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Sermon Archives

Tuck and Roll

Rev. Dan Smith
Sun, Feb 24

The Second Sunday in Lent
Texts: Luke 13:31-35

On Ash Wednesday a week and a half ago, our own Rev. Jim Antal, along with the NAACP’s Julienne Bond, the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Darryl Hannah and our friend Bill McKibben were arrested along with 43 others for non-violent protest just outside the White House. Their action was just a warm up for what happened last Sunday when over 40,000 strong gathered and marched in the nation’s capital in the largest climate action rally our country has ever seen. They want President Obama to do what is clearly in his power to do and put an end to plans for the Keystone XL pipeline. If complete, this pipeline will tap and transport tons of crude oil and diluted bitumen from the Tar Sands of Eastern Canada, to refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma, and along the Gulf Coast. This project has such potentially profound implications on carbon emissions that NASA scientist, James Hansen, says it would mean “game over for the planet”. Bill McKibben has been waiting for well over 20 years to see what a global climate movement would like. Well, now he knows, given last Sunday’s remarkable turnout and given the amazing success of 350.org events around the planet in recent years. How does something like this happen? Relentless commitment. Bill sent me an email before a talk he gave here at First Church last fall. He said he’d just been on 5 continents in the last 9 days. ‘Sorry to be slow to reply,” he wrote, “I’m like a rolling stone at the moment. (I’m barely responding to emails.)”

I thought of Bill and his tuck and roll sense of urgency and purpose while reading our passage for today. The Pharisees try to distract Jesus from his calling with a death threat from Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. Jesus says, in effect, “Not now. I’m busy!” And then it’s as if he starts quoting from his first century day-planner to make the point. Listen, today I’m casting out demons. Tomorrow, I’m healing. On the third day, my work is done. By the way, please book me a camel to Jerusalem ‘cause that’s where I need to be next. Jesus, of all folks, had things to do, people to see and places to go, all of which carry a sense of divine purpose, priority and urgency. We usually think of Jesus as one who was always available to distraction and wide open to interruption. Not so in this passage. Jesus is all about business here– God’s business! And it seems as though nothing – not family, not friends, not death threats, not Sabbath or prayer time – will stand in the way of the work he needs to accomplish. Tuck and roll. What’s more, we see a Jesus here that is unafraid to agitate the powers-that-be in order for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done.

I wonder how this message and model sits with us this morning, one that lifts up and celebrates that sense of urgency and purpose we can sometimes feel when we are doing God’s work. Far from a Lenten vision of Jesus alone in prayer, or of him taking that blessed and faith-filled nap on the boat, far from anything that might lead us to preach, and if we’re lucky to practice the virtues of Sabbath as we were just discussing in the Hastings Room 10 o’clock hour, here we find an image of Jesus putting in the hours, albeit to create healing and peace in the souls of those around him as well as to bring peace to that ever-embattled city of Jerusalem.

Thinking about this passage, I have grown clearer about those times when I’m just plain busy, and versus those times when I am busy and ready to work it to the bone for God’s sake. Coming to terms with the difference was a big part of the healing that took place for me on my sabbatical. It’s also what lies at the heart of our Lenten theme, “A Sense of Shalom – Exploring Wholeness and Peace.” Shalom, remember, doesn’t just mean peace as in an end to war. In a dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, the first definition of shalom that comes up is “to be whole, sound, and safe!” The paradox, in our passage and in life, is that creating shalom requires relentless commitment and hard work that may, if we aren’t careful, become an unwitting threat to our souls.

Given the ceaseless demands of our lives, how can we live and model lives of purpose, of wholeness and peace? How can we strike that delicate balance between much-needed time for contemplation and also much needed-time for action?! How can we live in ways that are sustaining and sustainable, not only for the wellbeing of our planet, our city, our church, but also for the wellbeing of our selves and our families?

As we labor here in the vineyards of Cambridge, as we teach and learn what it means to build up the kingdom of God, as most of us – let’s face it – work our butts off because it’s often times work we believe in, work that has the power to change lives, to save souls, maybe even to save our planet – perhaps we too can find some comfort and consolation in today’s story if not permission and inspiration to tuck and roll ourselves into the work, and even into the liturgy – literally “the work of the people” – to which we are called by God. Before we get too swept up, let’s be abundantly clear about one thing. Jesus has his priority’s straight here. If we read the passage closely, it’s all the same thing he is doing. There’s no sense he’s being pulled in a thousand directions. There is one thing he cares about, today, tomorrow and on the third day. It’s all about healing! Whether it’s healing and casting demons of those gathered right around him, or healing that comes from a stern message of hope for despairing Jerusalem, Jesus never wavered in his God-given purpose and ordered his life accordingly.

We can see this most clearly in the language Jesus uses when he laments over Jerusalem. Far from the agitating and polarizing tone that begins the passage, “Tell that fox,” he turns to far more tender and nurturing ideas of what is required for peace and wholeness to be restored to Jerusalem. Ironically, Jerusalem is literally translated a “City of Peace.” Jeru – City. Shalem – Peace and Wholeness. Jerusalem, the city of wholeness! Here Jesus himself remembers that it will take a sense of God’s abiding love and care and protection, like the wings of an eagle, like the feathers of a mother hen, to gather together all the disparate and warring peoples that existed in the holy land, then as now. What a powerfully gentle and disarming image. As for the state of Jerusalem today, I have in my mind’s eye an editorial cartoon in the Jerusalem Post or Ha-Aratz that pictures this Godly hen nestling down on top of Bibi Netanyahu, on top of the leaders of Fatah and Hamas, on top of yet to be organized coalition governments in Israel and Palestine, and crushing their warring forces with that disarming love. That hen might well have a tear penciled just under her watchful and caring eye.

Another translation of the line puts it this way: "How many times I wanted to put my arms around your people but you wouldn't let me." Can you see God’s healing touch at work, even here? Can you see how it’s the same work, the activity, the same tactics Jesus must have used when healing and casting demons? “How many times I wanted to put my arms around you.” This is God’s disarming and healing love here, and it’s strong enough to penetrate the buttressed walls of the holy city, just as it is able to break through the walls that surround our hearts. And it requires relentless commitment! It requires a re-ordering of priorities! It requires a sense of immediacy and utter presence.

I’m reminded of excerpts of a favorite prayer of mine written by Howard Thurman. “The confusion of the details of living is sometimes overwhelming. The little things keep getting in my way, providing ready-made excuses for failure to do and be what I know I ought to do and be. Much time is spent on things that are not very important while significant things are put in an insignificant place…O God…

I need Your sense of time…
I need Your sense of order…
I need Your sense of the future…

Time. Order. Future. Three words that usually provoke anxiety in us, that might draw upon our minds as much as our hearts.

Whether it’s made known through priorities of the present moment, through the healing of individual bodies and souls that are gathered here today, or through a larger “tuck and roll” sense of purpose for healing of the planet and the healing of the nations, God’s purpose is unchanging. God’s desire is for healing and wholeness, for all her chicks. And this work, is and always should be foremost on our agenda! Perhaps it’s not less work so much as more focus, and more focus on the fact that whatever healing and rebalancing we do in our own lives is intricately interwoven to the healing of the planet and of the world. Shalom. Wholeness. Peace. Inside and out! Far from being a ragged, ornery, crazed person running around the continents like a chicken with no head, Bill McKibben is miraculously one of the most gentle, centered, grounded and well-rounded people I know.

Tuck and roll indeed!

Let us pray. We too need your sense of time, God. Our planet needs it. Jerusalem needs it. Our very souls need it. We need your sense of order. We need your sense of the future. We need your sense of purpose, even now in this service of healing as you once again wrap your wings around us, as your Spirit meets us in disarming love. How many times have you wanted to put your arms around us? Open us to your embrace, today, tomorrow, and the next day, until your work of wholeness and peace is done in us and in our world. Like a hen that broods over her chicks, tuck us in God, put new life in us, that we too might become like a living and sometimes even rolling stone that cries out in hope for your healing touch, on our planet, in our cities, on our very hearts! Amen.

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