When you listen to enough sermons in the Episcopal Church, you will eventually realize the preacher is using a set of lessons from what we call “the lectionary.” Unlike in other denominations, the Episcopal preacher doesn’t really get to go “off script” or preach a particular passage to promote an agenda. And if you have visited other Episcopal Churches, you quickly learn that we all use the lectionary – whether you watch the broadcast of the National Cathedral or the broadcast of Hickory Neck, you will hear a sermon on the same scripture lessons. But what you might not know is that within the lectionary there are two “tracks” – one where you read through the Old Testament in a semi-continuous way, and one where you jump around in the Old Testament to allow all the readings to have a similar theme as the Gospel. Hickory Neck is currently following the thematic readings track.
What is interesting about that thematic track is you would think the Old Testament readings and Gospel would be similar. But this week, the reality is quite the opposite. In our Psalm today, we have the ideal follower of God. The psalmist proclaims things like, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” and the Lord 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,” and “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path” and finally, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” The psalmist is a faithful follower of God, totally leaning into God for strength and protection, trusting in the Lord’s goodness, wanting to keep learning and being led. The words of this psalm indicate a confidence in God, a trust in God’s protection, and reliance on the Lord.
And yet, everything in the Gospel text depicts followers of Jesus that are anything but confident, trusting, and reliant. As Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem, we hear a lament so profound as to cause shame and a sense of failure. Jesus says, “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!” As one scholar describes Jesus, “He longs and grieves for his lost and wandering children. For the little ones who will not come home. For the city that will not welcome its savior. For the endangered multitudes who refuse to recognize the peril that awaits them. His is the lamentation of long, thwarted, and helpless yearning — ‘How often have I desired to gather you.’”[i]
Jesus’ lamentation describes the very opposite of the followers in Psalm 27. Whereas the psalmist has confidence, trust, and reliance, the followers of God in Jesus’ day are lost, mistrusting, and defiant. In this thematic year of the lectionary, how do we hold these contradictory images in tension with one another? The reality is the two are not all that different. In fact, I wonder if our work this Lent is in confessing the ways in which we are those lost, mistrusting, defiant chicks, fighting against the care of our mothering God so that we can be the followers of Christ who can profess psalms with confidence, trust, and reliance.
This week, I invite you to consider the ways in which you are running away from your protective mother hen Jesus. How are you fighting against Jesus’ care, Jesus’ love, and Jesus’ grace? Who in your life is offering you care, love, and grace that you are resisting: maybe because you do not like to be vulnerable, or you do not like to admit your need, or you just do not like other people in your business? That care, love, and grace is coming from all directions, and our invitation is to simply say yes – to let ourselves be gathered in by this community and those who love you. And if that hurdle is just too high this week, perhaps your invitation is to read Psalm 27 every morning this week – and nights too if you need – maybe even singing the Taizé song, “The Lord is my light,” until the repetition convinces you – so that the words of Psalm 27 no longer feel aspirational and become truth. That way, the next time someone needs you to gather them in, you will have a psalm you can share with the authenticity, grace, and love that has been shown to you this week. Amen.
[i] Debie Thomas, “I Have Longed,” March 6, 2022, as found at https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2944 on March 12, 2022.