Jesus’ courage to face the cross comes from his desire that you would know him as your living God. It is the courage of a mother hen gathering us under her wings. When does desire inspire our courage?
Second Sunday in Lent (Year C) – February 21, 2016 – Luke 13:31-35
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Loved Into Courage – Pastor Evan Davis
Not too long ago I met a young man in high school who serves with his local department as a fire fighter and EMT. He comes from a long line of firefighters in his family. He really stopped me dead in my tracks because before his 18th birthday he has saved more than a few lives and responded to far too many deaths. He’d already been pretty seriously hurt himself, needing surgery and a skin graft. He stays in my mind because while most of us are just wondering what we’re going to have for dinner tonight, he’s wondering what burning building I am going to have to run into tonight. It’s the kind of courage that comes from desire, a desire to be faithful to a legacy, to care for people, to protect them, but after listening to him I think his most powerful longing is to be there for his brother next to him.
Who in your life has shown courage? Not necessarily that much or that kind of courage, but courage? David Lose wrote this week about how the core of courage is being willing to make yourself vulnerable.1 It’s the courage to make oneself physically vulnerable by running into a burning building when everyone else is running out. It’s the courage to open yourself to the vulnerability of surgery or chemo when it might help you or might not, or it’s the courage to say, “no, that’s not what I need.” Courage is being vulnerable enough to face the truth about something painful in your life – perhaps to acknowledge an addiction, or someone else’s. It’s being vulnerable enough to be honest with someone even when you know it will cause conflict or pain in the relationship, because it is the only way for wholeness and peace to come.
Jesus is the embodiment of God’s vulnerability. God is almighty, but God chose to become profoundly vulnerable to the likes of you and me. The incarnation of Jesus means that God was and is willing to be open to pain, to rejection, to suffering, and to death on a cross. What kind of a God are we dealing with here? A God who is willing not only to put down the sword, but also the shield. A God willing to be born, to be a tiny, vulnerable human child, to be exposed to colds and scraped knees, but also to insults and fists, whips and thorns, spears and nails.
Just a bit before today’s scene in the gospel of Luke, Jesus set us face toward Jerusalem. He knows what waits for him in the city that has earned a reputation for stoning the prophets. Jerusalem, the holy city, is ablaze with anger, resentment, and oppression, and yet Jesus runs in through the flaming door. Some charitable Pharisees warn him explicitly that the master of that city has Jesus’ name number one on his hit list, but Jesus does not flinch.
Why? Is Jesus trying to be macho? To build a reputation as a tough guy? Is he trying to strike fear into Herod’s heart? Does he have to sacrifice himself there to appease an angry God? No. Today, tomorrow, and the next day Jesus knows in his bones he must be on his way, growing closer to Jerusalem by the day, because he longs for the people of the city of David. How often have I desired, he said, to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.
You see, like a mother, Jesus is more than willing to be vulnerable to protect his children. He couldn’t imagine doing anything else. His future killers are not willing to make themselves vulnerable at all, as they hide behind institutions, rules, guards, and walls. But like a mother, Jesus can see through them. Jesus can see their vulnerability…their tender wounds. And like a mother, Jesus is vulnerable to his children’s failures. He is forced to agonize over the reality that they have chosen to reject him, to reject goodness and shalom in their lives and how that rejection will cause so much pain for themselves and others. I think this week of Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, the Columbine murderer who then took his own life, who has borne a different kind of pain than the pain of the families of her son’s victims….how she desires to gather all those children under her wings, who wishes she could have gathered her son under her wings and loved him onto another path before that terrible day came.
Jesus keeps on walking straight toward his date with the cross because he is moved by desire – desire that God’s people would come to know him, that they would experience their living God in the flesh, that they would catch the vision of the kingdom of God and be filled with desire and longing for the poor to hear good news and the captives to be released. And Jesus desires this for us here today. Desire made Jesus courageous, and desire gives us the courage to be vulnerable as well.
Even if you cannot yet speak of most vulnerable and tender places in your heart, Jesus, your mother hen, sees them. And his longing for you leads him to be with you – right in those most tender places. Maybe today you could try to name, just to yourself, where you feel most vulnerable. Jesus gathers you under his [I know we’re gender-bending here…] motherly wings with love and forgiveness, and then, like a good mother, releases you to fulfill your calling.
As followers of our mother hen, Jesus, I think we should pay attention to the desires and longings of our hearts. What do you desire the most? What do you long for?2 What person, what cause, what priority, gives you life? What helps you to leap out of the bed in the morning, or at least get up at all? What is worthy of your heart, your energy, your mind, your soul, your very best gifts?
What if we allowed these desires to move us to courage, to vulnerability? What if we could be vulnerable with each other, naming our desires? Naming what’s important to us, what we love? And loving one another in a way that brings forth our courage, knowing that our honesty will probably bring some pain, or at least discomfort, but also knowing that God’s love for each of us, and our love for one another, gives us the courage to be vulnerable. To place our truth, our wellbeing, our future, in each other’s hands.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, whatever courage you can or cannot muster, Jesus longs for you. And Jesus will gather you under his wings, no matter what the foxes of this world have to say about it. Amen.
1David Lose, “Lent 2C: Courage and Vulnerability,” http://www.davidlose.net/2016/02/lent-2-c-courage-and-vulnerability/ (accessed February 18, 2016). I am using Lose’s theme of courage and vulnerability this week.
2Ruth Anne Reese, “Commentary on Luke 13:31-35,” https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2770 (accessed February 18, 2016). Reese speaks about Jesus’ desire in this passage, and ours.