Saturday, February 27, 2010

An Advocacy Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, 2010

An Advocacy Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, 2010
For Bethany Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington

The holy gospel according to Luke.

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus,
“Get away from here, Herod wants to kill you.”
He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me,
Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow,
And on the third day I finish my work.
Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way,
Because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
The city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!
How often have I desired to gather your children together
As a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
And you were not willing!
See, your house is left to you.
And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say,
“’Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The gospel of the Lord.


Olympia, Washington hugs the shore of an inlet of the Puget Sound.

Perched over the water, overlooking a little bay and a rather pretty little shoreline park is Olympia’s center of gravity, a gleaming gray-and-white columned structure topped with the largest self-supporting masonry dome in the country and filled with an extraordinary amount of marble. This is the Washington State Capitol building.

Like its counterpart in the other Washington the state capitol building in Olympia is a temple to freedom. In creating a place for common deliberation by the people of the state, deliberation in which everyone has, ideally, an equal voice, the capitol building illustrates the great virtues of our democratic society.

On the other hand, in creating a place for endless bickering, less-than-truthful speech, and the vicious game of seeking the upper hand in all things, the capitol building simultaneously illustrates the great vices of our democratic society.

It is easy enough to see these vices. Turn on the nightly news during the state legislative session, for example. A member of my congregation recently confided to me that she can barely stand to watch it anymore: It makes her physically ill to see what is happening – or not happening – in the political realm these days.

It is easy enough to be tempted to tune out and to turn away.

It is easy enough to relate to the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, is it not?

Luke’s Pharisees are, after all, not the scheming single-minded mafia of Matthew’s gospel. Some of Luke’s Pharisees are actually quite protective of Jesus. They mean well. They know just how ugly – and dangerous – the centers of power can be. “Jesus, you do not want to go to Jerusalem. Do you know what happens there? They will eat you alive.”

But this is not news to Jesus.

He sees the bickering, the lies, the vicious game of seeking the upper hand in all things. He sees the way in which a center of power can become a den of foxes. And it makes him sick, too.

Yet Jesus goes one step further.

As much as we want to locate the fox in a single villain – like Herod, or some other politician we might know better – and as much as we want to locate the den of foxes in a single place – like Olympia, or in the other Washington – Jesus won’t let us get away with it.

He turns our words back on us, placing the blame right at our feet. “See, your house is left to you.” Your house is left to you. You have made this world what it is. Own up to it.

We are all foxes, after all. In a democratic society like ours, we are as much to blame as any Herod for the injustices of our world. Either we are like little Herods, hoarding God’s gifts and consolidating power, or we are like the overprotective Pharisees, who have lost all hope that engagement with the centers of power can really bring about anything good. Both routes lead to a world filled with foxes – foxes like us.

So God sends help.

But it is not the kind of help we expect. You see, God does not send a farmer with a rifle. God’s farmhouse fable is much stranger than that. Into this fox-filled world, God sends a hen. A hen! Hear again the strange words of Jesus:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How often have I desired to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.


It’s a strange thing to do with a bunch of foxes. And yet: It is God’s way. Though Jesus is clear in his lament of our repeated rejection to engage with the world, to engage with each other, to engage with the kingdom of God, he is also clear in his promise that he will not be deterred from completing his work.

Even today we can see it happening, the great gathering of God’s people. Through holy baptism God gathers us under the wings of a covenant – a covenant much like the one God made with Abram.

Look up at the stars, Abram. Look at them gathered in the sky. See the vision I have in store for you. Look up, and see it surround you like the wings of a mother hen.

Like the covenant God made with Abram, God makes a covenant with us, too. It is a covenant that leaves no room for turning away or disengaging. Each time we affirm our baptism we hear the words of the covenant God made with us. In this baptismal covenant, we are:

To live among God’s faithful people
To hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
To serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
And to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

Gathered under this covenant we come together to hear the good news and be fed at the Lord’s table, and then we are sent out, into the neighborhood, into the world, and yes, sometimes even to our very own centers of earthly power.

This year I have had the privilege of serving at the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington State, one of the eighteen state public policy offices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As a ministry of church, our mission is to be one way the people of God live out their baptismal covenant, a covenant that includes striving for justice and peace.

In the halls of the state legislature, we strive for justice and peace by advocating for more just and peaceful policy.

In communities, we strive for justice and peace by advocating alongside of a variety of coalitions who are also seeking a more just and peaceful world.

And in congregations just like this one, we strive for justice and peace by offering support to congregational advocates like yourselves who are gathered through the waters of baptism into a holy covenant.

I recently had the opportunity to see congregational advocates in action.

A few weeks ago people of faith from across the state gathered in Olympia for Interfaith Advocacy Day. They were gathered for worship, and then they were sent out.

They walked out the doors of the church, across the street, up the hill and into the gleaming white capitol building, that temple of democracy. Gathered into one by the Holy Spirit, they filled a room under the great rotunda and were led by children in the singing of hymns and freedom songs.

They spilled out into the halls surrounding the House and Senate chambers and met with their legislators to speak up for policies that protected the most vulnerable in their communities. They were striving for justice.

And when they met legislators who were tired and weary, they prayed for them. They were striving for peace.

These advocates were living out their baptismal covenant. It was for this that God had gathered them, after all.

Have no fear. Jesus will not be turned away from the completion of his journey.

Even today he is at work, gathering us together, here in this place.

Under his wings he gathers us and feeds us, that we might be sent out again for the life of the world.

Come to the table. Be fed by the mother hen.


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