Jerusalem, Jerusalem!

A sermon from the Rev.  Linda Mackie Griggs

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!

It doesn’t take much to imagine the longing in these words, does it? To feel that the world is spinning out of control and there is nothing we can do about it? To think, If only they—whoever ‘they’ are– would wake up, and pay attention to what faces them! But you can’t make people do what they will not do.

Welcome to the world of the prophet. The world of Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, Ezekiel, and others who spoke, cursed, cajoled, wept and suffered as their messages of repentance went unheard.

This passage from Luke weaves beautifully with the beginning of our Lenten Program this year, because the text we are focusing on for the course begins with the words of another prophet: Jeremiah. He writes: “How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither? For the wickedness of those who live in it the animals and the birds are swept away, and because people said, ‘He is blind to our ways.’” Jer. 12:4

In this lament Jeremiah, like Jesus would do centuries later, grieves for his city. In 597 Jerusalem was destroyed and her people sent into exile in Babylon. Jeremiah is mourning for a city lost because her people would not listen and return to the God who called them under her wings.

In our Lenten program–which we began on Tuesday evening and which I will reprise this morning in the Adult Forum–the Bishops’ Teaching on the Environment invites a little imaginative reflection on the words of Jeremiah. The bishops ask, how can we read Jeremiah’s words in the context of the perilous plight of this fragile earth, our island home? Can the earth mourn, and what does that look like? Think dying bees, disintegrating ice sheets, waterways choked with plastic, year-round wildfire seasons, receding glaciers, vanishing rainforests; and that’s just a start. Continue pondering: Is there a way that humans are in exile from the environment? Consider the islands in the Pacific that are being swallowed by rising seas; their people desperately seeing to relocate to higher ground or to leave their home altogether. Think of how many more people you know of with allergies and cancers than you did a generation ago—a kind of physiological exile. Consider how long it has been since you’ve seen huge flocks of birds in autumn migration. Or the summer dusk aglow with fireflies. Or the Milky Way amid a velvet black carpet filled with twinkling stars. The next generations will be exiled from the joys of these simple pleasures.

How long will the land mourn?

Is Earth our Jerusalem?

The House of Bishops’ Teaching on the Environment was produced out of the Bishops’ semiannual meeting in Quito, Ecuador in 2011. They don’t always produce teachings at their meetings, and this one was especially significant in that it was the first one that addressed environmental issues. Even so, you will notice that it was promulgated eight years ago. That may not be long in God’s time, but in human time it’s a gracious plenty. Which is why our Lent course, A Life of Grace for the Whole World, begins with repentance.

Our Ash Wednesday Litany of Penitence refers to “ Our self-indulgent appetites and ways” and “…our waste and pollution of [God’s] creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us.”

Repent. Even for those who are already personally on board with a sense of environmental urgency, it is important to articulate our situation as people of faith; to connect the plight of the planet with our relationship to the God who created everything and called it Good. We are caregivers of a gift of incalculable value. As I wrote in my epistle this week, we are called to repent of a worldview of subduing and dominating Creation. We are called, rather, to live within Creation as fellow creatures within an interdependent ecosystem of animals, plants, and the systems that nurture us all.

We are called to repent; not in order to grovel and wallow, but to turn in a new direction; to turn and choose to gather beneath the protective wings of a God who yearns for the reconciliation and healing of all of Creation.

What we are addressing in this Lenten course is challenging. Even if we know that Earth is in a perilous situation, the need for, and nature of, action can be a hard sell. There are costs to be weighed and benefits to be balanced. There is comfort in the status quo. Well, there is comfort for the comfortable ones, anyway. But for those whose lives and livelihoods are already feeling the impacts of climate change—those would be the poorest and most vulnerable of the world’s population—for them, comfortable is only a memory. Still, for us here, in this privileged space, it can be a hard sell.

But Jesus didn’t back away from the hard sell. His was the life and destiny of a prophet. He set his face toward the city that he loved; that had nurtured him and his family as he grew up, regularly worshiping in the Temple, “as was their custom.” Yet that same city would soon reject him in the cruelest way by killing him on a garbage heap outside the walls. In spite of what awaited him (or because of it) he remained undaunted, refusing to be distracted by death threats from a petty tetrarch, dismissing Herod as a mere fox, not worth his attention. Instead Jesus pressed on from Galilee toward Jerusalem—a prophet meeting a prophet’s fate, while lamenting in his desire to spare his beloved city, if only her chicks would come to him for shelter.

Is Earth our Jerusalem? Who are the prophets that we have shunned? Where are the opportunities for repentance—turning—that we have disregarded because we were not willing?

Paragraph 5 of the Bishops’ Teaching calls us to “speak and act on behalf of God’s good creation.” In pondering this invitation the other night the group reflected on a time in our lives when someone spoke or acted on our behalf. We thought about how that made us feel valued, validated, even loved. We then identified characteristics of a person who would come to the defense or protection of another. Almost immediately the responses came flying: Courage. Empathy. Listening. Understanding. Persistence.

The marks of a prophet.

Do we have the marks of what it takes to be prophets for our Jerusalem?

It isn’t easy, but it isn’t hopeless. The people in Tuesday night’s group couldn’t wait to get beyond the confession and repentance section of the course to the solutions sections. They were ready to go—jotting down ideas and making note of resources that will be helpful as we go forward. When we left at the end of the evening I felt hopeful. As though something is turning in a new direction.

Repentance is hopeful.

There’s a reason Jesus chose the image of a hen as the protector of his world, as opposed to other Old Testament images of a lion or an eagle. The eagle and the lion are predators. That’s not Jesus. His entire life and ministry were about the strength of vulnerability, and the protective power of all-enfolding love.

The hen stands, her feathers fluffed up to almost twice her size, her wings wide. She clucks her warning as the wind blows, the rain begins, and the fox lurks nearby. She has done all she can. Now she can only wait for her chicks to perceive the danger and to gather in her care before it is too late. If only they are willing.

This fragile Earth, our island home. Our Jerusalem. 

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