Mar 17, 2022
Our text this morning is from Luke the 13th Chapter, Verses 31 through 35. Now we read the NIV version this morning, but I wanted to read it also from The Message because sometimes it provides us with a fresh perspective.
"Just then some Pharisees came up and said, Run for your life, Herod's on the hunt and he's out to kill you. Jesus said, tell that fox, I've no time for him today. Today and tomorrow, I'm busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick. The third day I'm wrapping things up. Besides, it's not proper for a prophet to come to a bad end outside Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killer of Prophets, abusers of the messengers of God, how often I've longed to gather your children, gather your children like a hen, her brood safe under her wings, but you refused and turned away. And now it's too late. You won't see me again until the day you say bless it is he who comes in the name of the Lord."
This is a really interesting text here, because we see it begins with Herod, who had already played executioner to the prophetic John the Baptist, who, remember, is Jesus's cousin. You know, I wonder if they played together as children. They got into mischief making together. But what we know from the Gospels is that John is the one who baptized Jesus at the Jordan. And we see this Spirit descending like a dove, right? So it was an incredibly holy moment that the gospel writers chose to record.
And I imagine that hearing, just hearing the name Herod, is a source of grief for Jesus. That's the man who killed my cousin. And I imagine, perhaps for Jesus, and perhaps for his disciples, it is also a source of deep fear. This man had no problem killing your prophetic cousin, and he has no problem killing you too.
Now, here we come to the Pharisees. I had to look this up [from] back in my childhood days, but there's a song by Brian Howard called, I Just Want to Be a Sheep. Now, some of you may have grown up singing this song... I see you, Bill.
It's summer camp, or VBS. And it is a catchy tune.
I just want to be a sheet Bad, bad, bad, bad, right? And we go on.
It's very, it's very catchy. However, it is an extremely problematic song when you look at it theologically, because one of the many problematic lines is, "I don't want to be a Pharisee. I don't want to be a Pharisee because they're not fair."
You see, a bit of a stretch, Brian Howard. And please don't sing this song with your children. That [song] also talks about Canaanites and it's just not a very good song to teach your children. We can find more uses of Bad in another song.
But I note this because one of my seminary professors, Dr. Amy Jo Levine and her colleague, Marc Zvi Brettler, who's at Duke University, note in the Jewish annotated New Testament that the Gospels presentation of Pharisees is puzzling, inconsistent, and complex. So, translation: You cannot paint Pharisees in a broad stroke, just like you can't paint anyone in a broad stroke, right? Especially in a time and context that is thousands of years before you lived.
Luke is distinguishing among the Pharisees by adding that some Pharisees... to the text, some Pharisees told him, and what did they say to him? These are not the "I'm going to kill you Pharisees," because they're warning Jesus, Herod is going to kill you. So, in this text, we see the Pharisees are actually, perhaps, sort of on Jesus's side, or at the very least, they don't want to see this man being killed. They may not believe that he is the Messiah, but they also don't want him dead.
Jesus knew that God was doing a new thing, something that surely must have been on his mind as he looked toward Jerusalem in this text. And the tenderness and ache in Jesus's words as he laments is very evident. How I have long to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks.
When I was doing the research for my book, Mother God, I was watching videos of hens fighting snakes or something for their chicks. And they're really adorable... But they're also really protective. If you've ever been on a farm or seen chickens, they will be come very fierce and protect their young. And so I think about that when I think of this passage as well.
Daniel Deffenbaugh notes in Feasting on The Word, commentary that the Hebrew word in Genesis 1:2, when God creates, and the spirit is hovering over the deep face of the waters? That word is much more similar to the Greek word here of how I've long to gather you under my wings, so that brooding, that hovering over the face of the waters is similar to this "brooding" in Greek that's Jesus's use.
So the eagle is a symbol of Imperial Rome. And it's also a symbol of our United States of America, no less the image of Herod the Fox, and he really has no favorable image, favorable place in Jesus experience as he journeys to Jerusalem, it is more likely to say that the eagle and the fox [have] more in common than the than the hen.
What does this all mean for us today? I am very aware that we are living in a tumultuous time, although have we never not lived in a tumultuous time is perhaps a better question.
But with the world events in the Ukrainian and Russian politics, I have a unique insight because my husband, John, some of you know, is an ordin-- is about to be... How do I say this correctly? Good, I'll get this right for you, babe. He's going to be note ordained... He's going to become a member of the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Somebody's going to tell me how to say this later; I'm sure my husband will.
But he has a unique perspective on what's going on in Ukraine and Russia, because the Ukrainian Orthodox Church recently had a major, major schism with the Russian Orthodox Church. And those of us in Western Christianity are not as familiar with that, because it's just not on our radar. But it was a huge, huge schism, and my husband, provide me with all these updates on what's going on within the churches, because that's a big deal.
So the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is under the umbrella of the Moscow Church, which is under the umbrella of the Russian Orthodox Church, has said to the the Moscow church, we are being bombed our churches, our people, and our families are being bombed, and you need to do something. And their response is, you know, too bad. I mean, I'm sure it's more like, there are a lot of complicated issues on both sides of the... of this. And we are very aware and sending our prayers, thoughts and prayers to you as you were being bombed.
And that's far away, but we don't have to think very far when I think of the families and children who identify as trans who say, we are being bombed by legislation and government leaders who want to say that we... you have to be a mandatory reporter and report if our children are trans. I'm a clergy member and many of you out there are teachers. We are all mandatory reporters and under this law, we would be required to report any child who is transitioning or questioning their gender or sexuality as "child abuse." And I want to sit in this stand on this carpet and say that is so wrong and against the teachings of Jesus, who we say that we want to follow here at Houston Mennonite Church. We cannot say I'm sorry, this is a complicated issue. I'm going to wash my hands of this when it affects our children, it affects our families, and ultimately, it affects ourselves. Because unless we see how our trans and non binary siblings are very much a part of who we are, then we are isolating and inoculating ourselves when we cannot do that, because this is not what Jesus did and this is not who Jesus calls us to be as Christians today.
How long to gather your children, gather your children like a hen, her brood safe under her wings, but you refused and turned away. Sometimes I think this passage is for perhaps the legislators or government leaders who make these very cruel laws. But sometimes I think this passage is for us who say, I will... do I have the courage to stand up for the least of these the way Jesus would?
Will you be gathered under Jesus's protective hen wings who says, "You have to stand up, you have to choose life and life abundant and stop with this death dealing theology because it is not in my name."
"But now it is too late, you won't see me again until the day you say bless it is he who comes in the name of the Lord..." which is, of course, a preview for Palm Sunday, which is a bit of a ways away.
And I think it's interesting that the lectionary places this text so far out in lift for the second Sunday, it gives us time to think, what does it mean for us to journey to Jerusalem in this period of grief? What does it mean for us to be in grief now. I'm standing here preaching this morning, because LaTonya has lost her father and she needs the space and time to grieve that deep loss.
And I know that many of you are also facing loss, and parents who are sick and dying.
And that is all so incredibly hard. It's hard enough in a world before 2020. But in the world after that, we're in a pandemic, and we're grieving.
And we feel so alone. And so if you feel that this morning, I just want to tell you that you are not alone, that not only do your siblings here at HMC see you and want to hear you and care for you, but that God and Jesus long to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.
And I pray that we as a church will also act as a gathering force, in justice in love and peace.
Until we are face to face with our Creator. Church, may it be so Amen.