The Truth About Grace

Oops!  I forgot to post yesterday’s sermon.  I guess it’s a good thing I was preaching on grace, right? 🙂

Here you go!  Enjoy.

Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

The Truth About Grace

So today is supposed to be a celebration, right? We are finally able to gather together after a few weekends dampened by snow. Many of us were able to rest and recharge as we spent the past week vacationing with family and friends. We had the opportunity to dedicate and bless our new baptismal font as a community. What a wonderful worship service!

Except … well … this morning’s Gospel reading is kind of a huge buzz kill. Let’s recap, shall we?

Several Pharisees approach Jesus and tell him that Herod wants to kill him.
Jesus calls Herod a fox, then alludes to his own death by saying his work will be finished on the third day.
Jesus cries for Jerusalem, basically saying that the city kills and stones prophets and other people who God calls to minister there.
Jesus points out that he has tried to take the people of Jerusalem under his wing, but that he has consistently been rejected by their unwillingness to be led.

And then the reading ends. This is not exactly the positive and uplifting message that many of us may be looking for to encourage us throughout the Lenten season.

First of all – let’s fill in some of the details so that the story makes more sense.

The Herod in this story is Herod Antipas, who was the son of Herod the Great. This may or may not matter, but Jesus really did not like Herod Antipas; in fact, during his Galilean ministry Jesus avoided two cities that were particularly associated with Herod Antipas, Sepphoris and Tiberias.
When Jesus called Herod a “fox” he was not referring to endearing, fuzzy and cute wildlife. Hellenists used the term fox to describe someone or something as clever, but sly and unprincipled. In the Old Testament, foxes are often associated with destruction. Jewish dietary laws classify the fox and other jackal as unclean animals. Jesus had a disregard for Herod that went beyond simple hatred.
Jesus cries for Jerusalem in this story; the literary classification for this is called a “lament”. This particular lament comes in the middle of chapter 13, at the very end of a collection of parables where Jesus puts out a call for repentance. So while Jesus was lamenting the state of Jerusalem; he was also –through his lamentation – calling them one more time to repentance. “There is still time,” Jesus was essentially saying through his sadness.

These kinds of texts are challenging for preachers. It is so much easier for us to read and reflect on texts where Jesus calls us to be his disciples; to be fishers of men, to reach out to the marginalized, to fight oppression and to heal the sick. It is much easier for us to stand in awe over the miraculous facets of Jesus’ life and ministry than face the truth about what he said. It is much more difficult to read and reflect on a text where Jesus not only points out how we are getting it wrong, but weeps over the fact that we are getting it wrong.

I suppose we could read this story and say to ourselves, “Boy oh boy, those people of Jerusalem were really something of a hot mess! It is a good thing we are such better people than they were and really have a handle on this whole ‘how to be a good Christian’ thing.”

But that would be a lie.

Let’s face it – we, too (we as individuals and we as a community), are something of a hot mess at times. We fight, we gossip and we seek power at the price of unity. We make mistakes. We reject people and infrastructures that push us to be better people. We fight wars out of fear and close ourselves off to people and things that are different than we are and that challenge us. We place importance on material possessions rather than listening to God’s still speaking voice pointing us in more challenging and faithful directions. We often take the easy way out instead of the better way out. We highlight the imperfections of other people rather than acknowledging and facing our own brokenness.

We try, we really do – but we fall short.

Lent – by nature – is not really supposed to be a positive and uplifting season. It is supposed to be a journey to the cross. And there is simply dysfunction in the Easter story that cannot be avoided. There is no way around the crucifixion; we cannot get to the beauty of Jesus’ resurrection without acknowledging and experiencing his death on the cross. This story that we are reflecting on this morning – Jesus’ disdain over Herod’s abhorrent reign, Jesus’ subtle prediction of his death, his tears over Jerusalem and his final call to the people of Jerusalem for repentance – is real. It is a real depiction not simply of the state of Jerusalem, but also of the state of humanity.

And that includes us here today.

We are all saved by God’s grace through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. But grace is a complicated thing.

And at times grace is very messy.

Here is the truth about grace: It is not easy. We have to get through the crucifixion in order to get to the resurrection. We have to acknowledge our broken pieces in order to allow God to put them back together. We have to hear Jesus’ cries for Jerusalem and understand them as cries for us, today, as well. We have to repent openly and humbly if we want to make positive changes in our lives and in our communities. We have to admit our faults and our shortcomings if we want to grow and to change. We have to admit our humanity if we want to be more Christ-like. We have to understand who we are if we want to be the type of people Jesus called us to be.

But remember this – we always know how the story ends. Throughout the difficult roads we may travel along our journeys, the painful self-reflections and the complex nature both of being Christian and being part of a Christian community, never forget that Jesus rose on that third day – and that grace is real. Paul says in this week’s letter to the church in Philippi, “Brothers and sisters … our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there are we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. … Therefore … stand firm in the Lord.”

Stand firm in the Lord.

Yes, Lent is a supposed to be a penitential season, a time to acknowledge our sins and a time to repent for the times that we have fallen short. But because of that, it is also a time to “stand firm in the Lord,” to seek God’s presence in our lives – and to remember the grace that will come when this is all over.

Lent is a time to be reminded that despite your faults and your shortcomings, you are a blessed and loved child of God.

Lent is a time to realize that Jesus’ cries for Jerusalem and for us today come not out of anger, but out of love.

Lent is a time to see that we are united, not divided, by our differences and imperfections.

Lent is a time to repent often, but always seek forgiveness.

Lent is a time to find grace – even in the most unexpected of places.

So perhaps this particular passage from the Gospel is not the most uplifting of texts. But it is real. And it stands as a small piece of one of the most magnificent stories of God’s grace.

Stand firm in the Lord; be honest with yourself; see the truth of God’s goodness, grace and mercy; and let yourself be transformed throughout this season of Lent.

Thanks be to God!


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