Second Sunday of Lent 17th March 2019
Introduction and Call to Worship
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?” In a world full of fear, where life seems fragile, we turn to God in faith.
First Reading Genesis 15:1-12. 17-18
In response to Abram’s doubts, God confirms in a solemn ceremony the promise that Abram will have many descendants, who will live in a special God-given land.
Second Reading Philippians 3:17 – 4:1
The fact that our true home is in heaven must affect our earthly priorities.
Gospel Luke 13:31-end
Jesus laments over Jerusalem, the city special to God, which nevertheless has a history of persecuting God’s prophets, and is the city where he will die.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” (Luke13:34)
When the first human stepped down from a spaceship onto the moon, it was a magical moment in history. For the first time ever a human being was able to stand on solid ground and look at the earth from space. And not just any solid ground, but the moon, earth’s constant companion in space. After that moment, there were more mundane considerations. Samples were brought back and analysed, scientific papers were written. Our knowledge of the physical nature of the moon increased. The legend was proved wrong – the moon is not made of cheese.
Yet science has not diminished the moon’s magic. Wolves still, supposedly, bay at the moon. Hares gaze at it. It moves the ocean’s tides. When there is a harvest moon, or a blue moon, we watch in wonder. We are aware of its waxing and waning. The moon, it turns out, is not just a rock but an idea. It is resolutely magical. It sends shivers down our spines when we think of it floating out there, tied to us, silver in the cold and dark of space, reminding us of life beyond and above our everyday lives.
Jerusalem in the Bible is not just a city; it is an idea. In our Gospel reading Jesus is seen as the last in a long line of frustrated prophets wishing the best and fearing the worst for Jerusalem.
Initially Jerusalem is nothing special. We read in the Old Testament how David, newly crowned king of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, needs a base that is not one of the sacred sites of either of his kingdoms, somewhere neutral, somewhere that is his, a “city of David”. So he captures Jerusalem from the Canaanites and makes it his capital. He builds a palace. His son and heir, Solomon, builds a temple.
From then on, Jerusalem become special. The ark of the covenant, the symbol of God’s presence with the people in their travels, comes to rest there. Jerusalem becomes God’s home on earth, the place to gather for an encounter with God. When the people are scattered after military conquest, it is to Jerusalem they look for hope of restoration. It becomes the setting for all dreams of renewal and rebuilding.
Yet there is a darker side to Jerusalem’s story. Sometimes her people feel they are already living the dream. In God’s own city they become complacent. They feel protected, secure. They forget that their relationship with God is not unconditional. They forget that the magic of Jerusalem depends not only on God but on them, God’s people, expected to show the world what life looks like when it is lived in the holiest of places. And when God’s messengers point out the error of their ways, they refuse to listen. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah – ignored and persecuted. Even when they have lost the city to invasion, even when it is in ruins and has to be rebuilt, even then they cannot make it into the place it ought to be.
And yet – there is still the dream. Of a new Jerusalem, a place that is truly, gloriously heavenly even though still on earth. Of a place where God is encountered, to which all the people of the world flock, anxious to meet at last the God of Israel.
Jesus knows all this. He weeps over Jerusalem. He weeps because of what it is, in contrast with what it should be. He is on his way there, and there he will challenge the ruling powers, because that is what prophets do. He will force access for all to God’s Temple. And he will die.
But his death will not be the end, for him or for Jerusalem. Instead it is a beginning. The city of Jerusalem will remain damaged and sinful and torn apart, a place of enmity not peace, a place where God is claimed by competing faiths and ideologies. But it is still there, still the focus of the dream for many people of faith. It may not be in the earthly Jerusalem that the dream will finally find its fulfilment, but our Jerusalem is waiting for us somewhere – the place where God is encountered, the place where joy is complete.
1. There are some places, like the moon, that are more than just places, that stand for ideas; Jerusalem is one such place.
2. Jerusalem began as King David’s personal capital, with no special religious significance, but became the focus of Israel’s hopes for life in the presence of God.
3. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, which has not lived up to expectations, and is where he will die.
4. Jerusalem remains as the symbol of the focus for our hopes of living finally in the place where God is encountered.