“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”

What comes to mind when you think about Jerusalem?

I’m a seminary student and constantly studying the Bible, so I when think about Jerusalem, I think of it as the ancient, Biblical city: the capital of the ancient Israelite kingdom.

It all begins in today’s reading from Genesis, when God promises to Abraham to give his descendants some land. God makes a covenant complete with a ritual sacrifice to stay with Abraham as he journeys from his home and hopes for his promised children. God promises to create and call God’s people, and God promises to carve out a place for them.

And after the wilderness wandering, God establishes this place for God’s people. And the center of this place—the cultural center, the most important site to go and to be in ancient Israel—is Jerusalem. Because in Jerusalem is the temple—the temple, the holy of holies, the place where you meet God.
Because to the ancient Israelite people, God lives in this temple. God lives in Jerusalem. God dwells in the midst of this city, and it is a holy, holy place. Jerusalem is God’s city: promised, given, and blessed with God’s presence.

So why would God’s holy city kill its prophets and stone those who are sent to it?

Allow me a brief Biblical history lesson: Jerusalem is not only the holiest city in the Bible. It is also the site of some of the most intense violence and war in the Bible. In 587 BCE the Babylonians began a siege against the Israelite kingdom of Judah, which lasted for about a year. The Babylonians cut off food supplies and imprisoned community leaders and more or less systematically destroyed all the city’s social structures. Finally, the Babylonians captured the capital Jerusalem, lay waste to the city and began deporting exiles. Those who stayed in the city faced starvation, violence, and war crimes. Those who left become refugees or prisoners of war.

And most importantly, the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem’s temple. There is no more holy of holies. There is no place for God to dwell.
To the ancient Israelites in the Babylonian conquest, God seemingly left Jerusalem, which was now a pit of violence and waste. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” became “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.” God’s people began to wonder: Is God still in our city?

But God does not give up on the city. Eventually the Israelites return and they rebuild the temple, and in a rush of the Spirit that overwhelms everyone, in which young people cry and old people dance, God returns to the city. God’s people reassemble, celebrate, and renew their religious and spiritual lives.

But maybe you know the next turn in Jerusalem’s Biblical story…Eventually the Romans come…Right before Jesus is born, the Roman Empire begins to rule Jerusalem, and once again, Jerusalem becomes a site of the worst of social ills and human sin: defined by oppression, division, poverty, violence, neglect, and suffering.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” again becomes “the city that kills the prophets and
stones those who are sent to it.” And God’s people again wonder: Is God still in our city?

We don’t have to go too far to imagine the history of tragedy in Jerusalem. We’ve known its tragedy in our own time, and today we simply have to turn on the news to know that oppression, division, poverty, violence, neglect, and suffering still define that city.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” is still “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.” And God’s people still wonder: is God still in that city?

The answer is yes, for today there is good news for Jerusalem. In today’s Gospel, God goes to Jerusalem. The good news is that Jesus Christ—who is God on earth—walks towards that city. Jesus intentionally turns towards that pit of violence and waste. He does not shy away from its intense suffering but purposefully and voluntarily goes right into the heart of it.

He goes right into the heart of it to redeem it. Jesus goes into the heart of Jerusalem to show that God is there, yes even there, and
God is going there and is still there. Because God is especially wherever there is oppression, division, poverty, violence, neglect, and suffering. God is there to redeem it.

And God will always be there and going there to redeem it. Jesus says that he’s not just going to Jerusalem today. And he’s not just going to that city tomorrow. But he says that “today, tomorrow, and the next day”—every single day—he says, “I must be on my way.”

Because he is the God who redeems the world’s deepest sins, Jesus must go to where there is deep suffering. Because he is the God who reconciles humanity to God and to each other, Jesus must go to the worst of human division. Because he is the God who rises from the dead to bring new life, Jesus must go to the most deadly of places.

God has gone, is going, and will always go to Jerusalem, and to our city, and to each one of us. For Jerusalem is God's city and God will never abandon it. And this city is God's city too, and the same promises that God made and
keeps with Jerusalem God makes and keeps with this city and with every community on earth.

This is good news for Jerusalem, and it is good news for us, because we all have our own Jerusalems. We all have our sites of deep suffering, of division, of hunger, of neglect, and of pain. We all have our sites that need healing, that need reconciliation, that need nourishment, and that need a promise kept. We all have our sites that need attention and love and grace and new life.

During this season of Lent, we journey with Jesus towards Jerusalem. We walk with the God who walks into the pits of human suffering, takes on the greatest suffering in death on a cross, and then raises all of it up to new life.

In Lent, we walk with Jesus towards Jerusalem. In repentance, we walk with God who forgives us. In mercy, we walk with God who heals us. In love, we walk with God who never leaves God’s city. In faith, we walk with God who promises to be with us and
redeem us every single day. In hope, we walk with God who renews us, our cities, and all of creation.

And finally, what is good news for Jerusalem is good news for us, because at the end of it all, God promises to create a New Jerusalem. God promises to create a new place: a new heaven and new earth where there is no sun or moon because God is the light, where there is no more mourning or crying, and where death and pain will be no more. Yes, God promises to create New Jerusalems for us all, because God always going there, is always walking with us, and is forever making all things new.

Come let us walk towards Jerusalem. Amen.