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/>.

 

 

I am Nicodemus

A sermon for Lent 2; Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17

Wednesday a week ago, we had a long power outage. Most it was a big inconvenience; especially at night. It was dark; really dark; scary dark. Then again, if you were outside and if you looked up, as we did, you saw a sight we rarely ever see, the stars; all of the stars. Stars you can only see if you are in the dark. The dark enables you to see the night sky in an entirely new way; it is an inspiring experience; all because it is dark; really dark; enabling dark. Wednesday, it was dark, really dark, scary dark, enabling dark, inspirationally dark.

Some Wednesday night some 2000 years ago, a leader of the Jews is walking through the dark. He is seeking the leader of a new and growing group of followers. The leader is a rabbi, known for signs, perhaps a miracle worker, Nicodemus may simply be curious about this Jesus. On the other hand, he goes to see him in the dark and nighttime is the traditional time to study Torah, so perhaps he is seeking an in-depth conversation (Vena). Then again, night time and darkness are metaphors for separation from the presence of God (O’Day; Harrelson) so perhaps this devoted community leader has his doubts, his questions about all their ways of life. Perhaps it more than curiosity, perhaps Nicodemus wants to see the Kingdom as Jesus, and his followers do. Whatever his reason Nicodemus speaks with Jesus and life is never the same.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that to enter the Kingdom of God, you must be born from ‘above.’ Nicodemus asks him How can one be born ‘again’? The confusion come from a word with two meanings; it means both ‘above’ and ‘again.’ Nicodemus thinks Jesus is speaking literally. And that causes him trouble mostly because,

to be born again, as Nicodemus understood it, would have meant altering [his] … honor status in a very radical way and he was not ready to trade his honorable position in society for an uncertain new status (Vena).

 Perhaps Nicodemus just simply misunderstood (Gaventa and Petersen). But, Gail O’Day writes

that Jesus is being intentionally ambiguous and intends Nicodemus to hear both meanings inviting him to explore below the surface seeking deeper revelations. But his imagination is not flexible enough (O’Day).

Next, Jesus using Nicodemus’ confusion about live birth says no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit (John 3:5). Paralleling the double meaning of ‘again’ and ’above’ Jesus connects entrance into the Kingdom with both live birth, and spiritual birth; birth in the flesh, and birth in the spirit; thus, connecting flesh and spirit, which is very much against the thought of his day (Harrelson; O’Day). He compares this to the wind which blows where it will. The word ‘wind’ is the same word as ‘spirit,’ so Jesus connects new birth to the mysteries of free moving wind/spirit that is, quite simply, beyond our control (O’Day).

Comparing the Son of Man being lifted up just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness also makes use of a double meaning word. ‘Lift up’ also means ‘exalt.’ Jesus exaltation is how we, by belief, have eternal life (Harrelson).

 For John, eternal life is defined by God, not as future immortality in heaven, but as a spiritual reality that can only be seen by those born of water and spirit as living in God’s unending presence right here, right now (Harrelson; O’Day; Vena). All this is too much for Nicodemus. And that is the intention. Nicodemus is intended to struggle with this trifecta of double meanings as he discerns what eternal new life, born from above, in water and spirit given by the raised up/exalted Son of Man really is. And so are we. The discerning struggle calls us into deeper and deeper listening to all Jesus shares that John recounts (O’Day).

This is not an easy trip for Nicodemus. He appears twice more; once saying that law requires that the Pharisees give Jesus a fair hearing (John 7:45-52) (Sakenfeld). His last appearance is when Pilate give Jesus’ body to him and Joseph of Arimathea for burial (John 19:38-42) (Sakenfeld). Nicodemus is not alone in a long perhaps wandering journey to belief in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God who died so we could have life in God’s presence. It took all the disciples a long time, a good three years, to understand.

So, if you have questions or doubts; if you don’t quite get all the nuances of how Jesus’ death brings you life you are in good company. If you aren’t quite ready to toss off whatever honor and status you have in life and commit to being vaccinated against death by a dead, resurrected, ascended Jesus, neither was Nicodemus (Hoezee; Harrelson).

I know, we all know,

that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16).

We know it so well, it is trite. We believe it so strongly, it divides us. We know it so well, believe it so strongly that I doubt its Lenten value because it is too common, or too divisive to help us see ourselves and change our lives.

On the other hand, Nicodemus is a good Lenten model. He comes to Jesus full of expectations, ready to learn and misunderstands from the very beginning. He doesn’t understand life in God’s presence. He doesn’t understand water/flesh and the spirit as one, in the presence of God. He doesn’t understand the meaning of Moses, and the healing snake lifted up over Israel that saves them from death. He is bound to social customs of honor, prestige, and power he finds hard to give up. And so am I.

I hold miss expectations of Jesus and misunderstand his call if not daily, most certainly regularly. I look at the world and just don’t get life in God’s presence, especially in the here and now. There are too many people who are oppressed for arbitrary human divisions of race, gender, sex, skin color, national origin, faith, illness and lack of success. I believe; I have faith that Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension makes a difference in this world. But the failure of corrupt justice that crucified Jesus is still far too prevalent, and so I doubt. And I ponder my own subtle complicity in all this corruption. I find it as hard to give up social customs of honor, prestige, and power that I benefit from as Nicodemus did. So I am drawn to confess; I am Nicodemus.

So, in so much as you find yourself looking in the mirror and seeing Nicodemus looking back, I invite you to invite Nicodemus to guide your Lenten repentance. However, beware, it is a journey that is dark, really dark, scary dark, enabling dark, inspirationally dark. It is a journey from misunderstanding born of darkness, to darkness born of burying the one who loves you.


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 3 9 2017. 12. <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 John 3:1-17 . 12 3 2017.

Jolly, Marshall A. “Digging Into Our Certainty, Lent 2(A).” 12 3 2017. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. John 3:16. 12 3 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Lent 2 A: Just One More Verse! 12 3 2017.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

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

Vena, Osvaldo. Commentary on John 3:117. 12 3 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.