Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills her prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing. See, your house has left you. My friend Delia expressed the other day that for her, these words rang of anguish and deep longing, and they do.
We often want to think of Jerusalem as the shining city on the hill – the City of God. It feels sad and even tragic to be reminded that Jerusalem also carries with her the blood of martyrs and prophets, that she is quick to stone instead of offer compassion. She refuses Jesus’ desire to gather the children of God like a hen gathers her chicks. Such a beautiful image and yet Jerusalem refuses.
Now, imagine for a moment that Jerusalem is not just a reference to the physical location we know of in Israel, but that Jesus is instead referring to the Jerusalem of the human heart. It might be helpful to remember that Jesus very seldom – if ever – taught in literal terms, He most always in metaphor, symbolism, and parables. Mark 4:34, which was the Gospel reading for Morning Prayer this past Thursday, tells us this is the only way he taught.
So, what if Jesus was talking about the Jerusalem of the human heart. How does change how we hear this Gospel?
Prophets are truth-tellers. They point to injustices in the world, to where we are off the mark of God’s desire for us and sound the alarm of the consequences of not correcting our course. Prophets live within the tension of faithfulness their call and compassion for the community in which they preach. They often pay a great price for their loyalty to truth, often with their lives. John was beheaded, Jesus was crucified, Gandhi and King were assassinated. All were standing for the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. They stood against racism, poverty, and oppressive regimes that diminished human dignity and erased human lives. All of them stood for peaceful, nonviolent resistance.
Prophets of our own time are among us, if we only have ears to hear and eyes to see. Greta Thunberg has dedicated her young life to challenging world leaders to take immediate action for climate change, as a result of surviving the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, X Gonzalez has become an activist and tireless advocate for gun control. Make no mistake, these young women are prophets in our own time.
Shaun King has emerged as a prominent voice using social media to promote social justice causes, including the Black Lives Matter movement. Sean is a prophet of our time.
The Reverend William Barber III is a powerful voice of truth, challenging us to bring the Gospel message to bear on issues such as poverty, health care, and equality in our nation and beyond. Reverend Barber is a prophet in our own time.
Greta, X, Shaun, and William are all voices of our time crying out in the wilderness. Another thing they all have in common is that they all receive death threats.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those brought to her.
The Jerusalem of the human heart too often silences the prophets because the truth is too inconvenient. In the meantime, our planet is teetering on the edge of environmental disaster, our nations politics have been hijacked by far-right white nationalist insurrectionists, Mass shootings taking the lives of thousands of innocent men, women, and children is a uniquely American tragedy, our prisons are bulging at the seams – with the largest mental health facilities being jails, and there are more homeless people in our nation and more displaced people around the world seeking safe refuge than ever before in our history. Something is terribly wrong, and the prophets of our time continue to sound the alarm.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills her prophets and stones those who are sent to it.
Now more than ever we need to hear and heed the call of the prophets of our time. But we must not only look to others. We must also discover and claim our own, for we all carry a prophetic voice. In Numbers 11:29 Moses says: “My hope that all of God’s people will be prophets and that God’s Spirit will be upon them.” We need look no further than the prophetic words of Zechariah, words directed both toward his newborn son, John the Baptist – the same words that are for each of us in this time:
And you child, shall be called the prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way, to give the people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. In the tender compassion of our God the dawn will break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet in the way of peace.
These are words of a prophet of old spoken to us, the prophets of our own time. We can all open the walls of Jerusalem within the human heart in ways that offer real truth and real hope to the world. It’s a truth that says that no life is worth less than another, that every life has the right to not only to exist, but to flourish.
Our baptismal vows call for us to strive for justice and peace among all people; and to respect the dignity of every single human being. This means that we can never accept the status quo if others are being injured or treated unjustly or marginalized because of national, societal, or religious interests. This is OUR VOICE that says no matter who you are, where you have been, what you have had done – or had done to you, each one of us is beloved and within the grasp of God’s grace. Everyone inside the circle of God’s love. No one is left out.
Our message today is one of life, not death, of hope, not despair. It is a truth that comes from the Jerusalem within our hearts that is the city shining on the hill – that of the City of God.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem … the city that honors the prophets and cares for all who are sent to it. Like a mother who gathers her children under her wings. This is your light that shines in us. Oh, Jerusalem.