Sermon: Steadfast

March 17, 2019
Second Sunday in Lent

Luke 13:31-35

by Eric Anderson

They came to keep him safe, these Pharisees.

It’s one of the ways we know that Jesus and the Pharisees of his day were not implacable enemies. Oh, there were certainly some among them who disliked Jesus intensely. There were some who were convinced Jesus was the worst teacher to come along since… well, somebody really bad.

The arguments between Jesus and Pharisees in the Gospels, however, were arguments between people bound together by more than divided them. In fact, these were arguments within the family – and as we know, family fights are among the fiercest of all.

Herod was another matter. Herod was a client king for Rome, the local power for the empire that ruled them. Herod would protect his power long before he would act to protect the religious expression of his subjects. Anybody who wasn’t sure about that could ask John the Baptist.

Except that you couldn’t, since John had died at Herod’s orders.

The warning of these friendly Pharisees was a real one. Jesus was in danger.

Jesus didn’t ignore the warning. He didn’t even reject it. He simply refused to let the danger change his course. “Go tell that fox” – that’s just rhetoric. These people weren’t royal messengers; they weren’t going to tell Herod anything – “Go tell that fox, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.’”

Or in other words, “I’m going to do what I’m going to do, and you’re not going to stop me.”

Why? Jesus valued his mission over his safety. There were people who needed his help. There were people who needed his healing power. There were people who needed to hear his teaching – he didn’t mention that in this response, but there certainly were. He wouldn’t abandon them for his own safety.

I’ve heard some echoes of that this week. The Rev. Kaji Dousa, a UCC minister serving as senior pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church in New York City, is among 50 people being tracked by the US government for a humanitarian ministry working with asylum seekers at the southern border of the United States. She wrote this week: “I say all of this to preach it to myself. Because I’m scared. This work we’re trying to do is dangerous and necessary. But I’m reminded of this truth that I repeat again and again and again: No weapon formed against me shall prosper. Even if that weapon is wielded by the most powerful government in the world.”

Courage, as a virtue, can be over emphasized. An English professor I knew once deeply disliked the work of Ernest Hemingway, because, he believed, the only virtue Hemingway ever celebrated was the virtue of courage. Focus on courage, or worse an idolatry of courage, tends to justify violence, even war. Think about children getting into pointless fights because nobody wants to be seen as a coward. Remember General George S. Patton slapping hospital patients during the Second World War.

In 1859, this kind of thing nearly provoked an actual war, when an American farmer shot a pig on San Juan Island, which lies between the US coast and Canadian Vancouver Island. An US Army officer named George Pickett occupied the island and claimed it for America. A British naval force appeared, and for four months the nations hovered at the edge of war. Fortunately, they negotiated a settlement.

Four years later, that same George Pickett ordered 12,500 men to assault a ridge in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Less than an hour later, a thousand of them were dead, 4,000 wounded, and 3,750 captured: over half his force.

They were… courageous. Their courage turned them into sacrifices.

Courage as a virtue has the virtue, however, of making other virtues possible. Without Jesus’ courage, nobody would hear his words. Without Jesus’ courage, nobody would receive his healing. Without Jesus’ courage, we would not celebrate his resurrection on the third day.

Where is our courage?

What virtues should we summon courage to ensure?

Rev. Dousa summoned her courage on behalf of people seeking relief from desperate circumstances, from violence and anarchy that drove them from their homes.

The dead of Christchurch, New Zealand, like the dead of Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, summon us to courage to speak against the white supremacist ideologies that have been given new strength in these days. The murderer in Pittsburgh blamed his victims for helping Muslim refugees enter the United States. The murderers in Christchurch issued a manifesto that, according to news reports (I refuse to read it), praised the President of the United States for his anti-Muslim words and deeds.

We must seize the courage to raise a different word.

Najeeba Syeed, who teaches interreligious education at Claremont School of Theology, writes: “My life depends on Christians announcing the good news AND that Muslims are not demonic worshipers of some foreign God. My life depends on Christians having those complex, emotionally exhausting conversations during the holidays with uncle Harry when he makes a derogatory remark. My life depends on you, as Christians, being willing to be uncomfortable in your own spaces and not being silent when someone says something Islamophobic.

“My children’s lives depend on what you teach your children about my community and our beliefs. Islamophobia is not just based on interpersonal interactions and being nice to one another at the individual level. Certainly, that is a place to start. But it is also a systemic and structural form of racism that needs theological, political, and large-scale, community-based interventions in order to be obliterated.”

Your courage may need to be summoned to challenge, not a stranger, but a member of the family who says something cruel or unjust about Muslims, about Jews, about Buddhists, about Catholics, about women, about men, about black people, about haoles. Your courage may need to be summoned to speak a word of light and truth when the shadows are falling at your own dinner table.

Your courage may also need to be summoned to give more than you think you can: give more in time, give more in treasure, give more in emotional support. You may have to take the courage to sit with someone in tears when there’s someplace else you really need to be. You may need to take the courage to give in support of a great cause when it threatens you with some hardship. You may need to take the courage to confront great suffering when your heart is raw.

You may also need to take the courage to step to one side and rest, and heal, and renew, so that you can sustain the work later. There is a cowardice in keeping on – there is a bravery in doing what you need to do, so that you can do what you need to do.

Remember Jesus, brushing aside the real and present danger of a king’s displeasure. Remember Jesus, who also retired up the mountainside for a quiet time with God.

Karoline Lewis writes: “Perhaps in Jesus’ resoluteness there is inspiration to believe in our own. And maybe, that is just what we need. In this Lent. In this moment. A need to know that something or someone outside of ourselves is that which is necessary to keep us going. And, what is necessary for us to believe in a future that, at the end of the day, we cannot imagine on our own. A sense that there’s something more. A belief that more might truly be possible. All because Jesus knew his way.”

Take courage. Be steadfast. Trust. Believe. Keep going. Stop and rest. Go on again and further.

Because Jesus knew his way.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon


Predictably, there are differences between the prepared text and the sermon as delivered. We predicted it, too.

Photo (of orchids who don’t need to demonstrate their courage) by Eric Anderson.

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on March 17, 2019

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

1 Comment

  1. by Janet

    On March 18, 2019

    Your message helps me to heal from the pain of the horrible incident in Christchurch. Yes, I will continue to pray for the families and loved ones who were killed and injured while being courageous in word and action. Your thoughts are both beautiful and powerful. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283