Weekly Seeds: Finish the Work

Sunday, March 13, 2022
Second Sunday in Lent | Year C

Focus Theme:
Finish the Work

Focus Prayer:
Author and Finisher of our faith, give us your boldness to proclaim the truth, to be agents of healing and restoration, and to come and go in your name. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Luke 13:31–35
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.’ ”

All readings for this Sunday:
Genesis 15:1–12, 17–18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17–4:1
Luke 13:31–35 or Luke 9:28–36, (37-43a)

Focus Questions:
1. What is your name? Who named you?
2. What does your name mean?
3. Have you ever named someone? How did you approach that process?
4. How do you normally address/name God?
5. What name of God do you struggle with?

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. (McWhirter, Jocelyn)

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

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.