First Congregational Church
March 17, 2019
Second Sunday of Lent
“Just Like Jesus - Mostly, Sort Of”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
One day the first grade teacher was reading the story of Chicken Little to her class. She came to the part of the story where Chicken Little tried to warn the farmer. She read “…and so Chicken Little went up to the farmer and said, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”The teacher paused and then asked the class, “And what do you think the farmer said?” One little girl raised her and hand and replied, “I bet he said: ‘Holy cow! A talking chicken!”
From today through the next four Sundays, the lectionary scripture passages are all over the place: Luke 13, Luke 1, Luke 15, John 12. I’d welcome anyone who would join me for a cup of coffee with the people who create these lectionary lists of prescribed Bible passages.
So there is call for a little set-up before we step into today’s passage. Five chapters before the one for today, Jesus had turned his face to Jerusalem, somehow knowing that his days on earth were not only numbered, but focusing and pointing to that last Holy week. But more than his frame of mind, we need to know his physical frame of reference.
Jesus returned to the area called Perea, the place where John the Baptist had been baptizing some two and a half years earlier. Perea was an area like Galilee, Samaria and Judea: territories like how we refer to Shipshewana, Appalachia or Midwest. Perea was east of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and a tad north, maybe 10 miles or so. It wasn’t a geographically specific place, but it was part of the landscape for this morning’s passage.
I didn’t think about it before yesterday, that historically, Jewish people would not bury their dead inside the city walls, so Jerusalem is surrounded by tombs. The tombs were cut out of rock, so as they were cutting and chiseling resting places, plain to elaborate, there were chunks of rock and stone lying all over, even as far out as three miles from Jerusalem. Jesus may not have been laying his eyes on the actual tombs, but everyone knew they were there; not just stones that could be easily picked up, but stones that were related to death, some that could be used for stoning, and others not so unlike tombstones and stone sculptures in our American, modern cemeteries in the north.
Amidst this area that was perhaps perfumed with au de death, maybe in a synagogue, Jesus had been teaching about the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. The Kingdom of God is like the narrow door.
Luke 13:31-35 Jesus’ Sorrow for Jerusalem
31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Thank you, Noreen. I will admit that this passage had me thinking for a few days. And even after a some fair bit of study, I was still trying to sift through what I thought God might desire for us to hear.
If only I could have waited for the bulletin printing until yesterday, then it would have been easy! Jane Anne Ferguson of sermon-stories.com pointed out how the story of the Little Red Hen would be such a perfect fit.
Since I tend to get the Little Red Hen and Chicken Little mixed up these days, the Little Red Hen is the one who found a handful of grain, and knowing that it would produce more if it were planted, rather than if she ate it right then and there, asked if anyone wanted to help her. “Not I,” said the lazy dog. “Not I,” said the sleepy cat. “Not I,” said the sloppy pig.
At each stage of the endeavor, the Little Red Hen asked if anyone wanted to join her. And of course, each time, she was turned down. So she planted it, harvested it, ground it, mixed it into flour, and baked it. Then came the moment: would she ask if anyone would like to join her in the fresh bread, or would she keep it to herself? And how would the dog, the cat and the pig answer?
If we had been able to go down that trail, we could have compared the Little Red Hen and Jesus -repeatedly offering grace and opportunity to join in the mission. And then we could have noted that while the Little Red Hen ate the fruits of her labor alone, Jesus reaped the fruit of his sacrifice with those who watched him ascend back to sit at the right hand of God.
And if we had gone down that track, we would have missed out on wondering if the Pharisees were conservative liberals or liberal conservatives in that they were reputed bad guys being good. Or good guys being good. If we’d stuck with just the chicken side of the story, we would have missed the wonder of if or why these Pharisees were in cahoots with Herod, and the fact that when Jesus told the Pharisees to go back to Herod, he was actually telling them to take a hike, too. Had we been able to explore the mothering hen more, we might have missed out on the possibility that maybe the Pharisees warning was a deception, not really to protect him, but just to get Jesus out of their hair for a while.
Had we been able to explore such a fowl theme, we could have raised the Aesop fable of The Hen and the Fox, even though the story is about a male chicken. Maybe Jesus even knew this story, as Mr. Aesop lived about 500 years before him. And it would be a good exploration, because I’m guessing that more than a couple of us have forgotten the story - if we ever knew it.
We might have been able to hear that on one bright evening, as the sun was sinking on a glorious world, a wise old rooster flew into a tree to roost. Before he composed himself to rest, he flapped his wings three times and crowed loudly. But just as he was about to put his head under his wing, his beady eyes caught a flash of red and a glimpse of a long pointed nose, and there just below him stood Master Fox.
“Have you heard the wonderful news?” cried the Fox in a very joyful and excited manner. “What news?” asked the rooster very calmly. But he had a queer, fluttery feeling inside him, for, you know, he was very much afraid of the Fox.
“Your family and mine and all other animals have agreed to forget their differences and live in peace and friendship from now on, forever. Just think of it! I simply cannot wait to embrace you! Do come down, dear friend, and let us celebrate the joyful event.” “How grand!” said the rooster. “I certainly am delighted at the news.”
But he spoke in an absent way, and stretching up on tiptoes, seemed to be looking at something afar off. “What is it you see?” asked the Fox a little anxiously. “Why, it looks to me like a couple of Dogs coming this way. They must have heard the good news and—”
But the Fox did not wait to hear more. Off he started on a run. “Wait,” cried the rooster. “Why do you run? The Dogs are friends of yours now!” “Yes,” answered the Fox. “But they might not have heard the news. Besides, I have a very important errand that I had almost forgotten about.” The rooster smiled as he buried his head in his feathers and went to sleep, for he had succeeded in outwitting a very crafty enemy.
It’s too bad that we didn’t go down the road with the hen/chicken/rooster theme, because we could have pondered a moment on the irony of Aesop’s rooster crowing three times and the rooster crowing before Peter’s third denial. We could have contemplated the courage it takes a brave man to call the reigning king a fox.
Had we gone down that road, however, we might have missed the opportunity to see this whole scripture passage from Jesus’ eyes, from his position juxtaposed against the cross, to note that Jesus had the free will - like us - to back down or step up to the longing of his heart. Just like Jesus, we are free to reject the way and will of God.
Had we gone with the chicken and fox theme, we might have spent a few minutes thinking about the imagery of the mother hen brooding over her chicks, and how parents and grandparents can relate so easily to the idea of trying to help the kids understand what is right and wrong and how frustrating, painful and terrible it is when kids refuse our advice, and how hard it is to allow them to make their own mistakes, to give them their right to make their own mistakes, just like we get to make our own mistake. And in that pain of parenting, we get a little closer to the heart of Jesus.
It might have been a little lighter message, going with the Little Red Hen, the Hen and the Fox and the brooding hen. But it is important to think about all the parts of this passage, in their goofy combination and compilation, to see that one of the parts of our lives that is like that of Jesus is our free will, not despite God, but in respect of God knowing what is best for us, and leading us in those paths of righteousness of the Lord’s sake. It’s an important part of our faith, trusting in God that all things will work out, even when it seems most unlikely. For such wisdom, let us pray.
Gracious and Loving God, we thank you that you give us choices; choices that are free of coercion and offered in grace. Give us your courage to hope in the face of evil. Give us your patience to serve under stress. Give us your faith to work for justice in the face of threat and opposition. Give us your pluck to persevere when it is hard. Give us your love, for our love itself changes the world. May we meet fear with healing and hate with love, side by side with you, who die and rise daily with us. And may you grant us all these things in the name of your Son, in whom all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.