Lent II: Be the Change
We are continuing on with our mini sermon series today, the second installment of what I’m calling WDJD or “What did Jesus do”. I believe that our scripture lesson and topic for today fit well into the spirit of this morning’s service. With St. Patrick’s Day not falling on a Sunday all that often, we thought we had to add a bit of Celtic flare to the service. Truth be told, we’re not being good ol' traditional Presbyterians—we’re not sticking with the quiet and somber attitude that one is encouraged to take during worship in the Lenten Season. We’re not sitting in silence before service reflecting on humankind’s depravity. But I think that’s ok. I think making concessions in the spirit of bringing life and enacting change are what is part of the evolving church.
I’ve reflected deeply these past almost 8 months about the topic of change. It’s a word that we are warned never to mention in our church placements, at least not until the first few years or so. I’m not quite sure I’ve followed that rule very well because I don’t particularly think it’s a good one. Sure, some of us like change and others of us…well not so much. But I wonder what it says about our human natures that we are so averse to change. What does it say about our willingness to adapt, to create and innovate, to explore new ideas…oh I can hear my father’s voice in my head already…”if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But that’s what we’ve equated change to mean hasn’t it?—that in some way, when change comes, it means what we were doing something before that was wrong or bad…but that’s not always the case.
I’ll give you an example. If you haven’t seen already, you may have noticed that I drive around a moderately old Lincoln Town Car. The car runs great besides the fact that I about need a boat license to park the thing. Recently the suspension system was failing and I had a choice to make. I could replace it with a version of the original system but then down the road in a few years, I’d be having the same problems again. Or, I could change the system entirely and get rid of the problem all together. Sure, things would function a little differently, driving the car might feel a little strange at first, but I enacted change to impact the larger whole. Both systems were functional in their base value, but one had an advantage in that everything would run smoothly for the long term.
Now for those of you who don’t like car analogies, stay with me here as we move to our Gospel account today. We see Jesus addressing a group of Pharisees in a rather interesting way. We’ve talked before about the ruling classes in Israel at that time, but particular to Jerusalem, some of the more powerful Pharisees of this time obtained their status through the cooperation and bribery of the state. If the Pharisees kept the religious majority in line, if they advocated for peace with the Roman Empire and snuffed out any seeds of rebellion, they would often be rewarded with money, status, and power.
Well hopefully this is not too much of a spoiler alert but what were three things that Jesus had a problem with? Money, status, and power. So imagine if you will, what Christ probably looked like to them--a humble Jewish man from Galilee who was amassing a following centered around the message of the first shall go last and the last shall go first. The Pharisee’s warning to Jesus in our first verse here is not an earnest one, the
Pharisees wanted Jesus out of town, he was an upstart, someone who caused trouble, someone young who enacted…change.
Christ continues with some coded language and he is being a little sly, a little studious, and a little clever by his response. He knew of course that the upper echelons of the religious world had often been corrupted by the alluring promise for power. He knew that calling out Herod Antipas out in the open would be an outright death sentence. But he also knew of a clever way to get a message to Herod—a message that said he wasn’t going to give in to a political power move, but that he would redefine what the very fabric of society looked like—a place that lifted up all people, not just the religious and political elite.
But in order for this to occur, in order for this type of vision to take place, radical change needed to happen. Jesus’ words of prophesy speak to this, he identifies Jerusalem with it’s storied past—a place where prophets of old and new had been killed for their radical ideas and prophecies of change. But his vision for this Holy City is one that he mentions later, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Christ’s vision for this community is one change and transformation. His vision is something that requires something of everyone and ultimately, something that required the ultimate sacrifice from himself. Christ was willing to die for this vision because he knew the radical transformation that his death would bring.
I would be lying if I said the Church worldwide has always embraced this spirit and vision of change. Particularly in our Reformed tradition, where we like things decent and in order, change brings some frightening stuff. But it is within these unknowns, within the long run, that it can lead to such a beautiful vision of God’s kingdom here on Earth. It’s much easier to stay in the moment, to do what is familiar, to remain with what is comfortable to us but when have we ever identify these things with God’s plan for us? When has God ever wanted us to grow complacent with our spiritualities and with our lives?
Our vision, like Christ’s, and especially during this Lenten Season, should be ahead, towards the future. How do we begin to create a world that Christ was working for in our scriptures? What work needs to be done to get here? How are we continually seeking justice for those in need, upturning the social and political powers that seek to denigrate the most vulnerable in our society? How are we calling out misuse of power and instances of corruption? How are we being the living, breathing, inspired, creative, transformative embodiment of Christ’s church? How are you seeking to be that change today?