Jesus said, 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. (Luke 13:33)
The British-American author D. H. Lawrence said, "The world fears a new experience more than it fears anything. Because a new experience displaces so many old experiences." New ideas are not a problem. The world "can pigeon-hole any idea," Lawrence said, "but it can't pigeon-hole a real new experience."1 A true inner experience changes us, changes the way we see.
The inner experience I hear God inviting us into this morning is trust. Trust for me is interchangeable with faith. In fact – it’s a better word – because faith has the other connotations. As if faith is about a set of beliefs that are either right or wrong.
Scripture teaches us faith through relationship, though. The bible isn’t a compendium of intellectual ideas or systematic beliefs. It’s a collection of stories, songs and letters and poems about relationships. Relationships with God, with families, with tribes, neighbors and enemies. And within those relationships trust (or faith) is strained, strengthened, abandoned, betrayed, etc.
This section of Genesis was pretty revelatory back in the day. It’s the first time Abraham talks with – and kind of argues with – God. God is asking him to trust – to have faith. Abraham wants certainties. God says that God will be the shield and the reward if Abraham trusts him. Abraham replies – not good enough. I want to know “what” the shield is – and I want to know “what” exactly the reward will be.
Me too. My prayers are pretty specific – how about yours?
"When Abram asks “what?” and “how?” he uses specific Hebrew terminology that usually appears in prophetic texts such as Amos, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah. In virtually every case where the phrase is uttered on human lips, it is part of a plea directed to God, particularly with reference to something that is hard to believe or accept."2
It’s reasonable for Abraham to ask God these questions. He doesn’t understand how he can pass on an inheritance if he doesn’t have an heir. He doesn’t understand – given the present circumstances – how in the world God could fulfill God’s promise. We can relate to that too, can’t we? We look at the present circumstances of our world and think – how can God make good on God’s promise?
Lean into trust – lean in. This will be a recurring pattern in all our lives – on the macro and micro level – cycling through situations where it is hard to see the answer or the solution – so how do we do it? How do we trust in that which we cannot see?
Let’s turn to Jesus.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem Jesus says – how I long to gather you as a mother gathers her children under her wings. Jesus has a very unusual response to a very real and scary threat.
Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." Go and tell that fox something for me, he say. The religious authorities who operate in collusion with the political establishment are scared of Jesus and trying to scare him back. Herod the Great, as he was known, was a pretty scary guy. Quick overview of resume highlights –
- Executed one of his 10 wives, two of his sons and numerous detractors
- In the gospels when Herod learned about the birth of a Messiah (rival king) he first tried to kill the magi, then tried to trick the magi into sending Jesus and his family to him, then enacted what we call the slaughter of the innocents – the infanticide in Bethlehem
- And, famously, at the request of his daughter – but really through the manipulations of his wife – he beheaded John the Baptist at a dinner party 3
Herod the terrifying is more like it. Nothing was built on trust – the rules were intimidation, fear – disagree and you risk your life. Of course the Pharisees were terrified. They enjoyed the privileges of the game, so they played it. They wanted Jesus to play too – or leave.
But Jesus didn’t want to play that game – and he didn’t want to leave. Because as he said, he had work to do. His work was bringing people into wholeness – healing people who were sick and thereby restoring outcasts to being back in relationships with their families, their communities.
Jesus put all his trust in the restorative work of God – day by day. He knows the certain outcome will be rejection and death. He trusts in living the promise regardless – day by day.
But he shares what he longs for. Ignoring Herod’s threat – he calls out with a promise – all God longs to do is gather you together like a mother gathers her brood under her wings. Jesus meets violence with compassion. And he gives us a choice – we can go running towards that promise – or not. Our house is left to us, Jesus says. We get to choose the operating rules of our relationships – our house – macro and micro – is left to us.
(Discussion of the book, The Vanishing Neighbor and the Koran sent to me this week by the Council on American and Islamic Relations)
In hindsight – Abraham got his inheritance – but that wasn’t what was important. It was his change of heart – opening his heart to trusting in a promise – and letting go of certainty.
In hindsight – Jesus brings us through to resurrection – but something came before. The cross – the death – the being in a place of forsakenness where there were no certainties or answers.
And before the resurrection – there was all the day by day work – of bringing healing into the lives of individuals.
Trust grows not in grand gestures – but in small acts – in ways God gives each of us to share good news. What is the day by day work God is calling you into? What is the house you are building with your words, your actions? Where do you need to lean into trusting God’s promise? Where might you be called to share your voice – your gifts – in building God’s house here and now?
All of us are part of the story – all of us are part of the promise. We walk by faith and not by sight - in other words, we trust. And, as Jesus reminds us this morning, blessed are we when we walk in the name of the Lord.
1 From "A New Experience" Meditation by Richard Rohr
2 Thanks to Working Preacher
3 Thanks to Journey with Jesus