Sermon for Second Sunday in Lent (Year C)
Sunday, March 17, 2019
Texts: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
If you want a gospel story about a warm, fuzzy Jesus speaking sweet nothings to his followers, then today’s gospel reading is not for you. In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, we find a Jesus whose talk is tough and his words insulting.
The reading starts with some Pharisees coming to warn Jesus. We don’t know for sure what their motives were. Were they good Pharisees, there are some in the gospels, seeking to protect Jesus and offering the helpful warning that Herod was out to get him? Or, were they the same old Pharises, trying to find a way to get Jesus out of town, and inventing a crisis: “Herod wants to kill you!” Hoping a terrified Jesus would go running quickly out of town, leaving them alone.
Either way, his response is significant. “Go and tell Herod, that fox, what I am up to.” It’s important to recognize that this was not a benign or nonchalant response. My Harper Collins Study Bible suggests that by calling Herod a fox, Jesus offered a dangerous insult.
What was this dangerous insult? One online source suggests that in Jesus’s day, fox was not a synonym for crafty, cunning, or clever. Rather, the term fox was used opposite of lion. One wanted to be a lion, strong, powerful, commanding. Herod would have considered himself a lion, he roared and people responded. One did not want to be a fox, weak, inferior, attacked and scattered by the superior lions.
In order to more truly feel the insult, this source suggested a variety of other ways we might translate “fox.” Among the list of his suggestions: weakling, clown, nobody, pretender, jerk. Said Jesus:
“Go and tell Herod, that weakling, that I have am casting out demons …”
“Go and tell Herod, that nobody, I am bringing cure to the people …”
“Go and tell Herod, that clown, that I work for two days and on the third my work is done.”
That’s the sting, the rhetorical slap in the face, Jesus offered.
So, what do we learn from this insulting Jesus? Do we learn that our political leaders are fair game for insults and cheap shots? No, that’s not the message for today. I believe the message for us today, is that in his insult of Herod, Jesus rebuked power that rejected God’s Word.
We see this in that after insulting Herod, Jesus than went on to talk tough about Jerusalem, the seat of religious, cultural, and political power. Talking tough, Jesus pointed out the ways that the power of Jerusalem had rebelled against God.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”
The rebellion of Jerusalem, was not an indifferent setting aside of God’s Word, but active attack. The prophets speaking the Word of God were killed and stoned, the prophets who over and over again called for faith in God, and commanded care for the most vulnerable in society – the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners – were rejected.
In the insult lobbing, tough talking Jesus, we can see a message about a proper relationship with, and use of, power.
Many years ago by President John F. Kennedy, in honoring Robert Frost at Amherst College, commended the important role that poets and artists play in society. He said their works helps a society to see: “Whether we use power, or power uses us.”
In light of these insulting and tough words of Jesus in the gospel today, we must ask: do we use our power in response to the call of Christ and the prophets to care for one another? Or, do we use our power, like Herod, like the religious leaders of old, to kill the prophets and care for only ourselves?
Do we use our individual power, our collective power, our national power, to enact legislation, foster compassion, and direct social attitudes that feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner, and respond to the call of the prophets?
Or, do we allow power to use us as pawns in violent death match struggles where power battles for its own preservation, even if society itself goes to hell?
As we consider that question, we do so guided by the central insights of our first and second readings today. In the second reading, Paul pointed out that “Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior the Lord Jesus Christ.” In the first reading, in the promise to Abram & Sarai, is the promise that their descendants would number more than the stars in the heavens.
In that promise, and in recognizing our heavenly citizenship, our imagination is expanded about who our fellow citizens in the heavenly kingdom really are.
All three of the major world religions look to Abraham and Sarah. As such, we can imagine today, the whole citizenship of heaven, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, include our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters.
There is no “us” and “them.” With our citizenship in heaven, as descendants of Abraham and Sarah, there is only us. This citizenship from heaven, including so vast a number we cannot count, blows right past our limited understandings of earthly citizenship.
For this reason, when Muslims are attacked and killed in mosques, we, the children of Abraham & Sarah, the citizens of heaven, are attacked. It is we as one community who suffer.
When Jews are attacked and killed in synagogues, we, the children of Abraham & Sarah, the citizens of heaven, are attacked. It is we as one community who suffer.
When Christians are attacked and killed in churches, we ask for the same prayers from our Muslim and Jewish siblings we pray today.
Friends in Christ, in the Lenten disciplines of self-examination & repentance, prayer & fasting, and sacrificial works of love, we are invited to consider our use of power as citizens, not of this country, but as descendants of Abraham and Sarah, working for the common welfare of Christians, Jews, and Muslims and all of human community.
We are called to use our power, as the body of Christ, as the mother hen gathering her brood under her wings. That’s the connection Professor Dirk Lange points out, between Jesus describing Herod as a fox who attackes the hens and devours the chickens, and describing his own work as that of a mother hen, gathering her chickens under her wings. Power is not used to satisfy one’s own hunger, power is used to protect and preserve those who are weak, who are vulnerable, who are in the most danger.
There is nothing wrong with power. One of our own members, John Trobaugh, is running for School Committee in the City of Worcester. We are not called to run from power with the idea that power is bad, but rather, we are called to participate in the proper use of power.
In a community of self-examination and repentance, prayer and fasting, we hold each other accountable to the proper use of power. We do these things, so that power does not use us, but we use power, aligned with the will of God, for the healing and salvation of the world.
The Good News today, is that the work of God, in Jesus Christ, who fulfills the covenant made to Abram and Sarai. The covenant is fulfilled in us, as the Holy Spirit works faith in us, to participate in God’s kingdom of healing, mercy, and justice.
Here today, in the presence of Jesus Christ, we are gathered under the wings of Christ. Here this morning, as the chicks protected by our mother hen, we are washed and fed, we are nourished and strengthened, we are encouraged and healed. Here today, we are brought together as the children of Abraham and Sarah and sent into the world as the body of Christ, as mother hen, to spread our wings over those who suffer.
The good news is of Jesus Christ alive in the selfless, thoughtful, and bold work of Christians using power to care for the least among us. Here in our ministry, here in us, is the work of Christ spreading her wings as mother hen over her children in many and various ways: in worship, in study, in hospitality, in prayer, in service.
The good news of Jesus Christ, is the news of Christ who does not stand idly by as sin marches on. But rather, speaks insults and judgment against abusive power, including our own abuse of power, while at the same time stirring up among us the boldness to speak out against power that rejects God’s word.
Friends in Christ, recognizing that our citizenship is in heaven, and in that citizenship we claim Jews and Muslims as fellow citizens, let us use our power for good. Let us use our power obedient to the command of the prophets, the call of Christ, to care for the least among us. Let us place our power into the hands of Christ, who used his power in his death on the cross for the life, healing, and salvation of the world.
Indeed may it be so.