The Hour of the Trap
Second in a series of five, The Hour Has Come
Luke 13:31–35 // Philippians 3:17–4:1 // Jeremiah 26:8-15
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today involves local politics, global politics, it involves the Pharisees, Herod the ruler of Galilee, Pontius Pilate and the High Priest, but most of all, it involves Jesus. And so, I would invite you to pray for your preacher in this moment, pray that the Word of the Lord would be living and active as it is sown today..... Amen.
Dear friends in Christ,
As we journey through the Sundays of Lent, our sermon series focuses on these pivotal moments in the Gospel of Luke, these hours of Jesus’s life, remembering that the word hour doesn’t just mean sixty minutes in the day. The word hour in our text refers to these opportune times, these pivotal moments, these crucial stories and teachings that give light to what happens before and after. Today, we see Jesus in the hour of the trap.
Three images I want to put before you today. Picture this, a rabbit smelling some delicious food, cautious but getting close and closer, seeing no one, just the food in front of him, he ventures near until the metal door swings up and he is trapped.
Picture this, playing chess, knowing that you’re not in control, but still thinking that you have a chance, moving, surviving, striking back until you can see that they have their queen and their bishop and their rook, all ready. You realize this was their game all along. They haven’t won yet, but there’s no way you can win anymore. You are trapped.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany. He was a German pastor during the time of WWII. He was in America studying when Hitler came to power, and he had the chance to stay in America, to leave his homeland that seemed to be inevitably falling into fascism, suspicion, and Nazism, but he didn’t. He returned to Germany, even as he saw the trap closing around him. He was asked to become an agent of the state as he lectured in countries outside of Germany, and though he knew the Nazis would find out, he still passed information off to the Allies. He started an underground seminary even though he knew it would be found and shut down. He participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler, even though he knew it could fail. The trap, a trap that he could see, was closing in around him.
Or think of Jesus in our text for today. He walked out of his hometown when they wanted to stone him. The Pharisees were turning against him. Herod the Great had wanted to kill him when he was born and now Herod Antipas may have put his cousin John to death.
Four lessons as we consider the trap in our text for today.
First. Almost always, our motivations are (mixed). Consider the Pharisees. Not as caricatures but as real people. Consider their history, as the ones who held the Jewish faith together when everything was falling apart. Consider that they are looking at Jesus rocking the boat that they’ve spent so much to keep upright. Consider what happens forty years after Jesus is crucified: their fears are realized. The temple is destroyed; the Jewish people are punished.
Their hearts may have been moved by Jesus’s message, but they had other concerns, other things pulling them in other directions. Political realities. Social concerns. Basic survival.
Almost always, our motivations are mixed. A parent disciplines, not only for the good of the child, but just so that you can get a little sanity for yourself. You tell your friend the truth of what was bugging you, not only to let them know, but because it felt good to say it straight, and it gives you a little moral high ground to stand on.
Create in me a pure heart, O God. Our hearts, our desires, our motivations, almost always, are mixed. God, only you can create in me a clean heart.
Second. Almost always, the forces that act on us are (complex). It’s not just one piece that’s moving against you. It’s multiple forces, pushing and pulling you in different directions, moving parts upon moving parts as you try to make sense of your surroundings and your goals, and even they are a moving target.
If you read any scientific study these days, they typically end with the same thought: whatever we studied is not a silver bullet, or a magic pill. It’s only one factor out of many in a complex relationship.
Herod, Pontius Pilate, the institution of the Pharisees, the crowds around Jesus. His disciples. And all these could cloud what mattered: Jesus doing the will of his Father.
The forces that act on us are complex. You see this in Bonhoeffer’s life in Nazi Germany. I remember thinking as an 8thgrader, “How could they let this happen? It’s so clear what was happening around them.” There are countless other faithful Lutheran pastors that didn’t make the difference that he did. Martin Niemoeller, he was one that tried to work with the government, tried to work within the system, to no avail. There were others that believed the government propaganda saying that reports of concentration camps were a lie. There were others that believed the government would listen reason.
It wasn’t that he didn’t have the rest of this going on; Bonheoffer just knew what was more important than the rest.
Third. Always, our God’s love is the (same). I’m going to pull out a phrase that I haven’t used for a while. God’s love is a love on the far side of complexity. It isn’t that God disregards these powers; it isn’t that he doesn’t get we have mixed motivations; it isn’t that the forces in the world aren’t complex.
It’s just that the way that only God can do, the greatest of all truths. In a way that only God can do, the will of the Father gets done through these forces and despite our motivations. In a way that only God can do, Herod contributed to the salvation of the world, and would that he would have repented of his part in it and followed the cross of his savior!
Always, our God’s love is the same. He is love in every instance, everything that he does. To be crucified for our sin is the most loving thing. If God is love, then to call Herod a fox is the most loving thing that he could do.
Fourth. Always, our response is the (same). We go back to Bonhoeffer. The trap did close around him. The last months of his life were spent in a prison awaiting execution. His Writings and Letters from Prison are poignant and heartfelt.
In the face of death, what did he do? He followed through on his vocation. He loved his neighbor as himself. He was a pastor to those around him. He sung his hymns and remembered that death is not the end, that even facing death by execution, death has been wrestled to the ground. Life had overcome death. And eternal life, for the sake of our savior, is yours.
Amen and amen.
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