This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the Second Sunday in Lent. The gospel reading was Luke 13:31-35.
I began the sermon with a doll. I held it up to my shoulder, gently patting its back and saying “shhh.” I then said, “There you go. Good night,” and put it down.
When my daughter was an infant, that trick worked, at least for a while. Every night, I had to hold her and pat her, and “shh” her for at least ten minutes. Once she fell asleep in my arms, I could put her down in the crib. And when she was just too worked-up or upset, when even Dad’s soothing didn’t work, there was always the big guns: Mom. There is nothing like a mother’s presence to calm us when we are infants. When we are infants, we rely on others to calm us. And when we are infants, if we need to be calmed, we let everybody around us know.
That’s normal for infants – we scream at the top of our lungs when we are worried or upset. As we grow older, we don’t do that as much, for a few reasons. We learn that some things are not worth getting upset about. We learn that there are better ways than screaming to get attention. And we learn ways to soothe ourselves, breathing exercises, or counting to ten, or things we can repeat to ourselves to help us calm down. And we also learn to hide it. We can stop ourselves from screaming, but we still sometimes feel just as upset. Even as adults, we still sometimes feel like screaming. We still sometimes feel like we are going to jump out of our skin. Sometimes we don’t make the best decisions when we feel like that. We might snap or snarl at our loved ones. Or we might get violent, throwing things or worse. Or we might turn it inward, and attack ourselves. Or we might hold it in, which only works for so long – and then it explodes from us in ways we regret.
We learn a lot as we grow up, but we never fully get away from feeling as upset as an infant. What’s upsetting you today? What are you carrying within you today that you’re worried about? What makes you just want to scream?
It’s okay that you feel like that. There’s nothing wrong with you for feeling like that. But there is hope. There is peace. There is calm.
The Pharisees were trying to upset Jesus. They ran up to him, and said, “Jesus! You’d better get out of here! King Herod wants to kill you!” We can debate whether the Pharisees were being sincere, or whether they were trying to trick Jesus, or whatever. Perhaps the Pharisees themselves were upset, or perhaps they weren’t. But they were definitely trying to get Jesus upset. Get him upset enough, afraid enough, that he would leave town.
Jesus didn’t take the bait. He stayed calm. He said, “You go tell that fox Herod that I’m doing my job here. I’m doing my work, and I will leave when I’m ready, when I’m done. Then I’m on my way to Jerusalem.” Jesus stayed calm, completely calm. How did Jesus do that? Well, it’s hard to say. Was it because he was the Son of God? Perhaps. Was it was because he had complete trust that God was with him? Perhaps. Was it because he knew his mission, knew his role, and knew that nothing would deviate him from that path? He was on the way to Jerusalem, the way to the cross, and nothing would stop him. The way Luke tells the story, it seems like that must have been at least part of the reason Jesus stayed calm. Jesus knew what he came here to do, and he trusted that God would ensure that it would happen. There was no reason to get upset, no matter what was coming his way. That’s a deep faith.
Of course, we don’t have Christ’s faith. We never could. But Christ is calling us to faith here as well. Did you hear him? Calling with the voice of a mother. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, city that kills the prophets! City filled with people who are so frightened, so worried, so upset, that they resort to murder. Jesus calls to them, and says, “I want to gather you together, and protect you beneath my wings like a mother hen. I want to calm you down, show you that everything is going to be okay. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, but you would not let me. All I’ve ever wanted for you is to be your loving mother, protecting and holding you. I can help you calm down. Please let me do that. Welcome me. I come in the name of the Lord. Welcome me, and I will give you comfort. And peace. And hope.
He says that to us as well. He says that to you. Trust Jesus. Welcome him. Here, into our space. Here, into your heart. Trust that he knows. He knows who you are. He knows what you’ve experienced. He knows what you are going through. And he can help.
I’m not saying that you just need to have faith, and then all your worries will disappear. It’s certainly not that simple. I know enough about clinical anxiety, and I live with it, to know that trusting in God doesn’t change the neurochemicals in our brains. But trusting in God can give us hope that there is a chance for recovery. Perhaps the way God’s will works with some of us is by bringing us together with therapists and doctors who help. Faith doesn’t cure all of our problems. And faith won’t always change the difficult situations we find ourselves in.
Rather, faith welcomes Jesus into our lives, welcomes his motherly warm embrace, and allows him to bring us together. To give us one another. To give us the space and the time we need for healing. Jesus calls to Jerusalem to do precisely this, and he calls to us as well.
Trust in Jesus, just as an infant trusts her mother. Trust in Jesus, and hear him say, “Shhhh. It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m here. I will take care of you.”