Year C — The Second Sunday in Lent

Commentary for February 24, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

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Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
It’s hard to trust God…harder than it seems like it ought to be.

I mean, after all, this is God we’re talking about, right? The Creator of heaven and earth, the Father of the Lord Jesus, our Savior and our Lord.

We use such lofty language in our worship and prayer; yet, and still…when it gets down to the brass tacks, there may still be that little bit of doubt or discomfort.

Abram is more than a little worried about God’s promise to make him a father of great nations. He’s getting on up there in terms of age and physical “capacity.” So, he calls God to account for God’s promise.

In one of the stranger signs of assurance given in the Bible, Abram receives an indelible remembrance of God’s promise to make good on God’s word. In effect, God says, “May it be to me as it is to these animals if I do not keep my promise to you.” 

Alrighty, then; guess that’ll do!

Psalm 27
What can I say about this awesome Psalm text? I suppose for me, I always hear the classic song setting by British composer Frances Allitsen (a nice job here by Emily Willis at the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia.)

As for the particular theological significance for this second Sunday in Lent, the reverberation of the “wait on the Lord” theme is important. We are anxious, we are seekers, there are “evildoers” encamped all about us.

But, it is God who is our strength, and God who will deliver us. Wait, wait…(I love the doubled emphasis of v.14.)

Philippians 3:17-4:1
Paul offers us a series of “choices” of how to view the world, and God’s activity in it. One may live as an enemy of the cross (with the evocative descriptor, “their god is their belly!”) Or, one may live as a citizen of heaven, living in the expectant hope of salvation from above.

We may be burdened by the body of humiliation, a symbol of our human frailty; or, we may receive the body of glorification that belongs to Jesus.

Again, we are reminded of the power that comes from standing firm — waiting — in the Lord.

Luke 13:31-35
In today’s gospel lesson, it is up to Jesus to illustrate what it means when the water meets the wheel (or the rubber meets the road, or the skubala hits the fan, etc.)

Herod is hot after Jesus’ head; Jesus is being warned by the Pharisees (get the irony?) to get out of town. Flee in fright, or stand and fight? What will Jesus’ choice be?

Neither, of course. 

Jesus will mosey on out of town for a time, until it really is time for him to put the nail in the coffin (or the cross, so to speak) of God’s mission. In the meantime, Jesus will do what he apparently did each and every day — trust God with the details and keep his mind on his Father’s business.

Amazing, isn’t he? Our Savior and our Lord.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

My grandmother used to get eggs from a family who lived about a mile further down the dirt road by her house. When I was little, five or six, Grandma and I would often walk there to visit on a cool summer’s evening. 

Eventually we would go out past the hen-house to the spring-house, where they kept the eggs in little wire cages submerged in a concrete tank of water fed by a cold mountain spring. 

We put the eggs in little tin buckets padded with dishcloths and walked home for supper; probably bacon and eggs with biscuits, because Grandma wasn’t particular about exactly when she had breakfast. 

One summer evening, just as we came out of the spring-house, there was an awful fuss in the chicken yard. 

A sudden raising of dust, flurry of feathers and scattering of hens and chickens, much screeching and squawking; and then, just as suddenly, things calmed down and an old gray hen emerged from the bushes with a large black snake in her mouth. 

I thought of that day again when I read today’s Gospel lesson. Herod, the king, the worldly power, a fox in the chicken yard; and the Messiah, the Christ, portrayed as a bold female, risking all to protect her chicks. It’s an interesting play of images.

As our Gospel lesson begins, Jesus is told that he should be afraid, he should watch out, that the evil King Herod is out to get him. 

Jesus appears to be unafraid, either of Herod or of dying. It would be appropriate for Jesus to be afraid, but Jesus shows no fear. Instead he taunts Herod, saying, “Come and get me, or better yet, I’ll come to you, for no true prophet can die outside Jerusalem.”

At the mention of Jerusalem Jesus’ tone changes. He cries over the people, laments their misguided rejection of God’s messengers of truth and love. 

Then comes this startling image: God, Christ, as a mother hen protecting her children from the evil fox in their midst. Jerusalem is Israel and Israel is us, all of us, all of humanity. 

The truth is that God has loved us, all of us, from the very beginning, from the time of creation, from the time of Noah and the flood, from the time of Abram and Sari and the Promise, from the time of Moses and Miriam and the Exodus, from the time of Deborah 
and the other judges of Israel
 and the kings and queens and prophets and psalmists, 
God has loved the world
 and sent us signs and wonders and messages of that love. 

And all too often, we have failed to understand or respond to that love. All too often, we have turned God’s Word of love into a life of hate; all too often, we have turned God’s call to repentance into the pointing fingers and a call to arms.

The sly fox of the world turns us away from that which is good and eternal and pulls us in the direction of those things which satisfy now but do not linger and live with us for an eternity with God.

If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the sadness in Jesus’ voice here. If you’ve ever watched someone waste their life away on drugs or booze or bad relationships or chasing after material possessions or honors or notoriety or celebrity, or something. Something undefined but just around the corner that will, they hope, make them whole and complete and healed, but which is never there; then you know the pain Jesus feels. 

For you cannot save them, you cannot make them change, you cannot make anyone give up the things that are ruining them. All you can do is open your arms, you cannot make anyone walk into them.

And, it is the most vulnerable posture in the world, arms spread, chest exposed. Or, to continue Jesus’ Mother Hen imagery, wings spread, breast exposed. It is interesting that this turns out to be the way Jesus died in Jerusalem, wings spread, breast exposed. 

Jesus was able to face down Herod the fox because he had faith in the God of promise, the God who promises and follows through. Jesus had faith in the God who promised Abram and Sarai that they would have a Son and that they would be the parents of a people who filled the earth. 

Jesus was able to go to the cross because he believed the Psalmist when he said, “The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” 

In the middle of the night, when the fox is loose in the henhouse of our lives, we grow fearful and often wonder, “Where is God, will God come?” 

Jesus is the promise that “Yes! God will come; indeed God has come in Christ.”  Comes across the chicken yard – clucking and screeching, wings spread, breast exposed; comes to rescue, comes to protect, comes to save. 

Yes, God comes, that is the promise Jesus made and that is the promise Jesus kept upon the cross, where he sheltered us from the devil’s wrath and saved us from ourselves so that we might live forever in God’s love.

Amen and Amen.

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