to take us back is not based upon cheap graciousness; because you see the cross is not cheap. Christian forgiveness does not say that our sin is inconsequential or forgettable. Rather, forgiveness begins in God’s relentless pursuit of us, God’s amazing determination to have a family. Forgiveness begins in God’s pursuit of us even into the wilderness.
One of the most extraordinary signs of God’s grace is the willingness of one Christian to seek reconciliation with another Christian, to obey Jesus and to love their enemies, despite their enemies’ lack of contrition. What could be more powerful than for Christians to accept the forgiveness offered by realizing that we need not deny the sins of the past, that our stories now meet in a story called Christian. Christ can transform the lives of people like you and me. Whoever is willing to turn from the addictions and allurements of the world to embrace the authority and anointing of God’s divine call can repent, be forgiven, and transformed. With God’s story embraced as our own, we are free, we can breathe; those whose differences and history made them our enemies, become even more than our friends. They can become family.
Abraham remembers the covenant, remembers who he is and is called to be, assumes responsibility for his part of the covenant, and turns to God. We are members of that covenant, established by God. Our hope, in life and in death, is that God loves us, will keep covenant with us, even when we are unfaithful. That knowledge gives us the security, the basis to repent, to be honest, to confess.
Jesus issues us a prophetic call to change, to turn. There is still time to change; furthermore, you can change. There is the good news amid these Lenten warnings. Good news, church. We can repent! There is still time!