"As a hen gathers her brood under her wings."

Tenderly.
Lovingly.

With no regard for which among them
deserves
or does not deserve
her care.

No regard for which among them
has
or has not earned
her embrace.

She has concern for every one of them,
and a special concern for the weak and vulnerable.

"As a hen gathers her brood under her wings."

So, too, does God wish to gather the poor and powerless.
Rich and powerful.

The human family's
faithful and those with little,
with no
faith.

Gather inhabitants from every
race and nation.
Many languages, cultures and values.

As on that Pentecost day,
when, by the gift of the Holy Spirit,
the Good News goes forth from Jerusalem to all the world.

"As a hen gathers her brood under her wings."

So Jesus stands ready
to begin fulfilling that all-encompassing vision;
ready to extend
the same generous compassion and tender love to the city.

He's done it already out in the country side.
And now wants to bring that
same transformation from villages and farmlands.
From family estates and family structures.
To the urban center.
And all its corporate, religious and civic structures.
Bring God's ways of compassion and love.
To the money changes.
To the Temple elite.
To King Herod himself.

The Pharisees cannot abide such a ministry.

Jesus' concern for the wellbeing of all people
is in direct contrast to
-- and in direct conflict with --
their obsession with the very few who can
measure up
to the strictest interpretation of the law;
measure up
to the standard of a tiny sliver of a segment of society
at the expense of the poor, the needy, the forgotten.

At first, theirs is an authoritarian command:
"get away from here."

Then the scare tactic:
"Herod wants to kill you."

Taken together,
the Pharisees reveal the fuel of their furor:
look out for yourself, forget about anyone else.
A two-part temptation
to save one's own life at the expense of others.

Jesus is not moved by such temptation.
But is moved by people.

Lent begins with the words
"For where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21).

Today, though he cannot act fully on it,
Jesus discloses where his heart is
weeping over this city
and the people who are its treasure.

Undaunted and undeterred by the Pharisees,
Jesus pledges to return to fulfill the longing of his heart.
With crowds singing.
"Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord."

But for now, he continues his ministry
in the villages and outlying areas.
Gathering more and more.
"As a hen gathers her brood under her wings."

As Jesus stands weeping over the city,
so, too, do we weep over
our own city,
our own nation.

Those who would exploit
the vulnerable and the marginalized;
voices rising up against
the least and the powerless,
are all around us.

On the street corners.
Out on the campaign trail.
In the halls of government.
Stacked on corporate ladders.

Here's the hard truth about the disarray all around us:
No system, no self-protecting interest
will ever be on the lookout for the person in need;
will ever give away treasure freely as God does.
Such is the nature,
the built-in deficiency
of a system.

So, too, the nature of savvy politicians or any such "Herods"
who say one thing but mean another.
Search for the baby Jesus ostensibly to pay him homage,
but in actuality seek to execute him.

The result of these and other such sly ways
ought not surprise us:
Suspicion.
Anger.
Entrenchment.

And for however much
we know the only way beyond entrenchment is dialogue;
the only way past anger is conversation;
the only way beyond suspicion is encounter
we seem to be so very incapable
of these generous ways.

Maybe its that our news media
takes one generous statement
about the other side
and plasters it over the airwaves,
effectively stopping anyone from saying anything constructive.

We've devolved into "gotcha politics."
And are fast creating a "gotcha world."
It may be that the last remaining place on planet earth
where all people gather,
where a great diversity of people
come in contact with one another,
in sustained and meaningful ways
is our houses of worship.

By no means perfect,
their structures are structures
like the world's structures, too.

But these gatherings are the best chance we have
at ever engaging one another
in ways that will encourage conversation,
bring us together,
and offer healing among peoples.

For within our houses of worship
dwells the promise of God
to always stand with, by and for all people.

"As countless as the stars of the sky,"
God tells Abram.

Abram believed that unlikely promise,
and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Believed it against all odds.
Against all evidence to the contrary.
And became the father,
the patriarch, of many nations.

That is, Abram, cast himself entirely on God,
and God's view of the entire human family
-- and not his own, limited view --
and God made Abram right with God
and right with God's people.
Forever.

Give us this faith, O Lord,
in our own time.

Give us this determination, O Lord,
in our own time.

Give us this witness, O Lord,
in our own time.

Indeed, God does.

Every time we gather here.
In the midst of this city.
Gather as God's wondrously diverse people.

Gather seeking to be even more wondrously
diverse.
God grants us such faith.
Such determination.
Such witness.

A promise that comes to us in this place
time and time and time again as we sing,
"Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord."

At this table which
Gathers all.
Tenderly.
Lovingly.
With no regard for who among us
deserves
or does not deserve
such care.

No regard for who among us
has
or has not earned
God's embrace.

God has concern for every one of us,
and a special concern for the weak and vulnerable.
Here.

It may be hard to believe that
a piece of bread.
A sip of wine.
Could offer such promise.
Could establish such a community in our midst.

Yet
Broken in the midst of us
is the very body of Christ.

A life-defining covenant
between God and between all of us.

It is a promise not unlike the one
God made with Abram

With that heifer.
Goat.
Ram.
Those turtledoves
and pigeons.

The ancient ritual was that an animal would be sacrificed,
cut in two and burned.
Those who make a promise, make a covenant,
walked through these charred pieces.
As a pledge that should
the covenant be broken,
the deviant party would suffer the same fate.

It is remarkable that God would make such a promise.
Walk through those pieces.

The smoking fire pot.
And flaming torch.
A pillar of cloud
And pillar of fire.

But even more remarkable that God in, with and under,
and even between two pieces of bread
would make such a covenant with people like us;

make of us the body of Christ
where God gives up life,
sacrifices God's very own life,
for the sake of the covenant with all humanity.

God weeps,
God loves,
God is that faithful to us.
In his commentary on the First Commandment,
Martin Luther writes that
"Anything on which your heart relies and depends,
I say, that is really your God."

Here at this table we experience God's heart with us.
We experience what we cannot discern ourselves:
that we are God's priceless treasure.
The very body of Christ.
The church.
Open to all.
Gathering all.

Broken.
And shared for all the world.

Living this promise is never an easy venture.
Being the church
is often challenging and still more often infuriating.

But it is God's way.
A witness in the city.
And, by the power of the Holy Spirit,
God's gift to all humanity
even unto the ends of the earth.

For here, in this place,
God does today
precisely what God has always longed to do:
gathers all people in tender and life-giving embrace.

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York

SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT
February 21, 2015 - Morning Masses

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Saint Luke 13:31-35