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Sermon from Lent 2

Lent 2    Gen 15:1-12, 17-18;Phil 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35            2/21/2016

1. In 4th grade – when we studied state history – it was drilled into us that PA is a commonwealth, not a state, and that there are only three others in the US (MA, KY, VA). We were told that the title was a reminder that it was founded for the common good, not the benefit of a few.

In the Revised Standard Version of the Bible the word translated “citizenship” in the second lesson in our current New Revised Standard Version was translated “commonwealth.”  The Greek word, politeuma – from the root for “politics” – can mean either.  My Greek dictionary translates it as “a state, community.”

That makes me think the older translation of “commonwealth” – although archaic, is probably better. Webster defines “Commonwealth” as “the whole body of people united by common consent to form a politically organized community; a state conceived as founded on law and united by agreement of the people for the common good.”

2. In Phil 3, Paul writes about the Christian’s commonwealth or place of belonging. It is a text I recite at the committal of a body or cremains – we belong not to ourselves, nor to our government, but to God. Our commonwealth or citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body.  (This, by the way, is the reason we do not have national flags in the sanctuary – here we are citizens of heaven.) Our minds are not to be on earthly things – what we can see and touch – but on the savior who comes from heaven bringing God’s kingdom, and on that kingdom.

In the first lesson today, Abram is dissatisfied with his present life. Although he is rich and successful he has no heir through whom the promise of many descendants that God made can be fulfilled. So he is invited to worship God – to sacrifice an offering to God – and to hear the promise renewed. God makes a covenant with Abram that not only will he have many descendants, but that they will possess the land from Egypt to the Euphrates.  But this is a promise about the future, something for which Abram will look forward the rest of his life.  Even once he has an heir, he will to trust that the promise of many descendants will be fulfilled far in the future – that his commonwealth is with God in the future of God’s rule, not in the present.

3. Jesus, in his lament over Jerusalem, echoes this idea of where our good – our well-being – is to be found, as this gospel foreshadows the last Sunday of Lent, Passion Sunday: “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!”(Lk 13:34)

Even though Jesus is working against the power of evil now in his casting out demons and healing, it is on the third day – of his resurrection – that he will finish that job. His death and resurrection in Jerusalem (and also his triumphal entry) are foreshadowed in the words: “you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”   In the meantime he is going to be about the work God sent him to do even if it leads to his death. His commonwealth is in heaven.

4. When our minds are set on earthly things we easily fall into the trap of believing, as did Jesus’ hearers, that the way things are is the way they should be – that God agrees with us and is completely pleased with us. But Lent, with its emphasis on repentance –  turning around, changing direction – and these texts are here today to disabuse us of that notion.

The first step in repentance is acknowledging that the way things are in this world is never quite what God has in mind, never quite the kingdom of God which is coming in the future. If we are comfortable and satisfied with this world as it is, we are easily seduced into tolerating evil.  It takes repentance for us to see how we cooperate with evil.  It takes repentance for us to be open to the messengers God sends to bring words we do not want to hear, but words we need for a change of heart and direction. Sometimes those messengers are quite unexpected.

5. At the start of WW II in Eisiskes, Lithuania, the Jews were rounded up by SS units and its Lithuanian auxiliary and driven to the Jewish cemetery. There they were lined up in front of a previously dug trench,  ordered to strip, and then shot.  A 16 year-old boy, Zvi Michalowski, fell into the trench unharmed before bullets killed those with him (including his father). He waited in the trench under the other bodies until nightfall and then crawled out.

Naked and covered with blood he went to a nearby peasant house. The resident chased him away with the words “Jew, go back to the grave where you belong.” He went to several other houses with the same result, and then to the home of an old widow that he knew who lived at the edge of the forest. She too drove him off, grabbing a firebrand and waving it before him as if exorcizing a demon.

In despair he went back to the widow’s home and said to her: “I am your Lord, Jesus Christ. I have come down from the cross. Look at me – the blood, the pain, the suffering of the innocent.”  This time she crossed herself, and fell on her knees.  She took him in, washed and fed him for the three days he had requested, at which point he was able to join partisans in the forest and survived the war. (The Holocaust, Martin Gilbert)

6. The widow’s response was a religious one. She recognized the truth in the boy’s words, that in him the Lord was coming to her. She recognized him as included with her in the commonwealth of God -that she was getting a glimpse of the savior she was awaiting. She knew her citizenship was not only here but also in heaven, otherwise she would not have risked her life in this world by taking him into her house.

May we, unlike the residents of Jerusalem, be so open to repentance – to turning around, changing direction – that we too can recognize the presence of Christ in the imperfect messengers he sends to us. May our minds not be set -fixed – on earthly things but on the one who comes in the name of the Lord. May we recognize our true citizenship in heaven, in the commonwealth of God, and pray “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”