Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, March 13, 2022

YEAR C 2022 lent 2

 Lent 2, 2022
Genesis 15:1-12,17-18
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35
Psalm 27

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I want to begin by drawing your attention to the opening phrase in today’s Collect:  “O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy.”  In that prayer, we are reminded not only of God’s mercy, but that mercy is God’s glory.  Think about that.  When you imagine glory, you probably picture some victorious overwhelming vision of power and might.  When you think of glory, you probably do not also think of mercy.  But the message in that little phrase is this: in mercy, God’s glory is displayed.  It really is quite amazing to me.  And it ties in quite well with today’s lessons.

So, let's start that reading from Genesis.  A couple chapters before this, God tells Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth.  Skip ahead to today’s readings and Abram is like, “Well, I guess I’m not going to have any children.”  God says, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.”  But Abram asks, “how am I to know that I shall possess it?”  Like, you know, how can I be sure, God?  And God could say, “Because I said so, you idiot!”  Or, God could say, “How dare you doubt me?”  But instead, God chooses to give Abram something he can understand.  Something that will make sense to him . . . if not to us.  And so God is going to make a covenant with Abram.

At which point, we must stop and talk about covenants in the culture of that time.  The verb used when making a covenant there is “cut.”  You would “cut a covenant” with someone.  And the reason for that is because a covenant involved cutting an animal in half.  And the point of cutting an animal in half was this:  the two people making the covenant would  walk between the two halves of the severed animal, and pledge that if they break the covenant, then may the fate of the animal be theirs as well.  Serious stuff!

Usually, both parties would walk through and make the scary pledge, but always the weaker one would.  So, you offer to lend me $100; we cut a three year old heifer in half, I walk through the middle and say, “If I don’t pay you back, may my fate be like that of this animal.”  Though that’s a bad example, since a heifer is surely worth more than $100.  But you get the point.

And so, on that day the Lord cut a covenant with Abram.  While Abram is asleep!  And in the making of that covenant, God passes through the severed animal, rather than Abram doing so.  We don’t know specifically what is up with the smoking fire pot and flaming torch, but we can tell in the context that they are representative of God passing through when the covenant is made.  This is absolutely ridiculous, because we would expect for Abram to pass through, or at least for Abram and God together.  But here we have only God making the pledge.  Only God being vulnerable and willing to take a chance.  Only God’s life being put on the line, with Abram asleep at the time!  He doesn’t even know it’s happening.  God is doing for Abram what he cannot do for himself.  Stepping in for the weaker party in the covenant.  And there it is: God, whose glory it is always to have mercy.

And then let’s look at today’s gospel reading, from Luke.  Some Pharisees come to Jesus and tell him to flee because Herod is looking to have him killed.  Jesus calls Herod a fox, which is perfect, because just a little later he imagines himself as a hen protecting baby chicks, the very ones that a fox would be looking to snatch away.  

I love that we get this feminine imagery for Jesus just a few days after International Women’s Day.  And, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always imagined this as a cozy little scene, with a hen nestling up against the baby chicks, all comfortable and smiling with their little baby chick beaks.

Turns out—as I recently learned—when a mother hen gathers her chicks to protect them, it’s actually super aggressive.  Like the bird version of grabbing them by the collar.  She’s protecting them from imminent danger, not snuggling up with them in the hen house.  And if you picture what that looks like, you’ll also see that when the mother hen is protecting her babies—with her wings wrapped around them—she is leaving herself completely vulnerable.  She cannot use her wings to protect herself when she’s holding onto her chicks for dear life.  The hen lays down her life for the chicks that she gathers under her wings.  And there it is again: God, whose glory it is always to have mercy.

So, the Pharisees come to Jesus and tell him to run away because Herod is planning to kill him.  But Jesus will not die in Herod’s Galilee; he must die in Jerusalem, the holy city.  We don’t know what to make of the statement that a prophet cannot die outside Jerusalem, since Moses and Jeremiah—two chief prophets—did not die there.  Some say Jesus is talking about himself in the third person, or there’s an issue with the indefinite article.  But no matter.  The important thing to know about this is that Jesus is not stating some incorrect historical “fact” about other prophets; he is referring to his own death, not someone else’s.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  Jesus knows what will happen to him if he continues on in toward Jerusalem.  He’s known it since chapter 9, back when he set his face toward Jerusalem.  The Pharisees come to him and tell him to run, to save his own life.  And knowing he will die, he refuses to run away, refuses to rally his followers to rise up and fight.  What do we even call this?  Suicide?  Fatalism?  Surrender?

No, we call this courage.  This is the courage of vulnerability.  The courage of sacrifice.  The courage of laying down one’s life for others.  Or passing through the split heifer.  Or gathering the chicks under his wings.  Not striking back, but surrendering.  And there it is again: God, whose glory it is always to have mercy.

God passes through the split heifer.  For us.  Jesus goes to Jerusalem.  For us.  We get a very different message from today’s scripture readings than we get from the world around us.  That story of Abram and God, the gospel reading we heard from Luke, they both show us a different way.  And it is certainly not the way that we see in our world.  Because God’s ways are not our ways.  The courage of vulnerability we see in these readings makes us uncomfortable, because we don’t want to be that way ourselves.  What would people think?  How would people treat us?  Could we even survive?

It’s hard to think about, isn’t it?  But that’s because we’re trying to put ourselves in God’s place—rather than in Abram’s place—imagining ourselves walking through the split heifer when it should be Abram doing that.  We’re trying to put ourselves in Jesus’ place, imagining walking on toward Jerusalem, knowing that he will be killed by the religious leaders of his time.

But you and I are not the God.  You and I are not Jesus.  You and I are Abram, sound asleep while God does what needs to be done.  You and I are the tiny chickens that Jesus gathers under his wings.  And that’s probably even harder to think about, right?  That definitely does not fit with our self image!

We are not called to be Jesus.  But we are called to follow him.  We are called to trust him.  We are called to be gathered under his wings.  

As we saw in these lessons today, when the stronger party takes the vulnerable role by choice, it makes no sense to us.  And yet God continually sacrifices for our benefit.  This is never more clear than when we consider the Eucharistic Feast of Communion.  Where Jesus offers us his own body and blood, so that we can be strengthened for our journey, forgiven of our sins, and reassured of God’s salvation.  

Though we do not understand God’s ways, may we always be grateful that God’s ways are not our ways, and that Jesus has the courage of vulnerability to lay down his life for the living and the dead.  For sinners who need redemption.  For tiny chickens in need of the shelter of his wings.
As we prayed, “O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy,” glory to you forever and ever. 


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