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Second Sunday of Lent
Mar 17, 2019
Christ Church, Niagara Fallls

Today’s Gospel lesson reveals Our Lord living on the edge of danger. Controversy is swirling around his feet. His outspoken style and his constant challenge to the established order have drawn the attention of powerful people and now Jesus has an increasing number of enemies. His cousin, John the Baptist, has been beheaded and John’s murderer, King Herod, has placed a price on Jesus’ head.

That is the context in which we find our Lord speaking to us in the Gospel lesson. We might like to have more stories about calling disciples, fishing for people, and curing the sick, but, instead, we get opposition and the threat of a deadly confrontation in Jerusalem.

All this and snowy winter weather too! Should we be surprised that there are many people who simply give up going to church for Lent! Too much grime too negative too much of a downer. How many days until Easter? Too many, I fear.

Our Gospel lesson speaks clearly of Jesus’ courage and determination. The Pharisees warn Jesus: Herod wants to kill you. Jesus responds: Listen, I am casting out demons today and tomorrow. He had a purpose and would not be distracted by outside threats. Jesus knew why he came into the world and what he needed to do. There was no way he would suspend his work and go into hiding. He set his face toward Jerusalem and nothing would deter Him.

Luke’s Gospel lesson challenges us to emulate the example of Jesus by living our lives with similar courage and resolve. But I wonder if this challenge serves any purpose? Do we need courage? Are we doing anything that could possibly incur the wrath or displeasure of someone in authority? Most of us shuffle along in the shadows of life. When was the last time any of us put it on the full armor of the Lord to engage in a noble struggle? Many people have never done this. If we are honest I think we would acknowledge the painful truth, wrapped in the old cliché: If you were in a court on trial for your life and the charge was that you are a Christian – would there be enough evidence to convict you!
One of the great challenges to the Gospel is the manner in which so many people today have more or less privatized their relationship with God. This is a major reason why many people feel no need to go to church, participate in a Bible or book study group, or blend themselves into any form of Christian community.
Now it is important for us to have a personal faith in God and in Jesus Christ, but our faith is deepened only when we are a part of the body of Christ, which is the Church. That is the truth that lies behind the classic doctrine that there is no salvation outside of the Church. It is not that the Church controls the keys to something, but rather that the only way we can be truly alive in Christ is by being enfolded in a  Christian community. Anything else is self-delusion.
The Church provides us a collective identity and a communal mandate that we simply cannot find anywhere else. Our vital participation in a Christian congregation with shared values is the only thing that can prevent us from surrendering to the rampant self-indulgence and narcissism that mark contemporary society.
Sadly, the less enfolded people are in Christian community, the less vital their faith becomes. Many people lament the fact that God has gone out of their lives, when, in reality, the problem is that they have made no time for God and for participation in the midst of God’s people called the Church.
Jesus speaks to us today (as he always does) as if we care. Only when our faith is vital and important can the urgency of the Gospel lesson touch us. And there is a sense of urgency as these well-meaning Pharisees come to warn Jesus that he is in danger for criticizing King Herod. These sympathetic Pharisees encouraged Jesus to cool his rhetoric. In fact they urge him to find a little bolt hole and hide away for a while. The idea of hiding from King Herod infuriated Jesus. He would have no part of that and so he bluntly tells these concerned Pharisees: Go tell that Fox [Herod], listen: today and tomorrow I shall be casting out devils and working cures; and I shall be doing it the following day … in other words, give me your best shot, Herod!

We all grew up with fairy tales and nursery rhymes. One of our favorites was Jack and Beanstalk. We love the story of the brave young boy who enters the rarified atmosphere where evil giants dwell. As children we likelycheered the spunky Jack, as he climbed the beanstalk and entered the giant’s house. How our hearts quickened as Jack snatched the treasure and ran from the lumbering giant, who made the earth tremble with his fee, fie, fo, fum. And, of course, we cheered when Jack chopped down the beanstalk, becoming the first genuine giant-killer!

While we enjoy discussing the challenging, the unpleasant, and the controversial, we lack Jack’s courage and follow through. We stop short of actually engaging giants. We may have giants in our lives … those who hold power over us and challenge our security. But, I fear, we rarely confront them, choosing instead to pass by quietly, never disturbing them.

Do you have a threatening King Herod in your life? All true Christians should have at least one enemy. No one lives and speaks the truth in this treacherous world without offending someone. If you say you are a Christian, but have never said anything or done anything to offend anyone, I have to question the depth of your Christian commitment.

The challenge to stand up to King Herod can come in varied and unexpected ways. This past week I spent time in conversation with a young woman who finds herself in a very challenging situation. Because she is a person with a good heart and a degree in business from a major university, she was asked to serve as the Treasurer of a small non-profit organization.

As this young woman gained an understanding of her responsibility as an officer, she slowly discovered disturbing policies and practices that she knew were a violation of common and accepted accounting procedures for such an institution. The chief executive of this small social service organization was its founder and is much beloved in the community and by those who are served by the organization.

What should this young woman do? She had no doubt that the executive had crossed the line, but, initially, no one wanted to hear this. Slowly the Board of Directors has come to share her concerns. As a result, the popular executive has resigned and people are very upset. What implications will this have for a young woman who wants to live and pursue a career in her community? Should she have remained silent and looked the other way? Should she have resigned rather than the executive?

I commended this young woman for her courage. She has done the right thing. Speaking up for truth and championing integrity is never easy and often extracts a high price in suffering. But how can we do other than this? We cannot step aside. We dare not withdraw from the great battles of life. We are only alive for a certain number of years. Let us not waste this precious time in cowardice or indifference.

During the darkest days of World War Two, just after France had fallen to Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill gathered his cabinet and described England’s plight with excruciating clarity. You could cut the despair with a knife. But then Churchill smiled and said: My friends, I find it all inspiring!

So let us strive to be a people of courage in the face of adversity. Let us resist the Herods, who would seek to silence us. Let us confront wrong wherever we find it, always determined to live as citizens of God’s kingdom now and in the age to come. AMEN.

 

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, whose Son was revealed in majesty before he suffered death upon the cross, give us faith to perceive his glory, that being strengthened by his grace we may be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one god, now and for ever..  Amen.

First Lesson

Genesis 12: 1-12, 17-18

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on by stages towards the Negeb.

Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land. When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, ‘I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife”; then they will kill me, but they will let you live.

But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. So Pharaoh called Abram, and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?

 

Psalm: 27

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?
When evildoers assail me
   to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
   they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
   my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
   yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the Lord,
   that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
   all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
   and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
   in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
   he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up
   above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
   sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
   be gracious to me and answer me!
‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’
   Your face, Lord, do I seek.
   Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
   you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
   O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me,
   the Lord will take me up.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
   and lead me on a level path
   because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
   for false witnesses have risen against me,
   and they are breathing out violence.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
   in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
   be strong, and let your heart take courage;
   wait for the Lord!

 Second Lesson 

Philippians 3: 17-4:1

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

The Holy Gospel 

Luke 13: 31-35

  .At that very hour 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, and on the third day I finish my work. 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.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

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