Second Sunday of Lent
13 March 2022
Readings: Phil: 3:17 – 4:1 Luke: 13:31 –end
May I speak this morning in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
When the Russian invasion of Ukraine started the Americans offered to fly the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky out of Kyiv to safety.
His response has already become iconic. He said: “I don’t need a ride, I need ammunition.” You can already buy T-shirts emblazoned with these words.
Despite the fact that the Russians were bearing down on the whole city, and despite the fact that there were up to three death squads after him personally Zelensky chose to stay in the city and lead his people in their time of need, because that is the person he is called and made to be.
If Russian landing craft were on the beaches at Rye Harbour, or coming up the Rother, would we stay and throw Molotov cocktails or would we become refugees in Tenterden, hoping that the people of Kent would be more welcoming of us than we have been to the Ukrainians?
Today, on this second Sunday in Lent, we see Jesus travelling towards Jerusalem, knowing that death awaits him, that Herod has it in for him, but also knowing that this is what he is called and made to do.
Lent is a time of preparing ourselves for the new things that God is doing, the in-breaking and transforming power of the resurrection – the defeat of death by dying and rising again. But the road to the resurrection is not and should not be easy. It was not easy for Jesus and as followers of Jesus we should not shirk from the reality that sometimes life is hard, the road has potholes (now more than ever it seems, although the High Street is being done soon!) and that sometimes we need to make both a spiritual and a physical effort to get to where we want, or need, to be.
Most of us know, deep down, that anything worth doing in this life does take a bit of effort – athletes have to train if they want to compete, students have to study if they want to pass exams and disciples of Christ have to exercise a little bit of self-discipline in order to become more Christ-like, which is surely part of our goal.
During Lent, we are encouraged to strip away those things which hold us back from being the people that God made us to be – to dispose of distractions, to make changes to our life and, yes, to be prepared to resist the temptation to give up and be the same as everyone else.
And it is that temptation to give up, to throw in the towel, to go with the flow, to let go of the vision of Glory and settle for second best which is such an important part of the Lenten narrative.
Last week the gospel reading was of Jesus’ being tempted in the wilderness. As Jesus underwent real physical hunger and suffering, time and again he was offered an easy way out – he could eat and drink and even enjoy earthly power if only he would take his eyes off God the Father, renounce his Sonship and his mission. Just because we are familiar with that story does not mean that we should underestimate or downplay either the reality of Jesus’ suffering as he fasted or the attractive reality of the temptation he was being offered. At any point Jesus could have given up and it is worth thinking about the meaning and impact for the world had he done so.
This week’s reading from Luke is a little less obvious, but it nonetheless concerns the temptation to give up and take the easy path, the road more travelled.
In today’s reading Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and we know from the predictions he made that Jesus knew what awaited him there – the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday would, he knew, soon give way to his arrest, trial and execution.
As Jesus travelled towards Jerusalem, he was approached by some Pharisees with a warning – they say:
“Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you.”
This is no idle warning on the part of the Pharisees or idle threat on the part of Herod because we know from Luke 9 that Herod has already beheaded John the Baptist. The threat to Jesus’ life is very real – we know it, the Pharisees know it and Jesus knows it.
Jesus was being tempted to take his eyes from what God was calling him to and to settle for second best.
However, Jesus’ response is robust and even amusing:
“Go and tell that fox…”
Whenever we are tempted to think of Jesus as an ethereal hippy it is useful to be reminded that he could be quite cutting when the occasion required:
“Go and tell that fox – I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow and I on the third day I reach my goal. In any case I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem.”
He could give up and be ordinary but he knows that he is called to something else, something much greater – he will keep going today and tomorrow and the next day until he reaches his goal, even though he knows danger and death lay ahead.
Jesus then laments over the tragedy that has befallen Jerusalem and will befall it in the future – it is God’s chosen city, the place where his presence came to dwell in the Temple, and yet it is also the place where his prophets are killed by those in power, where his words are ignored and which is ruled over by those who are far from knowing God. Jesus say that God’s greatest desire is to gather together the children of Jerusalem like a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wing.
We are so used to having very male images of God and often very strong male images at that, but here we are offered a picture of God as a matriarchal hen gathering her chicks to safety and it is beautiful. But the tragedy is that these chicks are being ruled over by foxes like Herod, and we know what foxes do with chicks.
Finally, Jesus says that the people of Jerusalem will not see him until they cry: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” – which is the cry of the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and which, of course, is part of our liturgical cry during communion.
However, the people in Jerusalem allowed their cry to turn from “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” To “crucify him” within a week and we must watch ourselves, our motivations and our lives to ensure that we do not praise Jesus with one breath and deny him and crucify him with the next. How we do that is a lifetime’s work but the discipline of travelling with Jesus during Lent and not giving in to every temptation to give up is a valid and a valuable part of that lifetime’s work and don’t let anyone tell you different.
There is no doubt that we are going through a trial at the moment and none of us knows where this is going to end up. But trials like this are also tests of character – true mettle is shown not in the easy times but in the hard times. If Zelensky had fled Kyiv two weeks ago then the narrative there may have been very different. If Jesus had given into the temptations of the devil in the wilderness, or been too scared of Herod to enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday then the Christian narrative would not exist at all.
So, my prayer not only for this Lent but for the whole of my ministry here is that we shall always strive to be the people that God has called us to be, recognising that we are called to change from one degree of glory to another, but that we shall ever journey together with God the Son, towards God the Father in the power of God the Spirit.