SERMON ON LUKE 13:31-35 - FR. TONY MOON, SAINT AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA
Fr. Tony Moon, Saint Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Second Sunday in Lent, 2022
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Recently, my wife Marian and I were talking with an IT professional who was doing a repair on our internet router. He summarized the situation in a few sentences and asked if we understood. Marian immediately replied in a succinct way, and was actually speaking for the both of us when she said, “I know you were speaking English, but beyond that I have no idea what you said.”
Upon my first reading of today’s Gospel, I felt much the same way: I know this is in English… but what did it say? And so, let’s take a little time and effort to get to the core messages of this reading.
Luke’s reading begins right off with a bit of a mystery! Some Pharisees are warning Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. Weren’t the Pharisees generally antagonistic towards Jesus? Well, yes they were… generally. But there may have been some who were more positively inclined towards him. Some, we might recall, even invited him to their homes for dinner… although that usually didn’t turn out well for them. But we do find in the Book of Acts where some Pharisees became Christians. So, let’s assume that these warning Pharisees were some whom Jesus had influenced in his ways of humility and love. It’s also possible that, in truth, Herod did not want to kill Jesus, since Herod had the opportunity to condemn Jesus during his passion, but rejected that option.
Jesus’ response to these Pharisees, and actually his response to Herod’s threat, may only appear brash, but what he said tells us a lot about Jesus’ ministry. “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 will 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 Jerusalem.
This response, this statement, is a reflection of Jesus’ life and of his mission. It tells us about the tragic role Jerusalem plays in the life of Jesus and other prophets when Jesus says he wants to get away from Jerusalem in order to live! And, it does more… this passage invites Christians today to reflect on the meaning of Jesus’ life and death, and on the role we play in continuing Jesus’ mission.
Regardless if we solve the two mysteries that were first posed: The motivation of the Pharisees and Herod’s intent, Jesus uses this threat to clarify his mission when he says he is “casting out demons and performing cures.” The significance of casting out demons for Jesus’ ministry is stated in an earlier passage by St. Luke, where Jesus says, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” Casting out demons is part of Jesus’ battle against evil and so it is a part of his establishing the Kingdom of God here on earth. In other words, when Jesus removes a “demon” (whatever that ailment may be), he is doing that by God; God has placed his finger on us, placed his Spirit upon us—and, when God has touched us, we have been welcomed into God’s Kingdom.
In addition to casting out evil, Jesus also names performing cures as another part of His mission. Also quoted in an earlier portion of Luke’s Gospel (and recently heard proclaimed here in this church only two weeks ago), Jesus says he is here “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.” –another statement of releasing us from whatever inhibits us spiritually, thereby establishing God’s Kingdom here on earth.
Jesus makes it clear that Herod has no control over him when he says that he will be active in his mission “today and tomorrow and the next day.” Jesus is not backing away from his mission because of a threat. He will stay focused on his mission—he will stay calm and carry on! He will not be deterred. And, to us, with centuries of hindsight, when Jesus adds, “on the third day I will finish my work,” we might assume that Jesus is talking about his resurrection. If this is the case, Jesus is also telling us that he is not separating his ministry into two distinct segments: The ministry of his life on earth, and the ministry of his death and resurrection. Jesus integrates his life and death into his ministry. Regardless, all of this—Jesus’ ministry in his life and in his death—is all about establishing the Kingdom of God. This is Jesus’ ministry and his mission.
The last time I talked with you a couple weeks ago, I spoke about the Christ Project—a name I love for the work we do in the Name of Christ, the work of continuing and furthering Jesus’ own ministry. This Project is about our being a part of the Body of Christ; it is about our continuing to build the Kingdom of God here on earth. The Christ Project began with the ministry of Jesus and now includes our efforts as we go about replicating and extending Jesus’ work of forgiving and healing, loving and proclaiming God’s Good News by word and deed. No one prior to the life of Jesus Christ held this mission. It is said that if Jesus had not lived, we could not have created a character like this. That speaks to just how unique Jesus is, just how unique his role is in our world, and just how unique Jesus’ role is in building God’s Kingdom.
Especially in this season of Lent, we remember Jesus’ days as he prepared himself to face the cross. At this time, we prepare ourselves to experience the cross of Jesus, but we also prepare ourselves to encounter our own cross. The cross we bear may be something difficult in our lives that is on-going, something that weighs on us, but is a cross we share with Jesus as we talk with him, pray to him, lifting up our cross and asking for help to carry it. Or, it may be a self-imposed, temporary cross we bear only during this Lenten season, taking the familiar form of giving up something or taking on something. This cross may be burdensome, but for most of us it’s a little Lenten cross that serves as an inconvenience or irritation to remind us of Jesus’ cross. Giving up coffee or chocolates or sodas; giving up TV or eating out might fall in to this category. Taking on a little extra daily prayer time, or an extra effort at forgiving or helping might also be included in our Lenten observance. Hopefully, we are lifting up our Lenten cross and talking with Jesus about this and not taking these things on alone as some kind of self-improvement project.
Two quick Lenten stories from my youth: Growing up Roman Catholic, Lent was usually a difficult journey for me as a little boy—that may have had to do with some kind of unrealistic expectation of achieving perfection. I especially remember two Lenten observances that stand out to me. Looking back on it, one was kind of humorous, while the second seems like a holy time. The humorous Lenten observance was when I decided that I would not shoot my little brother’s BB gun throughout Lent. This has the hallmark of humor right off because the gun, given to my younger brother, never worked right. If you held the rifle upwards, it would push out the BB. But, if you held the rifle downward, the BB would only disappointingly roll out the end of barrel. Still, shooting the BB gun lived large in my life, and silly as it sounds now, it was a large surrender that I gave it up for Lent. That was until Holy Saturday …the day before Easter… when I just couldn’t bear it anymore and I grabbed that broken BB gun on a warm afternoon of a glorious spring day, and holding that barrel high, I pulled that trigger and ended my Lenten observance… and I felt terrible! I felt so guilty! I was so close to the finish line, and I just couldn’t help myself! And yet, here I am nearly 60 years later vividly recalling that Lent. I didn’t know it at the time, but I learned quite a lesson about self-discipline that day.
The other story is of the same BB gun shooting little boy only a few years later when, in the seventh grade, I took on the Lenten discipline of attending daily evening Mass. I had completed Catholic grade school, and was attending the local public junior high school. My folks owned and operated a floral shop in our small town, and every day, I’d go out with our beloved employee, Ruby, to deliver flowers. At the end of our deliveries, Ruby would drop me by the church for daily 5:00 o’clock Mass. There were usually only four or five of us in attendance, so for me, it was a quiet and solemn time of contemplation and reflection there at church as well as on my two-mile walk home. It felt like a holy time that I didn’t pursue but was gifted to me. This particular Lent was formative in my Christian faith, a time that opened a door for me to lead to a more serious life in Christ and in the church; a time that seemed to validate a path of contemplative reflection.
I believe that Lent is a time that we can stop and ask, “How am I encountering the cross? Am I embracing the cross of Jesus not only in what I give up but also in how I give that up—not begrudgingly—but freely, with hands open, with freedom in my heart? Am I dying to my self as a way of honoring this mission of Jesus? Do I experience this release as contributing to establishing God’s Kingdom here on earth? In other words, can I truly count myself as actively supporting the Christ Project?” Or, “Am I fearfully or distractedly avoiding the work of Jesus today, tomorrow and the next day?” These days of Lent are days of slowing ourselves to listen to the Holy Spirit, and to make decisions to grow our lives in Christ—and grow the Kingdom of God.
 Working Preacher, Scott Shauf (Associate Professor, Religious Studies, Gardner-Webb University, Boiling Springs, NC.)
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.