Today I spoke at First Presbyterian Church Fort Collins for one of their midday Holy Week services. They are a wonderful community and great neighbors! We partner with them on housing families experiencing homelessness through Faith Family Hospitality.
Below is the text of my reflection.
Under God’s Wing — Matthew 23 — April 16, 2016
For our text this morning we get to witness Jesus unloading on the Pharisees—what the kids call a “sick burn.” The closest modern equivalent is probably hip hop. But this is not what I want to talk about.
I want to talk about us, this group of people, people willing to go to church in the middle of the day on a Tuesday.
Reading this passage, you might think I’m going to say that we are these stupid religious jerks who need to be less hypocritical, because, again, it’s a Tuesday and we’re in church. If anyone’s religious, it’s us.
But the truth is, these days, the payoff for being religious is not what it used to be in Jesus’ day, or even 50 years ago. When I tell people I’m a pastor, it’s nearly always deeply awkward for them, and they want to escape the conversation immediately. A religious person these days is, at best, a curiosity, like a zoo creature, or at worst, the propagator of several crimes against humanity.
I don’t know all of you, but my guess is that that’s not you.
Oh, there are people like this in the world. Yes! People who do one thing and say another. Pastors who manipulate their congregations to become wealthy. Priests who preach compassion and abuse children. And, if we’re being honest with ourselves, there is a kind of comfort in religious adherence. It can be a lot easier to go to church, to give some money, to volunteer for the bake sale, than to practice justice and show compassion to unsavory folks. To walk the way of peace.
As you probably all know, the famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris caught on fire. The roof is gone. Much of the structure is compromised. It’s a catastrophe in terms of cultural legacy.
But, for me, it is also unavoidably symbolic. Whatever reputation Christians once had, whatever cultural status we enjoyed, it just seems to have gone up in smoke. And some of us, me included, are furiously trying to rescue the facade.
Here, Jesus is setting the fire to a form of religion that needs to go. Hypocrisy, cruelty, not listening to outsiders.
But again, I really don’t think this is you. Rather, I think most of you hear this and say, yes, we can listen to the teaching, but without examples, how are we going to do it? We hunger and thirst for righteousness, we love mercy, but what does it look like? I bet some of you have been led the wrong way by blind leaders, or have been ignored as prophets. You’ve experienced the terrible consequences that Jesus describes.
Now hear Jesus’ lament in v. 37 (modified for our context):
“Fort Collins, Fort Collins … How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”
You’ve heard the idiom, “take someone under your wing.” I can’t say for sure, but this might be where it comes from. What Jesus wants to do here is two things: he wants to protect us, shield us, give a shelter in which to rest. And he wants to teach us to live in the way of peace.
We need both — the shelter and the teaching.
God is a shelter from the cruelty of the world, and the self hatred in our own souls. God knows us fully, and is absolutely delighted to be in our presence. I can think of no greater refuge.
And God teaches us the way of holiness, which is the way of humility, the way of peace through the cross, by linking us with Jesus.
The real tragedy of Christianity’s hypocrisy is not that we lost power, but that we have something really great to offer the world. And it’s folks like you, committed to getting here on a Tuesday, on your lunch break, who God wants to take under his wing, protect and teach. It’s folks like you who will not waste time scrambling to patch a crumbling facade, but who will become human cathedrals of God’s spirit, little Notre Dames in the world, bringing joy and peace.