Tag Archives: Luke 13:31-35 sermon

The Golden Plan

A Sermon for 17 March 2019 – Second Sunday in Lent

A reading from the gospel of Luke 13:31-35. Listen for God’s word to us.

“At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 Jesus said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 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! 35 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.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

This second Sunday in the season of Lent with the gospel’s foxes and brood and the hen with wonderfully, healing wings; it seems a good time for a little something different. So, listen to a story for Lent. It comes from the children’s book written by Walter Wangerin, Jr. and it’s called “Branta and the Golden Stone.” Listen.

Branta is a little girl, living out in the middle of no where in the Northern-most region of the world where it is absolutely freezing! Winds whip down from the northern seas to send an unbearable chill immediately up your spine. Branta, sadly, finds herself alone one winter when her ancient father – her only connection to the human world – dies. But before he leaves his dear daughter, he gives her a gift. He tells her the secret of his stone; a golden stone he has harbored for years. With it, people are changed. The powerful golden stone makes a person whatever they wanted to be. Sick suddenly are healthy. Blind eyes at last can see. A farmer becomes rain to water his fields in abundance. An angry man turns to fire to burn up his enemy’s house. People are changed by the power of the stone all right. Both for good and ill. The moment before his final breath, Branta’s father warns that she must be extremely careful with this golden stone. The change is incredibly costly. For you see, the change is irreversible: absolutely no going back. “Beware,” Branta is told. Whatever a person becomes by the power of the golden stone, she will stay that way forever.

Isolated upon the death of her dad – no neighbors anywhere in sight, Branta eventually is accompanied by a new arrival. One day a delightful duo of geese grace Branta’s solitude. O how she welcomes her new companions – even if they’re just geese. After all, humans and geese are so very different. They aren’t able properly to communicate with one another. Branta never could get too close. Regardless, the geese offer the company of another life. Branta enjoys the geese: watching them, listening to their gaba-gaba squawking, seeing them soar in the air. Branta grows to love her new feathered friends. As spring sprints on, the two quickly multiplied to eight! Six sweet goslings gaba-gaba-gabbing on and on. A whole goose family. What fun! . . . But winter can come in an instant in Branta’s northern hinterland. And so it is one night when summer abruptly dies and a storm tears in from nowhere. The north wind blows. The ground freezes. Heavy snow heaves itself upon the earth. For two days Branta cuddles in her cozy cabin. She’s gotta survive the storm. Still, all she can imagine is her precious pals caught unawares and now withering in the wintry blast. Finally, bundling up, she takes off outside to find them. She’s convinced herself that she’ll coax the geese into the shelter of her heated home. . . . Picture the scene: frantically the gallant girl is trying to wave the perishing geese toward the warmth. But filled with fright, they run further from their only shot at survival. Eight freezing geese – perhaps aware of the perilous wintry winds – are terrified of the alien intruder. They just don’t get it that she’s trying to lead them to life. What in the world is a determined little girl to do?

It isn’t geese but chicks Jesus chats about that day. His course has been set on Jerusalem. He travels with firm resolve. It might be helpful to remember that Jerusalem, named the city of peace, had become the seat bed of power for the Jews of Jesus’ day. A conflicted place, however, what with Rome ruling right over the Temple to ensure no one tried to rebel against the foreign oppressors. Collusion with Rome in order to keep on practicing the faith has grown common. It’s not that there’s anything inherently bad with the religion of Jesus and his people. Rather, as always has been the tendency; playing into a system of dominance, fear, might for the sake of worldy gain has seeped into the water. Too many in Jerusalem – religious leaders and Rome alike have lost the Way. Resolutely, Jesus has set his face to go there – into the halls of power. In order to attempt a course correction. . . . What happens one day is that somewhere still in Galilee, a handful of Pharisees approach. Their intentions are not to harm. Rather this group gives the warning. It seems Herod – the ruler of the region – has it in for Jesus. He wants him dead – perhaps his head also on a platter as was the conclusion for the dear John the Baptist. Some friendly Pharisees fear a fatal end for Jesus so they set out to curb his path. But Jesus will not be deterred. Onward to Jerusalem he goes. For he knows his purpose; the God in whom he trusts. Content to speak God’s truth to worldly power, Jesus simply says, “Go and tell that fox: he may think he’s got the ability to interrupt God’s plan. But listen: I am continuing my work of casting out demons, performing cures, and on the third day I’ll be done” (Luke 13:32). Determined. He’s absolutely sure of the mission.

Remember the mission? For a long time God has been trying – tirelessly trying to gather God’s brood. It’s an awesome Old Testament image to which Jesus attests. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). Once we have a little bit of the world’s ways, it’s hard to give them up. A plethora of prophets were sent. You’d think exile in unknown lands might have gotten their attention or at least the restoration thereafter. The cycle keeps happening again – as it has in the history of the church, the generations gone before, right up to the ways we ourselves can continue to go astray. . . . Look at it from God’s view: as if we were those vulnerable baby chickens. Those fuzzy little fluff balls. So tiny. So fragile. Oodles of us – curious little chicks scattered this way and that; winding way out of the barnyard. Far from mother hen – and the shelter of her wings. Can you smell the big bad wolf lurking in the shadows? Ready to snatch the little, lost ones in an instant. Momma hen would be in a panic! . . . That’s exactly how it goes. God births the brood of Israel for God’s very self – a light to shine in the nations for all to come to know. But no sooner is the covenant constructed, than the children go astray. It seems so in our nature that we willfully wander far out into the wild. Suddenly we’re easy prey for all sorts of predators. We ignore God’s commands that were given to us to ensure communal bliss. Our selfish actions give rise to division. Too often we live in whatever manner we wish – no matter how far from our Creator our actions take us. We’re as oblivious to the danger as are the good God-fearers of Jesus’ day. What in the world is a gracious God to do?!!!

Back in the cabin, the storm still raging outside, Branta searches diligently for that stone. “If only I can grab it,” she wishes. “Become a goose myself. Perhaps putting on their very same size and shape; the same white markings on my throat and that exact black beak.” Branta rationalizes to herself: “if I become one of them I can speak their gaba-gaba language.” Then maybe her precious geese pals will trust her enough to follow where she leads – right back home to shelter from the storm. . . . Would you believe it? The plan works. Holding the golden stone in her human hand, Branta speaks her desire: “I want to be a goose,” she says. Next thing you know she’s flapping majestic wings. Sporting that sleek neck. Waddling away. The little girl literally becomes one of them: a goose – gone forever her human ways – quite a cost for sure. But a sacrifice she willingly makes because she knows it’s the only shot she has at leading her beloved friends to safety. Sure enough, as soon as the geese – near-death without protection from the blizzard – as soon as they hear in their own language: “Gaba-gaba gather. Gaba-gaba Get up. Gaba-gaba Go. Go into the warmth of the cabin.” As soon as they see one just like them pointing to the path, immediately they heed. It’s like a lightbulb suddenly goes on. “Oh, okay. If YOU say so!” Eight otherwise doomed geese and one little goose-girl survive the storm together!

Do you wonder what will happen with God’s willful, wandering brood? How in the world so many lost, little chicks will be pointed down the path? Led back to the shelter of momma hen’s wings? One way: one high-priced way. Someone will have to become a chick like the rest. To lead the whole lot. . . . Jesus is born into the world. He grows. He begins the mission to show the Way. But so infinitely many are a part of this brood. As soon as one is brought to safety, ten more seem gone for good. Unlike Branta’s story; for us it takes a continuous process to gather such a huge flock. . . . And so it goes that those who have been found – having learned the Way home – are expected to enter the enterprise. Despite potential danger. The found chicks go from the shelter of momma’s wings in search of others. Learning to speak their language. We point the Way home. It’s a grand communal effort initiated at high expense. But tell me: what else is a God of grace to do?

In the name of the Life-giving Father, the Life-redeeming Son, and the Life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (all rights reserved).

Momma Hen vs. the Fox

A Sermon for 21 February 2016 – 2nd Sunday of Lent

A reading from the gospel of Luke 13:31-35.

“At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 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.’ “”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

My thirteen year old niece loves animals. All kinds of them. Last winter a stray cat was wandering near their house. She was all worried that cat would freeze to death outside in the frigid temperatures of their Wisconsin winters. So after a few days, out on their front porch; she made it a warm, welcoming home. She even named the cat Shadow. Then to lure Shadow in to the little shelter, she put up a sign reading: “Shadow is Loved Here!” . . . She has this amazing compassion for all kinds of animals – and for people too – but especially for animals. Though she lives in Wisconsin with the rest of our family, she’s not on a farm. Nonetheless, for the past several years she has been wanting to raise chickens. She and my sister baby-chick-sat one spring for my sister’s friend who raises chickens and provides fresh eggs to all her family and friends. Ever since then, my niece has been set on having a few cute little chicks of her own. For whatever reason, my sister hasn’t given in to her pleas. Perhaps because they live in the woods on Lake Michigan and my sister knows all other sorts of animals are around. Things like that stray cat and raccoons and coyote. Once when my niece was really young and used to take off by herself through the woods over to grandpa and grandma’s house next door, my sister told her she couldn’t do that because what would happen if a bear was out there in the woods between their houses? My sister insisted she was too little to face a bear alone. Rarely have there ever been bear in those woods, but my sister really didn’t want anything to happen to her so she tried to reign in my niece’s precocious nature with the potential presence of a ferocious bear. It didn’t really work. But the point is: cute, cuddly little chickens most probably wouldn’t have a chance at their house with all the other predatory animals around.

The amazing preacher and Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor has a beautiful sermon about animals that is inspired by the gospel text for today. Barbara speaks firsthand. Because after too many grueling years trying to keep up with the daily grind of pastoring for a big urban church in Atlanta, she moved as far away from civilization as she could in order to be the priest for a little country church. Part of why she left the city was to live in the middle of nowhere on several acres of land. There she and her husband built a chicken coop, planted a huge garden, and even made a little cabin back in the woods were Barbara can go into the quiet to listen and write. Out there on the land, Barbara learned all about chickens. Along with various rhythms of the natural world – including lessons learned about lurking predatory animals like owls and weasels and fox.

Jesus was a man of the land – most subsistence cultures are. While some trade was taking place in his day, it is believed that many of the people of the Galilee, where he was raised, grew their own food and tended their own small animals. He likely had fig trees and some sort of grain. Perhaps his family had a goat and a donkey and chickens running all about. It was a daily part of life so that they knew the lessons of nature – what it took for crops to grow. How to catch a fish – if you lived right on the Sea of Galilee. And which animals could and could not live peaceably together. Like: Jesus would have known all about mother hens. Their fierce instinct to protect their young – though without the kinds of talons of roosters and with such small beaks, about all a momma hen can do is cluck around while flapping her wings – trying to get her little brood under her safety. If that doesn’t work, as Barbara Brown Taylor states, a mother hen just “puts herself between (her chicks) and the fox, as ill-equipped as she is. At the very least, she can hope that she satisfies his appetite so that (the fox) leaves her babies alone” (Bread of Angels, p. 125). If you are a keeper of chicks, about the last thing you want anywhere nearby is a fox.

It would appear that Jesus choose his words very carefully. How long had God been trying – tirelessly trying to gather God’s beloved brood: God’s precious little fluffy chicks called Israel? . . . A plethora of prophets were sent – Jerusalem ignored and at times even had them killed. You’d think exile in unknown lands might have gotten their attention. Or, if not that life-altering experience, then certainly the restoration thereafter would have. None of it works! . . . At this point in the story, John the Baptist already has been beheaded by Herod. Supposedly he didn’t much like the accusations John had made about Herod’s unacceptable taking of his wife. The fox has proven himself to be a predator of any speaking truth. Jesus is his next target. Some Pharisees come to warn him. Nonetheless, Jesus’ course is set on Jerusalem. He travels with firm resolve. No fox scares him. He knows he’s the embodiment of the hen. He’ll do anything to protect his beloved chicks. . . . Content at revealing a stronger power, Jesus simply says, “Go and tell that fox: he may think he’s got the ability to interrupt God’s plan. But listen: I am continuing my work of casting out demons, performing cures, and on the third day I’ll be done” (Luke 13:32). He weeps when he considers the way Jerusalem again and again behaves like a fox. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” He mourns. “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!” (Luke 13:34). Perhaps it’s just fuel for the fire in him that is determined to show a more excellent way: the way of laying down your life for the sake of another, so that all may live. Jesus is intent on showing that every time the way of the mother hen prevails against the fox.

Lent is a season for us to be reflecting upon which way we tend to live. Do we put our trust in the power of the mother hen, or do we acquiesce to the world’s way of the fox? Do we seek to shelter others who need protection, or do we seek first to satisfy our own appetites? Are we willing to lay down our lives for the sake of another, or do we devour one another as if other’s lives don’t matter beyond being prey to fill our own emptiness? Which nature more often rules in us: the way of the mother hen or the way of the hungry fox? . . . Pay attention little chicks, for we’re sheltered so that we too will live likewise. As intent as the mother hen in loving those about to be devoured. Refusing to run and vowing never to succumb to such destructive means. This is the path of our Savior, the path our mother hen invites us to follow each day. God grant us the courage to carry on for the sake of life for us all.

In the name of the Life-giving Father, the Life-redeeming Son, and the Life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)