Transforming the Heart of Power

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Lent 2—Year C; Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35. Video.

We have some interesting lessons today. Full of motion and movement. Full of courage and grit. Full of a crazy kind of hope. One story from the gospels, and one story from Genesis, back at the beginning.

For all of the conflict that Jesus has with Pharisees in other gospels, here, they are trying to help him. “Get away from here, for Herod (that’s the Herod Antipas in Galilee who imprisoned and killed John), for Herod wants to kill you. Jesus, it’s just not safe for you. You sound too much like John. You’re rattling too many cages. Herod, he holds a lot of power. Herod, he’s an establishment kind of guy, and the establishment, they don’t like the things you’re saying; they don’t like the things you’re doing. Jesus, this might be a good time to take a seaside holiday over in Tyre or Sidon, or maybe go on another wilderness retreat.”

Jesus 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 outside of Jerusalem.’

 “Listen, Pharisees, I appreciate your concern, I really do, but ain’t gonna happen. Not gonna stop casting out demons and taking on those forces that keep stoking the False Self and keep ripping us apart from our True Self and from one another. Not gonna stop performing cures and bringing health and wholeness to those who long for it. Not gonna stop this work because this work isn’t done. Not gonna stop moving toward Jerusalem and all it represents—the heartbeat of the establishment that is perfectly content for people to keep on suffering physically and economically and spiritually, that center that is perfectly content for all the power and wealth to accrue to an elite few while those on the bottom have no voice, no power.

 “I’ve got to get to Jerusalem because that’s where the prophets always end up—speaking truth to the heart of power. 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.’”

When Jesus talks about “gathering your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” whom do you picture? (pause)

I’ve always pictured the people of the land, the anawim in hebrew—the poor and oppressed and downtrodden. But looking at it in context, I think he’s talking to all these powerful forces that are hurting people and pulling people’s lives apart. I think he’s talking to the heart of the establishment and appealing to that hardened heart and calling it to soften. I think Jesus wants to gather all these powerbrokers and elites—religious, political, economic—I think Jesus wants to gather this brood under his wings so that he can show them a different way to thrive. But he knows, as we know, you can’t make people do a dern thing they don’t want to do, so if they’re not willing to be gathered, then all that is left for Jesus to do is to claim his prophet’s voice, and trust that his giving voice to God’s deepest desires will, somehow, be a part of ushering in the LIGHT and LIFE and WHOLENESS that is God’s vision for all of creation.

And why on earth would Jesus have such cause for hope? Well, because that’s always God’s way with God’s people. Case in point, Abram. He doesn’t have an heir, and as far as he can tell, he’s got no hope of one. And yet, God gave him a vision. Told him not to be afraid. Promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in heaven. And Abram believed God. And just as a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon Abram, God sealed the covenant with him by having a smoking fire pot and flaming torch pass between pieces of animal. Kind of a weird ritual to our eyes, but one that apparently made a lot of sense to Abram. The point is—Abram trusted God’s promise, and God sealed his promise in a covenant with Abram. And on the other side of that promise was yet one more promise, the promise of land.

 (And just as an aside, the verse just after this passage indicates that this promised land would always be shared with a whole host of other peoples—Genesis 15:19. It’s important that we get that whole context.)

Trusting in God’s promise enabled Abram to keep putting one foot in front of the other toward that great unseen mystery that he could not fathom—descendants as numerous as the stars and land. Where does one get the capacity to trust on the front-end like that, without evidence, without proof?

It seems to me that trusting is the essence of faith. In fact, the original words for “believe” always lead back to “trust” at their root.

And once you leap into that kind of unknown, once you trust that God has sealed a covenant with you, why you are free to do all kinds of things. You are free to keep responding to the nudges of the Spirit. You are free to trust that there is an abundance in you that has yet to be born. You are free to speak the truth God gives you to speak. You are free to take on demons and be agents of healing. You are free to have a heart-to-heart with the powers-that-be; you are free to speak the yearnings of God’s heart, make known the ache of God’s heart, proclaim the hope in God’s heart…you are able to proclaim the concerns of THIS heart to the heart of power that has grown hard, knowing that the only thing that heart of stone may be able to do in return is to throw stones at you.

And still, in the midst of all that comes at us, we, just like Jesus, cling to hope, cling to the hope that surpasses human understanding knowing that big, immovable stones eventually get rolled away by LOVE and LIFE and a POWER that the powers-of-this-world cannot fathom nor understand. It’s the power that comes when you are not afraid to die because you trust in the promise and reality of resurrection.

That’s where we land on this Second Sunday in Lent. Having to confront a whole lot of things, personally, communally, societally that are diminishing the life and dignity of the most vulnerable among us; having to lean into trust; having to find our courage to know and claim and speak our prophetic voice in arenas that could do us great harm; having to trust that there is work for us to do, and that we will move forward, even when the Herods are on our tail.

There is just too much at stake. Jerusalems are everywhere, power-centers that needs to be redeemed, and people, anawim, that long for the fullness of life. You see, the elites may hold power, but they don’t hold life, because if you’re clinging to power and running from your kinship to your brothers and sisters, you have no capacity to throw your arms open wide and run headlong into the abundant life that God promises. Jesus knew that. That’s why he wants to gather them under his wing, and that’s why his heart grieves that they’re not willing to come.

So, what promise is God making to you that you cannot yet see and yet still must trust?

In your deepest and most terrifying darkness, what tangible signs might God be passing right before your eyes to indicate that God has indeed made covenant with you?

Where are you risking with the powers-that-be? Who is the Herod on your tail?

What demons are you being called to cast out? What healing are you being called to bring?

What prophetic voice is God calling you to claim? Where is the Jerusalem that you are called both to confront and to gather under your wing? How are you letting your heart ache when you encounter hearts of stone?

How are you trusting in resurrection knowing that a lot has to die to get there?

It’s Lent. No answers. Just a lot of questions. And courage, and grit, and a fierce, fierce hope that will pull us through, if we’ll but trust it. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

February 21, 2016