Second Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 13th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

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.’”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Psalm 27 is one of my favorite passages of scripture. The psalmist tells us that God is our light and salvation.  The LORD is the stronghold of our life.  

Light. Salvation. Stronghold. 

Such powerful words when we think of God.  Such reassuring words.

The psalmist tells us not to be afraid.  The world tells us that we have much to fear. That our enemies rise up against us on every side. That we can't trust anyone, especially if they haven't been thoroughly checked out first.  That we need to be armed or we will be left defenseless. 

The world says our enemies are coming to shoot our children in their schools.  That immigrants are coming over the border to take our jobs. That refugees from war torn places are terrorists in disguise. That people who worship God differently and pray differently from us should be feared. 

The world tells us that other people, people different from us, are the enemy, and they are here to change everything. The very way of life that we have come to expect and enjoy is being threatened.  Even our churches are declining. The world screams at us to be afraid, be very afraid. 

In the middle of this fear and anxiety, we hear the message of the psalmist, whispering words from thousands of years ago.  We wonder what possible meaning and relevance they can have for us today.  

Yet these words, this poetry, this ancient hymn, have endured for thousands of years. This part of scripture has held meaning for the people of God for all time.  This is one of the hymns that Jesus sang in the synagogue when he worshipped there with Mary and Joseph. 

The Lord is my light.  

The world is so much scarier at night. Evil seems to hide in the dark of night.  Or at least we fear it does.  It always seems safer when you can see what you are up against.  

We know this even from the movies.  The power always goes out at night during the storm just before the serial killer sneaks up behind the victim. Even in the cartoon strip Peanuts, Snoopy starts his great novel with the line, "It was a dark and stormy night."  

The Lord is our light.  As we baptize Brynn this morning we will light her baptism candle from the Paschal candle, the symbol of Easter, and of Christ’s resurrection. She will share in the light of Christ, the light that always shines.  The light that can never be overcome. 

God's light is the light of truth. God shines a light into all the midnight places of our lives and shows us what is really there.  Much of what we fear is one of the devil’s lies.  The devil knows that fear makes us more vulnerable to lies. 

Fear distorts the truth.  Fear keeps us from seeing strangers as our neighbors. The light of God shines on strangers and shows us clearly that they are also made in the image of God.  That they are also God's beloved children. 

The Lord is my salvation. 

There is no salvation outside of God. We can never save ourselves. No human being can save us.  But we have a God who loves us. God's love is more powerful than anything that tries to harm us.  

This does not mean that life is easy for us.  The psalmist tells us clearly that we are sometimes surrounded by people and things that pull us away from God. 

Sometimes the choices between good and evil are obvious.  Don't kill your neighbors. Don't steal their car. But sometimes the choices are more complicated. Should you always give money to someone who comes begging? What is the best way to help those who are hungry?

What is the best way to end poverty? How should we fix the broken immigration system?  How can we help bring about peace in the World? What’s the best way to help people who experience homelessness in our city?

Which political candidates have the best plans to solve the problems we will face in the next few years? Which issues are most important? What are the long range effects of these kinds of decisions?

They all say they have plan to save and protect us.  But only God can save us.  Now, God’s salvation doesn't release us from our responsibilities in this world.  Salvation frees us to face our responsibilities, to make the right decisions, decisions that are based on what is best for our neighbors, not just what is best for us.  

The Lord is my stronghold.  

God is the source of our strength. God is our shelter and sanctuary. 

We all know we should stay home when the weather is bad.  Most of us stock up on food when a storm is coming. We have had plenty of practice this winter in making decisions about whether we should drive if the roads might be icy.    

God is a shelter from the storms of life. God doesn't keep the wind and the snow and the floods and fires from coming.  God provides the shelter where we can be safe while we wait it out.  Then God provides the tools to clean up the mess we find when we go back outside. 

The LORD is our sanctuary. A sanctuary is a protected holy place. People often call the nave of the church the sanctuary. The church has been used at times throughout history to shelter people and protect them from harm. The law recognizes the church as a place where people can seek asylum and protection. 

Our hearts break when we see hear of other children of Abraham who were murdered as they prayed in their mosques in New Zealand. We remember other children of Abraham killed last year in their synagogue in Pittsburgh and our Christian brothers and sisters killed in Charleston as they studied God’s word. 

I cannot help but think that God’s heart is broken, too, when people have so much fear of those who look and pray differently, that they act out of hatred instead of love. 

The psalmist tells us that the Lord will be our strength and shelter even when our father and mother forsake us.  It seems to me that there could not be too many things worse for a child than to be forsaken and rejected by their parents.

In Brooklyn, NY, there is an ELCA congregation that provides a sanctuary and shelter for homeless teenagers. These teenagers were rejected by their parents and thrown out of their homes because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Their fathers and mothers have forsaken them, but the Lord has provided them sanctuary, a safe place, a holy place to live.   

There is trouble in the world and there always will be. God does not promise us that life will be safe and easy.  God does not promise to make the storms go away. God does not even promise that our parents will be there for us no matter what.  

God does promise to be our light.  To shine into the night and awaken us from our nightmares and reveal the truth of the morning light. 

God promises to be our salvation. Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins.  He rose from the dead and gives us life and freedom. He gives us freedom to make the right decisions, even when they are difficult. 

God promises to be our stronghold, our shelter, and our sanctuary. Jesus calls us like a mother hen gathers her baby chicks, invites us to find a shelter in God’s holy wings. 

These are the promises God shares with Brynn this morning. Light. Salvation. Stronghold.  Jesus says, “Have no fear.” We will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Amen.