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City of God

Lent 2C-16

Immanuel, Chicago

In the bible, there are three primary places where God reveals God’s self to us: on mountaintops, in the wilderness, and in the city. Looking for God in city life may come as a surprise to us. In America, we tend to look for God in pretty landscapes. Rapturous paintings, especially of the wide-open wild West, fill up rooms at the Art Institute. Yet in God’s dreams of the coming kingdom, every tear shall be dried and the warring of the nations shall be healed in the great city of God, the New Jerusalem. (Barbara Brown Taylor)

In Christian symbolism Jerusalem is everyplace and the ultimate place. Jerusalem is the conflicted city within our hearts and the hoped for heavenly city of promise. God will make a new heart within us and give us a new city to dwell in.

The New Jerusalem is the return of Eden. The great city of peoples from every nation is populated with the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the possessed, eunuchs, widows, orphans, the insane, the unclean, the masses of broken-hearted people filled with longing and loneliness. The city descending from heaven to earth is where we shall finally all dwell together in peace with God and the lamb.

In our gospel today Jesus’ lamented over Jerusalem. “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.” What’s it going to take for us to be gathered into God’s embrace? When will the city ruled by foxes, jackals, and kings finally give way to the New Jerusalem of the lamb, the little child, and the hen?

The battle between foxes and hens for supremacy doesn’t sound like a fair fight. Yet for all his obvious power, Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and the son of Herod the Great, seems to have spent much of his life running scared. Who can forget his birthday when he told Salome he’d give her anything she asked for if she’d dance for him, and when what she asked for was John the Baptist’s head on a platter he gave it to her because he was afraid of what might happen if word got around that he was turning chicken. (Frederick Buechner)

Leave it to God to turn the very thing no one wants into the highest virtue. Yet who among us doesn’t want to be taken under wing into a community of love and belonging? What person doesn’t need the safety and protection of such a place to thrive and become the person God has called them to be? How can you know your truth if no one is willing to listen? Jesus calls us into the security of God’s love so that we can love and serve even when we know rejection will be the result. We know that we are citizens of the New Jerusalem even while we walk in the shadow and valley of death and threats of violence.

We stand with the hens and against the foxes here at Immanuel when we pledge ourselves to be a living sanctuary of hope and grace. As members of Jesus’ flock we believe that living under the sheltering love of Jesus is how we build the New Jerusalem and make America great again. Belonging to Jesus’ brood challenges us to stand apart from cultures of violence propagating fear of the stranger and economic systems in which people are reduced to commodities bought and sold by the captains of industry like any other.

I don’t need to tell you how strange this is. Coming in at number ten on the list of all time worst college mascots, is Youdee, the posterior-kickin’ chicken for the University of Delaware’s Blue Hens.

The way of the cross requires we pass through the narrow gate and the eye of the needle   Among us communities of love and belonging are beautiful yet rare; necessary, yet elusive; desired, yet always limited in some way. Communities of love and belonging are those places and spaces of gathered folks that give us life, that nourish our soul, that remind us of who we truly are. There is no love and belonging when there is no regard and respect. There is no love and belonging when you are overlooked and dismissed. There is no love and belonging when you are told you don’t measure up, don’t meet expectations, or that you are not enough. (Karoline M. Lewis, Luther Seminary)

There is no community of love and belonging while we live everyday like foxes rather than hens. All these thousands of years later, Jesus still laments over us. Jesus calls us to take shelter in his embrace so the New Jerusalem finally can begin in us.

“If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed –but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand. …

… Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first; which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter.

She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her — wings spread, breast exposed — without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart . . . but if you mean what you say, [you are a living sanctuary of hope and grace] then this is how you stand. (Barbara Brown Taylor, Christian Century 2/25/86)

The bible instructs us to look for God on the mountaintop, in the wilderness, and in the city. To these three, Jesus added one more: ‘Wherever two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of you.’ (Matthew 18:20) See, I have already cast the shield of my grace over and around you. While you stand with the hens against the world’s foxes know that nothing can separate you from the love of God –neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation. Little children, come take shelter with the people of every nation next to the lamb and beneath sheltering wings of Jesus in the city of God.

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