Second Sunday in Lent, year C
March 13, 2022
“Go and tell that fox for me,
I must be on my way…”
Them’s fighting words.
Jesus snaps back at the Pharisees who come to warn him to get away,
as Herod is on to him.
It is probable that the Pharisees were truly warning Jesus,
worried about what may happen
if the paranoid Herod went after the lot of them.
They wanted Jesus to go away.
Jesus answers back with strong words.
First he insults Herod, calling him a fox—which is to say
that Herod is sly, unprincipled, devious, and viciously destructive.
Then, in sending these Pharisees with a direct message for Herod,
Jesus accuses them of being in Herod’s circle, or close enough at least
to have access to this brutal tetrarch, who rules over Galilee.
“I must be on my way,” he says.
Jesus will not let Herod’s threats deter him, even though
he knows Herod imprisons and kills those who stand up to him.
This is the Herod who beheaded John the Baptist.
“I must be on my way,” Jesus says.
He will not end his mission, even though rulers like Herod
extinguish the lives of those who
disagree with him or dare to tell the truth about their exploits.
I must be on my way.
Jesus proclaims he will continue his father’s work,
even though the crushing power of imperialism threatens him.
I will tell you that it is hard to write a sermon this week
without drawing parallels between this story
and what is happening in Ukraine.
I know full well Zelensky is not Jesus, but he is Jewish like Jesus.
Zelensky is not Jesus, but he is politically weaker than his opponent and
he leads a motley crew of brave followers.
I know full well Putin is not Herod, but he is brutal,
living in a castle far away from the misery he is inflicting upon others.
He lies; he is vicious and destructive, and for what? all
for his own personal legacy, like Herod Antipas and his father Herod the Great.
I can even picture President Zelensky, courageously saying,
go and tell that fox for me, I must be on my way.
The gospel, of course, leads us in a different direction.
Jesus takes this moment to draw two divergent pictures for us.
One is of a fox and the other a hen.
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.
The contrast is stark.
The cunning fox, hunting and destroying with his teeth, is Herod.
The vulnerable hen, gathering and comforting her chicks under her wings,
is Jesus, or God.
The bible offers us hundreds of metaphors for God.
We pick and choose our favorites: shepherd, rock, king, father, light,
and we make beautiful stained-glass windows with them.
We create powerful and beautiful lyrics with these images for our hymns, too.
I wonder about all those other images.
I’m not advocating for a stained-glass window depicting Jesus as a chicken,
but I am certain he chose this image for our instruction.
A couple of years ago, our Wednesday group studied the book Wearing God,
written by a theologian at Duke University named Lauren Winner.
She was intrigued by the obscure images in the bible:
God as a beekeeper, as a Friend, as Clothing,
which is how her book, Wearing God, got its title.
The images of God we hold in our minds, she teaches,
influence how we understand God, how we relate to God.
The ways we see God as a strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
or as a hen brooding over her chicks,
or as a loaf of bread, broken to be shared amongst friends,
all of these give us a sense of who we are in relationship to our creator.
We are not meant to have favorites—
as reducing all these images down to a few,
can make the familiar insensible to us.
They lose their ability to move us.
“’Shepherd’ and ‘light’ are perfectly wonderful images, Winner says,
“but in fixing on them—in fixing on any three or four
primary metaphors for God—we have truncated our relationship
with the divine,
and we have cut ourselves off from the [diverse] witness of the scriptures, which depict God (as much more, even) as fire, comedian, sleeper….or dog.”
I am intrigued when I look at the images of God in the bible which are opposites:
Fire and Water. Laugher and Crier. Birthing mother and Chastening dad.
We are to hold them all.
Growing up, I was incredibly fortunate to have a family
who valued our imaginative spirits.
When I was six-seven years old, we lived at an English seminary.
My brothers and sister and I chased one another
along the seminary’s rose garden paths and played on its small green lawn.
There we escaped into a world of our own,
fashioning little homes in the woods.
Truthfully, the little green space where we played
was no bigger than a small front yard.
It was surrounded by a rod iron railing and lined with big evergreen hedges. But to us kids, the railing was a window into the outside world
and the bushes were our little little homes.
We each made a niche inside the bushes to look out on the people of Oxford England, walking about on their errands—
we saw the world from there, full of intrigue and wonder.
My older brother fed our imaginations with great stories too,
as he was a voracious reader.
On our long car rides, he would entertain us with stories
where we were the heroes;
we were CS Lewis’ Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan
and each of us had a special gift to fight the bad guys.
With needle and thread, I bound many evildoers’ hands
and my sister helped me apprehend them by tying their shoelaces together—
I can’t remember what the boys’ talents were,
but I do remember that together we were invincible and we were good.
I wish all little girls could have had a big brother like mine.
He helped me to know myself differently than the world saw me.
A Little girl who was resourceful
A Little girl who was a valued team member
A brave little girl ready to fight evil.
The bible teaches us that as people of faith we are to use our imagination.
I could have easily accepted the culture around me
who said little girls are supposed to be sweet and kind and do not fight.
I could have easily leaned into the southern theology
around me as a little girl—who taught that God was a judge,
harsh and rebuking; or God was a king, jealous and demanding.
Thanks be to God my Episcopal upbringing didn’t ignore all the other images– God as a lover,
God as a homeless man,
God as an intimate friend rather than distant ruler.
Rather than try to resolve those differences
or narrow the choices to ones that suit us,
we’d benefit so much more if we embrace them all and
see how the bible invites us to discover God.
Any one image of God is incomplete, inadequate.
The bible stacks its metaphors in order that we may be
drawn into knowing God who is both maternal and paternal.
The bible even gives us the occasional absurd image,
too, God as a Rock who gives birth.
Today in our gospel reading
we see God in Jesus as a vulnerable mother hen,
who knows humanity will reject him and kill him, and still
longs to gather her brood under her wings,
to shield them and save them from the powers of corruption and destruction.
God as mother hen reminds us that all of us,
good and bad, educated and undereducated, strong and weak, young and old…all are part of the brood God desires to shelter and save.
I invite you to sit this next week in Lent with the image of God, the mother hen.
A mother who weeps for her children.
A God whose chooses to be vulnerable
and in doing so, touches our own vulnerability.
A God who strikes our imaginations
so we’ll know we are made strong in Christ,
and offer ourselves to the world God loves so dearly.
Thanks be to God.