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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).