Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Lent: Destiny – preached at the Eucharist, Sherborne Abbey, on Sunday, 13 March 2022 by The Reverend Robert Green. (Philippians Ch 3: v 17 – Ch 4: v 1; Luke Ch 13: v 31-35
I do like watching quiz programmes on Television, and particularly University Challenge. I am constantly reminded of how much I don’t know! But very occasionally I do know the answer, and the team don’t. I finish up shouting at the television, but to no avail. It is so frustrating that they take no notice being oblivious to your offers of help.
Perhaps this is how God feels when we so obviously live oblivious to his offers of help and guidance. Not exactly as the TV team who actually cannot hear even if they want to, but more like parents who have to watch their child getting deeper involved in an unhealthy relationship which they know will end in misery, while their misgivings are dismissed as nagging or simply ignored.
Our Gospel reading starts with some Pharisees warning Jesus that Herod is out to kill him. Exactly what their motive was is unclear, perhaps they were sympathetic, or they may have been emissaries of the king to frighten Jesus out of Herod’s territory. Whichever it was, Jesus’s reply is uncompromising; “Go and tell that fox. Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.” Whether Herod received this message we don’t know, but if he did, he probably would have thought that it meant that Jesus would do as he pleased: if he wanted to stay a further two days then he would. But Jesus reply does not stop there, he continues; “Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem”. This now puts a quite different meaning to Jesus’s ministry. There is a sense of destiny in his life, and it would end in Jerusalem. The three days now refer to his time in the tomb.
Jesus’s death by crucifixion was no tragic accident that would bring his ministry to a premature and meaningless halt. This was the moment above all moments for which he had become incarnate, and his death would be the climax of his life, because in that death he, the sinless Son of God bore our sins and paid the price of our rebellion against God.
What would be a triumph for Jesus would be a disaster for Jerusalem. Jesus continues;” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” It is interesting that Jesus used the analogy of a hen with her brood. There is a true story of what happened to a hen caught in a fire. It all started with a cigarette end setting fire to a rick in a farmyard which rapidly spread to the barn where there were poultry. The farmer opened the barn door, and shooed the poultry out in to a field. When the blaze was brought under control, the farmer took some food out to the chickens, and on counting them, he realised there was one white hen with her chicks missing. He finally found her sat in a heap, her head hanging over on one side, her feathers scorched, and discoloured by smoke. She was quite dead, and yet the path to safety lay in front of her and the way was open. Why had the hen sat down and died like that? The farmer stooped and picked her up, and out from under her limp wings ran nine fluffy chicks alive and cheeping. He gathered them up in a box, and put them by the kitchen stove. The hen gave her life to save her chicks, and Jesus by implication wants to do the same for Jerusalem, but they will have none of it.
Jesus has a destiny to fulfil, and chooses to die for us. Will we stand with Jesus seeking and fulfilling our destiny in and through him? Will we be faithful even when the going gets tough? Will we seek the indwelling of God’s Spirit to encourage and embolden us in difficult times? Indeed, are we prepared to suffer for Jesus’ sake as Jesus suffered for ours? We are witnessing great acts of courage and sacrifice in Ukraine in the face of an evil aggressor. Whatever the odds may be, there is a determination to stand for what is right, even if it costs their lives. Ukraine has deep Christian roots. There are over 800 churches in Kyiv alone, and we are seeing people of faith being willing to sacrifice everything for their country. It is indeed an amazing witness, and at the time of preparing this sermon, the outcome is not at all clear, but we know that in the end, good will triumph over evil, for Christ crucified has won the victory over evil. Let us continue to stand alongside our brothers and sisters in prayer and giving whatever we can. How Jesus must weep at what is happening as he once wept over Jerusalem.