Brooding Hen – Spirit

A Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent; Genesis 15:1-12,17-18, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35

 When preparing for Ash Wednesday, I had the idea that this Lent I’d preach Jesus’ journey. Last week, the story of Jesus’ temptation, following his baptism, was a great starting place. That was chapter 4, today we are in chapter 13, between then and now Jesus has meet rejection at home, called Peter & disciples, had multiple conflicts with Jewish authorities, preached on the plain, healed the sick, taught in parables, done many works of power like miracles and exorcisms, and told his disciples what’s to come. If where we are measuring progress by the verses, we are almost half way there. But there is more to this journey than the distance traveled, or verses pondered.

This morning the journey continues as we hear the story of some Pharisees warning Jesus that Herod, the Roman ruler of Palestine, is out to get him. It’s not a surprise Herod is worried about Jesus. Mary’s Magnificat sets up a conflict,

51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;

            (that will get a king’s attention)

53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

            (this too will get a king’s attention)

54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy (Luke 1:51-54).

Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth, adds to it;

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-19, 21b).

It provokes a near riot, (Lewis; Culpepper) which generally gets the Romans’ attention. They don’t like disturbances; not so much because they want peace, but because they want control. We know Jesus has rebuffed the Pharisees. Luke characterizes them as those who use God’s commandments for their own interest (Culpepper). Remember the wilderness temptations include using power for self-interest. So, it is a bit of a surprise to hear them warn Jesus. Now it could be, that some Pharisees respect Jesus, even though they are not quite sure of his teaching. It might be that the Pharisees mean well, but simply don’t understand Jesus’ ministry; which is not a surprise his disciples don’t (Harrelson). It could also be they are just trying to get him out of their way, they want to scare him into stopping his preaching, and works of power (Hoezee).

More important is Jesus’ response

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.’ (Luke 13:32-33).

A couple of points. Calling Herod a fox, who are considered cunning, shrewd, and often treacherous and deceitful, destructive and a threat, lets us know Jesus already knows all about Herod; he is under no illusion, he knows the journey to Jerusalem is dangerous (Keener and Walton). His saying it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem reveals that Jesus knows he is walking to his death. Jesus recommits to his work casting out demons and performing cures, which evokes his sending his disciples out

  • to feed the hungry,
  • give drink to the thirsty,
  • welcome the stranger,
  • clothe the naked,
  • visit those in prison,
  • comfort the sick (Matt 25:33) and
  • shelter the homeless (Isaiah 58:7).

Jesus’ sense of purpose, his vocational sense, enables him to face his fear of suffering and abandonment, trusting that his life has meaning and that God’s purposes for him are more enduring than anything, or anyone (Epperly). Thus, he stands his ground. He knows it more urgent to go to Jerusalem because of God’s will than to heed warnings about Herod (Jacobsen). He has already set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) and no warning, real nor fake, will deter him (Lewis). Jesus knows his journey to Jerusalem and his death there will be controlled by his faithfulness to God, not by Pharisees, other Jewish authorities, or Herod (Culpepper).

[pause]

The last week’s Gospel reading ends

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time (Luke 4:13).

The Pharisee’s warning is an opportune time. The warning could easily lead to a decision to wait till things settle down a bit so as not to provoke a dangerous conflict with a dangerous ruler. Jesus’ decision to continue to teach, and follow his vocation stands out because it is so unusual (Culpepper; Lewis). Many, most folks including me, have and do let similar challenges change their direction. Many, most of us including me, believe the satanic delusion that we can, by our own initiative and strength, have the gifts of God, that we can seize the day, seize our immediate “right” instead of receiving it graciously, gradually as God’s continuing gift (Almquist).

Many of these delusions are not challenges that look like obstacles they are challenges that seek to redefine God’s revealed fundamental values

 to love God, and
 to love your neighbor (Luke 10:27)

to love profits, wealth, power, and prestige. Our delusion is to understand sin as some sort of transaction ledger of sin and good deeds we think, we hope we can, balance out. We reject the truth that sin is relational; we replace the values of relationships with God and with each other, with the values of profits, wealth, power, and prestige. When we see sin as transactional and only look at single events only look at what a person does, like the New Zealand shooter, or the recent Blytheville shooters, then we can’t see so don’t look at things like racism, and generational economic, educational and social repression, or growing organized threats against the life, liberty and happiness, of those who are different,

  • who are from a different country,
  • who are a different color,
  • who have different
    • political,
    • economic, or
    • religious beliefs.

When we only see sin as transactional or only look at the technical cause(s) of the recent 737 max 8 crashes we do not see the consequences of the decisions behind the decision not to require the full testing regimen of a new aircraft, so we don’t see how corporations have for decades, if not forever, valued profit more than human life; we don’t see how cultural values lead to a killing over a hamburger; and we don’t see how the first lead to the second (Jenkins).

Next Sunday at 2 pm in the Prayer Garden at 1st Christian Blytheville churches are joining for Prayers over Blytheville vigil. These prayers will be transformative as we use our GRIT, our determination, hardiness, flexibility, determination, and carefulness. These prayers will be transformative as we hold fast to the unchangeable truth of the Word (BCP 218). These prayers will be transformative, as we recommit to following Jesus, as we recommit to proclaiming Jesus/God/Spirit, as we recommit to following our divine vocation (Epperly) as we return to working the work God has given us work; as we return to the journey God has given us to walk. These prayers will be transformative as we journey into God and into God’s kingdom by allowing ourselves to confess the darkness that surrounds us to put our hands into God’s hand to take those first steps of trust (Tristram).

As it was then, it is now; this world is full of foxes; they hunt us, they will kill us, they will take advantage of us, and they will tempt us to replace God’s love of the other, with self-interest.

[pause]

But we are not alone as we work the work and walk the journey God has given us to work and walk. We can stand firm in the Lord (Philippians 4:1); the divine mother hen will protect us as we gather under her wings. And by the way, our phrase “pecking order”, comes from ranking which hen pecks the strongest and defeats the fox invading the hen house. The protection of Spirit, Jesus relies on in the wilderness, is the protection of the brooding hen’s wings. By Jesus’ wish, the brooding hen/Spirit is present for us; she is present to us through penitent hearts and steadfast faith; she is present to us as God/Jesus/Spirit who guides our journey, and who reveals the divine foundational values of life. By Jesus’ wish the brooding hen, the light life of Christ is present and neither that fox nor the darkness shall overcome it (John 1:5).


References

Almquist, Br. Curtis. “Delusion.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 11 3 2019. <ssje.org/word/>.

Bratcher, Dennis. Gospel of Luke: A Brief Outline. n.d. 11 3 2019. <crivoice.org/books/luke.html>.

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 17 3 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Lent 2C Luke 13:31-35. 6 9 2015.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 13:31-35. 17 3 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Jenkins, Jack. Why Rev. Amy Butler is talking politics, sin and loss this Lent. 15 3 2019. <https://religionnews.com/2019/03/12/why-rev-amy-butler-is-talking-politics-sin-and-loss-this-lent/&gt;.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Determination. 11 3 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Metz, Susanna. “God’s Hidden Work in the World, Lent 2 (C).” 17 3 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/gods-hidden-work-world-lent-2-c-march-17-2019>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

Tristram, Br.Geoffrey. Darkness. Cambridge, 12 3 2019. <ssje.org/word/>.

 

 

Herod and the Zoroastrians

A sermon for Christmas 2

Jeremiah 31:714, Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a, or Matthew 2:1-12 Psalm 84 or 84:1-8

Imagine for the moment that you are Herod, King of Israel. You made yourself king by military conquest. You are not exactly well liked. Well may be in Rome, which is helpful, because of your many opponents. There is your tendency towards executions, like your first wife and sons, because of your fears they were involved in political intrigue; a trend that will continue as you execute your oldest son, and heir, concerned that he will take the throne before  you die; which you do ~ four days later. You have a grand vision for architecture, building, rebuilding, or expanding many of the grandest structures of the day, including the Jerusalem Temple. You’d think rebuilding the Temple would make you popular; but not so much, the taxes were strenuous. And many don’t like you because as a descendant of Esau, you aren’t really Jewish. So, you are King ~ yes; popular ~ no; secure ~ not really.

So, imagine some unexpected visitors from a foreign land show up. Are they astrologers? Perhaps, Zoroastrians are very interested in light, and the stars, and they are speaking of a star; are they priests or prophets? Are they royalty? It’s hard to tell; are they members of the royal court? Very probable, since many Zoroastrian priests and prophets are.

By the way, our traditions of Kingly visitors comes from Psalm 72

May the kings of Tarshish
and of the isles render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
bring gifts.

and Isaiah 60:3

Nations shall come to your light,
and kings
to the brightness of your dawn.
which are grafted into Matthew’s story. (Boring)

Back to your visitors who are Persians, from a far off land, with different religious traditions, (Epperly) who dominated Israel from 538 to 332 BCE (Orr) and are enemies of Rome. They make you uneasy; they ask about the new born King of the Jews, so they can pay homage to him. Linguistically, ‘Homage’ is similar to ‘worship’ (NI1Vol) and can imply submission to political or royal powers. (Boring) On top of all this, they ask about “the new born king” and you are not new born, but you are king!

Do these visitors frighten you? Probably not, you are king, you are powerful, and quickly and ruthlessly deal with interlopers. You are likely stirred up or troubled, (NI1Vol) the possibility that their god might be about to act in your land is very troublesome, (NI1Vol) and you don’t want trouble. Rome doesn’t like trouble and it’s your job to deal with it, if you don’t ~ Rome will, or replace you with someone who will. What will you do? Will the empire strike back? (Epperly) Will the empire make a preemptive strike? There is precedence, Pharaoh attempted to kill all the Hebrew boys in response to the perceived threat of the Hebrews living in Goshen. But where do you send your assassins? You don’t know, the visitors don’t know. So you ask your priests, prophets, & scribes, who report back, based on scripture from Numbers and Micah that the child is in Bethlehem. It makes historical sense, there was the revolutionary messianic pretender Jesus bar Kochba; Bar Kochba means “Son of the Star.” (Hare) (Boring) (NI1Vol) Well informed, you make the cautious but bold move to tell your guest where they infant king is and ask them to let you know exactly where he is, so you can also pay homage. Did I mention that you lie?

The visitors follow the star to Bethlehem, (did you ever wonder why the star didn’t just take them directly there?) all the way to Joseph’s and Mary’s home. Full of wonder, they offer Jesus: veneration, and gold, always appropriate for royalty, Myrrh, a kingly gift (1 Kings 10:25) also used in the high priest’s anointing oil (Ex. 30:23-33) and frankincense, which is exclusively used in the holy perfume used in the sanctuary. (Hare)

By the way, the bible never says how many visitors there are, someone decided, three gifts, three visitors. (Boring) And the names: Melchior, king of Persia; Gaspar, king of India; and Balthasar, king of Arabia, were later identified as descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the progenitors of the three races of humankind. (Hare)

The visitors, whoever they are, are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they go home another way; you’ve got wonder if the star leads them that other way.

From the moment the mysterious visitors spoke to Herod, he was concerned about a conflict between two Kingdoms, (Boring) Jesus’ and Rome’s; and he was concerned for his throne. (Hoffacker) The first is an underlying conflict that runs throughout Matthew’s Gospel account, the second, sets up the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, and the slaughter of the innocent baby boys in Bethlehem.

We pay a lot of attention to details not in the story, 3 kings and 3 camels. We don’t often look for the implications; we don’t often associate this story with the slaughter of innocent boys, we don’t often explore the ramifications of foreign believers coming to acknowledge a Jewish king.

Zoroastrians had been looking for evidence that their spiritual life was part of a larger divine story. (Epperly) They received a divine vision in a star. But they did more than admire it, they acted on it; even when acting involves risk: going to hostile territory, and resisting enthroned powers. (Boring)

As did ancient Jews, we, Christians, tend to believe we are the sole recipients of divine revelation. Persian Zoroastrians could not have been more remote from Israel or Jewish traditions. Still, they did have a genuine quest for veritable spiritual life and they received a divine revelation.

Eugene Boring writes

Even this “most Jewish” of the Gospels is aware, from its first page onward, that it is not necessary first to have the biblical and Jewish hope before one can come to the Messiah and accept him as Lord. In following the light they have, the magi find the goal of their quest in bowing before the Jewish Messiah.  (Boring 46705)

Their acceptance of the new king stands in sharp contrast to: Herod, the Jewish rulers, his own people, and his own family. (Hare)

Imagine for a moment you are in: the White House, the State House, the County Court House, City Hall, or the church office, and unexpected Iranian visitors show up saying: “We’ve been given a vision; where is the risen messiah? We’ve come to pay tribute.”

Assuming the first call is not to mental health, what do you do?

O God, may we see your glory face to face,  (BCP 214) whose ever it may be.


References

Boring, M. Eugene. The New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E Keck. Vol. Matthew. Abingdon Press, 2003.

Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 16 | OT 21 | Pentecost 11, Cycle A. 4 1 2015. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 4 12 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Hare, Douglas. Interpretation A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING. Ed. Patrick D Miller, Jr. and Paul J. Achtemeier. Vol. Exodus. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoffacker, Rev. Charles. Sermons that Work. 4 1 2015. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2014/12/17/2-christmas-abc-2015/&gt;.

“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – Quick Verse , n.d.

Orr, James, ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. WORDsearch, 2004.

Petersen, David and Beverly Roberts Gaventa. New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 2010. E-book.

The Episcopal Church. Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.