Sermon Seeds: Finish the Work
Sunday, March 13, 2022
Second Sunday in Lent | Year C
(Liturgical Color: Violet)
Genesis 15:1–12, 17–18
Luke 13:31–35 or Luke 9:28–36, (37-43a)
Finish the Work
Mender of Broken Walls (Click here for the series overview.)
By Cheryl Lindsay
When looking through the biblical narrative for names used for God, we find many. Names serve as a form of address and as an identifier. They also reflect relationship as some names indicate formality while others are more familiar in tone. Considering those names, the common denominator seems to be that the names of God amplify the character and nature of God. Sovereign One, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, and more illustrate the power of God. Holy One and Most High frame God’s exalted status. Emmanuel, Companion, and Friend remind us that the One who is lifted up chooses to be among us. Alpha and Omega emphasizes timelessness, and I AM…speaks for itself. Creator reminds us not only of what God has done but also indicates what God is constantly doing. The Author and Finisher of our faith also demonstrates a God who works, has a plan, and completes the assignment.
What name do you use to call upon the Holy One?
In the focus passage, there is a promise attached to calling upon the name. That name may be Healer, Deliverer, Provider, or Protector. When we call upon God, we display both our need for God and our understanding of God. Out of desperation or trust, calling upon God signals hope and expectation that an All-Seeing God will recognize us, hear our prayer, and respond to our reach. The promise Jesus makes does not guarantee an affirmative response but a “blessed” state…and is more about our approach than our language.
This scripture is found within a larger discourse Jesus shares on the journey to Jerusalem. He’s approached by a group of Pharisees, but this interaction looms differently from others we witness. They do not use this opportunity to question or challenge Jesus; this time they come with a warning. It reminds us that no group of people is monolithic even when they share common values and ethics. We know that there were Pharisees who were curious about Jesus and attracted to their teaching and miracles. I imagine it was these Pharisees, the ones who were privately on his side, who issued the warning that Herod wanted to kill him. Certainly, it’s possible that this was false information designed to set Jesus up even if it was conveyed with good intentions. After all, there’s no evidence that Herod, at this point, felt specifically threatened by Jesus, and there’s no reason to assume that his antipathy toward John the Baptist would necessarily extend to Jesus. Ultimately, it was not the state who initiated the accusations against Jesus. Still, if Herod truly wanted to see Jesus, it would be reasonable to caution against potential outcomes with a ruler who has demonstrated violence as a means of restraining and eliminating resistance.
Whatever the case, the Pharisees, in this part of the story, attempt to dissuade from continuing on his journey to Jerusalem. Jesus, in response, dictates a message they can send to “that fox” Herod. Jesus will not be deterred or distracted:
Whatever the immediate danger, the warning builds suspense as Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem, where he will finally come face-to-face with this ruler (23:6–12). For the present, these Pharisees have this much right: Jesus’ ministry is dividing a people and will lead to his demise (foreshadowed already in 2:34; 4:22–30). But this will not happen in the way the Pharisees expect: not Herod but the recalcitrant and powerful elite in Jerusalem are the ones who will orchestrate Jesus’ death. That is a prophet’s destiny. So Jesus as (Messiah and) prophet prophesies his coming demise at Jerusalem, the Holy City, the seat of power, where all God’s prophets perish (13:33b). However, that comes not now but later, “on the third day”—referring here not to the resurrection “on the third day” but to his death soon, when “[he is] finished” (v. 32b). For the time being, he is making his way “today and tomorrow,” bearer of God’s saving, liberating rule, evident in particular in healings and exorcisms. Jesus dispatches these concerned Pharisees to Herod, “that fox” (v. 32), with this message regarding Jesus’ prophetic mission and its final destination.John T. Carroll
Jesus knows how to use names too. They understand the power that affixing an identifying label can be. Referring to Herod as a “fox,” Jesus speaks to his character and nature. Herod is dangerous and predatory. He cannot be trusted, and it is right to be wary of his strength and the power he wields. Yet, Jesus is unafraid. Jesus knows who Herod is and confronts him from that vantage point.
Jesus is also aware of who they themselves are. Herod does not hold power over Jesus or the mission they are committed to finishing. In the same way, neither does the place of Jerusalem.
A note here about identifiers. You may have noticed the use of they/their/them as pronouns for Jesus and God as a common pronoun for the Triune One. Names can be used to honor and uplift. They may acknowledge that we see the fullness of someone or something. They may also be utilized to diminish and demean. In many cultures, there is no greater offense than distorting or cursing someone’s name.
The use of nonbinary pronouns in referring to God honors the expansiveness of who God is as well as how God created. We are created in the image of God; therefore, it stands to reason that the multiplicity of gender expressions gifted to humanity reflect the fullness and vastness of who God is and makes it more than appropriate to refer to Them that way.
Another caution, I would add as we evaluate this text. The gospels aren’t fiction; they arise out of life in a particular community and culture. In our modern lens, we can attribute wider, even universal, meaning to the details found in the events that should be viewed as particular and not central to the message for all or even our time:
…a word about Luke’s agenda. Issues like Jesus’ messianic identity, Gentile inclusion, Jewish rejection, and the destruction of the temple, while critical for Luke’s audience, seem somewhat obsolete and even offensive today. Luke’s statements about Jewish rejection leading to the destruction of the temple make us uncomfortable—and rightly so. On the basis of such statements, Christians have accused Jews of Christ-killing; Christians have persecuted Jews in countless pogroms; Christians have stood by and even collaborated when Nazis imprisoned, tortured, and murdered millions of Jews during World War II.Jocelyn McWhirter
Names can identify specific places, people, or things, but they can also refer to ideas. Just as Jesus called Herod a “fox” in order to say something about the nature and character of the human being, Jesus references Jerusalem in a way that transcends it as a specific physical location. Jerusalem, in this passage, serves as much as a metaphor as it does a place.
Jerusalem also had other names, including “City of God”, “City of Judah”, and “Holy City.” It had been a political capital, but was mostly known as a religious center. The city held observances of religious festivals that drew people from all corners of the known world. Pilgrims gathered there and the temple was built, destroyed, and rebuilt multiple times as territorial sovereignty changed hands over centuries. Jerusalem, even today, represents a symbol as much as a geographical location.
Jerusalem is “the seat of power, where all God’s prophets perish.” (John T. Carroll) It is in this place that has come to represent the wrestling over and coalescence of human power that God’s power is rebuffed. Jerusalem falls short of its identity as a place that celebrates and exalts the Holy One’s majesty and sovereignty in favor of rejecting that power expressed through the prophets and culminating in the ministry and message of Jesus Christ.
Nevertheless, Jesus is coming to Jerusalem to finish the work. Jesus comes as the embodiment of the Divine Presence. They fulfill the function of the temple, and rather than require pilgrims to come to Them, They come to us. They stand up to adversaries and display God’s power. They meet human need in miraculous and compassionate ways.
Jesus redeems, saves, and delivers. They confront systems of oppression. They declare those abandoned and ridiculed by society to be beloved. Jesus opens doors, favors the poor, heals the broken, and sets the oppressed free.
In Jesus, we “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13) In Jesus, we have an Advocate, Redeemer, and Friend. In Jesus, we have One who comes to us and beckons us to Come to Them. In Jesus, we find a Name above all names…in which we can call, trust, and depend. That name is both banner (in which we declare allegiance) and shield (that offers protection). In either instance, when we come, no matter the destination or assignment, in that name, we are covered, fortified and blessed.
Come in the name of the Sovereign One. Finish the Work.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
Refrain: Done made my vow to the Lord,
And I never will turn back,
Oh, I will go, I shall go
to see what the end will be.
Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down;
See what the end will be,
But still my soul is heav’nly bound,
See what the end will be. (Refrain)
When I was a mourner just like you;
See what the end will be,
I prayed and prayed ’til I came through,
See what the end will be. [Refrain]
When every star refuses to shine
See what the end will be,
I know King Jesus will be mine
See what the end will be. [Refrain]
“Done Made My Vow” (Spiritual), Arranged by Evelyn Davidson White
For further reflection:
“As your training integrates Mind, Body and Spirit, enjoy the process. Your journey to the marathon finish will last a few hours. Your journey to the start will influence a lifetime.” ― Gina Greenlee
“I think the hard work of writing is just how long a book is terrible before it’s good.” ― Leigh Bardugo
“The secret is not following the right path, it’s following that right path to the end. Don’t quit, my friend, until you’ve arrived.” ― Toni Sorenson
“Beginning in itself has no value, it is an end which makes beginning meaningful, we must end what we begun.” ― Amit Kalantri
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection:
Invite the congregation to consider what might be unfinished in their ministry to the community in which they are located and craft a plan to “finish the work”.
Carroll, John T.. Luke (2012): A Commentary (The New Testament Library). Louisville: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, 2012.
McWhirter, Jocelyn. Rejected Prophets: Jesus and His Witnesses in Luke-Acts. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
Genesis 15:1–12, 17–18
Luke 13:31–35 or Luke 9:28–36, (37-43a)
Genesis 15:1–12, 17–18
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
7 Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.
1 The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
4 One thing I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in his temple.
5 For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
6 Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, LORD, do I seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
10 If my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will take me up.
11 Teach me your way, O LORD,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!
17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 4 1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 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! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”
Luke 9:28–36, (37-43a)
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.