Today’s Gospel reading seems a bit obscure, and yet it is packed full of images and foreshadowing. The main image of the fox and hen is powerful. It’s almost like Jesus compares he and Herod – Herod is the fox, only focused on the here and now, and only on gaining more power, which means eliminating other competition. And Jesus is the mother hen protecting her chicks. Foxes are feisty, but so are mother hens, especially if you threaten the babies. If Jesus or God is the mother hen, and we are her chicks, we need not fear. I am grateful for this feminine image for God today.
Those main images are flanked by foreshadowing. There are references all over that help orient us to where we are liturgically. There are reminders of where we are going.
- In verse 31, the Pharisees tell Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. This is reminiscent of the last time a Herod wanted to kill Jesus, way back when he was around 2 years old. That was this Herod’s dad. This Herod, Herod Antipas, will end up having Jesus killed.
- In verse 32, Jesus references his work finishing on the “third day.” A reference to the resurrection.
- In verse 34, another mention of Jesus’ impending death in Jerusalem.
- And in verse 35, Jesus tells the Pharisees and the people
- (he’s about to leave Jerusalem)
- that the next time they see him,
- everyone will be shouting
- “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
- Hosanna. The procession with palms.
- Another foreshadowing.
The Gospel does a good job getting us ready for where we are going liturgically, meaning in the church calendar we are headed toward Holy Week with Good Friday, and to Easter. Death and resurrection. There are hints of it here, and Jesus is clearly not afraid. He knows what he’s going to do and he knows what’s going to happen, and he’s going to do it anyway. It is the right thing to do, it is what he was born to do, it is how God will finally show how much love God has for these people. Jesus is not going to let fear dictate for him.
Abram, the main character in the Genesis reading today, is a little different. He’s not necessarily fearful, but he isn’t so sure God knows what God is doing. And, yes, this Abram we read about today is the same guy that’s later called Abraham, but God hasn’t changed his name yet as a sign of the covenant or promise God is making. That’s a few chapters out.
Abram seems to be a bit frustrated and confused with God’s work. A few chapters before where we heard from today, God has already promised to Abram countless descendants and land on which they will dwell. In today’s reading, Abram still has no children to speak of, and it seems like he’s starting to doubt that God will make good on that promise. This is something we can identify with in scripture. For a man like Abram, a man we see as having such faith, for him to be struggling to trust and believe, that’s something we know something about. Faith is not blind acceptance, and Abram demonstrates this. If I put myself in his shoes, I imagine he’s wondering if he’s doing the right thing. He’s skeptical. He’s kinda waiting for God to prove it before he’s going to be all in on this stuff. And that there is the beauty of faith!
Faith isn’t having complete certainty in God or in God’s promises. Faith is being willing to trust, even though you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Faith is journeying, even if you don’t know where you are going. And this is why I love Lent so much. Lent is about the journey. I love that we have these texts of great, faithful people who struggle to see and believe God’s promises, and yet they still trust. Abram trusts that God has his back, even if he doesn’t exactly see what is going on.
There’s a contrast in our scripture characters for today. We have Jesus who is so sure, who will not let fear win. And then we have Abram, who isn’t afraid to to question God about the things God had said before: But God, you said I would have descendants, and how will that be possible if I don’t have any children?
Today in Genesis, we hear God re-up the promise God has already made, and God even does this ceremony with Abram, where these animals are sacrificed and cut in half. This was one way they would show they were serious about a promise they were making at that time. The person making the promise would walk through the animals that had been cut in two, and then the promise would be binding for that person, so that if they didn’t keep their promise, they would be like these dead animals. Keep your promise or die, basically. And what’s interesting about this interaction with God and Abram is that it’s God who is making the promise! There is nothing that Abram has to do here. He has no part to play, no requirement or action or anything. God is the one who walks through the animals (symbolized by the flaming torch and smoking fire pot). God is the one saying that God will keep these promises at all costs. God will remain faithful to Abram, even if Abram isn’t totally convinced about the whole thing.
This is how God is with us. God has promised to be faithful to us, just as God has with God’s people for centuries. God will continue to lead us and love us and have mercy on us, because we are God’s children. And, yes, I know that God didn’t act that way to everyone throughout scripture, and we can wrestle with that topic another day. But today we celebrate with Abram God making good on God’s promises, and we trust that God will do the same with us. And in the meantime, we act with love and compassion because that’s what God in Jesus has asked of us to do.
Today we renounce the violence in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday that killed 50 Muslims in the name of hate. We renounce the ways of this world that seek to divide us and stir up violence and hatred in our hearts. This is not the way of God. Today, let us choose with Jesus to not be dictated by fear. Let us choose to live the way of love and compassion. As our own Bishop Kristen pointed out, compassion is harder than hate. But compassion is what it means to follow Jesus in this world.
Let us reach out in compassion to our brothers and sisters in this world who are Muslim or Jewish or black or brown or gay or in any other way marginalized in this country. Let us stand together against violence, against oppression, against any other way than complete love for all of our neighbors – and by that, I mean all those with whom we share this planet. We are all in this life together, and trying to win over one another will not get us ahead.
As Martin Luther King said,
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
From “Where Do We Go From Here?” as published in Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967), p. 62.
Let us live as followers of Jesus, committed to the way of love for all in this country and every country. Let us not be dictated by fear, but let us trust in the Lord, maker of heaven and earth; in our God who has already conquered fear and death, but whose victory we have yet to fully realize because of our broken humanity. As Psalm 27 said this morning, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Friends, let us live in confidence in our Lord Jesus and in God our creator and Spirit. Let us be comforted by the wings of God our mother hen, and let us share that embrace with the world!