03/13/22 – Foxes and Hens

FOXES AND HENS

March 13, 2022
2nd Sunday in Lent
Gen. 15:1-12, 17,18; Ps. 27; Phil. 3:17-4:1; Lk. 13:31-35
Pastor Denise Clark-Jones

In recent years, it has become popular for suburbanites and even urban dwellers to raise chickens in their yards. There are many factors to which this trend is attributed, such as the mistaken belief that it is cheaper to have hens than buy your own fresh eggs. Or it may be parents that want to teach their children about sustainability and responsibility. Or maybe it is pseudo- nostalgia for a simpler life for people who never experienced life in an agrarian society before technology took over our lives and livelihoods.

My uncle and his wife have been the surrogate grandparents for a godchild. My uncle’s wife has been his daytime caregiver since he was born. At age 4, this precocious young fellow entrusted his chickens to my uncle when he went on a trip with his parents. He solemnly informed my uncle that taking care of his chickens was a big responsibility. The first day my uncle took over the care of the chickens he went to the young boy’s house in the morning and in the evening to feed and check on them. On the first day, everything went fine. But on the morning of the second day, my uncle was devastated to find that a fox had gotten through the fencing and feasted on a banquet of chickens – not one was spared. In the heavily forested and mountainous area of Western North Carolina, there are lots of foxes as well as other chicken-loving predators. He couldn’t bear the thought of telling the child that his beloved chickens had been viciously slaughtered and eaten. The boy, being very mature for his age, was philosophical about his chicken’s demise and forgiving of his friend. “Foxes get hungry too.” My uncle did, however, fortify that chicken coop for its next occupants.

Hens are very vulnerable. They have no protection from predators except that provided by their owners. All a mother hen can do for her chicks when confronted by predators is to cover them with her wings and expose herself to the violence being perpetrated against them. In our gospel reading, Jesus experienced the awful realization that he could not alter the course of violence of the Roman government nor protect his own people from being victims or collaborators.

Throughout Luke’s gospel, Jerusalem is an important touchstone to Jesus’ life and ministry. Jerusalem is both the worldly city and the heavenly city. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus begins and ends his ministry in Jerusalem. Jerusalem embodies both the brutal reality of human sin – God’s rebellious children – and the glorious ideal for the kingdom of God on earth. Jerusalem is Jesus’ spiritual home; it represents both his Jewish people and his Jewish faith.

Though he would not use his power by wielding violence against his enemies, Jesus would not give in to those who used violence as a means to silence him and thwart his mission. We see Jesus’ tough side when he dismisses the threat that Herod is out to kill him. As Paul describes in his letter to the Philippians, Jesus is the leading “citizen” in the kingdom of God. He has no allegiance to Herod because he answers to a greater king.

Herod of Antipas was the tetrarch of Galilee, son of the infamous Herod the Great, who tried to kill the infant Jesus. He feared his loss of power to the man who captured the attention of his subjects. Why would he fear one who healed and fed people? Because Herod could lose the power of life and death, which he used to keep the people under his thumb. Any threat to the Roman Empire was a threat to his own power. It was the imperial system that kept Herod in power. Jesus had no respect for the political system, sustained by fear or the religious institutions, which allowed their faith to fall in line with that system.

Jesus had no fear of Herod because his trust was not in the world but beyond the world – God’s kingdom. After Jesus made his stand against Herod with this courageous and dismissive announcement: ‘Go, tell that fox for me: “‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”  I won’t have any time for Herod because I’m too busy doing things he could never dream of doing. After I rise from the dead, what Herod wants will be of no consequence in comparison.’

And then we see the soft side of Jesus – the mother’s heart of God. Jesus mourns the pain that Jerusalem will bear, even as he knows the pain that he himself will bear on the cross. Jesus expresses a longing to hold them in his arms to protect and comfort these citizens of Jerusalem as a mother hen would spread her wings around her baby chicks. I see that haunted look of lament on the face of President Zelensky of Ukraine. Another fox, Putin, will not rest until he has killed Zelensky and taken the land that he is now destroying.’  I received a video from my cousin who lives in Hungary. He is at the border with Ukraine for a few days, helping at a refugee center. He reports that the humanitarian crisis is worse than he even imagined. I saw that the small center is packed with women, children, and some elderly Ukrainians.

In writing to the Philippian congregation, the Apostle Paul speaks about “the enemies of the cross of Christ;” He writes: “I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly, and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” Putin has shown the world that his god is his belly, which hungers for power and domination.

The stunned and sad faces of the Ukrainians who speak of losing their homes and being separated from loved ones are heart-wrenching. The humanity God created in God’s image has been imbued with an overwhelming desire to have a home and a family with which to share it. Our Old Testament reading from Genesis is from the Abraham saga. Abram is called out of his home in Ur to travel to a new home in faraway Canaan. To have a home, one had to have land, but as Abram explains to God, what good is the land if I do not have another generation of my family to whom I can give the land. Children were the means to have eternal life.

God made a covenant with Abram. God promised to give Abram what he hungered for, a homeland and a son, an heir. In today’s reading, God gives Abram a sign of promise with an ancient ritual, later Abram will himself bear a sign with a name change. Abram, meaning “exalted father” will become Abraham, “father of multitudes.” Abraham was blessed to be a blessing. His family would become the whole human family of God in every land. But with our god often in our belly, we have passed by or rejected opportunities to be a blessing.

God sent Jesus into the world to show us how to find our way back to our ultimate home in the kingdom of God. The kingdom in which perfect love casts out fear. As Jesus longed to wrap his arms around his people with comfort and protection in times of distress, this is God’s desire for us. We are living in perilous times. It seems there are lots of foxes out there with hungry bellies. As the psalmist writes: “there are false witnesses that have risen against us, and they are breathing out violence.” (Ps. 27:12)

Trust in God does not preclude lament. Both trust and lament are expressions of faith in times of hardship. We can, however, be assured of the power and goodness of God, who is attentive to our tears and fears. We have a home in God’s loving and protective wings. “So, stand firm in the faith,” (Phil. 4:1) “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage.” (Ps. 27: 14)

 

Amen. May it be so!

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2022, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Ave. | Peoria, Illinois 61606
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