Occasionally someone slowed down a bit. A few people threw in dollar bills. In 45 minutes he collected $32. A few stopped for a minute to listen. But when he packed up his violin and bow, no one applauded, or said anything to him.
That’s probably about typical for a busker on a subway line. But what made this particular performance so interesting was who the violinist was. His name is Joshua Bell, and he is one of the most renowned classical musicians alive. Seats for his shows average $100, and he regularly sells them out. He was playing a violin worth $3.5 million dollars, and he was playing one of the most complicated pieces of music you can choose.
But in the end of the experiment, the paper pointed out that no one recognized him, and very few even gave him a second thought. Everyone was too busy going to work, or catching the train, or avoiding the guy who wants a dollar. And the final question was clear: If so many people, people a lot like us, missed what was happening right in front of their eyes that day, what else are we missing?
So what does any of this have to do with Jesus, and our passage today?
Today’s reading isn’t one of the most well known. It’s not the great commission, or the sermon on the mount, or the story of the nativity. It’s this sort of odd passage about foxes and hens and Jerusalem.
A Pharisee comes to Jesus as he is on the road to Jerusalem and says, “Look…you need to get out of here…King Herod wants to kill you!” Now, Jesus knows he is being set up. The Pharisees weren’t trying to save him. They were working with Herod to try to get Jesus away from the crowds where they themselves could kill him without there being an uproar.
So, Jesus says to the Pharisee, “you go and tell that old fox, I’m a little busy here. I’m casting out demons. I’m trying to get to Jerusalem.” And then he tells them this, “It’s impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” In other words, I’m going to the big city. You may not like it, but you can wait to kill me there, in front of the crowds.
Jesus says something else too. He says, 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! See, 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.'”
Jesus compares himself to a mother hen. He talks about the people he is going to in Jerusalem, and he says he wants to take them under his wings, and protect them. But he also says that he knows that’s not how it’s going to go down. He knows that when he gets there he will be rejected. He knows that they won’t listen to him. And he knows that he will be killed.
And, more than anything, he knows they won’t realize what they have done until so much later, and only then will they say of him what we say at communion: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
It reminded me of that story I told a few minutes ago. A world-class artist was there in an everyday place, doing what he did best. And no one noticed. Likewise, a prophet, a healer, and God made flesh, is walking towards the city. And no one notices who he really is. And the people of Jerusalem won’t…not until it’s too late.
This isn’t just about a city thousands of miles away, though. Because when Jesus is talking about Jerusalem, he wasn’t just talking about the physical place where he was headed. He was talking about us.
We humans, of all times and places, are Jerusalem. We are the city that kills its prophets. We are the ones who don’t get it when we see it. We are the ones who look right past God.
Jesus longs to take us under his wings and protect us. He longs to tell us what he knows, and about a better way to live. He wants to help us, but more often than not, we don’t see him. We might encounter him in our day to day lives, and be so close to him, but then walk by the way all those people rushing to catch the train did when they walked past the violinist.
I think that’s the story of my life, somedays. I think that sometimes God puts some really obvious signs right in front of me, and I just miss them because I am far too busy, or far too consumed with other things. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.
I think that’s what it’s like for everyone who is human. We often wonder, “Where is God?” And, more often than not, God’s not all that far away. In fact, we may have just walked right past and not noticed.
I can look back on my life now and see the places where God was working, and I just didn’t see it at the time. And I can look back at the hard places especially, and see the places where God was right there, wanting my eyes to be opened, and I just looked right past, and kept walking. The grace is that, sometimes at least, I can see it now. But But my growing edge is that I’m working on seeing it at the time, and not years later.
Maybe it’s the same for you. Maybe you feel like you are walking right past God in your life. Maybe you feel like in the rush and clamor of the day, you have no time left to look for Jesus. Maybe you are feeling disconnected, and alone, and afraid.
I really believe that God doesn’t want you to feel that way. And I believe you don’t have to feel that way either.
Today is the second Sunday of Lent. And Lent can be an incredibly powerful spiritual time. It can be a time where we clear away the cobwebs of distraction, and instead focus on seeing what really is in front of us. When we take off the blinders of our own busy-ness and importance, and when we really open our hearts to what is already surrounding us, we find that God is a lot closer than we think.
That’s one reason why what we take on in Lent can make such a profound impact. If we commit to worshipping more, praying more, and giving more time to God, we will find that we haven’t lost time. We’ve gained God. And that’s worth more than we could have imagined.
I was thinking about this last night. We had our first Saturday night service here at the church. We will be having them once a month starting in April. The services are a little more informal. We wore jeans, I didn’t preach behind the pulpit, we sang along to a guitar. Kids were welcomed to actively participate. And it was a little shorter than a typical Sunday service.
It didn’t look much like worship does this morning. Some might even feel uncomfortable and say, “that’s not for me”. Which is okay. Not everything that this church does has to appeal to every single person. But for the people who were there, I believe that they were able to recognize God’s presence in an unexpected way.
And that’s the story of our journey for those of us who are Christians. Like the commuters on that train, we are rushing about from stop to stop, trying to get somewhere that we think we need to be. And yet, along the way, occasionally we are called to stop. We are summoned by extraordinary beauty or grace and goodness, and we are called to listen. And we are called to recognize that we are in the presence of something incredible.
If we can find that on a Saturday night, we can find it on a Sunday morning. And we can find it any other day of the week as well. Christ’s love and grace are waiting for you today, somewhere out there in the world. When you get close, don’t just walk on by. Don’t miss this. Have eyes to see it, and have a heart to feel it. And if you do, your life will be changed by it.