Second Sunday in Lent
Jesus hears that King Herod, who has already killed his cousin, John the Baptist, is looking to murder him too. Jesus boldly announces to those who are carrying this message of murderous intent, “You tell that fox I am going to keep casting out demons and curing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day, I finish my work.” Jesus sends a message to Herod that he isn’t afraid of the conniving King and he is going to keep doing his work until he is darn well finished. But then Jesus does something strange. You might expect, after such a confrontational and inflammatory message, Jesus would march away defiantly or start a riot or make some sort of public demonstration. Instead, Jesus laments over Jerusalem. The strangest thing of all happens when Jesus says of the city that kills God’s prophets, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Jesus calls his murderous, sneaky enemy, Herod, a fox, and then he calls himself a hen. In this battle between fox and hen, you can be pretty confident that fox is going to win. I think Jesus would have inspired much more confidence if he had said something like this after telling that “fox,” Herod, to mind his own business, “I am the farmhand who does the will of my Father. I lay out the traps for the fox to protect the chicks.” In the battle between fox and human, you can be pretty confident that human is going to win.
That, however, is not an accurate depiction of how Christ protects her chicks. Christ is the one who lays down her life for the sake of all her brood- even the ones who “were not willing” and wriggling to get out from their mother’s wings. When the fox comes- be it sin or death- Christ the hen lays down her life for us, her chicks.
We do often try to wriggle out from the wings of Christ, don’t we? We sometimes think we know what is best for ourselves. We sometimes get sick of being stifled up in those wings and want to get out from this bossy and oppressive God. The rest of the chicks are hypocrites, I can have my own experiences of true goodness on my own, and there is no solid proof that the hen can actually protect us from the foxes around us. Maybe, like me, you’ve experienced these doubts and fears or maybe you know some loved ones who have. You may be or probably know of people who keep doing what they feel is right even though it seems so obviously self destructive from the outside. You may be or probably know of people who are uncaring toward their neighbors. You may be or probably know of people who feel like they don’t belong in God’s fold- that they are not good enough or know enough about God and Jesus. You may be or probably know of people who are losing or have lost their faith in God. When a loved one dies sometimes we wonder why God didn’t do anything to save their life. That wonder quickly turns to anger and we try to wriggle free from the wings of our hen.
In Graham Greene’s novel, The Power and the Glory, a state governor in Mexico has outlawed Catholicism. Churches are burned, relics and crossed are destroyed, and Catholics themselves are imprisoned. The story follows one Catholic priest who has remained faithful to practicing the religion performing secret Masses. He is also a man of many vices. He drinks too much (the author calls him the “whiskey priest”), he is an angry man, and has a questionable moral compass. This priest is by no means fit for the spiritual welfare of the communities he serves, but there he is. By the end of the novel he acknowledges his sinfulness and comes to the realization that the world, “needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.”
Jesus certainly did die for the half-hearted and the corrupt. Despite threats of violence and opponents who seek to undercut his credibility, Jesus continues onward toward Jerusalem. He enters the gates of the city on Palm Sunday where he is greeted by the overjoyed crowds shouting Hosannas and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” In a few short days when Jesus is arrested, Jesus’ closest disciples abandon him and deny that they even know him. They try to wriggle out from under the hen’s wings. The same crowd who welcomed Jesus with joyful song and waving palms now angrily call for his crucifixion. They too try to wriggle out from under the hen’s protective, life-giving wings. All of these people in Jerusalem did their best to wriggle out from the loving embrace of Christ the Hen as she protected them from the effects of sin and death itself. Even from the cross, Christ did not let them go. As he was dying, he prayed to God in the presence of those who had crucified him, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Those who crucified Jesus were certainly “half-hearted and corrupt,” they were certainly people who had embraced hatred and sin, they were certainly people who had placed their faith in the power of this execution rather than in the power of God. Even so, Jesus forgives them and saves them through his cross.
Our Stump the Pastor question is “What is the candle in the red holder hanging up? Who lights it or snuffs it and when? Or does it stay lit until it burns out?” That candle goes by several names including sanctuary lamp, eternal candle, and others. I have often seen Brandon replace it and light it. We always have one burning and each candle lasts for about eight days. We let it stay lit until it burns out or until it is nearly burned out. The use of this candle by churches in worship spaces is inspired by a reading from Exodus 27:20-21 that describes some of the things present in the Tabernacle of God. The tabernacle being the tent where God resided when the Israelites were traveling to the Promised Land from Egypt. The reading goes, “You shall further command the Israelites to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the light, so that a lamp may be set up to burn regularly. In the tent of meeting, outside the curtain that is before the covenant, Aaron and his sons (the priests) shall tend it from evening to morning before the LORD. It shall be a perpetual ordinance to be observed throughout their generations by the Israelites.”
The eternal candle is always lit so that we, like the wandering Israelites before us, might be reminded of God’s faithful presence at all times. Christ is with us in this place and always. Christ is our hen who will always protect us to save us from the foxes of sin and death, and she even lays down her life for us. We may try to wriggle out from those protective and grace-filled wings, but even then Christ desires to keep us close. When we struggle against doubts, fears, and loss Christ still holds us. Christ holds us in her wings of forgiveness and life even if we are as confused and sinful/saintly as the whiskey priest; or as hopeless and heartbroken as one who has given up on God; or as hypocritical and cowardly as the disciples and residents of Jerusalem who sing Christ’s praises one day and call for his crucifixion on another. Christ cries out to God that we be forgiven and lays down his life so that we might join him in paradise. Thanks be to God. Amen.