Sermon for February 28, 2010

Luke 13:31-35(Second Sunday in Lent—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

February 28, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Our text is the Gospel Lesson from Luke 13:

 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'”

             I have been a part of a Learning Community with several other pastors from our New England District for almost two years.  The Learning Community is designed to enable pastors to grow in their leadership skills, especially regarding outreach to those who are uncommitted to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  This learning is accomplished through discussion of a variety of books on leadership, evangelism, and change. 

The book we will be talking about at our next meeting is called Prayer-walking.  It’s not a book that I am going to suggest that you go to Barnes and Noble and pick up.  The theology is just awful—filled with a Pentecostal-type misunderstanding of God’s Word and even the doctrine of prayer.  So why read such a book?  To glean what is useful there.  While the theology is terrible, the general concept of “prayer walking” is quite good.  “Prayer walking” as described in the book, is simply going out into your neighborhood, town, or city in groups of two or three, maybe even more, and praying out loud for the situations and people that you see as you walk.  The authors write, “Most of prayer-walking is vision. . . . On a normal day, a ‘For Sale’ sign on a house may turn your mind to consider land values or property taxes.  During a prayer-walk, seeing the same sign may stimulate you to pray for those who have moved away or to bless the family that will soon move in.”

Certainly Jesus was not prayer-walking in our Gospel lesson today.  However, He did demonstrate His compassion for His city, Jerusalem.  He lamented over this city, “the one who kills the prophets and stones the ones sent to her.”  Lament means to mourn or to grieve over.  Jesus’ grief embraces both the tragedy of Jerusalem’s sin and the method God had chosen to deal with that sin—Jesus’ own death on the cross.  Jerusalem’s history is a bloody one.  That is why, as we read in Luke 19, when Jesus arrives at Jerusalem on Palm Sunday He would cry over the city and grieve once more.  “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!  (Luke 19:41-44)

The Lord is constantly reaching out to His sinful, wayward children.  He earnestly seeks to gather them under His protective wing, as a hen gathers her chicks together.  Jesus grieves over the city of Jerusalem because the people have repeatedly rejected God’s Word of promise spoken by the prophets of old.  Jesus cries over the fact that the people of Jerusalem have rejected Him who comes in the name of the Lord, the very Messiah-Savior God promised to give to His chosen people to redeem them from their sins and their rebellions.  Nevertheless, Jesus would not turn away from this “stiff-necked people.”  God’s wrath against the sins of Jerusalem and the sins of the world—yours and mine included—would be placed on Jesus as He is offered up on the cross according to the plan of the Father.  Jesus knEw that He, too, would die in Jerusalem as did the prophets, “for it is not possible for a prophet to perish outside Jerusalem.” 

That’s the merciful and gracious love of God for people.  That’s the merciful and gracious love of God for you and me.  We are not really that different from the people of Jerusalem.  We also reject God’s Word each time we turn away from His commandments and fall into obedience to the devil’s temptations to sin against God and His Holy Word.  Even the venerable St. Paul Himself said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1Ti 1:15)  As the hymn writer put it so well:

             Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me,
Died that I might live on high, Lives that I might never die.
As the branch is to the vine, I am His, and He is mine.

             Oh, the height of Jesus’ love, Higher than the heav’ns above,
Deeper than the depths of sea, Lasting as eternity!
Love that found me—wondrous thought!  Found me when I sought Him not.

The Bible assures us, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent

his Son to be the sacrifice of atonement for our sins.” (1Jn 4:10)  As He spoke through His prophet Ezekiel, “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 33:11)  God loved His fallen, sinful people so much that He grieved over our lost condition.  The heart of the heavenly Father was broken and in His unconditional love and mercy He determined to buy back His creation from the power of sin and death.  That’s why He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to become flesh and dwell among us as our Savior. 

            So that we would not die eternally in the punishment of our sins, Jesus willingly went to Jerusalem to suffer and to die on the cross in our place.  Jesus, “though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)   For whom did the Lord Jesus do this?  For you, me, and all people.  2 Corinthians 5:15 pledges, “[Christ] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)  St. John writes in his first letter that Jesus is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

            This Good News brings us back to the concept of prayer-walking.  It returns us to the example of Jesus in His unending compassion for the people of Jerusalem and the people of the whole world.  Jesus lamented and mourned over the unbelieving hearts of the people of the Holy City.  Jesus grieved over our sinful, unbelieving hearts.  Then He went to the cross to pay for our sins, to win our forgiveness so that He could give us the gift of saving faith by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we would receive the fruits of His cross—forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  Jesus did something for the people He lamented over.  He gave up His very own life into suffering, hell, and death so that they might live eternally with Him in heaven. 

            As you and I receive this Word of God today, we consider the people of our state and nation, the people of our cities, but especially the people of our neighborhoods and of our town, be it Enfield, Somers, or Longmeadow.  The Holy Spirit through God’s Word today seeks to open your hearts to the very great need of these people who live next to you, who shop where you shop, who play where you play.  Many of them are without saving knowledge of Jesus.  They do not know Him and His most gracious love.  They are unaware that the complete forgiveness for their sins has already been won for them by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross.  Does your heart filled with the Holy Spirit lament for those who do not know and confess Jesus Christ?  Does your heart filled with the very forgiveness of God in Christ grieve for those who are uncommitted to the Savior?  God’s heart aches for them.  God’s heart cries tears over them, because He loves them so and they have rejected Him or have not heard about Him. 

            People of God, it’s time for us to lament and to grieve over the lost in our towns and communities.  It’s time to let the wall of unconcern and the fear of the unknown be torn down by the power of the Gospel at work in us.  It’s time for us to follow the example of our Lord Jesus as He gives us the power and the opportunity to do something for the uncommitted to Christ.  It’s time to, first and foremost, pray.  Pray for those who do not confess Jesus Christ as Savior.  Pray for those who are unsure or are uncommitted to Jesus.  If you know them by name, pray for them by name.  Ask the Holy Spirit to open their hearts to the hearing of the Gospel.  Pray that the Lord would overcome their unbelief with the wondrous news of their complete forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  If you choose to walk through your neighborhood or through the streets of town praying, wonderful!  If you choose to come and sit before the Lord’s altar and pray for these people, wonderful!  Perhaps your choice is simply to kneel beside your bed or sit at the kitchen table.  It doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that your heart laments for the lost and the uncommitted for Christ and that you are asking God to intercede in their lives through the Gospel to change their hearts and minds and to make them new creations in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

            It’s also time to share the Good News with those who are lost and uncommitted as the Lord gives us the opportunity.  As a wonderful saint of God at our New Hartford congregation told me when I was a Vicar, “We share our faith all the time, and sometimes we even use words.”  That was Bill Yoreo, brother of our own Bob Yoreo.  Our faith in Jesus is being shared all the time by the way we act and speak, by the way we show mercy and charity to our neighbors.  And sometimes, the Holy Spirit even gives us the great chance to speak to others about Jesus Christ so that they might come to trust in Him as their Savior and Lord.  We pray for those kinds of opportunities so that many more people might be brought into God’s Kingdom through the proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord. 

            Perhaps this Lenten Season could be the start of our own “Leaning Community” as we learn to pray for those who are lost or uncommitted to Christ.  We learn best through practice, for practice makes perfect.  So together let’s learn to pray specifically for the lost of our neighborhoods and towns.  And when God gives us the opportunity to speak up for Him, let’s learn to do that with all confidence and joy because that’s how Jesus continues to reach out to His wayward children, seeking to gather them together under His protective wing.  God grant this for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.