I want to begin with a little music trivia --
Simon and Garfunkel. We'll see if you can do better than the first
service :) Bridge Over Troubled Waters, right? "I'd rather be a sparrow
than a. . . " Snail! "I'd rather be a hammer than a . . . " Nail! "I'd
rather be a forest than a . . . " Street! "I'd rather feel the earth
beneath my . . . " Feet! Good, you got most of those right!
So, what would you rather be -- a minnow, or a whale? A whale, right?
Whales eat minnows -- rather be a whale :) Now this next one, I didn't
see coming in the first service -- would you rather be a Crow or an
Eagle? [Shouts of "crow" from the first pew] Those that don't know --
the last name of this pew right here is 'Crow' :) April, maiden name is
Crow, now Oristano. But it's supposed to be Eagle :)
Would you rather be a sheep or a wolf? Most would say wolf -- unless you
want to be eaten, right? Would you rather be a fox or a hen? Now, think
about that one for a minute. I don't know about you, but I'd rather be
the one eating, instead of the one being eaten, right? I know, foxes
don't have the best reputation, but keep that in mind as we read the
text for today, Luke 13: 31-35:
At that very hour some
Pharisees came and said to him, ‘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 away from
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.” ’
Those of you out there are saying "I told you 'hen' was the right
Before I get back to that, though, the first thing that jumped into my
mind when I read this at the beginning of week (working on my sermon)
was the way the Pharisees are presented here. We're used to the
Pharisees being the arch enemy, right? And here they seem to be on the
side of Jesus -- they're concerned for him, they're warning him that
Herod wants to kill him.
We assume that Pharisees are hypocritical, self-righteous, egotistical
Bible-thumpers, right? In reality, they're no different than preachers
today. Uh oh :) Hypocritical, self-righteous, egotistical
Bible-thumpers! I know what you were thinking :) But seriously, we have
to be careful about stereotyping, whether we're talking about characters
from ancient times or today. And Pharisees, as much as any other group,
suffer from that kind of prejudice in the way that we portray them.
We think, well if you're a Democrat you must be liberal, if you're a
Republican you must be conservative. And that's not true. Or if you're
young, you must prefer our first service, and if you're. . . . . not
young, you must prefer this service. But look around -- we have younger
folk in this service too, and 'not young folk' in the first service :)
If you live in Eugene, you must be a Duck fan.
If you live in Corvallis, you wished you lived in Eugene!
So, my favorite story to tell, that shatters stereotypes, was a week
before Judy and I were married. We lived in West Berlin at the time, we
were young, students, trying to save money. The East German Airlines
flight was $200 cheaper than anything out of West Berlin. And so of
course we take that. The only problem was that means you have to fly out
of the East Berlin airport, which means you have to go through the
infamous Berlin Wall, through the passage-way there, through passport
control. Judy was leaving a week before me, to get ready for the big
day, do all that bride stuff. So I go there to the place where you go
through the Wall on the Western side, and there's this no-man's land
between the West and the East, and there's a guard tower, with a guard
with a machine gun, up above watching over this no-man's land. So I kiss
my soon-to-be wife goodbye, and she starts to head across there,
carrying her big suitcase for the trip.
All of a sudden this voice comes down: "Halt!". "Carry! Carry the
suitcase for the young woman!". Yeah. "Yes Sir!". You don't argue with
the main with the machine gun! So I carried her suitcase across the
no-man's land. So, turns out this East German border guard,
anti-American, freedom-hating communist . . . . . is a romantic :) With
a heart. Totally changed the way I perceived boarder guards from then
on. No wonder the Wall collapsed -- bunch of pansies :) By the way, the
other part of that story is that the East German airline, Aeroflot (with
plans held together with chicken-wire and duct tape), couldn't make it
across the Atlantic without refueling. Also, you have to know, because
of the post-war agreement, only the 4 Allied powers (Britain, France,
United States, and Russia), were allowed to fly into Berlin. So you had
to board a Russian puddle-jumper to take you to Warsaw to get on the
East German plane that would then take you to New York. And it had to
stop twice to refuel, once in Newfoundland, and once in Berlin! So you
get on the plane in Berlin, fly to Warsaw, change planes, come back to
Berlin. . . .yeah, no kidding, thank heavens that system is no more. We
So, my point here is to be careful of those
stereotypes. The Pharisees, like border guards, are real people, with
spouses and kids and hopes and fears no different than our own. And we
make them out (meaning the Pharisees) as incompetent fools at best, or
evil-incarnate at worst. In reality, they're decent people who did their
best to be faithful to God's law as they understood it. As you read your
Gospels, always keep that in mind.
Jesus takes their advice, politely, and ignores it. Because he's not
going to be deterred from his mission that's going to take him to
Jerusalem. Much like Martin Luther, called before the authorities to
recant his heresy, said "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise". And so
too Jesus. So he tells them to inform Herod that he will do tomorrow as
he did yesterday, until his work is done on the third day, which is a
subtle reference to Easter, when his work is complete here on earth.
The second striking element that I find in the story is this contrast
between Herod as the crafty, sly fox, and Jesus as the protective mother
hen. So as I noted at the beginning, even if the fox is not seen as the
most honorable of creatures in the animal kingdom, I think most of us
would prefer to be the fox than the hen, with the fox in the henhouse,
etc. And so it makes a rather startling comparison between these two.
Now, is this intentional? That is, is Jesus thinking, comparing Herod
the fox to himself as the hen? Perhaps drawing a contrast between the
violence of Herod and his nonviolent way. That's one way to read it. The
other way, is Luke intentionally crafting the story this way, for the
same purpose, or because of the benefit of hindsight -- foxes do the
killing, hens are the ones that get eaten? A little bit of
Either way, I think that is clearly the case, whether it be Jesus or
Luke, that it's very intentional. The reason I've come to that
conclusion is because of what occurs between the two, when we have this
reference to the prophets who get killed in Jerusalem. Now, you have to
know, that this is neither certain nor accurate. John the Baptist is
killed by Herod in Galilee, not in Jerusalem. So there's nothing that
says prophets can't be killed outside of Jerusalem. And, as far as that
goes, how many prophets can you name (before the time of Jesus) killed
in Jerusalem? You're all Biblical scholars, right? :) Yeah, right -- who
knows? It turns out there are 2 very obscure prophets, one named Uriah
(not to be confused with the husband of Bathsheba) mentioned in
Jeremiah, and the other by the name of Zechariah (not to be confused
with the other prophet we know by that name as one of the books of the
Bible) mentioned in 2 Chronicles. Very obscure, we know very little
about them other than they were killed in Jerusalem. So it's not a sure
thing. Jeremiah suffered in Jerusalem but he wasn't killed.
So why does Jesus say this?
And it's because that while that may not be
certain for everyone, it's certain for him, right? This is his destiny.
And it's a way of saying he knows what he's doing, he knows what lies
ahead. So the point is that it would be deadly for Jesus, and so Jesus,
then, is the hen to be killed by the fox (not Herod), but the fox
Pilate. Because that's the way of foxes, and the fate of hens.
And that stands in direct contrast to the way of Christ. The way of the
lion, dwelling with the calf. Of the wolf, lying down with the sheep.
And that's the point of the comparison -- Christ is not the powerful,
violent carnivore but the vulnerable, non-violent mother hen.
In football terms, even though the season is over (sadly :), it turns
out Jesus is not the quarterback, you know, leading his team down the
field. He's not the linebacker crashing the gap. He's not the 300-pound
tackle blasting a hole in the defensive lion. He's the water-boy. Yeah.
Bringing something to quench the thirst. He's the medic, tending to the
downed player. Or better yet, he's Sandra Bullock in that wonderful
movie "The Blind Side", right? The woman who looks out for her adopted,
giant of a son, who's really nothing more than a frightened little boy
inside. Destined, probably, for a life of drugs on the street (as was
the case with his real mother) until Sandra Bullock's character takes
him in to her protective care. A true story, by the way, of an actual
So in the ancient, male-dominated world, where foxes eat the weak for
lunch, this very maternal image for Jesus comes as a bit of a shocker.
Kind of like that 11-year-old, Caroline Pla, I think her name is, in the
news this week. Did you catch this story? The little girl who wants to
play football in the all-male Catholic league of which she is a part.
And the Archdiocese just doesn't know what to do with her. She, like
Jesus, is shaking things up. Only Jesus does it not by busting heads or
showing who is boss, but through that motherly compassion, taking in the
weak and vulnerable under his wing, healing the sick, casting out the
demons. Showing that concern for the outcasts of society.
This compassionate care for the weak is one of the central
characteristics of Jesus. The one who is not deterred by the threats of
violence, who is willing to stand up to bullies of this world on behalf
of the vulnerable, providing care for those in need, as any mother hen
Now, I don't know that a mothering hen is the
best image for us to use in every situation, so you have to be a little
bit careful of that. Because there is a time when we all need to break
free from such protection, to make it on our own. But still, that image,
I think, helps us to see the centrality of compassion to Christian faith
And so it's very appropriate that the single largest offering, special
offering, typically that we take in this church, is for the Week of
Compassion program. That program of Disciples that demonstrates the care
of the church for those around the world that are often among the most
vulnerable of any society. After that terrible tragedy in Newtown, just
weeks before Christmas, Week of Compassion provided a grant to Central
Christian Church in nearby Danbury for the bulk purchase of children's
books dealing with trauma and violence for any family in the area,
helping them to make sense with their own children of that tragedy. With
thousands of refugees fleeing the Civil War in Syria, Week of Compassion
is providing emergency assistance, food and water, to refugee camps
working with our Orthodox Christian Church partners in that region of
the country. While the news media has largely forgotten the devastation
of the earthquake in Haiti from a couple years ago, Week of Compassion
has not -- continuing to provide trauma support and medical assistance
in the remote communities that are often overlooked by other agencies
seeking to help that nation rebuild.
So whether working in Africa to eliminate a a very treatable form of
childhood cancer, or in Serbia to give girls their first opportunity to
finish school, Week of Compassion is working around the clock,
throughout the world to show true compassion of the Christian community
for those in the greatest need. And this is the best part -- because we
work with churches and local communities and partner agencies there on
the ground, and have -- count it -- 2 paid staff (Amy Gopp and her
assistant) that's the only administrative expense (plus publicity like
the flyers in your bulletin this week). Because of that, it is one of
the relief organizations with the lowest overhead of any relief
organization. So you know your gifts to Week of Compassion are going to
those people who most need it, and not to pay for administrative costs.
It truly is one of the shining stars of the Christian Church that makes
our compassion known and felt around the world.
Week of Compassion is, in other words, the
mother-hen of our faith. Gathering the vulnerable under her protecting
wings. So your offering, whether this week or any time throughout the
year, whenever you hear of another disaster anywhere in the world,
reveals the compassion of Christ in you.
Now, it may be true that hens are still easy targets for the foxes of
this world, today just as they were in the day of Jesus. But never
forget, that power of the third day, when the work of Christ is made
complete. And the powers of this world are turned upside down.
That power, reserved neither to the past nor for the future, but very
much is available to us now, is most fully known in God's compassionate
love for all his creatures. Foxes and hens alike.
Such is the true wonder of God's love and power, revealed in Christ for
all of us.