Note this was a Lenten sermon from 2004: sadly the issues remain unchanged, and every day can be Lent.
SERMON PREACHED AT ALL SAINTS’, CHARLEVILLE
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT (06th March) 2004
Genesis 15.1-12, 17fPsalm 27
Philippians 3.1.17- 4.1
Two weeks ago we turned with Peter, James and John and descended from the Mount of Transfiguration as Jesus resolutely turns and trudges towards Jerusalem and inevitable death. Here we find Jesus, shortly after the Transfiguration, when he turned his face resolutely towards Jerusalem and death, pouring out his heart over the city beloved of every Jew. This is the city chosen by God as the heart of the promised relationship between God and God’s people, between God and humanity.
Jerusalem is of course a physical location. It is a city contested by the three great Abramic faiths, a spiritual hot-spot for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. It is the city of peace, yet the city in which peace seems farthest from its history. Together with much of Palestine and of Israel it is a place bitterly contested, where human life is increasingly cheap. Synagogue, Mosque and Church vie for position, but the blood of the cousins-in-faith which is shed in the battle for control is all the same colour as it is spilled in the streets and cafés and buses. Television news is frequently full of images of the Holy City, but rarely do the images convey notions of peace or reconciliation or holiness.
There are tragically some idiot fringes of each of the three great Abramic faiths who condone the bloodshed. There are millenarian Christians who applaud Israel’s attacks on Palestinians, who long for Jewish control of the Holy City, believing that the rebuilding of the Temple destroyed in 72 ad will usher in the final apocalypse, when the salvation of Christians becomes complete and the enemies of God are despatched to their fiery fate. Such Christians join with fundamentalist Jews in longing for the annihilation of the Arab world and of the Islamic faith.
Ironically, these right-wing Christians and Jews together prop up many of the military aspirations of the political power mongers in the USA; it is doubtful whether the Jewish fundamentalists care greatly for their so-called Christian cousins. For them politics and militarism and faith are all one: Christians and Muslims alike are no more than an abomination in their Holy City. Christian fundamentalists are divided in their expectation of the fate of the Jews, some seeing them all as God’s ‘previously chosen’ people whose blood line sees them over the finish line of salvation, while others understand only the so-called messianic Jews, those who have converted or who will convert to the Christ of the Cross as playing a part in the for-evers of God. The fundamentalist Muslims see all their cousins as abominations, polluting Allah’s world with our doctrines and our aberrant lifestyles.
How far a cry this all is from the city over which Jesus wept! Yet how similar it is! For Jesus wept for a city that would not heed the prophetic worlds of justice and reconciliation and peace and radical love that he spoke. And if media images were to be believed the city of Jerusalem today is as Godless as the city over which he wept. But, by and large, the media images dwell only on the shadow side of life in the City of Shalom. For the God-breathed side also exists, away from the cameras: peace activists, those who seek reconciliation over the bodies of dead Israelis and Palestinians, those who abhor the war mongering policies of the Israeli and Palestinian leadership: they echo the lament of Jesus: ‘Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I gather you together, but you would not.’ Quietly, behind the scenes, at enormous risk of political hatred and of death, these peace makes seek to bring understanding and peaceful coexistence to the war torn peoples of the holy land.
But the Jerusalem over which Jesus weeps is not just a city. It is also a metaphor. For these are also the tears that Jesus sheds over the human dwelling places that he longs to call his own. The city of peace is not a place of peace, and serves as an image of our own peacelessness and refusal to harbour the reconciliation and justice breathing God. We too are cities, dwelling places for the peace-seeking, coming Christ. We too are the cities over which the Christ weeps, the cities who crucify him, yet the cities into which he longs to be born, and born, and born.
Lent is a time to touch base. In what ways are we like the contemporary or the ancient Jerusalemites, flinging stones and Molotov cocktails and suicide bombs at those around us who may or may not cry out for but who need our compassion and our love? Do we harbour old hurts or hatreds, loathing those around us – within or beyond our faith community – for some real or imaged past wrong? Do we perpetuate past wrongs by letting them brew on and on inside us, so that we loathe someone near us or some group around us – racial or socio-economic or whatever – for a past event – the building of synagogues or mosques or churches on the wrong stony grounds of our lives? ‘Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I gather you together, but you would not.’