Sermon March 13 2022 ~ Grief and Defiance (Lk 13:31-34) Rev. Betsy Hogan
I’m sure you’ve heard this saying: Those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it. I don’t know if it’s true, though it certainly makes sense.
But what I actually think is just as true is how quickly and easily those who don’t remember the past can fall into despair in the present. Imagining that the feelings of "now" are entirely "new". Wholly unprecedented. Feelings and fears that have never arisen before.
Probably the best and most evocative phrase we've ever come up with in the United Church is “we are not alone”. The first line of the closest we've ever come in the United Church to having a "creed" of our essential beliefs as a family of faith. And of course what we mean by it is that this is God’s world. And we as a human family don’t abide here alone – we abide here wholly surrounded by and filled by the goodness of Godness, God’s spirit unleashed, alive, at work. We are not alone.
But there’s another sense in which it’s good for us to recall sometimes that ‘we are not alone’ and it’s the sense in which we as a human family abide in this place in the company of all those who have gone before us.
And who experienced all the things we experience. Who felt all the things we feel. And it’s not that knowing that makes it all better, but it’s good and it's helpful, I think, for us to remember that people just like us gathered here for Sunday services, for example, during both long world wars.
Sunday after Sunday. When nobody knew how things would end -- and frankly, on a day by day basis, it often looked very much like things would not end well.
It's good and it's helpful, I think, for us to remember that people just like us – and even some of us -- gathered here for Sunday services during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And in 1980, when the Soviets rolled into Afghanistan. And nobody knew how the US might react. How much further the Soviets might go. How things might unfold.
Because regardless of how we might look back and broad-strokes any memories of the past, the reality is that this building has held at various times in its distant and not-so-distant past a heavy heavy burden of fear and despair for the future.
We're not alone. The faithful of this congregation in 1916, in 1941, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in 1980, during the last war on European soil which was only in the 1990s, were getting up, making breakfast, going to work, picking up groceries, supervising homework, washing the car, sitting through meetings, going to the doctor, and trying to fall asleep at night – all carrying, every day, this same heaviness. Of not knowing how things would get sorted. Or even IF they’d get sorted.
Whatever feelings there are in the human family’s present there always have been. All the feelings have been felt. We’re not alone.
Even Jesus in his humanness has been there. Felt all those feelings. And that’s good to remember too. Because very often we forget it. And it’s in the gospels for a reason.
In the passage from Luke that we heard this morning, emotions are certainly high all around. Jesus has his disciples with him, they’re drawing closer and closer to Jerusalem, and all of them are clearly aware that he’s in increasing danger from the authorities.
His preaching – about love, about inclusion, against violence, against oppression – all these have been deliberately and relentlessly provocative and prophetic. And those who’ve been in power, who are invested in the status quo, are clearly preparing to silence him by destroying him.
The word’s gone out. If he continues toward Jerusalem, he will be killed. His message has simply become too much of a threat to the powers that be, and he himself has become too much of a threat.
It sounds to our ears completely insane. He preaches love. Love of neighbour, generosity with what we have, care for those in trouble, welcome to those who’ve been excluded and oppressed. It could all scarcely sound LESS like some kind of existential threat than it does – and yet that’s how his message is heard by those who’ve long benefited from the way things are.
It reminds me of a meme that’s been circulating for a while now that I always love everytime I see it, that says “Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you. It’s not pie.”
Because there could hardly be a meme that would’ve been more appropriate for the authorities around Jesus to have heard in those days when he’s approaching Jerusalem. He’s just preaching love of neighbour, generosity with what we have, care for those in trouble, and welcome for those excluded.
He’s preaching a Way that takes NO care, NO love, NO welcome away from those who’ve always enjoyed them. It’s not pie. All he’s preaching about is ADDING care and love and welcome.
But for the authorities and for the powers that be, that’s being heard as a threat. So the word’s gone out. If he continues toward Jerusalem, he’ll be killed when he gets there. And in the passage we heard this morning, that’s the warning a bunch of Pharisees have come to tell him. King Herod’s on the warpath and he means it.
And that’s when the gospel record gives us something that I think is really important. Because it’s easy for us to forget Jesus’ humanness. But in this passage that’s what we get.
Because in that moment, it’s all just too much. The frustration, the anger, but at the same time just the grief of all of it. Just the grief of having done all the things, of having taught all the things, of having embodied all the things, of having just wanted people to grasp, and to live with, LOVE for one another –
It’s all too much. And so in the passage we heard earlier, he rounds on those Pharisees and he just unleashes all that furious frustrated I-am-so-completely-done-with-this grief and anger and just plain weariness.
Because “Listen,” he says to them, when they tell him Herod wants to kill him, “you go and tell that fox for me, that today and tomorrow and the next day I am going to do what I do, because that’s what I do. Did you get that? Let me say it again so you can pass it along to him. I am going to preach what I preach, I’m going to teach what I teach, I’m going to heal how I heal, because that’s what I do.
“And whatever HE decides to do?” he goes on to those Pharisees, “However HE plans to stop me when I get to Jerusalem? That is up to him.” And he turns his back on them.
But it’s all too much. Because defiant, YES, he’s furious and he’s relentless and he’s defiant – but at the same time, it hurts.
It hurts so much that all he wanted was goodness and grace and love and healing – and those are being rejected. It hurts. We get it in words that have become so formalized – “a passage of the bible” – but they’re really just pain.
Because “I wanted so much,” he goes on, “I wanted so much, Jerusalem, to gather you under my wings like a mother hen gathers her chicks, but you were not willing”. We think sometimes of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane as being his deepest expression of grief, but I think that’s wrong. Because the grief starts here. And it’s huge.
It’s the grief of having done all the things, and how could that not be enough?
This is the space – I’m not just talking about this building, I’m talking about the us-ness of not-alone-community – this is the space that holds that grief. That frustration and anger and hurting of feeling like we’ve done all the things, and how is it still not enough? The heaviness of that burden of how is war still a thing? and how does this ever get sorted?
And maybe it doesn’t feel like much of a comfort to know that this space of faithful community held all the feelings of 1941 and 1980, and all the feelings of Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, and there is not one feeling we can feel that hasn’t been felt before in this space – but here’s the thing.
All of it bears witness to there being not just comfort but actually meaning in our resilience as a human family. Not just whatever personal resilience we might each muster up as individuals, but the time-transcending resilience of the we-are-not-aloneness of our collective humanness.
We learn it from each other – not just how to get through but that getting through is possible. We learn it by remembering the past, by remembering that there's no fear or worry or pain or grief that's new under the sun – that all of it's been felt but the human spirit is defiant.
And we learn it by looking for it – by noticing not just the big ways but the small ways that people muster up courage and do what they have to and don't forget kindness and take care of each other.
It's such a deep well of the strength of the human spirit we have to draw on. Even just in memories and in glimpses. Like, just the strollers left at the border by Polish mothers for Ukrainian mothers fleeing with their babies. And every one of them an act of kindness -- of course. But at the same time, surely also the legacy of knowing in their bones, of learning from their own mothers and grandmothers, what things get left behind when you're running.
And so ultimately, also, a statement of defiance. Against the Herods of this age, who still imagine they can win. Strollers waiting at a border to cradle babies for their tired mums and it's like, Listen. You can tell that fox for us, that today and tomorrow and the next day there will keep being goodness and there will keep being caring and there will keep being love. Amen.