Scripture: Luke 13:31-35
I have a rule that I generally follow. That rule is that I try to avoid movies that I know will make me cry. I know it is a bit of an odd quirk, but there are two reasons for it. First, I generally do not enjoy crying. Second, I do not like the emotional manipulation. Sometimes it feels like the screenwriters, directors, and actors know they have a potentially tear-jerking scene and they lean into it as much as possible to pull the intended reaction out of the audience. I tend to watch movies for escapism, I like to watch movies that transport me to a galaxy far, far away or movies that make me laugh instead of cry. Generally, I am good at figuring out the movies I want to avoid. For instance, I have seen Old Yeller so I know if a drama prominently features a dog it is probably best to avoid it.
Occasionally though, I end up watching a movie that elicits tears when it is not supposed to. One movie, I vividly remember crying at was Cool Runnings. This movie about the Jamaican Bob sled team came out when I was in middle school. Now if you have seen this movie, you might be thinking it is the ending, where they team dramatically carries there crashed sled across the finish line, as the slow clap slowly builds and the music swells. That is the scene which the director likely thought might make people cry. No, what got me occurs in the middle of the movie. One of the characters revealed a picture of a big house that he dreamed of someday living in. It was his life goal to make it into that house. The other characters cannot help but laugh because it is a picture of Buckingham palace. Even though it was an almost unobtainable dream in the first place, the character sits their dejected as his dreams and hopes are crushed in disappointment. The look of sadness depicted by the actor at the realization of never being able to achieve a dream got me. As I sat there in the movie theater, everyone else is laughing because of the absurdity of the man’s dream and I was crying.
For whatever reason disappointment of failed goals or unobtainable dreams, really pulls at my heart strings. This morning’s scripture is no different. This morning’s scripture has a melancholy tone as Jesus expresses his dream, the complete salvation of Jerusalem, that he knows will not be completed. There is sadness, there is sorrow, and there is heart break expressed in this scripture. Yet, I think underlying all of that there is also a great hope. As we consider this morning’s scripture, we can find that even in the midst of some of the things that causes us heart break there is still a reason for hope.
This morning’s scripture is one that can trip us up just a little bit without proper context. For instance, the political situation in Israel was complex. By the time of Jesus’ ministry Israel was divided up. Large parts of Israel, including Jerusalem and the coastal regions were part of a Roman province administered by Pontius Pilate the Roman Governor. Other regions were client states, small kingdoms that were ruled by the descendants of Herod the great. The Herod mentioned in this morning’s scripture is one of those descendants. The kingdom of Herod Agrippa consisted of the regions around the Sea of Galilee and the Eastern side of the Jordan river. In other words, Herod Agrippa ruled the area that Jesus spent the vast majority of his ministry.
There is debate among biblical scholars why the Pharisees warned Jesus. Some point out that this is proof they were not all bad. They may have disagreed with Jesus, but at this point at least they did not think he deserved death and were trying to protect him. Others have a less generous reading of the scripture and think that the Pharisees were trying to intimidate Jesus into leaving this region and heading to neighboring Judea where Herod would have no jurisdiction. No matter what the motivation was, the Pharisees had a point. Herod could have been perceived as a threat to Jesus. The gospels already established that Herod did not like prophetic truth tellers because he had arrested and executed John the Baptist. The gospel of Luke foreshadows this threat before this morning’s scripture in chapter 9. There it is recorded that Herod hears about the miracles that Jesus is doing, the crowds that Jesus is gathering, and how people were whispering Jesus might be a prophet of old. To this Herod replies in Luke 9:9, “But Herod said, ‘I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about? ‘ “
The threat to Jesus was real, but Jesus was undeterred. He boldly stated he would press on. He told the Pharisees he would continue to be faithful to proclaiming the good news, because Jesus knew that his appointed time had not come. Jesus knew that when he did eventually go to Jerusalem it would not be to save his life, but to lose it. It is as if while making this proclamation, that Jesus realizes what his eventual sacrifice would mean for the people of Jerusalem. Jesus wanted to save them. He uses the lovely image of a mother hen protecting her chicks, but he knows that is not possible. He knows that the people he wishes to save are going to crucify him and turn their back on him. The gospel of John states it most plainly in verse 1:11, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” When I read this morning’s scripture, I cannot help but hear heart break in Jesus’ voice. Jesus had the power to do miracles, to raise the dead, and ultimately Jesus displayed the power to defeat death itself. Yet, Jesus could not make the people accept forgiveness. He could not force them to say yes to God’s yes of grace and acceptance, and that is why Jesus expresses such sorrow for Jerusalem.
In this morning’s scripture we get a glimpse of what breaks Jesus heart as he expresses sorrow that many in the city of Jerusalem will reject him. This morning’s scripture leaves me with a somewhat uncomfortable question. Do our hearts, does my heart, break for North Judson in the same way? Because I think it probably should. In 2007 16% of people in the United States claimed to have no religious affiliation. Seven years later that number had risen to 20%. Today 29% of Americans claim no religious affiliation. Our community has a lot of people who do not know Jesus. These are people who do not fully know God’s love, they have never truly experienced the forgiving grace of Christ, and they could spend eternity separated from God. That should cause us the same heart break that Jesus, yet the statistics show that it is something we barely think about. According to a study done by Lifeway research in 2019, over a quarter of regular church attenders do not even pray for opportunities to tell others about Jesus. The same study found that less than half of all Christians have had a conversation about Jesus with a non-Christian in the past six month time period.
To think that the people around us in our day to day lives might face the full judgement of God is uncomfortable. The thought of actually talking to them about that, might even be more uncomfortable. Remember, I try to avoid movies that are potential tear-jerkers, so I get it. We do not like to think about things and we especially do not like to do things that make us uncomfortable. In this case not acting because we want to preserve our comfort has eternal consequences, because again people need Jesus. It broke Jesus’ heart that there would be people in Jerusalem who would reject the salvation he offered. In the same way, it should break our hearts that there are people in our town who do not yet know Jesus.
I fully realize that for some of you already know the sorrow and heartbreak that Jesus expresses in this morning’s scripture because it is the same heart break that you feel for someone you deeply love. I know that for some of you there is someone in your life that has rejected the very faith that has brought you so much joy and life. You have likely had the same conversation more than once, you have tried to share the love of God only to have the message rejected. You have prayed and prayed and prayed that God would change their hearts but that prayer has not yet been answered. If that describes you today, then know that Jesus himself knows your pain, he knows your sorrow, and he knows his heartbreak. Also, know that when Jesus was faced with the same sorrow he did not give up, and that is a reason for hope.
The hope this scripture brings us, is what Jesus did in face of this heart break. He expressed his sorrow in this morning’s scripture but he did not despair. Instead he stayed the course driving out demons healing people until he reaches his goal. This morning’s scripture takes place at the end of chapter 13 and Jesus does not finally make it to Jerusalem until the end of chapter 19. The gospel of Luke records six more chapters of Jesus traveling through the villages and towns performing miracles and proclaiming the good news. Jesus could not convince everyone to follow him, but surely during those six chapters of traveling Jesus touched and forever changed the lives of more than one person. In the same way, not only should we care and our heart break for the people of our community who do not know Jesus but we should make every effort to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them. No matter how much we commit to evangelism we will not able to convince every person of North Judson to follow Jesus, just like Jesus could not convince all of Jerusalem. However, even though he knew he could not catch them all he did not stop trying. Neither should we.
If our hearts truly broke for the non-believers of our community, if we were more fully committed to making disciples, how might our actions be different? What would we be more mindful of doing? I think for starters, we would be more willing to invite people to join us in church. In their book “Get Their Name” Bob Farr, Doug Anderson, and Kay Kotan’s research showed that the average member of a United Methodist church invites someone to come to worship with them only once every thirty eight years. An Outreach Magazine survey found that the #1 reason people do not invite people to church with them more often is because they do not think about, but again if we show the same concern for people that Jesus shows in this morning’s scripture then we should be thinking about it a lot more regularly. I am not sure when the last time you invited someone to come to church with you was, but can we please (PLEASE) all commit to invite someone a little more often than once every 38 years?
Just inviting someone can be a fruitful first step, but it should also not be our last step. We should be willing to share the good news of Jesus with people even if it makes us uncomfortable. I particularly like how Reverend Mark Teasdale puts it his book Go! How to become a Great Commission church. He wrote that we should move “beyond thinking about congregations as entities that only exist on Sunday mornings. The commission of Christ does not expire once Sunday worship is over! The people in the congregation need to reimagine themselves as missionaries.”
I like that imagery because even though some of you have been in this community for decades, maybe even your whole lives, we can still approach this town as missionaries who have been sent here by God to love the people and share Jesus with them. May our heart break for those who have not come to faith the way that Jesus’ heart breaks for them. We will never convince the whole town to follow Jesus, but we should at least try. May we be quick to invite others and may we seek to share the good news of Jesus . May we share the good news today. May we share the good news tomorrow, and may we share the good news until we reach our goal of making disciples of all North Judson for the transformation of the world.