~A video version follows the text ~
This sermon did not leave from the station
nor did it arrive at the destination
I was aiming for.
Just so you know.
Last week we wrung out our fears.
and touched them,
named those fears to ourselves
and in a pretend gesture
pooled them altogether.
This week it is about loss, grief even.
In the gospel that was read
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem — weeps in grief
and anger, probably
some fear too
because he knows what’s coming.
The Wednesday Noon Zoom
talked about losses this week too,
reading together a book about loss —
or at least initially,
because we don’t know exactly how it ends.
I actually tried not to talk about this today.
I got more than half a sermon done
before I got stuck
and couldn’t move it forward
no matter how hard I pushed.
That’s what happens
when I try to avoid a topic
when writing a sermon.
It is as if the sermon is a donkey
that stops in the middle of the road
and say, “Nope, ain’t going no further.”
So here we are with Jesus
weeping over crushed hopes,
ruined expectations, bitter disappointment, and
sorrow for what has been and what will be.
There must also have been fear mixed in,
as I said, because Jesus knew Herod
was stalking him.
I think we read the Jesus stories
without thinking about what was going on
all around Jesus and his contemporaries.
It wasn’t a nice world,
especially for someone in Jesus’ line of work.
…their ice-pick eyes,
their weeping willow hair,
and their clenched fists beating at heaven…
(from “Longing for Prophets” by Shirley Kaufman)
In the fifty years on either side of Jesus
there were messiahs and prophets aplenty.
Jesus would have grown up
hearing stories about those messiahs —
and hearing people either cheer them on
or live in fear of what their rebellions
might bring down on their village.
Here are the names of some messiahs and prophets
we have vague but specific historical records of,
revolutionaries Jesus grew up knowing about.
Hezekiah or Ezekias, might have been
the original founder of the Zealots
or what would become the Zealots.
He led what we would call a guerrilla army
fifty years before Jesus was born.
He wound up beheaded without a trial
and his followers rounded up and killed.
Judas, son of Ezekias, raised an army and
attacked Herod’s palace in Sepphoris,
stole the weapons and riches stored there,
and then disappeared from history.
Simon of Perea, a slave in Herod the Great’s palace,
gathered a following after Herod died,
not long before Jesus was born, and attacked
numerous of Herod’s palaces –
burning down the one in Jericho.
His army was defeated
and he was chased down and beheaded.
Athronges the Shepherd,
was described as taller and stronger than anyone else,
with four brothers of similar stature.
He led a two year rebellion
against Herod the Great’s son and successor,
as well as the Roman army.
Jesus was born in the midst
of “the Shepherds’” rebellion.
It was put down
and while his brothers were captured,
we don’t know what happened to Athronges.
Judas the Galilean, not Judas the disciple,
led a rebellion against the census
we know about from the Jesus birth narrative,
except that the actual census
came several years after Jesus was born.
Judas’ rebellion failed, obviously,
and Judas the Galilean was killed.
Several of his sons
were the leaders and messiahs
in the Jewish-Roman war of 66-70
that led to the destruction of the temple
and genocide of Jews in Judah and Galilee.
It was his grandson, I think, who led
the famous last stand on top of Masada.
Judas, son of Ezekias,
Simon of Perea, Athronges the Shepherd,
Judas the Galilean,
and of course, John the Baptist…
all of them Hall of Famers at the millennium.
These are the names of famous prophets and messiahs,
and Jesus could have rattled off their names
with the same familiarity I can say
Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
Hakeem Olajuwon, Steve Nash…
They must have been the prophets
Jesus weeped over when he said,
”Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets
and stone to death those who are sent to you.”
I weep like that sometimes,
when I hear another report
about climate change losses
that could have been stopped or arrested
but decade after decade
we have kept doing what we know
will be the ruin of the environment
and our ruin along with it.
It is that kind of weeping that Jesus was doing.
It is a special kind of grief for what we have lost
or are about to lose, because we know
it did not have to be that way.
Can’t you almost see Jesus looking out
over the city?
His eyes are pooling,
Reddish streaks appear on his cheeks
that are also glistening with moisture.
He is scared, to be sure, the warning about Herod
ringing in his ears.
But even more than fear
a heavy sorrow,
deep sadness filling his chest.
You know, I sense that many if not all of us
carry some sorrow and sadness these days.
There is so much we see,
what with images from Ukraine
filling the airspace.
But also we are old enough
to have had beliefs and expectations
for our nation
and the world,
for our families,
for our professions
and our children — expectations
that have simply evaporated.
Just about every one of our institutions
has suffered historic cracks in their foundations.
You and I both know that the church
is undergoing huge change.
I mean just think about the columbarium
at 520 S. Main Street as a metaphor.
Who ever placed their loved one’s ashes
in a church without expecting
that that stone edifice was safely there
forever and a day?
Churches, especially big ones,
But education has been rattled and shaken too,
even before the pandemic
but especially since then.
Whether college or kindergarten,
the teaching profession has changed
and is changing more and more.
But so too banking.
Heck, if digital currency keeps on
there will be no more banks.
Oh, and doctors and nurses?
The medical profession was going through
a huge overhaul well before the pandemic
but for two years now
they have been called on to serve
in ways they never expected.
I was just told that the Air Force Reserves
are keeping Strong hospital open.
It is difficult to think of a profession
that hasn’t been
or is not
going through dramatic reformation
of one kind or another.
It is a vast reckoning of some kind
brought on by who knows what?
Rapid technological change?
Outgrowing historic institutions
never meant to serve so many people
or so fast?
Whatever it is
and however it is unfolding,
we see what was
and what has been lost
and we grieve
even as we feel some anger
at what has been taken from us.
Like the poem asks,
bring back the prophets
who can tell us what is next —
what is going to happen.
Well I am no prophet
but here is what I know
about living with fear
and living with the unknown
and living with loss
and living with grief.
When we do it alone
When we can hold hands,
be with one another,
sit in each other’s presence
while we wonder and pray and worry —
even if we are not talking about it —
we get through it.
To be alone in our grief and loss
is the very definition of suffering.
When we are with others,
even if the others can’t take it away
or do anything about it,
we do better.
I also know that is what Jesus did.
He continued to gather his friends
around a table
and share bread and wine.
He continued to tell stories
and imagine possibilities.
He continued to share love
and let them know he not only loved them
but that he needed their love too.
He didn’t stop asking them when they failed,
and he didn’t stop needing them
when he was hanging from the cross.
And some of them
made sure he did not go through it alone.
So I don’t know what to tell you
about all these changes we are going through —
the big ones that are rocking the boat
or the little ones only you know about.
But I do know
that when and if we can navigate them
with one another,
we will be stronger
and safer for it.
I am grateful that this is a place
and a community of people
in which tears can be shed
and prayers can be shared
and hands can be held.
We are navigating some big changes, my friends,
and that means, among other things,
Let’s keep being present to one another.