Here is my sermon from this pas Sunday (which I finally edited to reflect what I actually preached). The Scritpure lesson is from Luke 13:31-35. There is a reference that is distinctive to the church. We are embarking on a Lenten journey through the NRCAT's resource Way of Torture, Way of the Cross. I have adapted it, but it's been very fruitful and profound. This is the conversation that I refer to in the sermon.
It was only ten days ago that a few of us gathered in this chancel to begin our Lenten journey. Ten days ago, we remembered that we were dust. Ashes marked our foreheads to remind us that we were created from dust. And one day, we will return to dust.
Like many of you, I did not grow up with memories of Ash Wednesday. And yet, I find these strange words to be so comforting. You were created from the dust of the earth, and to dust you shall return, the minister says as she marks your forehead with an ashen cross. I was dust. And like you, I will return to being dust. And we will always be part of God's living, breathing creation. No matter if we are dust or if we will be dust, God loves us. God created us from dust and God will lovingly mingle us with the dust of our ancestors in death.
And I need the dust. I need the dust of the earth to remind me that we are all connected. Perhaps it’s a longing that comes from calling New York City home. As much as I cherish New York, it is a place without earth. The earth is hidden underneath. Buried underneath the steel, pavement, streetlights and architecture. There is no earth to touch. To touch and remember our connection to God’s creation. To touch and remember our connection to each other. But then again, that’s the frustrating part about the city. In the city, it’s hard to make that connection.
It’s why I left New York. In all of my wanderings about the city, it was a rare event to bump into someone I knew. Most New Yorkers cherish this. There is a certain pride in the ability to travel from school to work to church to the supermarket without making a single connection. Without knowing a single person. Without having a single exchange with another human being. Instead, you make a decision to make that connection. You make a choice to go to the deli to get a cup of coffee, but really to talk to the man behind the counter about politics. Or you smile at the only other person in the subway car that is reading the Bible.
Or as it is for my friend Krista, you take the bus. Krista and I met in the earth of Appalachia. We spent a summer together getting dirty for Jesus. That was the name of the program that we used. Get dirty for Jesus. It’s a silly name, but both Krista and I came to understand in those few months living in an area that America has forgotten that we needed the dirt to find a connection. We needed to be willing to get dirty. We need the dust, even though it’s easier to make that connection in the mountains.
But, both Krista and I moved back to the city. I moved to New York and Krista moved to Jerusalem. And the “city may be the hardest place of all to recognize the presence and activity of God.” So, Krista takes the bus while she serves as a missionary in a foreign city that seems far from my realm of experience. In Jerusalem, the same city that Jesus weeps for in this strange gospel story, Krista takes the bus.
In her email last week, Krista explained the harsh reality of a flying checkpoint, where suddenly the bus taking her back home is swerved off to the side of the road and a soldier in a green khaki uniform boards the bus, carrying a very large gun. She explained how “everyone pulled out their light blue Jerusalem IDs and added them to the stack that [the soldier] was now carrying down the aisle” while Krista “slithered [her] dark blue navy passport- [her] little get out of jail free ID- out of its black holder.” The soldier didn’t give her a second glance before he disappeared off the bus with a “dozen Jerusalem IDs and one of the unlucky passengers whose ID was green, indicating that he is from the West Bank.”
Today, tomorrow and the next day, these flying checkpoints will continue to happen. And even though, I can’t quite imagine this moment of Krista sitting on the bus, her email shares her thoughts, as Krista explains:
I wondered how the man sitting in the next seat must think of me- me with my blonde hair, my new backpack, my headphones, and my passport that gets waved away at flying checkpoints… Is he angry? Frustrated? Or is he just tired?
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it,” Jesus laments. Jesus weeps for this city before he has even arrived there. He is still on his way. He is still on the journey toward this city where nothing insignificant happens. Everything that happens there has profound meaning.
It is where we will end our Lenten journey. Jesus will enter this city again on a path of palm branches. This city “will turn out to be the city which refuses him – in spite of an initial, enthusiastic welcome.” But, we are still on the journey. We are still in the midst of Lent. We have not made it there yet. We can look forward to what will come – for at least in the gospel story – we know what lies ahead. We know what will come. We know what this city will bring. But, we are not there yet.
That pause is difficult. We would prefer to look ahead. After all, we are Easter people. As Barbara Johnson says, we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. A Good Friday world where flying checkpoints happen. A Good Friday would where human connections are hard to make. A Good Friday world that makes us feel “impotent.” That was the word that I heard echoed through our first Lenten conversation on Wednesday afternoon. We feel powerless, as we look around our world. We feel we cannot do anything.
And like Jesus, we lament. We weep for the possibility that this city “might have had and might still have.” But, it’s not turning out that way. We lament that things are not as we would hope. Some of us are angry. Some of us are frustrated and some of us are just tired. And so, like Jesus, we weep. Not just for the city, New York, Jerusalem, or even Portland, but for our Good Friday world – where too many things seem to have gone wrong.
So, we name the foxes that have caused the trouble we see. And we wonder, against hope, where the prophets are. We wonder why they can’t be heard and why we feel that we cannot do enough. After all, we are Easter people. We look forward to what will come because we are filled with the hope of Easter. We look forward to the spring for we know that it will surely come after the wintery mix.
But, we are still on the journey. We are not there yet. We are still on our way. Today, tomorrow and the next day, will we weep? Today, tomorrow and the next day, will we lament the unrealized possibilities? Are the foxes too powerful? Are the prophets too silent?
No. No, not if we truly listen to the weeping Christ. The weeping Christ who embraces this ancient city that even in our Good Friday world of today still seems broken. The weeping Christ who gathers all that seems to have gone wrong under wings, like a hen gathers her brood. Even in the midst of his tears, Jesus doesn’t allow the fox or silent prophets to make him angry, frustrated or just tired.
“I must be on my way,” he says despite his tears. This is not how it will end. Easter has not yet come. But, it will. It will. This we know for sure. And no fox can stop it, even if it is usually foxes that win. Not this time.
Not even when we feel powerless and impotent. It’s hard to believe because an embrace doesn’t seem to have enough power. A hen gathering her children under wings seems like a bad opponent for the fox. Surely, the fox will win. But no, friends, not this time.
Perhaps it seems naïve. Perhaps it seems like it is not enough. Surely, an embrace cannot overcome the world that we see around us. But, I think it can. In fact, I am certain that it can. I heard it on Wednesday afternoon in Davidson Lounge. I heard it as I listened to the conversation that began with the question: What is Torture? We read three Biblical passages together, and asked some tough questions. It was the last question that I did not think we would ever get to. But, it was the question that spurred the most conversation. How do we respond? If we believe these things to be true, how do we respond?
Indeed, we must be on our way. Today, tomorrow and the next day, we will look forward because we are filled with the hope of Easter. And like Krista, we will find a way to get on the bus. And because we are Easter people, we must not lose sight of our hope. In the end of her email, Krista names this hope.
I look forward to the day when I can ride a bus and just look out the window, watching for the gradual changes in the seasons, instead of being assaulted by the political realities that are always simmering just below the surface. I look forward to a time when buses will be a tool for transportation and connection rather than further division.
In our Good Friday world, there are too many divisions. But, remember friends, the fox will not win. And we will lament. We will weep. We might find ourselves angry, frustrated or just tired. But now, get on board. Get on your bus – whatever bus you might ride. Today, tomorrow and the next day, ride your bus.