The Sunday Sermon: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 15, 2019
Scripture: Luke 13:31-34
Listen for the Word of God. Read Luke 13:31-34. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
So, yeah … whether you know it or not you maybe feel it a bit: This is an odd passage to read and hear in the middle of September. It’s a pretty familiar set of verses, but it’s almost always read early in the season of Lent. Jesus has begun his journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s narrative and in this passage he looks Jerusalem – his people, Israel (friend and foes), you and I square in the eye and laments for us. As Christians, we extend this lament, hearing in it a cry for the world. He laments for us because we’re not listening, we’re not responding, not begin “gathered in.” This does not sound like a mid-September bible reading, really.
We’re just getting started again. Rally Day was last week. This morning was only the first full Sunday school hour after last week’s brunch-shortened classes. We’re not ready for laments yet. Save that for at least next month when we might lament about low attendance Stewardship season (!) Why read these verse this morning?
Well, if we can strip this passage down a bit, take the religious animosities that the Pharisees conjure up out of it; take the political hostilities represented by Herod’s hatred out of it; take even the eschatological theology of Jesus’ purpose in life and reason for death out of it – if we can do that, then we’re left with a message, a lament, that does fit this month, this day: “How often have I desired to gather you – not for religious conversion, not for political gain, not even for “reasons of salvation,” but “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” just to have you close and get you closer to one another – “how often have we tried and you wouldn’t?
We have all had experiences where someone, someone”s”, tried to gather us in, include us, get us involved, get us engaged, and we didn’t for one reason or another, we didn’t. Fatigue, we’re just too exhausted to add something else. Negativity, that’s not for me or this isn’t going to be worth it. Or fear … dread …
When I was nine years old my family moved from Michigan to Pennsylvania. I was to begin the fifth grade at a brand new school and was anxious about it. I wanted to just be myself and fit in. But I didn’t know if I could have it both ways. I was pretty shy and I wasn’t at all sure that anyone would take the time to notice the new guy.
So, when I walked into the classroom, I found my desk and took up my pencil and began filling out the “profile” form that Mrs. Warner, the teacher, had laid on my desk. On all the desks. My head was down pretty close to the desktop. I couldn’t really see anyone else coming into the classroom. This was a defensive maneuver, as I think of it now. If no one spoke to me, it was because they didn’t really know I was new – they couldn’t see me. It wouldn’t be because they could see me and decided I was odd looking or unapproachable. My head was lowered so the first move would have to be made by another student.
The first move was made by another student: Matt Re. He said hello to me … I heard it, but I didn’t respond. I kept my head down, busy with my task, filling out Mrs. Warner’s profile form. Matt just stood there. I could feel him. And presently, probably shrugging his shoulders, he said, “Well, if you don’t want to be friends, you don’t want to be friends.” Not maliciously. Not at all. Exactly the opposite, actually. He said those words so matter-of-factly that I panicked. I literally felt a surge in my little body. He wasn’t going to stand there for ever. In fact, he was probably turning to his own desk while he was saying the words “…you don’t want to be friends.” I dropped my pencil on the desk and I looked up, expecting to see his back. Expecting to have to call him back if I wanted to meet him and I wasn’t at all sure I could do that.
Well … I didn’t see his back. I didn’t have to call to him. He was standing right in front of me, facing me, looking down at me, with an absolutely huge smile on his face. He startled me, to be honest with you. He was so close, and his smile was so big. Perhaps its gotten bigger over the years, in my mind – my memory. But I definitely recall it was big then. He looked as if he would have indeed stood there forever – or at least until I looked up. The other boy he had come in with was sitting down behind him, starting on his profile form. I noticed this when I broke off the stare we had going. He kept looking at me, though. And that smile.
I finally smiled, much less sure of myself than he obviously was of himself. I sort of waved the pencil I had picked back up in my right hand and said, “Hi.” He nodded. I remember that, too, that nod. He nodded as if to say, “That’s better. And it wasn’t so hard was it?”
It wasn’t so very hard at all. It wasn’t hard at all.
So why did I wait until I had started panicking? What was I waiting for? I don’t have an answer to that to this day. Why didn’t I respond when he first said “Hey”? I came in wanting to “fit in,” wanting to be a part of something bigger than me. I sat at my desk wanting to be a part of this group of students that was forming up. And still, when I was given the chance, I didn’t respond.
“How often have I longed to gather your children together … but you were not willing.”
As I read and re-read the passage for this morning – separating out the religi8us, political and eschatological messages, the deeply personal memory I just shared slowly came to me. I was thinking about being called out, being “longed for” in a way that Jesus is longing for Jerusalem – longing for us to get involved with him, to get engaged in the life of the church, to get on the path, to come along the Way. Sunday after Rally Day … We’ve begun another year of “gathering in.” The days are growing shorter and (will be soon be growing) cooler. Very quickly we will set our sights on some of the most important seasons and events in our lives together – Stewardship, All Saints’ Day, the election of Ruling Elders, Advent. And as a hen gathers her brood under her wings we’ve begun again, reaching out to all of you, to one another, and even more to everyone who isn’t here this morning, but ought to be – not so their soul can be saved, not so their politics can be challenged or confirmed, not so their piety can be reinforced (we’ve removed all those elements from our reading for this morning, remember), but because we’re a family. And our relationships deepen, thicken, when we’re together – laughing, crying, learning, loving.
I grew up with that ten year old boy that gathered me forty-three years ago on the hallowed grounds of the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Riding his go-cart, playing in the hay loft of my parent’s barn, studying homework together, learning to drive, double dating, presiding at each other’s wedding’s as the Best Man, spending New Year’s Eve with each other and our spouses, Katie and Karen, and getting to know each other’s children, each being a Godfather to one of the others.
What are we waiting for? I mean we’re here, so that’s a start. That says something. We all want to be gathered, to be a part of something, to be involved. And then again, we all don’t. At one and the same time.
These are the two drives that make up who we are – the need to be included and the need to be independent, to be part of a community and to be an individual, or as the developmental psychologists state it, “the dual, contradictory desires for inclusion and autonomy.” Being a part of the church – Sunday school, Worship, Team meetings, Small Group, mission outreach – being part of the church is no different. We do and we don’t – there are good people here, but that one guy drives me crazy; I do enjoy learning a bit more, but my time is so limited; I can see my friend who is struggling with some sadness, but I could also just text her this week. All at the same time. We do and we don’t.
And we cannot be naïve or obtuse about this. We as a church, as a community, need to make it worth your while to be “gathered in,” to come here, to get involved. Gone are the days when anyone comes to church purely out of their sense of obligation. There’s still some of that, but the church needs to provide more motivation in this day and age. We have to have conversations here that you don’t have elsewhere in your lives. We have to provide study and learning that makes a difference to you. We have to provide worship that creates an environment unlike any other in your life. You have to want to come, to be gathered, every bit as much as we feel you should come. So we do provide. We do try, with what we have in this time and this place, we strive to motivate everyone to be as involved as you can be so that feel not only gathered and safe here, but changed and empowered here. We have started again with classes for young and old. We’re engaging in new mission and ministries. We’re discussing new opportunities to get together beyond Sunday morning or afternoon. And we’re waiting, too – for you, for more, for all …
What I remembered best in my opening story is that when I finally looked up to respond, I expected my soon-to-be friend Matt to be walking away, but he wasn’t. He was standing there waiting for me to decide, waiting for me to reconsider. This is what Jesus is doing in his lament this morning, I believe. He is calling us, as Jerusalem, to reconsider. He’s waiting for us to decide. And we’re waiting, too, even as we’re trying to motivate you, we’re waiting for you, too – for one another.
Last week we ‘rallied” once again. If we’re serious about that annual “call to the new year,” then we need to get together whenever we can to talk about and learn about God and Christ and church and one another and ourselves. We need to be committed to the ongoing Christian formation that is absolutely essential to our own Christian identity and that of our church. As we strengthen that identity we make better sense out of our day-to-day life and may even more appropriately and effectively challenge it. In short as we discover who we are through a commitment to study and conversation with one another we enable ourselves to live more fully.
Now in this call to be gathered in, we hope that you hear, and perhaps even feel, how exciting it can be. For all of us at any age (infants and toddlers, preschoolers, elementary children and youth, through our adults) and at all times. Gathering in and gathering others can be some of the most exciting times of our lives together. So …
What are you waiting for? Look up, get involved, be a part of the gathering in.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / September 15, 2019