Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
Even though this morning’s gospel text isn’t one of the most familiar ones, it gives us a chance to remember some of Jesus’ qualities. He worked in the middle of society. He met a variety of people. Some were friends, others enemies. People in high places new who he was, especially Herod, the ruler of Galilee, where Jesus was travelling. Herod wanted to kill Jesus – or so the rumor went. Jesus didn’t cower in fear of Herod’s power, nor did he pack his bags and flee. He said – and in public, where many would hear him and repeat what he said – that the ruler was a fox. Now, the Greeks thought of foxes as cunning and crafty, while the Hebrews considered them animals of destruction. Whichever understanding Jesus had in mind, he knew that Herod was up to no good. Jesus wasn’t afraid to challenge him by speaking God’s opinions of his ways.
Jesus was strong and brave, then. He knew the world and had to be on his guard but he didn’t compromise with evil to save himself. He stood up to his enemies on the side of what is good and true. He was the Son of God and God himself so he had the authority to make judgments. He wanted the people and Herod himself to know that he was out of line, so Jesus spoke forthrightly in hopes that his words would get back to the ruler, who might take the chance to repent and turn to God and be saved. Jesus wants everyone to have an opportunity for salvation.
Jesus was sturdy and courageous, then, and passes his strength on to us. We don’t act or speak when we don’t have authority, but neither are we doormats. We often speak out against injustice and wrongdoing. A top media executive once called a meeting of his senior staff when it happened to be Ash Wednesday. He noticed that some of his people had ashes on their foreheads. He called them Jesus freaks and said they ought to be working for another network. The story got out and Christian leaders were quick to protest. Jesus doesn’t call us, you see, to suffer in silence. He was brave and so are we.
The text reminds us of other outstanding qualities of our Lord. He was on the side of life rather than destruction. He cast out demons, healed the sick, relieved burdens, and solved problems. He showed his power in acts of compassion. Since he could heal ailments of body and soul, we can rely on his promises that he will bestow greater gifts such as the forgiveness of sins, the friendship of God, and the hope of everlasting life. We trust him when he says he calls us into an eternal kingdom and promises to keep us there. Rejection of Christ and unrepented hardness of heart have serious consequences, from which Jesus wants to spare all people, so he lovingly draws us to him.
He is persistent, in other words. He promised to keep on with his mission in spite of opposition. We Christians get our stick-to-it-iveness, to use a word my mother taught me, from him. One foot after the other. Don’t give up. Look ahead to the satisfactions that will come when we reach a goal that’s hard to get to and takes a lot of time. Caring for others, success at work, resisting the assaults of the world and the devil, and sticking with Jesus – all take persistence, and the Lord shows us how it’s done. What’s more, he revives us if our persistence falters. Few things are more disheartening than looking back and realizing that we gave up on something we didn’t have to. We can’t persist in doing good on our own. The strengthens us and builds up our determination.
Love is another quality we see in Jesus, which this morning’s gospel shows us in a vivid way. Jesus compared himself with a hen who gathers her chicks around her to protect them. The Heavenly Father called him to nurture the people of Jerusalem and Israel in particular so that they would be a blessing to the whole world. His love didn’t falter even though many of the people he was sent to rejected him. He reaches out today to gather people together so that we receive the protection of his love and inspiration for service. Our natural inclination is to go our own way and to claim that God’s love for us is a crutch that grown-ups don’t need. The devil tempts us to trust human strength, and many do, starting with Adam and Eve and going up to the news of the day, but Jesus keeps on loving and never shuts the door on anyone who looks for him. He gives wisdom to folks who listen to him. He trains us to accept what’s best for us, and that’s the love of God, which moves us to love him and our neighbors in return.
God loves the whole world and all people, while Jesus had a special concern for Jerusalem, as we said, the holy city, the center of religious life for the people of Israel. But some of the people there and many of the leaders turned their backs on him. Jesus warned them – not in anger or vengefulness, but from sadness and compassion for their plight. He didn’t lash out or sink into despair. His love for them was steady and persistent. He willingly gave up his life to win the possibility of salvation for the people who turned away from him.
St. Peter’s people stand up for the love of God where we live. The presence of sin and the devil and the weakness of human flesh don’t frighten us into silence of inactivity. We pray for our neighbors. We speak about the Lord. We correct. We forgive, as God corrects and pardons us. We may know people who are struggling in today’s economy or someone who is discouraged and looking for something solid to trust or we may have a friend who’s led astray by false teaching. We point folks in difficult circumstances to the faith and hope our Savior offers. We’re concerned about the welfare of others, committed to the world around us, and not on the world’s terms but Christ’s. He advised the people of Jerusalem that they should accept God’s Word while they had the chance. A time was coming – he meant the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army almost four decades in the future – when their lives would be much more difficult. It behooved them to cling to God while he was in their midst.
Another of Jesus’ qualities – and we remember that he is God and man in one Person – is his attitude to the end of earthly life. He spoke about his coming death, not with bitterness, but as if he were reporting a fact. Although it is a great evil, death for Jesus and for us means deliverance from the troubles of earth to a better life face-to-face with God. St. Paul wrote: “I tell you a mystery...we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall all be changed. This perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.” The day of fulfillment has yet to come. We perceive its glories by faith, but we are blessed now because Jesus has defeated the devil’s power to fill us with fears about death. We lead balanced, joyful, fruitful lives now because the Lord has promised us a glorious future. “O, death, where is your sting?” Paul wrote. “O, grave, where is your victory?” We live in the hope of unimaginable blessedness to come.
But to return to our text. Some questions can’t be answered. We can’t explain why some folks reject Christ and his promises. We do know, however, that some people accept him. The Spirit moves lots of folks to receive the Lord in their hearts, and even in Jesus’ time, some welcomed him and stuck with him and learned from his teachings about the world. There were those who appreciated his persistence, were grateful for his healing, and rejoiced in his love, and who joyfully took new life from his conquest of death. Jesus spoke to people like that at the end of this morning’s gospel. He would soon make his departure from the world. When they saw him next, they would exclaim, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
As a man, Jesus loved his people and his nation despite their faults. As God, he cared about them so much that he died to save them – and not just one nation and one people. He died so that the whole world might come to life in him. He calls us to stick with him and promises that the Holy Spirit will keep giving us the grace to persevere in faith so that when he returns we will say with the faithful people of ancient Israel and all believers everywhere, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” We give thanks in the name of our Savior. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keeps your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.