Sermon March 17 2019

“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose
Rev. Jeff Long-Middletoton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Luke 13:31-35
March 17, 2019

Second Sunday of Lent

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the 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! – Luke 13:34i

One of our favorite television shows was Friday Night Lights. It told the story of Dillon, a fictional town in rural Texas. It centered around the East Dillon high school football team and the team’s coach. We followed the ups and downs of the team, the town, the struggle of adolescents, the political intrigue of the school committee and the daily decisions that make up our lives and move us closer to virtue or nearer to vice. Before every game, Coach Taylor would address his team that ended with two things – a prayer and the teams motto: “Clear eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.” Behind the saying was the conviction that no matter what happened that night – whether the Dillon Panthers should win or lose on the field, with clear eyes and full hearts they had already won.

Jesus most certainly had clear eyes and a full heart that day the Pharisees warned him of Herod’s plan to kill him. Had they told me to depart from the region, that my life was in danger by the same man who had beheaded John the Baptist, I would have fled. Perhaps the Pharisees did not mean so much as to warn Jesus as to get rid of His presence. Maybe all they wanted was to rid themselves of the uncomfortable proximity to Jesus. We don’t know their motivation, but the warning was given and was cast aside by Jesus. Jesus knew what God the creator required of Him. He did not waver. His vision remained clear, his heart centered on the love and forgiveness of God.

Last Sunday, the first Sunday in Lent, we explored Luke’s account of the three temptations of Jesus by Satan. Remember? Stones to bread, sovereignty over the kingdoms of this world and possession of a God who would not let harm come to His beloved. Yet it is not the temptations themselves that I want us to recall. No, it is the haunting warning that came at the end of last week’s scripture reading: When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. Such a time is before Jesus, here, in the warning offered by the Pharisees. I would have run. Jesus marches towards Jerusalem. How many knew what truly awaited Jesus. The twelve disciples often seem clueless. Perhaps they are best captured in the song Jerusalem Tomorrow

Emmylou Harris, Jerusalem Tomorrow

Jesus will go to Jerusalem. The prediction of the Pharisees will be largely correct except it will not be Herod but Pilate who pronounces sentence. The devil came to Jesus as the author of Luke said Satan would. Had Jesus’ eyes not be clear, His heart not full, perhaps he would have fled from the pain of Golgotha.

And you and me? Can we have clear vision and full hearts? If so, we, too, cannot lose. But the sirens of our world are all around us. We are told to measure our worth by the wealth we have at hand, our value measured by what we can do rather than who we choose to be. Still, there are moments when we rise above the din of these distractions, when we too have clear eyes, full hearts and can’t lose.

On September 15, 1942, the American Aircraft carrier USS Wasp was struck by three enemy torpedoes in the Coral Sea. The Wasp did not sink immediately. One hundred and ninty-three men were killed that day. One casualty of the engagement had gone to fight fires that had broken out on the ship and lost his life while attempting to save others. His name was John Shae. He was forty-three at the time of his death. Days before, he had written a letter home to his five year-old son.

Dear Jackie,

This is the first letter I have ever written directly to my little son and I am thrilled to know that you can read it all by yourself. If you miss some of the words, I’m sure it will be because I do not write very plainly. Mother will help you in that case I am sure.

I was certainly glad to hear your voice over the long distance telephone. It sounded as though I were right in the living room with you. You sounded as though you missed your daddy very much. I miss you too, more than anyone will ever know. It is too bad this war could not have been delayed a few more years so that I could grow up again with you and do with you all the things I planned to do when you were old enough to go to school.  

I thought how nice it would be for me to come home early in the afternoon and play ball with you, and go mountain climbing and see the trees, and brooks, and learn all about woodcraft, hunting, fishing, swimming, and things like that. I suppose we must be brave and put these things off for a little while.

When you are a little bigger you will know why your daddy is not home so much any more. You know we have a big country and we have ideals as to how people should live and enjoy the riches of it and how each is born with equal rights to life, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, there are some countries in the world where they don’t have these ideals, where a boy cannot grow up to be what he wants to be with no limits on his opportunities to be a great man, such as a great priest, statesman, doctor, soldier, business man etc.

Because there are people and countries who want to change our nation, its ideals, forms of government, and way of life, we must leave our homes and families to fight. Fighting for the defense of our country, ideals, homes, and honor is an honor and a duty which your daddy has to do before he can come home to settle down with you and Mother. When it is done, he is coming home to be with you always and forever. So wait just a little while longer. I am afraid it will be more than the two weeks you told me on the phone.

In the meantime, take good care of Mother. Be a good boy and grow up to be a good young man. Study hard when you go to school. Be a leader in everything good in life. Be a good Catholic, and you can’t help being a good American. Play fair always. Strive to win but if you must lose, lose like a gentleman and a good sportsman. Don’t ever be a quitter either in sports or in your business or profession when you grow up. Get all the education you can. Stay close to Mother and follow her advice. Obey her in everything, no matter how you may at times disagree. She knows what is best and will never let you down or lead you away from the right and honorable things in life. If I don’t get back, you will have to be Mother’s protector because you will be the only one she has. You must grow up to take my place as well as your own in her life and heart. 

Love your grandmother and granddad as long as they live. They too will never let you down. Love your aunts and see them as often as you can. Last of all, don’t ever forget your daddy. Pray for him to come back and if it is God’s will that he does not, be the kind of a boy and man your daddy wants you to be.

Thanks for the nice sweater and handkerchiefs and particularly for the note and card. Write me very often and tell me everything,

Kiss Mother for me every night.

Goodbye for now.

With all my love and devotion for Mother and you,

Your daddy

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. May all of us in these troubling days, when values receive no value, here the sincere wisdom of John Shae’s words. May we live with clear eyes and full hearts because then we cannot lose. Let us pray….

i Luke 13:31-35

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 32He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the 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! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’