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Sermon; Lent 2C; Luke 13:31-35

Last week I talked about shortcuts and how our wish to get to our desired outcome can be a source of temptation. Jesus was tempted to shortcut his ministry with people by turning stones into bread. He was tempted to shortcut the meaning of his life by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple so that God might miraculously and very publicly save him. We are tempted to skip right to Easter by avoiding Good Friday. And, speaking of Good Friday, today's gospel passage is looking that day squarely in the eyes.

Today's passage comes from Chapter 13 and Jesus is well on his way to Jerusalem, Holy Week, and his Passion. You may or may not remember, but it's back at 9:51 where Luke writes, “When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” From that point on the tone of the gospel changes. Everything from here on out looks toward Jerusalem and the events that will take place there – Holy Week, the Passion, Resurrection, and eventually the Ascension.

“Setting his face to go to Jerusalem” doesn't just indicate his destination, but it indicates steadfast resolve in the face of opposition. Jesus will face opposition from his disciples, from the Pharisees, and from the government.

We see this opposition and resolve in today's gospel. The opposition comes from Herod who is out to kill Jesus. As a side note: this is Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. He was the son who had John the Baptist beheaded and eventually became friends with Pilate during Jesus' ordeal. It was his father whom the wise men visited and who ordered the slaughter of the innocents.

So . . . we see opposition from Herod and we see the resolve of Jesus to continue performing his ministry even in the face of that severe opposition. We also get a glimpse of the Passion when Jesus says, “on the third day I finish my work.”

None of us are facing death. None of us, hopefully, have an enemy looking to kill us. So what does this passage have to tell us today? I've thought about this a lot, to the point where I felt like the Grinch standing on top of Mt. Crumpitt: I puzzled and puzzled until my puzzler was sore. And then I thought, “What if this story was a metaphor?”

Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem and his Passion. He will go there in the face of opposition with resolve. He will go there not jumping ahead to the end, but facing obstacles and opposition.

We are in Lent. We have set our face to Easter. We will get there in the face of opposition. We will get there not jumping ahead, but by going through the season of Lent and Holy Week.

For those of us who have taken on a Lenten discipline it may feel like we are facing opposition on this 40-day journey. Remember that the point of a Lenten discipline isn't to be miserable for 40 days and then go back to normal on Easter. The point of a Lenten discipline is to get right with God, to make a new and right beginning so that we may be changed into a new creation on Easter.

That process takes work. It takes effort. And there are things that get put in our way that may feel like they're out to kill that which we have taken on. Getting up 15-30 minutes earlier to pray can be sabotaged by a snooze alarm, especially today when we moved our clocks forward one hour. Taking steps to reduce our plastic footprint can be killed by convenience. No matter our resolution, we face opposition.

Like Jesus, we can't skip ahead to the good parts. We need to walk the full 40-day journey. We need to face struggles and overcome opposition. We need to go through Good Friday to get to Easter.

In the Lenten book group, we read last week about a monk, John the Short, who prayed that all his struggles be removed. He prayed that envy, anger, and all evil thoughts would would be taken away and that he would be at peace. To his great satisfaction and relief, God granted his prayer. He then went to an elder and said, “Behold, a man totally at peace. I have no strife or contests with which to face.”

The old man replied, “Go, ask the Lord to grant you occasion for strife. There is no way in which the soul advances toward God but by striving.” So John the Short left there, knowing the old man was right, and prayed, “Lord, give me grace to conquer in the strife.”

That old monk was wise. We struggle to learn to walk. We struggle to learn to ride a bike. Life is full of struggles and it is through them that we learn. It is also through our struggles that we draw nearer to God. It is through our learning to put worldly distractions and passions aside so we can draw nearer to God.

Jesus could see that his ministry would lead to struggles with the religious and political leaders of the day. He could see that those confrontations would eventually lead to his death in Jerusalem. And he could see that, on the third day, he would be nearer to God.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we don't have that kind of vision. But we can see that our journey with and to God is full of strife and struggles. We can see that, like John the Short learned, a quick fix to making our lives easy and peaceful only leads to complacency.

So this Lent, as you work through your Lenten discipline, pay attention to three things:

First, use your discipline not as a 40-day test, but as a way to amend your life;

Second, like Jesus, don't look to run away from struggles but continue on with your discipline, knowing that you are drawing nearer to God.

Third, when confronted with temptation or struggles that pull you away from God, pray the prayer of John the Short: Lord, give me grace to conquer in the strife.

This Lent, may you have the grace to conquer the strife and find yourself drawing nearer to God.


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