March 17, 2019 – Lent 2 C
31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus,] “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32He 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. 33Yet 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.’ 34Jerusalem, 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! 35See, 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.’ ”
Okay. Here’s the deal. I was going to begin the sermon by telling you all a time I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing, because I know how much everyone likes to hear how the preacher is also just a normal person with normal experiences. But I learned something this week that I just have to share with you. With all the talk of foxes and hens, I had not even considered what the culture of Jesus would think about those two animals. Today, we think of foxes as crafty, sneaky, and malicious. They have a reputation in our folklore of being sly tricksters who prey on the weak. But in rabbinic tradition, in the religious tradition Jesus was a part of, foxes were not seen as an enemy, but as, really, a nobody. Foxes were not a threat. If you’re walking down the road and you see a lion, you should be scared. Lions can chase you and maul you. If you see a fox, however, he is, as our Assistant to the Bishop Mark Anderson said, “basically a chihuahua with a fancy tail.” You don’t need to be afraid of the fox.
For me, this changes the whole passage. Jesus, a nomadic religious minority preacher, is calling Herod, the ruler of the province, supported by the largest military empire in the world at the time, a nobody. Jesus is not going to concern himself with what Herod thinks. He is not going to tone down his message, blunt his words, or compromise his message on account of who is in charge. He will continue to preach against hypocrisy, heal the sick, bring good news to the poor, and show the love of God to the outcasts. He is going to continue to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near, even in the midst of the empire of Rome.
Well, as you can guess, what he is doing, whether he thinks Herod is really a nobody or not, is getting him a lot of attention. The Pharisees ask him to leave because their afraid he will be killed. Jesus and the Pharisees actually agree on a lot and, in this story, they are actually trying to look out for him. He’s saying too much. He’s making too much noise, gaining too much attention, and the Pharisees have seen this happen before. The moment people begin to listen to someone other than Caesar, when someone gains notoriety and political clout, they are killed. The Pharisees don’t always agree with Jesus, but it’s often because he takes their reforms too far. They tell Jesus, “Hey, man. You’ve got to get out of here. Herod is paying attention. You’re being too loud. And you’re in trouble.”
Jesus doesn’t seem to worried about all that, to be honest. But he is bothered that the religious and social elite of Jerusalem are so willing to abandon their sense of religious convictions in order to stay safe. This has always been the case, of course. Unless you’re actually making and enforcing the decisions in a society, the only way to gain power and stay safe is to do things in moderation.
But the thing is, God doesn’t really do anything in moderation. God loves extravagantly. God cares intensely. God creates intricately and complexly. And Jesus does the same. He sees the suffering of the poor, the outcast, and the sick, and tells them that the Kingdom of God is here, that there is a better way, and that sounds like a threat to those in power. This is the same message that the prophets have brought from God for generations. But in almost every circumstance, prophets are killed for their words by those who find them to be a threat.
And this brings us to Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem. He doesn’t seem to be angry, he knows how this works, but his heart has broken over a people who have chosen a safe existence over extravagant love. He wants to gather them, protect them, and care for them. Yet, they’ve pushed him away. Even if they think they’re doing the right thing, the safe thing, they are still choosing moderation over trust.
And I wonder, at times, if the church has not done that, too. I wonder if we, at times, have chosen the safe road instead of the loving road. I wonder if we have chosen to protect ourselves rather than welcome or serve those who have been pushed out. I wonder if we’ve blunted the words and actions of Jesus, if we’ve sometimes limited the love of God to those who think, vote, act, believe, or look like us. I wonder if we, as the “Large-C” Church, have driven out the prophets who were there to remind us of who we are, what God is doing in the world, and what we need to be a part of it. Jesus laments that he feel unable to gather Jerusalem together, gather together the chosen people of God. It’s easy to see this at play as we separate ourselves still today in all the ways we do – by race, gender, politics, language, nationality, culture, and religion.
As we continue our journey to the cross this Lent, if we are to fast from anything, if we are going to try to remove anything that blocks the way of Christ from us and our neighbors (both next door and around the world), let us start by fasting from moderation. Let us recognize that, if Christ’s love is for you, then it is for everyone. If Christ’s victory over sin and death is for you, then it is for everyone. If Christ’s eternal life is granted to you, then it is for everyone.
And I have good news. Christ’s love, and Christ’s victory, and Christ’s eternal life is for you. It is for you. It was given to you before you could ever even ask for it. We witness this love in the waters of baptism. We are gathered by this love in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. We see it in scripture and in the ways we care for each other. Instead of practicing moderation, God has given the gift of grace to us extravagantly, each and every day, in each and every moment, gathering us and sending us. Instead of taking the safe way of keeping the people in power happy, Christ chose to continue the work he came to do – healing, blessing, forgiving, and calling us to the cross and to each other. Jesus is casting out demons and curing, both body, mind, and soul and it is not the wealthy, the powerful, or the privileged who get to choose who Jesus loves.
My prayer this Lent is that we would begin to understand the depth of God’s love for us and that we would intentionally, radically, welcome those who need to know love. If we must fast from anything this Lent, let us fast from moderation. Let us work to live out and spread the radical, unconditional, and unending love and grace that you have been given. Let us throw our doors wide open to welcome those without hope or a home. Let us speak for those who have no voice and listen to those who have been ignored. Let us boldly trust that the love that is given freely to you is given to all of humanity and all of creation. The grace of God, the love of God, the forgiveness of God has called us to the cross and then sends us forth to proclaim this good news. The cross is bare. The tomb is empty. Sin is forgiven. Death has been defeated. Amen.