Sermon Notes-Yr C, 2Lent

Our Gospel lesson is a strange one.  A group of Pharisees warn Jesus that King Herod wants to kill him.  Why would Pharisees –– usually Jesus’ enemies –– warn him that Herod wants to kill him?
 Maybe they were trying to scare Jesus.  Maybe they thought that he would go into hiding if he thought his life were at stake.  After all, Herod had only recently murdered John the Baptist.
But it is also possible that these Pharisees were issuing a genuine warning.  Maybe they didn’t want Herod to kill Jesus.  Not all Pharisees were Jesus’ enemies.  Joseph of Arimathea took responsibility for Jesus’ burial.  He was a member of the Sanhedrin ––probably a Pharisee.
 In any event, this warning failed to frighten Jesus.  He didn’t run.  He didn’t go into hiding.  Instead, he said:
                                                “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
                                                  outside of Jerusalem”
 
That’s a difficult scripture to understand, so let me give you a little background.  Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem –– the place where he will die.  He knows that he will die there, but he doesn’t let that stop him.  He is on a Godly mission to save the world, and he intends to do that –– whatever the cost.
 So when these Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is planning to kill him, that doesn’t stop him.  He is going where God has sent him, and will not waver.  He will die when God chooses –– not when Herod chooses.  His life is in God’s hands –– and his death as well.
In the scripture verses that I just read, Jesus said, “on the third day I finish my work.”  You don’t have to be a Biblical scholar to understand when Jesus says “on the third day,” he is talking about his resurrection.  That’s important.  Jesus knows that he will die, but he also knows that he will conquer death –– and, when he conquers death for himself, he will conquer death for us as well.  That’s what he came to do.
 So the Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod wants to kill him, and Jesus, in effect, says, “Thanks, but I won’t die until my time comes –– and that won’t happen until I arrive in Jerusalem.  Furthermore, my death won’t be the end.  On the third day I will finish my work.  I will rise from the dead.  I will conquer death.”
 On April 3, 1968, Dr. King preached at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis.  He spoke of an incident that took place in New York City ten years earlier.  He had been signing books when a deranged woman stabbed him.  The blade came close to puncturing his aorta, which would have killed him.
 Dr. King talked about other threats to his life.  Then he talked about the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  When the priest and the Levite saw the wounded man lying alongside the road, they asked themselves, “If I STOP to help this man, what will happen to ME?”  But the Samaritan came along and asked a different question.  He asked himself, “If I DON’T STOP to help this man, what will happen to HIM?”
 King went on to acknowledge the threats against his life, but he said that they didn’t matter.  He said:
                                    “Well, I don’t know what will happen now.
                 We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter to me now.
                          Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.
                  Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place.
                     But I’m not worried about that now. I just want to do God’s will.
                               And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.
                           And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.
                                             I may not get there with you.
             But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land.
              And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.
                            Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
After that speech, Dr. King went back to his room at the Lorraine Motel to rest.  The next afternoon, he was standing on the balcony of his room when a shot rang out and killed him.  But he had done what he had come to do.  There was work left to do, but others would do it.  Dr. King had set the nation on the right path.  That’s what he had been called to do.  That was the call from which he refused to turn back.
 Reading that, I reflected on the many people who put their lives on the line in the course of their work –– police –– firefighters –– soldiers.  I recently read a CNN story about the collapse of the Hotel Montana in Port au Prince, Haiti.  CNN told of the many relief workers who were in that hotel when it collapsed.
 These were not relief workers who went in response to the earthquake.  These were relief workers who went to Haiti BEFORE the earthquake, and who were as surprised as anyone else when the earth began to shake and the walls began to fall.  Many were Christian workers ––Christian relief workers –– college students.  They wanted to help people.  Britney Gengel, one of the students, had spent the day feeding the poor.  Shortly before the earthquake, she called her mother to say, “I’ve found my calling.”  Today, she is one of the missing –– almost certainly one of those who died in the quake.
 Which leads me to ask whether the relief workers who died in Haiti should have stayed home.
 And whether Martin Luther King should have been satisfied with preaching ordinary sermons in a safe pulpit.
 And whether Jesus would have been better off remaining in Nazareth and working as a carpenter.
 Our Christian faith teaches us that life is sacred, and that we have a duty to protect life –– including our own lives.  But our faith also teaches that the preservation of our own lives is not the highest value.  The highest value is loving God.  Next highest is loving our neighbor.
 That suggests to me that Jesus, traveling on the road to Jerusalem, was exactly where he should have been.  
 And Martin Luther King, supporting sanitation workers in Memphis, was exactly where he should have been.
 And the relief workers in Haiti, feeding the poor, were exactly where they should have been.
 Where are we supposed to be?  It is unlikely that we will ever have to choose between life and death –– that anyone will say to us, “Curse God or die.”  But, if we are ever faced with that choice, I hope that we will die singing a hymn.
 However, we will all find ourselves faced with smaller choices –– living faithfully or living comfortably –– living honestly or living a lie –– taking care of Number One or helping our neighbors –– living Godly lives or living lives of full of compromise.  Those are the kinds of choices that we face nearly every day.
 When they come –– and you will almost certainly face that kind of choice sometime in the coming week –– I pray that you will make the faithful, Godly choice.  Amen.
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