Gathered Here Today
"Gathered" is an operative word in our text. The same Greek word is used for the chief priests and Pharisees gathering the Sanhedrin and for Jesus gathering together the scattered children of God. There are special names for gatherings of animals. Some our familiar like herds, flocks, and schools. Some are not so familiar. Like the names for gatherings of crows, lions, and penguins. It's a murder of crows, a pride of lions and a creche of penguins. These fit the text because it has to do with murder, pride, and a creche.
Who do the church leaders wish to gather? They wish to gather their highest court, the Sanhedrin. What's strange is that chief priests who were Sadducees are making common cause with the Pharisees. Remember how in Acts Paul can easily stir up a fight between those two groups? Yet here they are agreeing to gather the highest Jewish civil and religious court.
The gathering is more of an evaluation, not of Jesus, but of their methods of dealing with Jesus. Ever since John the Baptist appeared on the Jordan and identified Jesus, they'd been dealing with the Jesus question. Remember how He threw out the money changers from the chief priest's base of operations, the temple? Remember how He called Pharisees white washed tombs? For three years they have been addressing the Jesus problem and what have they accomplished?
But this question has to be heard in context to see how diabolical it really is. Jesus has just raised a 4-day dead Lazarus publicly. Lots of people saw it. It could not be denied that Jesus had raised someone good and dead using simply words. And you know what? The church rulers didn't deny Jesus did it. They in fact affirm that Jesus is "performing many miraculous signs," and, what's more, if they let Him go on "everyone will believe in Him." Think again those of you who are certain that Jesus could convert the whole world or at least your loved one if He just did some miracle that no one could deny. The church leaders don't deny Jesus is doing many miracles, and that most everyone believes in Him as a result, but they still don't.
Like a group of crows gather about a hawk, these church leaders are upset and they caw, caw, caw. It always starts with one or two crows noticing the hawk and they start cawing and then more and more crows gather. It started with chief priests cawing with the Pharisees over the hawk Jesus. Then they gathered together the Sanhedrin and the cawing became a cacophony of sounds. Then it happened. When a murder of crows gather around a hawk some will be swirling overhead, some will be setting on branches cawing not far away from the offending hawk. All of sudden one crow will dart after the hawk.
That crow in this murder of crows is Caiaphas, and murder is what he speaks. He darts at the hawk Jesus saying the Jesus problem is simple. Jesus must die. It's better that He dies than our nation should perish because Jesus stirred them up to revolt against the Romans. This is where the murderous Sanhedrin is most like a murder of crows. No one is sure why crows mob hawks. O we think it's because they regard them as some sort of threat, but no one knows for sure. Likewise, Jesus didn't preach revolt against the Romans. He cleaned out the Temple not the Praetorium. He called Pharisees not centurions white washed tombs full of death.
Gathered here today are a murder of crows, and a pride of lions. Who is the Lion of the tribe of Judah here to gather? God is willing to give up His only beloved Son for the Jewish nation. There are all sorts of illustrations of this every one of them heart wrenching and every one of them impossible to me. Leaders in war have to make decisions like this. Better to sacrifice a few men for the sake of all the rest. And that's going on in Japan now where some 50 workers have gone into where the radiation is deadly to prevent it from spreading. I can even tell you that there are cases in history where a king gave up his own son to death because his people had unjustly killed a member of another king's family. But it's still impossible to me.
God didn't owe the Jewish nation a thing. Remember they rejected and killed every single prophet God ever sent them. Remember He wanted to gather them together under His wings of salvation but they would not. Still God chooses to sacrifice His Son to gather them. But there's more. God wished to gather not only the people He had chosen thousands of years before but all His scattered children.
Here's where it gets really impossible. Impossible as the Gospel prophesy that one day the lion would lie down with the lamb and eat straw like an ox. It's unimaginable that God wants to gather all His children. But look; when Jonah was upset that God didn't destroy the cruel enemy of Israel, Nineveh, God said He was concerned not only for the children there but the animals! Another story is told of how after God drowned the Egyptian army, there was a party in heaven. One of the angels asked God, "Why aren't You celebrating the defeat of Your enemies? God replied, "Should I celebrate when my children lie dead upon the seashore?"
From the murder of crows the Lion of the tribe of Judah wants to gather His children, and there is pride in what He does. We sing at Christmas that it is of the Father's love that the Son's begotten. At Jesus' Baptism and then again right before Lent we hear the Father boast with pride. "This is My beloved Son!" And why shouldn't the Father boast with pride? His Son was perfect. Guilty of no disobedience, not having any doubts, not even a single wayward thought. Jesus was everything that God meant for Adam to be. Everything God meant for you to be.
But this proud Father concludes His Son must die. That crow Caiaphas was only cawing what God put in His mouth. To gather children who are sinful, who are sold by their sins to Death and the Devil, you have to pay their debts, all of them. So what do you think is owed for sinning against the holy, almighty God? You do know that even in human law it makes a difference whom the crime is against. You hit me or threaten me. No big deal. You do that to the President or even a police officer, and you're in a world of hurt.
Well for our unbelief, our misbelief, and our other great shames and vices against God we deserve to be punished today and for all the tomorrows of eternity, but God sent the Son He was so proud of to be punished, to be tortured, to die an eternal death on a lonely, wooden cross, so He might gather all of His children, including you, especially you.
So gathered here today are a murder of crows, a pride of lions, and creche of penguins. Creche is what you call a nesting group of penguins, but creche is also the old French word for the manger. It's used today for the whole nativity scene. Gathered right here today is not a creche of penguins but of people gathered around the manger, around the nativity scene, around Jesus.
Gathered here are those touched by the death of Jesus not so much for all people but for them. Like Private Ryan could not help but gather at the tombstones of the soldiers who had given their lives to bring him home, we can't but be gathered here around the creche at Christmas and around the cross at Lent. It was Him for me. He got the beatings I deserve; I got the blessing He did. He got the lashing; I got the loving. He got the suffering; I got the saving. He got the bleeding; I got His Blood to cleanse my sins.
The murder of crows gathered to murder Jesus, we gather because they did. Just as Caiaphas spoke better than he could possibly know, so their evil deed of killing Jesus did better than they could possibly believe. And it's not too early to go there, is it? We're only two weeks away from Easter when the Lion of the tribe of Judah will rise in victory. The people of God are gathered here not only by the creche and cross but by that empty grave.
Gathered here today are a creche of penguins, surely one of the most helpless birds there is, penguins who still see the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Unlike Private Ryan who could only gather at an occupied grave. We gather at an empty one. We don't gather around a dead solider but a living lion. If, as the Proverb says, it's better to be a living dog then a dead lion, how much better to be a living lion? The Lion lives; hear Him roar.
The Lion, our Lord Jesus Christ, is seen and heard in the Waters of Baptism. Hear Him roar that you have been reborn in that Water. You are not the man or woman you use to be. You came forth from that font clothed in Jesus' blood and righteousness says Scripture. Of course wearing Jesus you're going to look like the hawk He is, and that means a murder of crows will mob you too. But take heart. I've seen that happen many times, and although those crows make a loud racket never once have I seen a hawk killed or even hurt by a murder of crows.
Hear the Lion your Lord Jesus roar in Absolution. Absolution isn't my words, but His. It's His judgment on your sins. I've only heard a lion roar in a zoo, but I'm quite sure it would shut down the cawing of 10,000 crows and certainly silence the relatively soft put persistent sound of a penguin particularly if it's the sound of a nagging conscience bothered by sins forgiven and left behind.
Gathered here today are those poor penguins who wish to hear and see Jesus again. Hear Him roar in His Word and see Him present in His Sacrament. No lion, no matter how prideful, ever gives his body or blood to feed his young. The Lion of the tribe of Judah gave and shed them on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, and today He puts that same Body and Blood in Bread and Wine to gather His scattered children and feed them.
This upsets a murder of crows; would astonish a pride of real lions; and satisfies this creche of penguins. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Fifth Sunday in Lent (20110410); John 11: 47-53