This sermon was offered by the
Rev. Cn. Beth Tjoflat at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, FL,
on the Second Sunday in Lent
(March 17, 2019).
Genesis 15:1-2, 17-18
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord our strength and our redeemer.
In this morning’s Gospel from Luke,
Jesus does not mince words as
he calls out Herod and the Pharisees,
who pretend to come with good intentions.
His words “You tell that fox for me,
‘Listen, I am casting out demons and
performing cures’” indict Herod and the
Pharisees who are acting on his behalf.
Better to run Jesus out of town than
to have to deal with the whole mess.
This brief Gospel lesson is steeped in conflict –
an essential component of any abiding story.
Jerusalem – a city that is grounded in holiness –
is at the same time a city with an earned reputation
for killing those sent by God.
When Jesus speaks tenderly and longingly
of gathering the children of Jerusalem
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
he speaks with the love and care of a devoted mother.
When he is confronted with violence
— with certain death —
his response is love.
This past week has brought senseless violence
to the forefront of our concerns once again.
On the global stage, we learned with horror
of the massacre of 50 Muslims in New Zealand,
faithful people gunned down while at prayer.
This violence was perpetrated by a man
|steeped in extremist, racist ideology.
Our hearts are heavy.
It is tempting to shut down in the face of
one more display of evil and hate.
Closer to home, Sherry, a dear member of our
Church Without Walls community was killed
by her boyfriend.
Our community is visibly shaken.
Hopeful hearts are broken.
We had watched Sherry and walked with her
as she struggled with addiction,
as she struggled to find solid footing
for building a life.
I remember one Sunday, some months ago,
after another friend had died from an overdose,
Sherry came to see me.
“I don’t know if I can take any more of this,”
she told me.
I know Sherry is not alone in that sentiment.
I have heard it time and again.
I have felt it myself and
know that you have, too.
Church is meant to be a sanctuary –
a safe place.
With the help of the Holy Spirit,
we create a space that is strong enough and
resilient enough to hold all that affects us:
the challenges and struggles;
the pain and confusion;
our hurts and our regrets;
as well as our hopes and dreams
for renewal and transformation,
not just for ourselves
but for our world.
No matter how we do the math,
the answer is always, always love.
Jesus embraces and loves those who
in a heartbeat would kill him.
He sees beyond hate.
He sees beyond fear.
He knows and loves each and
every of us –
whether perpetrators or victims
or bystanders –
because he created us all.
When terrible things happen,
look for the love.
That is where you’ll find Jesus.
Yesterday I read a column written by
Molly Pascal, a member of the Tree of Life
synagogue – the Jewish congregation
in Pittsburgh that fell victim to a
hate crime less than six months ago.
Eleven congregants were killed.
Several others were wounded.
Molly wrote about the immediate outpouring
of support from the Muslim community.
More than $240,000 was raised in days
to help survivors and the families of victims.
Members of the Muslim community led a
peaceful patrol in the streets,
helping their Jewish brothers and sisters
feel safe enough to walk to worship in the
aftermath of that tragedy.
And that’s what we are – brothers and sisters.
The Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths –
we all descend from Abraham.
As Christians, our mission is to show people Jesus.
We do that most palpably and most
effectively through love.
Several years ago, I visited a large Episcopal
church in downtown Boston.
Shortly after the Boston marathon, that
congregation did what some thought
was radical – they opened their basement,
so a nearby Muslim congregation could
meet and worship there;
they were desperate for a place to meet and pray
where they could feel safe.
This gesture was offered quietly,
without fanfare or publicity of any kind,
because that is what was needed.
It is this kind of “throw caution to the wind” love
that gives us the strength and courage to
move forward from difficult, even tragic, situations.
This is just as true for personal life events
as it is for happenings that affect the
In her book Rising Strong, about how we find
the strength to get up after being knocked down
by life, social researcher Brene Brown said this:
“We move what we are learning
from our heads
to our hearts
through our hands.”
Here at St. Mary’s, we are writing a new story.
It gets messy sometimes, but it is
beautiful and holy.
We invite others to join us,
to live out the gospel through study,
prayer and worship that leads to
tangible action, caring for each other
and for those who are struggling.
My experience is that this kind of ministry
feeds us and blesses us in the best of times.
Yet when the going gets tough,
we having meaningful work to do.
We can lean into ministries, dedicated
to the lost and the forgotten.
This grounds us and anchors us.
As we work together, we discover and
remember that Jesus is alive.
We are assured that, even in the darkest of times,