We are closing in on the last days of the season of Lent, which you probably know. Although, it’s possible to lose track of where we are. It’s been known to happen. But maybe you know right where we are. Maybe these past few weeks have been times that have brought you closer to your own heart, or someone else’s, and that when that happened it was like the Good Shepherd had come and found you and carried you home. Maybe that realization came when you saw someone take someone else’s hand into theirs, and with bright clear eyes say to this person you’re pretty sure they’d never seen before, ‘oh sweetie, you’re precious, precious. That’s what I think.’ Or maybe something you’d decided to do for Lent – forgo a luxury, make sure you say your prayers each morning and each night, lay your hand on someone’s shoulder while prayers were said for their healing one Wednesday – something you gave yourself to do in these past weeks, opened a window in you to God that you didn’t even know was closed.
Or maybe it’s been a flop. You’ve missed the whole thing, like arriving at the platform for a train that left an hour ago. And then said to yourself, ‘well I never wanted to get on that train anyway!’
Or maybe you started off pretty good, but, well, life happens and this and that, you know. Maybe, honestly, the best you could pull off was getting you and your family to church one Sunday in Lent, mostly in one piece and with a minimum of tears, all things considered. Whatever it has been is what you have to offer. And so, whatever it has been, trust in the slow workings of God’s grace and give thanks.
This time of the year, I like to check the times for sunrise and sunset in the newspaper to see how much more daylight we will have today than yesterday. This time of the year even just a one minute more of sunlight is cause for rejoicing. Each day, we’ve got a little more light, just a little more time.
I’ve found that the season of Lent is a pretty good time to think about things like this: how much more light, how much more time is there in this day? How much more time, how much more light is there in each of our lives? Lent begins with the Ash Wednesday words ‘remember you are dust and to dust you shall return’, and gives us a time and a place to think about that. How much more time will I be in this world? What do I hope can be a part of the time I have left?, because what is it, really, that matters most? And on the other hand, how much of the time I have do I spend on things that really don’t matter at all?
So, how shall we live? That is the question that is at the heart of Jesus’ insistent cry for repentance. There is time enough to turn aside and behold God’s goodness. There is enough time. But not for ever.
Right off the bat…right in the beginning, I sense something strange about this morning’s gospel. Luke wrote that “Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’” (Luke 13:31). It wasn’t what Herod was planning to do that was so strange since he or a member of his family had been threatening to kill Jesus ever since he was a baby.
It was WHO delivered the message that was strange. The Pharisees, or the very people who had been trying to trick Jesus, or trip him up, or make him look foolish, were suddenly being friendly to him in their warning about what Herod was planning to do.
Apparently, Jesus didn’t think that the messengers or the message was all that strange. He was used to such threats and knew that “that fox”, Herod, couldn’t kill him. That was the fate that awaited him in Jerusalem and he wasn’t there yet. And until he was there, he still had work to do.
I’m always amazed at how Jesus knew what that work was and was able to keep his focus on his mission and ministry. It couldn’t have been easy with all the pushback he got. And think of all the times he was misunderstood – even by the people closest to him. Despite all of that, he seemed to have few if any doubts about what he wanted to do or who he wanted to be – when he grew up.
This first Sunday in Lent, we always begin our journey through this season remembering the story of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. And even if we don’t get all the details exactly right and we might get the temptations a little out of order, we still could pretty well describe what happened. The devil suggests a way for Jesus to live his life that would go a long way to do something about how much people suffer in this world. Honestly, can be people be expected to trust God when life, frankly, is so hard. This wasn’t news to Jesus. He grew up in the impoverished rural regions of 1st century Palestine. There was a very thin crust of folks who lived very well and weren’t worried about their next meal; but most people just barely scraped by. And he knew what it was like to live in a country occupied by a foreign ruler and king over all where you had better do what you were told. He had seen Roman troops in the streets. He knew that from his own life. And he knew what it looked like for people to see their religious leaders say the right things but also look after their own interests. He knew how people lost their hope and prayed for a miracle that never came. So, the devil suggests, why not just fix that? Why not just step right into the middle of all that pain and suffering and do something about it?
If he is the Son of God, why not? God could do these things. So why hasn’t he? Maybe it’s time for a change in leadership. If God won’t take care of these things, maybe the two of them together could. What’s the harm in trying? If God won’t be God, maybe someone else should try a different approach.