I. Theme – We should trust in God’s covenants
“ Fox and the Hen"
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
Today’s readings invite us to trust in God’s covenant promises. Each of the readings speaks about a future, a not yet. Abraham’s involves continuation of the tribe and of the name, and of the covenant. His confidence in the lord’s promise is counted as righteousness. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, trusts in the coming of the Savior and the transformation of our bodies. Paul wants his readers to be tied to the future that is the Kingdom of Heaven, and the future of Jesus is the future of the true prophet who delivers God’s final word on what will be. The gospel reminds us that although God’s covenant promises are for everyone, nevertheless our effort is required if we are to participate.
While Advent calls us to awareness, awakening and alertness, Lent helps us appreciate the cloud, the shadow, the wisdom of deep sleep. God’s covenant with Abram is not forged beneath the brilliant blaze of noon but in a deep and terrifying darkness, after the sun has set. That such an important event should happen at night prompts us to question our usual assumptions that everything good occurs in the light.
Jesus introduces another puzzle when he implies that the order of sanctity may not be as rigid as we might think. “Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” He turns this twist into a concrete example in his lament over Jerusalem: site of the magnificent temple. To his listeners, it’s grandeur must seem close to heaven. Yet it is the city that kills the prophets; it will be the scene of his death.
Furthermore, the people most revered in that society, its religious leaders and scholars, wait outside a closed door, seething in bitterness and frustration. Because they have rejected Jesus’ overtures, they have missed their chance to enjoy the banquet of God’s reign.
The question must come to our minds as it did to Jesus’ first hearers. If the elite don’t get in, who does? Perhaps those who are willing to be gathered like chicks, those who admit their vulnerability, those who do not pride themselves on their virtue, those who know they don’t have a corner on truth.
As we grow in loving God, we become more skeptical of the idols that compete for our loyalty. When bureaucrats are inefficient and heroes corrupt, when the traffic is crazy, when time and energy dribble away, when we lose our favorite project, our finest self or our dearest love, when the oppressors triumph, the greedy profit and the innocent are bludgeoned, then we remember Paul’s claim that “our citizenship is in heaven.”
Too much is awry in this world to ever claim it for permanent residence or lasting citizenship. Knowing that the terrestrial stakes are small and the earthly city doesn’t last forever helps us “stand firm in the lord” as Paul would have the Philippians do.
So do not lose heart, as we are reminded in 2 Corinthians. Lent is a journey, and our spiritual lives are a journey. We do not see the end but we know the way we are going. Living for Christ means living for others and not for ourselves. Living for Christ means following God’s ways of love and justice and seeking justice for others. Living for Christ means knowing that the way of this world—to put ourselves first, to seek earthly success and gain, to “have it all”—means to lose it all in the end. Living for Christ means we trust in God, we trust in the hope of God for us, as Abraham and Sarah did so long ago, as Jesus taught us, and as the psalmists sang and Paul preached—we know we shall see the goodness of God in our lives, and we share that hope with others.
Old Testament – Genesis 15:1-12,17-18
Here in the book of Genesis, the perspective changes from the story of humanity to the story of Abram, who will become Abraham, and of God’s chosen people.
Where there appears to be a dead end, a path appears. When we hit bottom, we discover God is with us and we can, with God’s companionship and inspiration, climb out of the mess in which we’ve found ourselves. When think we are unlovable or will never find a loving friendship or partner, we have a synchronous meeting and everything changes.
This reading describes a common custom in the ancient Middle East, a covenant ritual between leaders of tribes. But in this case, one participant is God, and the other doesn’t yet have a tribe. This time, the participants are not equals. So only God, invisible but symbolized by fire, does the ritual act.
Starting in chapter 12, the book of Genesis gives us the story of Abram (later known as Abraham) depicted as the first person to hear and heed the voice of God. At God’s prompting, Abram moved his considerable holdings from the ancient city Ur in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) to a land he knew not (modern Palestine). Salvation, for Abram, is a son and a place, a son to call his own and place to call his home. He was a resident alien in the land where he was living
Of course he questions it, both parts of it. Somebody else owns all it already. And I still don’t have a son. Notice that God does not repudiate his questioning. Faith is allowed to question God
Today’s reading repeats promises to Abram about descendants and a land. It describes the sealing of the covenant between God and Abram in a symbolic ceremony that portrays the fate of those who break the covenant—they will be torn apart as were the animals offered in sacrifice.
Because of his childlessness, Abram is relying upon the custom of adopting a slave as an heir. But in response to God’s promise of descendants, Abram “believed the lord,” (v. 6), that is, trusts God to fulfill the promise though it looks impossible, which puts him in a right relationship (“righteousness”) with God.
Most usually we see Abraham in the role as patriarch, however in this reading he is more of a prophet. The opening phrase, “the word of the Lord came to” gives us the clue as to his role. Like other prophets he admits to a weakness, “I am going to my end childless.”
When God does speak to Abraham’s reservations it is the language of promise full of images of hope. The first image is of the stars and their staggering number. So shall Abraham’s descendents be.
What happens next is intimated in the initial verses when the visit of God to Abraham is described as a vision. So it is that Abraham goes into a deep sleep (as did Adam), dreams and sees the enactment of the cutting of a covenant as a smoking fire pot, and a flaming torch, pass through the two halves of the sacrifice. Thus both parties of the covenant are dreamt as walking through and participating in the blood of the sacrifice, the blood that seals the covenant. Now the promise is not only of heirs but of land as well.
Psalm – Psalm 27
In Psalm 27, the relationship of God and Abraham in the Old Testament reading is reflected in the psalmist’s desire to be in conversation with God. Psalm 27 promises the same thing – a sense of security and well-being –despite conflict and threat.
The first part (vv. 1-6) of Psalm 27 is a song of trust that speaks of Yahweh, the lord, in the third person. The second section (vv. 7-14) is a lament addressed to Yahweh in the second person. This latter section presents the situation of someone, unjustly accused, who is coming to the temple to seek the lord’s decision and offer sacrifice.
Psalm 27 reminds us that God is always present with us, even when evil surrounds us—God is near. Even when times are tough—God is close by. Even when it seems that all hope is lost, we believe in the goodness of the Lord and have faith with courage that God’s presence will not fail us. The psalmist sings that even when hope seems foolish, remain strong and take heart
He believes that the lord’s goodness will be made known in this life; at this time in Israel’s understanding, life after death was only a vague and shadowy semi existence. The final verse of assurance is probably the priest’s reply, speaking as an oracle of the lord. It is a matter of waiting upon the Lord. As the hymn says, “God will have his day.”
Epistle – Philippians 3:17-4:1
The city of Philippi was a Roman military colony, which means a couple things. It means that Caesar was honored in Philippi quite literally as its Savior and its Lord, in those specific words, but more than that, in Philippi Caesar was even worshiped as a god and a son of a god. Many of the Christians in Philippi were not Roman citizens but they knew the system
So Paul can encourage them when he writes that their citizenship is in heaven instead of Rome, so that not Caesar but Jesus is their Savior and their Lord. It is a jump, it requires a leap of faith. It is for this life already and also for eternal life. Paul reminds the Christians of the transformation awaiting them when the Savior returns, and he therefore encourages them to be steadfast now.
Paul’s invitation to imitate him just as he imitates Christ reflects the reality of the Christian life as response to a person rather than as belief in a set of dogmas.
The identification of the “enemies of the cross of Christ” (v. 18) is not certain; they are Christians who are misunderstanding or misusing their faith. Paul, using a political metaphor, summons the Philippians to recognize their true allegiance.
Background – Among early Christians in several places there was a controversy about whether one had to keep the old Jewish law in order to be a follower of Christ. Paul argues forcefully here that one does not have to do so. He asserts that the changes Christ makes in us really change everything
Those who say you do are really "enemies of the cross of Christ," because they’re acting as if the death and resurrection of Jesus are not what saves us; rather, they hold that keeping the law is what saves them. In particular, the law required eating kosher food and having males circumcised. The food is what Paul alludes to in ridiculing their devotion to their stomachs, and the circumcision is what he means when he says they glory in their "shame."
A further interpretation is closer to us today. Paul grieves for those who live in the ways of the world, who live by greed and destruction, who desire power over others. This is not the way of Christ and it is certainly not the way of the kingdom of God. God’s power is love that is transforming. Paul wants to move the Philippians from the community of such into the community that has its commonwealth in heaven
What’s salvation for the Christians in Philippi? On first glance you might think it’s going to heaven when you die. Well, yes, the New Testament certainly offers eternal life. But it’s not up in heaven with immortal souls. It’s our souls and bodies in the recreated earth, when the Lord’s Prayer is finally fully answered, when "thy kingdom comes on earth, as it is in heaven." Our eternal life is our personal share in God’s eternal kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
As Jesus said, the first will be last and the last will be first—whoever wishes to be first must become last of all and servant of all. Paul clearly states that those who live by the way of the world will die by the way of the world, and those who live for Christ now will live with Christ. Those live by consumption worship the God of consumption, which “is the belly” (vs 19). Those who live for others and love others have a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (vs 20).
Gospel – Luke 13:31-35
Having been warned that Herod, the ruler of Galilee, wants to kill him, Jesus reminds his audience that, as a prophet, his destiny awaits him in Jerusalem. Despite Jerusalem’s bloody history of violence toward God’s prophets, Jesus reveals his desire to gather the unfaithful like a mother hen gathering her chicks. Only their unwillingness bars them from entry into the kingdom
Luke 13:31-35 is a short passage, of a time when Herod, who had already killed John the Baptist, was looking for an opportunity to kill Jesus as he drew closer to Jerusalem. We are reminded through this passage that not all Pharisees were the “bad guys.” It’s easy to condemn an entire group of people for the actions of a few, but in this case (and in John 3 with Nicodemus who also mentions there are others who know he is from God) there are Pharisees who, while maybe questioning who Jesus is and his motives, do not seek his harm.
The Pharisees here warn Jesus that Herod is trying to kill him, and to get away from Jerusalem. Jesus will not be swayed – he reminds his audience that, as a prophet, his destiny awaits him in Jerusalem. In strong language, Jesus tells them to tell Herod that he is doing what he was called to do, and Jesus also laments over Jerusalem. So many have tried to warn the people, especially the religious leaders and the ruling elite, that they were going astray from God’s ways, but they were unwilling to give up their power. Jesus knows that Herod is a fox, and smart enough to realize that he doesn’t have to take him out himself, because the powers of Jerusalem will do it for him.
Then, in a moment unlike any other (and not recorded in the other Gospels), Jesus invokes the image of the mother hen gathering her chicks together. Here, the power that Jesus describes is to gather and protect, unlike the power in Jerusalem that was used to rule and dominate. The power that comes from God is a power of protection, of bringing together, of healing and hope (as demonstrated when Jesus tells the Pharisees to tell Herod what he is doing—casting out demons and healing the sick), not a power of domineering, destruction and greed over others.
Jesus “comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35) in order to lay down His life for the sins of the world. Earthly Jerusalem was blind to His gracious visitation, and it put Him to death like the prophets before Him. Yet, His sacrifice upon the cross became the cornerstone of the new Jerusalem, His Church. He visits us today in mercy with His preaching of forgiveness, to gather us to Himself within that holy city, “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:34), for “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).
III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:
Old Testament – Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm – Psalm 27
Epistle – Philippians 3:17-4:1
Gospel – Luke 13:31-35