Tears and Sin

(The bulk of this post is an excerpt from “Willing to Love,” my sermon for the second Sunday in Lent, Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary. You can find the Lectionary Sermon of the Week and all three years’ messages
under the menu.)

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus], “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 outside of 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.’” (Luke 13:31-35)

Jesus is weeping over Jerusalem, profoundly disappointed in the religious establishment that was charged with shepherding God’s people. 

It is easy to join in heaping blame on the “scribes and Pharisees” who are usually cast as the bad guys, relegate the story to ancient history, and move on to Luke 14. 

But I want to talk about sin.

Despite all that we have been taught about sin offending God, sin separating us from God, and so on, what motivates me to avoid sin is not belief in some column of misdeeds in some divine bookkeeping system.  When I am mindful enough to forego temptation, the idea of God’s sadness is what keeps me on a better path. 

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem because they will not hear and embrace God’s message of love for them and all the world.  They amended God’s simple laws of love and well-being so many times that it took a professional to keep track of them.  They insisted on making religion about judgment and power. 

Jesus had been working so hard to restore people to wholeness, healing their diseases and casting out demons.  Maybe his tears came from exhaustion in that moment.  But I think he was also frustrated.  He did everything he could to embody the reality of God’s love, and it wasn’t enough to change the hearts of the law-obsessed leaders.

What if we imagine Jesus weeping over our hard-heartedness?  Our sins are essentially modern versions of the power-hungry, judgmental ways of Jesus’ detractors.  What if we don’t walk past Jesus this time, but allow him to critique our non-acceptance of God’s love message?

So, here goes.

Jesus says, “I tried to get you to understand that people are more important than rules when I freed a woman from her infirmity on the Sabbath.  But you were not willing.  You’d rather keep score.

            “I called you to repentance, to turn away from the pursuits of money, prestige, and control—all those things that make you serve them but never satisfy.  I called you instead to a way of love and trust.  But you were not willing.  You were suspicious of my motives.

            “I described God’s way to you, what I call the kingdom of God.  It is the powerful, life-giving force that fuels an exciting, world-changing adventure.  My unstoppable love is the essence of this life I call you to follow.  But you were not willing.  You chose mediocrity instead.

            “I told you not to be afraid of those who can kill the body, or your reputation, or your 401K.  I asked you to trust me enough to give your life for my sake.  But you were not willing.  You’d rather keep your life for yourself, even though in keeping it, it is devoid of meaning.

            “I entrusted my other children to you.  As part of my body, the church, I depended on you to encourage one another in faithful service and watchfulness for my return.  I expected you to be so energized every Sunday after worshipping God, that you’d be driven to be a source of hope and rich possibilities as my people.  But you were not willing.  You preferred to have a cup of coffee and go home.

            “I taught you that to love me is to love the least of these my brothers and sisters, my term for the poor and oppressed and discouraged.  You saw the joy and wonder of those I healed, blessed, forgave.  You knew how much I love them.  I asked you to love them too.  But you were not willing.  You didn’t have time.

            “I gave you chances to confess my name in the public arena, and at your own family dinner table.  It was your job to proclaim that God is worthy of your worship, that you will bow the knee to no other.  But you were not willing.  You allowed yourself to be distracted by cheap substitutes.

            “I prepared a life for you.  My plans for you were developed in love before I fashioned your body and your personality to leave your unique stamp on the world.  I could have used you to bless many.  Your part would have been hard, but not nearly as hard as following a course you were not fitted to follow.  I used many ways to invite you to the adventure.  But you were not willing.  Instead you defined your own version of adventure and comfort, so you missed out on the amazing, Spirit-filled experiences you could have recounted to your grandchildren as a testimony to my faithfulness.

            “I provided ways for you to know me intimately, to be captivated by my relentless love.  I gave you my Scriptures to read for this purpose.  But you were not willing.  You thought it would be too boring.

            “I poured out my grace on you in your baptism, offering you the gift of belonging in the church, where you agreed to be set apart from the world, marked by love for one another.  But you were not willing.  You rationalized that you were too busy to take any initiative for the work of the gospel, even though you spent great amounts of time and effort on many other endeavors.

            “I taught you to pray.  But you were not willing.  You were too tired.

            “I gave you spiritual gifts for the building up of my church, so you could know the pleasure of participating in the greatest project ever undertaken: radically changing the world with the power of my love.  I called you to share my love with your community, so its families, its unemployed, its disillusioned, its exhausted people could be renewed in hope.  But you were not willing to use your gifts for this purpose.  You chose to use them for your own ideals instead.

            “I created a world of beauty to reveal my goodness to you.  I made it productive so that you could use its resources to be sure that everyone had enough.  But you were not willing.  You bought into the notion that some can have more than others, and that’s just the way things are.

            “I asked you to take up your cross and follow me.  But you were not willing.  You said I was asking too much.”

Jesus said we were not willing.  What keeps us from doing what Jesus wants?  I wonder if it is a matter of trust. 

            I think we don’t trust God because we are afraid.  We don’t know what God will ask of us.  We like our comfort, even if we know that God offers us more.  We fear exchanging what we know for the unknown, even if we have all the Scriptures to convince us otherwise.  So what is the solution?

            In God’s kingdom the opposite of fear is not courage, but love.  All Jesus wants us to do is love him.  Remember?  The greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are and all that we have, and the second is to love our neighbors as ourselves.  God does not expect great faith from us, but great love. 

            So when Jesus says we are not willing, how can we be more willing?  Not by convincing ourselves to do it, or by reciting a list of theological truths.  Not by feelings of guilt because of what you think you’re “supposed” to do.  We need to look at the cross, where Jesus gave his life for us because he loves us.  We can respond to that kind of love.  We can be energized, motivated, blown away by love.  We can love.  Love makes us willing.

            Love is often hard, and complicated.  But love—the authentic, self-giving kind—always wins.  It wins our hearts and steers us in the direction of the life Jesus desperately wants to give us.  Desperately enough to weep when we resist it.  Desperately enough to die so we will know it.

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