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Sermon: A Hen in the Fox House. March 13, 2022

March 14, 2022

This sermon was preached at Grace Lutheran Church (River Forest, IL) on March 13, 2022, the Second Sunday in Lent. You can view the service and the bulletin. The image is Mother Hen with Chicks (Fir0002/Flagstaffotos, used with permission).

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. As far as playground taunts go, it’s both tame and effective. I imagine I was called worse than “chicken” by schoolyard bullies, but few terms were more motivational. Being called a chicken created the opportunity to prove you weren’t. Sure, inside you might be too frightened to attempt the monkey bars, too nervous to spin a cartwheel, too rational to jump off the swing at its highest point, but only until someone called you a chicken. At that point, your honor was at stake. Who would want to be a chicken? The taunt is freighted with negativity: weakness, fear, cowardice. I never wanted to be called chicken, so I’m always struck by the Jesus use of the term for himself. With death, the greatest bully of them all, hot on his heels, Jesus calls himself a chicken. A mother hen, to be precise. Not a lion, tiger, or bear. A chicken.
  2. Jesus has animals on the brain in today’s passage from Luke. Just a few moments earlier, in response to a warning from the Pharisees that is more than likely a trap, Jesus calls Herod a fox. Herod, a puppet potentate whose strings are pulled by Rome, is threatened by Jesus. He wants to do away with Jesus and his gospel of love, grace, forgiveness, and healing. You can’t very well let that sort of this get out of hand, after all. Herod is sly and cunning, and Jesus sees him for what he is: a fox. Some might say Herod is savvy, a genius, but Jesus knows his sort. Whatever else Herod might be, he is evil; a dealer in destruction and death meted out upon the weak and innocent to maintain his own place in the empire’s reign of terror. Herod, no doubt, thinks he has Jesus right where he wants him. This itinerant preacher? This mother hen? No match for a sly fox who’s been having his way in the chicken coop for years.
  3. Herod, however, misjudges his opponent. This mother hen is not weak and afraid. She is strong but grieving. Strong enough to do anything necessary to protect her brood. Grieving because her brood willfully rejects the shelter of her wings. Grieving because, generation after generation, we somehow end up choosing war and violence, oppression and exclusion, instead of allowing ourselves to be gathered together as God’s beloved community. Grieving people we reject God’s Word and those sent to preach it. Grieving because what sort of God would look at the mess we’ve made of this world and not respond with brokenhearted lament? Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
  4. God grieves, but God does not abandon. What mother hen would leave her brood to fend for themselves forever, would not do anything for her children’s sake? At any rate, it’s too late for God to give up. Long ago, nearly two thousand years before today’s gospel reading, God made a promise to Abram. Perhaps our Old Testament reading today struck you as esoteric, if not downright weird. God tells Abram to collect a heifer, goat, ram, turtledove, and pigeon. Abram slaughters and halves them, except the birds, and lays them out for the Lord, at which point the Lord knocks out Abram, sending him into a deep sleep. What’s going on here, we might ask from our postmodern and more hygienically-minded vantage point? Is this some sort of sacrificial ritual? Quite the opposite, actually. Abram isn’t giving anything to God. It is God who is the giver. This is the first time God makes covenant with Abram, and what happens here is a covenantal ritual. A sealing of the promise in blood. Covenants typically have two participants, so they would take and kill animals and then walk between the carcasses to seal the deal; the implication was that if the covenant was broken, a similar fate would befall the transgressor. Let it be unto me, as it was to these animals, if I break the covenantal bond. But Abram isn’t awake to walk through the pieces. Only God, present in the fire pot and torch, passes through. God promises the land to Abram’s descendants forever, never mind that there are still no descendants. And if the covenant falters or breaks, it is God alone who will be on the hook to atone for it. To Abram, it is all grace, a gift. The consequences of covenant fall upon God.
  5. In Christ, God has come to fulfill the promise made to Abram, Sarai, and their descendants. Indeed, Christ has come to expand what it means to be a descendant of Abram and Sarai, gathering all under these wings that are both compassionately comforting and persistently protective. Christ comes into this world where civilians are attacked by a modern-day Herod, the fox in the Kremlin. Christ comes into this world in which we still try to sort out who belongs and who doesn’t. Christ comes into this world in which we each live under the shadow of death, never knowing when diagnosis or tragedy will befall us. Christ comes into this world to gather us in ever more closely in God’s loving, protective embrace.
  6. In pursuit of this mission, Jesus has no time for Herod’s foolishness. Jesus will get around to Herod when Jesus is good and ready, thank you very much. When the time comes, the fox will think he’s about to swallow the hen, feathers and all. But just there, Jesus will spread his wings wide upon the cross, offering up himself in the fight against death, that through his death the hen’s brood would live. A hen might not look like much. Neither does a cross. Yet in God’s great love for us, Jesus embraces weakness and death to undo death’s reign of power. Come, friends, under the shadow of God’s wings. See this God who fights off sin and suffering by suffering for sin, who defeats death by dying, who in the ever-expanding embrace of the divine has created room even for you. There is room here for you.
  7. In this world of war and woe, of sickness and suffering, we know that death continues to stalk us as it stalked Jesus. But in the shadow of the cross, under the wings in which God gathers us, we are given a new vision. A vision beyond what we can see with our eyes. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, writes of the deep faith of African slaves in antebellum America, who “by virtue of their servitude, were compelled to cast their ken beyond mere sight – to extend their vision beyond things as they were, to a deep, broader, higher vision, and dream of things as they could be.” Their faith continues to be sung in the spirituals they’ve left for us, which “stretch the contours of reality as it is given in the social order, pointing to the form of a new heaven and a new earth – a new social order, a new set of institutional arrangements – a kingdom not born or controlled by the powers of this world.” And so, in a world in which they controlled almost nothing, in which their owners tried to steal everything from them, they taught us to sing, “There’s plenty good room, plenty good room, plenty good room in my Father’s house.” Friends, as you carry you own burdens, as you watch war unfold, as you worry over the fate of the world and all those you love, come under the shadow of the cross. Be gathered in by this hen who loves you, this chicken who though crucified is stronger than death, this God who has room for you today and who will hold you forever. God made the covenant. God has made good on the promise. There’s plenty good room here. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

From → Lent/Easter, Sermons

  1. Martin Baumgaertner permalink

    With Darth Putin up to his tricks
    We’re reminded Christ gathers his chicks
    God’s promises remain
    Even in the Ukraine
    We’re gathered ‘neath Christ’s crucifix

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