Sermon for 2nd Lent -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
Shortly after I became the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s communication director in 1992 a conference was held in Minneapolis called, “Re-Imagining: A Global Theological Conference By Women: For Men and Women.” The conference was sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Churches with the support of the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist Church. More than 2,200 people attended this 1993 event, less than 100 of whom were men. There was a sizable Lutheran presence among the attendees and speakers. My friend and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad, then the Lutheran preacher for the Protestant Hour radio program, was one of the principal speakers.
Soon after the conference ended conservative groups in the Presbyterian and United Methodist Churches began to criticize the conference and their denomination’s role in it, saying it promoted goddess worship and heresy. There was a strong anti-gay element to these critiques also. Of course, no one who made these critiques had attended the conference and all of the supposedly offensive or heretical comments were taken out of their context, but that did not stop these critics from making accusations. Because of these critiques several women who worked for the Presbyterian and United Methodist Churches lost their jobs.
I was not at this event, but got involved since Dr. Lundblad’s appointment as the speaker for the Protestant Hour came from my office. A number of people, who had not heard Lundblad speak but only had heard quotes from her speech taken out of context, wrote and called demanding she be replaced on the radio program. And, of course, when I shared the full text of what Lundblad had written and said, I never heard from any of them again. (More on the Re-Imagining conference can be found online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Re-Imagining_(Christian_feminist_conference).
But, the conference had raised the female image of God and that, I believe, was at the heart of many of the unfair critiques. Even in these modern times, we just are not used to a female image for God. So many people cannot get beyond their picture of God as masculine, male.
I thought of this “Re-imagining” event this past week as I studied today’s Gospel lesson from St. Luke. In it Jesus himself uses a strong female image for God – the hen who gathers her brood under her wings for protection.
Although we often get stuck on male images of God, I hope we can agree that God is neither male nor female. And, there are many other female images of God in the Bible – God as a protective mother eagle in Deuteronomy, God as a fierce mother bear in Hosea, God as a mother giving birth and as a mother breast-feeding her child, both images in the Book of Isaiah.
Of course, today’s Gospel text is not primarily about the female image of God. As scholar David Lose suggests, this text is about courage, the kind of courage Jesus displays in this lesson.
Some Pharisees have come to Jesus to warn Jesus, to suggest Jesus disappear because they have heard that Herod is out to get Jesus – Herod wants to kill Jesus. We are not told who these particular Pharisees are or why they have come to warn Jesus. We just know that they tell Jesus to “run for his life,” so to speak. And we also know that Jesus refuses to do this.
Instead, Jesus plans to stay on the “road” he has taken, traveling to Jerusalem to meet his death there. This commitment to embrace Jesus’ dark and difficult destiny for the sake of humanity, for the sake of you and me, this is the very embodiment of courage.
And, as Lose notes, Jesus’ courage is a different sort of courage, it is a vulnerable kind of courage. The kind we might associate with a mother’s kind of courage, hence Jesus’ use of the Mother Hen as an image of God.
As a culture we do not often associate vulnerability with courage and strength. We may associate vulnerability with care, love and concern, perhaps, but not often with courage and strength. And, we even, at times, may associate vulnerability with weakness, something to be avoided at all costs – Have you seen any displays of vulnerability among any of the current presidential candidates, for example? At best, we may recognize the need to be vulnerable to those we care about most deeply. But we do not often see vulnerability as part of a courageous life.
And yet, in this passage, Jesus demonstrates that vulnerability is essential to courage and stands at the core of the Christian life. And, by displaying his vulnerability to us, Jesus invites us to discover the strength that lies in being open to the needs of others.
Think of that image of God as a Mother Hen – it is an image of protection more than vulnerability if there ever was one. And an image of God that Jesus embodies and invites us also to attribute to God – God becomes vulnerable to all of the ups and downs of human life and becomes one with God’s children through God’s son Jesus Christ. Jesus continues on to Jerusalem not to prove himself fearless or a hero, not to make a sacrifice for sin to a judgmental God, not even to combat death and the devil. No, Jesus marches on to Jerusalem and embraces the cross that awaits him there out of profound love for the people around him, just like a mother’s fierce love that will stop at nothing to protect her children.
And, in this march, Jesus calls us also to embrace our vulnerability and to love those around us, to live whole-heartedly, owning our vulnerabilities because we know that God has already given us sufficient resources – including one another – to not simply endure the challenges that are before us but to flourish as we discover that God meets us most reliably in our own places of deepest vulnerability.
So, my friends, this week let’s name our vulnerabilities and weaknesses and remember that God is with us in these places and that God can use our vulnerabilities and weaknesses to connect more deeply with those around us, just as Jesus did for us all as he followed the road to Jerusalem and the cross.
Courage. Vulnerability. Perseverance. Love. Jesus’ road. God’s call to us.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Sermon for 2nd Lent
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
February 20 & 21, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California