Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sermon; Lent 2: Luke 13:31-35

In the overall trajectory of Luke, Jesus has begun deliberately moving toward Jerusalem and his eventual death and resurrection.  This movement begins a little after the Transfiguration in Chapter 9.  And, depending on how you count, we still have about five or six chapters to go until his triumphal entry, the day that has become known as Palm Sunday.

Jesus “has set his face to Jerusalem” understanding that that is where things will come to a head.  What this means for us is that we need to read this section of Luke with an eye toward Jerusalem and the events that will take place there.  When we do that, the words of the Pharisees that Herod wants to kill him, and his own words about finishing his work on the third day, take on a deeper significance.

For such a short passage there is a lot to focus on and a lot of material for which a sermon could be drawn.  But this is Lent, so I want to focus on how Jesus refers to Herod.  Jesus tells a group of helpful Pharisees (it's important to note that the Pharisees shouldn't be painted with the broad brushstroke of evil – every Pharisee didn't look like Snidely Whiplash), “Go and tell that fox . . .”

The Wednesday book group recently finished Katharine Jefferts Schori's book, The Heartbeat of God.  **Free plug – our next book will be The Harlot by the Side of the Road**  In Heartbeat, she talks about this passage and Jesus' reference to Herod as a fox.  So this isn't my original idea, but I'm picking it up for today.

When you hear someone described as a fox, what comes to mind?  Maybe someone who is cunning or sly.  Maybe someone who is crazy like a fox.  Maybe someone who is cunning or sneaky.  Maybe someone who is incredibly good looking.  All of these, except for maybe that last one, could be what Jesus had in mind.  Herod was, after all, a politician walking the line between the Roman and Jewish leadership.  And it was his father who said, “You go and find the child so that I also may go and pay him homage.”

But Katharine has a different take that I want to expand.  She referred to the fox as being a small-time criminal.  Yes, foxes are sly and sneaky and cunning; but they also prey upon small things – birds, eggs, mice, frogs, and insects.  There is also the image of the fox in the hen house.  Her contention is that Jesus was insulting Herod because, like the fox, he was a small-time, petty criminal, upsetting the house of God.

This might have more impact for both his original audience and us when we connect Jesus to the image of a mother hen gathering her brood to protect them from said fox.

“So,” you may be asking yourself right about now, “how does comparing Herod to a petty, small-time thief like a fox have anything to do with Lent?”  Maybe more than you think.

Just because a fox is a small-time predator does not mean that it can't do some serious damage, especially if it gets loose in a hen house.  Jesus was calling out Herod as a small-time predator, yet he could do some major damage to the hen house that was Israel if he wasn't watched.

One of the purposes of a Lenten discipline is to help get our spiritual house in order.  In reality these things we give up or take on are almost always small in nature.  Addicts don't give up their particular addiction for Lent.  People don't become missionaries for Lent.  Instead, we start with something we think we can manage and hope that, through the discipline of doing without or doing more, we can make those small changes that bring us one step closer to God.

It seems to me that more often than not our life is cluttered with small sins.  Those small sins multiply over time into major sins.  We may, for instance, envy our neighbor's possessions.  That may lead to disrupting your life's balance, or the ability to live within your means as you readjust your budget in order to acquire what your neighbor has, rather than spending that money in ways that could help others.

Sins almost always start small.  Very few first time crimes are murder or bank robberies.  They start small and escalate over time, eventually making a huge mess of things.  They're sneaky that way – sort of like a fox.

Lent can be seen as a spiritual spring cleaning.  What part of our spiritual household has gotten messy or overrun by those petty little sins?  What part of our spiritual lives have been made a mess by those fox-like sins that do nothing but cause problems?

Last Sunday I began the service by reading the Exhortation.  If you missed it, or even if you didn't, I commend it to your reading.  Part of the Exhortation advises a person to “open their grief to a discreet and understanding priest and confess your sins.”

I'd be willing to wager that most of us think we don't have any real sins to confess.  We haven't killed anybody …. yet.  We haven't stolen anything.  But if we look at the Litany of Penitence that we read on Ash Wednesday, those don't even make the list.  What the Litany confesses, and what we should be mindful of, are things like impatience, anger, negligence in prayer and worship, uncharitable thoughts, prejudices, and false judgments.

These are fox-like sins.  These are those sly, sneaky, and cunning sins that fool us by their smallness.  These are those sins that get into our spiritual hen house and make a mess of things.

This Lent, maybe a discipline to begin is paying more attention to the small sins, recognizing when you make sins of commission or omission, things done and left undone, and then go and confess those sins to a discreet and understanding priest.

This Lent, may you keep the fox out of your spiritual hen house.



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