Second Weekend in Lent (C/RCL) Feb. 20 & 21: "11th Hour Rescue"

Second Weekend in Lent (C/RCL): “11th Hour Rescue”

Luke 13:31-35

February 20-21, 2016

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ

            On the front page of Friday’s Daily Record was an article entitled “Legion Honors Brave Scouts.”1  It told the story of a scoutmaster, Chris Petronino, who went hiking with his 11 year old son and two other Scouts, 12 and 13 years old, near Splitrock Reservoir in Rockaway Township on Dec. 20th.   A black bear pulled the adult into a cave and cornered him there for an hour, while the boys called 911,  guided the rescue team to their remote location, and shouted encouragement to Mr. Petronino, who used a rock hammer to attempt to repel the bear.  It mauled his shoulder, face and scalp.  The 13 year old, Frankie Lepore, was especially praised for staying cool in the midst of the crisis.  He and the other boys credited their Scout training with preparing them to deal with the emergency.   Scoutmaster Petronino said afterward that hearing his son’s voice calling to him throughout the ordeal helped him stay conscious and alive.

            Apparently the only things the boys did wrong was to run when the bear finally exited the cave.  (Who can blame them??)  Their error was covered by the Petronino’s family dog, Adobo, a pit bull/lab mix, who held the bear at bay while the boys made their escape.  Michael, Frankie and his brother Vincent all received American Legion Auxiliary Youth Hero awards; Adobo received a “meritorious service and loyal cooperation” citation.

              If we were face to face with a bear in the woods, we would realize the danger and look to make a quick exit, too.  Getting to safety would be our goal, as surely as if we were in a burning building.  The problem is: sometimes we don’t recognize the danger we’re facing.  If we did, we’d skedaddle instead of sticking around.   

            For instance, if we realized we were standing next to a pickpocket on a crowded subway, we’d move.  If we realized a tree limb were about to fall, we’d walk on the other side of the street.  If we knew the other person on the road was driving under the influence, we’d keep our distance and call 911.  If drug addicts knew ahead of time that the first experiment with heroin was going to open the door to lifelong addiction, they would have “just said no” and walked away.  If a murderer realized beforehand that theft or a lie would lead to much worse things, he or she would never have stolen or lied in the first place.  Sometimes we just don’t recognize the danger and we sail right into the storm instead of safely back to port.

            Jesus exposes His broken heart to us in today’s Gospel:

How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  (Luke 13:34)

We can’t let ourselves off the hook too easily, either, by saying our Lord is talking only to the people of His own time who didn’t recognize or accept Him as the Messiah.  If Scripture records it, Jesus is saying it to us now and not just to them then.  God loves, and we give God the cold shoulder.  God wants to draw us close and we run in the opposite direction.  God shows us the path of life and we choose a different, easier, deadlier road.  God points out the pitfalls we should avoid and we manage to gravitate toward them instead of steering clear. 

            St. Matthew shares the same words of Jesus with us, but at a different time in the story.  St. Matthew says that Jesus speaks about being like a mother hen on the day of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on the donkey, fanned with palm branches.  St. Luke says Jesus talks about us giving Him the brush-off before He ever gets to Jerusalem.  Some Scripture scholars say He’s prophesying what’s going to happen in the near future.  Others say He’s letting the people then and us now know there’s still time to find shelter under His ample wings, to accept His loving protection, to allow Him to love and to lead, to claim Him as Savior, to follow in obedience where He walks. 

Here and now the choice confronts us: to receive Jesus that his love may brood over us, or to deny him – to his heartbreak and our desolation.2

            Remember Adobo, the dog who fended off the bear while the boys ran to safety?  He was a rescue pup, adopted by the scoutmaster’s family from the 11th Hour Rescue Shelter.   We can figure it’s called “the 11th Hour” because the dogs who are adopted are saved in the nick of time.  But here’s what one of the shelter volunteers said, when he heard what Adobo had done:

“I’m so glad to hear that a formerly homeless dog stepped in at the 11th hour in a life-threatening situation like that.”

            If we thought it were the spiritual “11th hour” for us, we wouldn’t have any problem running toward Jesus for shelter as fast as those boys ran away from the bear.  ‘Thing is, we don’t have to be in a fox hole, under hospice care, on death row, to seek shelter in our Lord’s love.  We just have to be willing.

            So where can we find safety from all that threatens to do us harm?  Under Jesus’ “wings”  (or, if you prefer, in Jesus’ arms).  And why does Jesus offer us holy shelter?  Because He loves us, this much.  And how is Jesus powerful to save?  Because He has suffered in our place.  Suffering love is at the heart of our Savior, which is why He cries out in today’s Gospel and later on, literally cries over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41).   

            The most important lesson in this Gospel is that God is passionate to save us.  A secondary lesson is that we can be unreasonably resistant to being saved.  Where there is life, there is hope, though.  The Father sent Jesus as the original 11th Hour Rescuer.  The Holy Spirit can free us to see clearly, to run in the right direction, straight into the waiting arms of our Savior.  Amen

            1William Westhoven, “Legion Honors Brave Scouts,” Daily Record (Feb. 19, 2016), A1, 4A.

            2Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1952), p. 251.

Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham