A sermon preached at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, California
March 13, 2022
In the section immediately preceding our story from Luke this morning, Jesus has been causing a ruckus. He has healed on the Sabbath, and then shamed his critics with his response to healing on the Sabbath.
Shamed critics end up being angry critics.
He has also offered up some difficult teachings, about narrow ways, and first being last, and fig trees that get chopped down because they do not bear fruit as they ought. He has presented a challenging description of the Kingdom of God—something that starts small like a mustard seed and then becomes giant.
If that doesn’t threaten Rome, I’m not sure what might.
This is not happy, bring the cute kids to me Jesus while he holds a baby lamb…
This is “I’m headed to Jerusalem and I dare you to mess with me” Jesus.
He is picking a fight. He is tired of quietly submitting to injustice. He’s tired of pretending injustice isn’t all around him. He’s tired of keeping a false peace to not anger Herod, all the while Herod kills people.
And at that very hour, some Pharisees come to him to warn him that Herod wants to kill him. I don’t always think of “helpful” when I think of Pharisees. Don’t they seem an odd choice to bring warning? Since when have they been concerned for Jesus’ safety?
Maybe they were sincerely concerned for Jesus’ life. But I can also hear their comment in the voice of the annoying kid on the playground who tells you “I’ve told the teacher and she’s coming and then you are going to be in a lot of trouble, which I will enjoy watching greatly.”
I can also imagine that Jesus creating trouble with Rome could create trouble for the Pharisees. And when religious leaders value compliance over faithfulness, watch out.
In either case, they bring warning to Jesus. He has gone too far. He has made too many people mad. He has upset the status quo one too many times. There is a price to be paid for demanding justice, for refusing to play Rome’s game, for healing all those people and for refusing to be limited by how we think the world is supposed to work.
Herod is paying attention.
The system of oppression, of injustice, of un-health, and of un-creativity will not stand idly by while Jesus exposes its evil. It will fight back. It will kill him. And the system’s agent is Herod.
And we are told Herod wants to kill Jesus.
But even now, Jesus won’t play that game. He refuses to be threatened, or quieted down. He responds with “you tell that FOX I’m busy. I’ve got people to heal, and work to do. I do not have time for that snake, I mean weasel, I mean fox, right now.”
Who wants to be the Pharisee to report that comment back to Herod?
Jesus has given Herod all the time he is willing to give him. Because Herod is not worth his time. Herod is just a flunky for Rome. Herod, for all is his evil ways, is a small matter compared to the work of the Kingdom of God.
And Jesus moves on to talk about Jerusalem.
He reminds us where he is headed.
He reminds us what happens to prophets.
He reminds us we don’t always welcome God’s messengers when they show up.
“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.’”
Even as Jesus reminds them of painful truths and tries to prepare them for what is still to come, he does it with love. One could understand if he called Jerusalem a bunch of foxes as he labeled Herod, since they kill all their prophets.
But Jerusalem gets a different metaphor.
How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.
Herod is the Fox. We are the baby chickens.
This, I confess, is one of my favorite metaphors for God. I’m not, necessarily, the person who wants to be around actual, live chickens, which freak me out a bit.
But I love the image of being sheltered under God’s wings. The 91st Psalm says “God will cover you with his feathers. The Lord will shelter you with his wings.” I love the image of God as a mamma hen, even if God has to sit on me to try to keep me safe from foxes and weasels and other barnyard predators.
Even as I love this image for God, I confess I struggle a bit with the consequences of Jesus calling Herod a fox and choosing to refer to the divine presence as something as vulnerable as a chicken. Couldn’t God have been a shark? Or a grizzly bear? A velociraptor?
By describing the divine presence as a mother hen, and not King Kong, we’re reminded that the powers of this world should not be our aspirational ideals. We are reminded that God as mother hen won’t take away the dangers of the world. God won’t make foxes stop being foxes.
God won’t make foxes not be dangerous to chickens. Danger is not something we can opt out of, just because we love Jesus. The world can be dangerous. God will be the mother hen, surrounding us in love and shelter in the midst of the foxes of the world.
Watching the news from Ukraine, Putin is doing a powerful job illustrating Herod as a fox. Shooting and shelling civilians, maternity wards, and evacuation corridors is the behavior of a dangerous predator, and people are dying because of it. And while the nations of the world need to bring Putin to justice, we should realize that God is in Ukraine, sheltering in basements, with the divine wings surrounding the people in harm’s way. Even in the worst moments, God is with them.
The Psalmist offers words I want to offer in those moments when we’re hiding under God’s feathers, unsure of the future and afraid.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
I love the reminder that we should be looking for the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, even when there are foxes in our henhouses. The psalmist offers this statement of hope immediately after they note the threats they are facing:
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
There is still goodness in the land of the living.
We tend to lump the four gospel narratives together. But it is helpful to remember here that they all see the cross event differently. Luke sees Jesus as a martyred prophet, killed as one who stands up to injustice, but also killed as someone who wishes there were another option. You’ll see this in the passion narrative. Jesus has his eyes open on the way to the cross, but that doesn’t make him like what he sees, the way Luke tells the story.
We can hear that in this passage. Jesus is willing to do what needs to be done, but there is a wistfulness in his comments. Jesus would love nothing more than to be that smiling Jesus with happy children and baby lambs, keeping us safe and sheltering us under his wings.
But that is not the world in which Jesus finds himself. Instead of being in a tranquil, bucolic farmyard, he is frantically trying to keep the fox out of the hen house while the baby chickens are running around.
The challenge for me in Lent is to accept my own responsibility for this broken world in which we live. As we follow Jesus on his approach to the cross, I invite us all to look around our barnyard. Are we seeking the praise and attention of the foxes who want to bring us harm? Are we seduced by their worldly power, their glossy coats, their celebrity status when they tell us their lies? It may not be Putin, but likely we are charmed by a fox sometime in our life.
Rome can save you. Unlock the gate.
You don’t need God. Come out from under her wings.
I don’t know where you see yourself in this metaphor. I want to think I’m a happy little chick, content to be in God’s care.
But perhaps I’m more likely digging under the fence, trying to find a way to go join the foxes.
As we continue in Lent, I invite you to play around with metaphor. If Luke’s image of fox and mamma hen doesn’t resonate with you, then find one that does.
Is God a shepherd?
A rock? A fortress?
A wind that rustles the leaves on the trees?
Is God a mighty warrior?
Is God a Father?
What is your metaphor for God?
These images of God can invite us into new ways of seeing ourselves and our relationships. The difficulties of our world sometimes make metaphor a safer way of approaching our own brokenness. I can’t really bear the weight of my actual complicity in the brokenness of the world. But metaphor can help me see it from a safer distance at first, which might help me take stock of my own relationships in the world.
I hope you will share your metaphors for God as you encounter them this week, maybe in your Lenten study groups.
So, whether you are a chick taking shelter under wing, or a lamb being gathered back into the flock; whether you are a mountain goat seeking shelter from the wind on the leeward side of a big rock, or a patient under care of the great physician; know that the God who created us, is calling us to turn toward God, even as Jesus laments over Jerusalem and our brokenness.
Whatever your metaphor for God, let us turn, again and again and again, toward the sheltering wings of God.