Sermon – February 21, 2016 Lent 2

Genesis 15:1 – 12, 17 – 18

Luke 13:31 – 35

In today’s readings Abraham, (or Abram as he still is here) and Jesus are the models for the person who lives with faith.

And maybe the first thing we have to say is while it gives them a purpose, direction, meaning – gees it makes their lives a whole lot more complicated, vulnerable, dangerous.  Faith does that.  And I have to say faith is an issue for all people.  Everyone is going to put their faith in something/someone.  It is not just an issue for religious people.  What are you going to put your faith in?  the strength of your relationship, your rational mind, the democratic process, science, your own strengths, your own integrity, nothing?  Everyone makes choices in whom or what they put their faith and give their allegiance.

Some people say faith in God is a crutch for weak people to cling to and draw comfort and protection from.  Well, maybe there are some people for whom that is the case, and maybe all of us at some stage it applies to when we do need some solace.  But for most of the people I know faith may have a role in that it comforts and protects them but faith lived in a biblical sense is what propels them out into a complicated, dangerous world to live with integrity and passion.

Like Abraham.  Like Jesus.

The fox is prowling, slinking around, circling the hen.  Jesus calls Herod a fox – Herod was the puppet ruler, a notoriously cruel and ruthless despot, and then rather bizarrely refers to himself in the role, in the persona, of a mother hen gathering her chicks to herself to offer them protection, no doubt we are meant to picture her laying her body on the line, literally, if required. when the fox strikes.  As indeed the fate that befalls Jesus.

Aesop has a fable that includes the characters of both fox and hen.

One moonlit night a Fox was prowling about a farmer’s chicken coop, and saw a Hen roosting high up beyond his reach. “Good news, good news!” he cried.

“Why, what is that?” said the Hen.

“King Lion has declared a universal truce. No beast may hurt a bird henceforth, but all shall dwell together in brotherly friendship.”

“Why, that is good news,” said the Hen; “and there I see someone coming, with whom we can share the good tidings.” And so saying she craned her neck forward and looked far off.

“What is it you see?” said the Fox.

“It is only my master’s Dog that is coming towards us. What, going so soon?” she continued, as the Fox began to turn away. “Will you not stop and congratulate the Dog on the reign of universal peace?”

“I would gladly do so,” said the Fox, “but I fear he may not have heard of King Lion’s decree.”

What do you think is the moral of Aesop’s fable? You always have a moral with the fable, unlike one of Jesus parables that are far to subtle and and nuanced to easily be summarised with a single line. But Aesop’s moral of the tale ? The answer: Cunning often outwits itself

We had chooks at our place when I was growing up.  Regularly around 8 or so in the shed my Dad had constructed in the back yard.  I have vivid memories of standing both transfixed and appalled when Dad would dispatch one with a swift dropping of the axe upon the chooks neck held on a old tree stump.  Macabre fascination for a 9 year old boy.  And every couple of years Dad would buy some cute little fluffy chicks who would run scurrying over the floor of the chook pen until something would alarm them and they would run under the hen and you could not believe all these chicks had disappeared before your eyes. Not so much the mother gathering them to herself as the chicks running to her protection.  Unlike what Jesus says in today’s reading where it is Jesus himself as the mother hen figure who has longed to gather the people of Jerusalem to himself but they would not have any part of that.

Abram and Jesus are the two persons our bible readings focussed on today.  Two focussed, faithful people.  Abraham, (or Abram as he still is here) and Jesus are the models for the person who lives with faith.

And maybe the first thing we have to say is while it gives them a purpose, direction, meaning – gees it makes their lives a whole lot more complicated, vulnerable, dangerous.  Faith does that.

Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, where he will be arrested and condemned.  In today’s gospel he makes it clear he intends to travel with single-minded purpose. (What is that song we used to sing, “No turning back, no turning back”). But along the way, he stops to teach, to heal or to sit with those who love him. Today’s text finds him confronted by Pharisees who warn him to move on quickly because the fox is at the gate — Herod Antipas is after him. In their hearing he lays out his plans: “I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.” I’m on my way to Jerusalem, he says. It’s the end of the road for me.

As he told the friendly Pharisees (there were some) in his wry and cryptic way, even in view of Jerusalem he believes in God and God’s future. He believes that he is engaged in a project bigger and more coherent than the nonsensical and agonising frustrations of his small slice of history. He is about a project bigger than his life. He is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.

This is a project that requires a truly disciplined faith, for any that are prepared to give themselves to this faith will find inevitably there will be days where one  struggles daily in the dark without the solace of short-term outcomes. It is not a happy-clappy optimism that denies suffering, but a face set like flint towards Jerusalem and all its painful paradoxes; a steadfastness born of grief and lament; a trudging sort of hope that in practice is often nothing more than putting one aching foot in front of the other.

Sometimes living in faith looks like nothing but hanging in there by your shredded and bloodied fingernails.  And that is faith, when to not live by faith may have meant you letting go and plummeting down the ravine. And that is faith for that moment in your life.  Sometimes living in faith looks like the defiant, focussed, outrage that Jesus displays today. Protective, belligerent, uncowered yet ultimately knowing the short term victory may well never come in your time. 

The only way faith can be defeated is by being diverted.  Shunted up a side track and growing self focussed. But faith knows it is building for a grander and more lofty day.

It is an fascinating image that Jesus applies to himself. A mother hen gathering her chicks to herself to fiercely protect them when the fox circles.  A powerful, defiant picture of the fierceness and tenacity of Jesus love and compassion.   A word to describe this protection could be “sanctuary”.  Word has two related meanings in Christian language.  A  safe space or a sacred space.  Picking up second meaning, many churches call the space inside the church, and particularly the area around the altar or communion table the “sanctuary” – where the space is made sacred by the worship of God – particularly in the mass or holy communion.

Some of you may know the word in its other sense of a safe place.  It has an honourable tradition in the Christian Church and has become prominent again just in the last couple of weeks here in Melbourne. In English law the right to safety, and specifically the right to safety from arrest was recognised from the 4th century to the 17th century.  This is inviolable territory, it belong to God.  By extension, embassies are little bits of that countries domain that cannot be violated by another sovereign ruler.  Why Julian Assange remains in the London Ecuadorian embassy after three and a half years years.  Once he leaves he can be arrested.

The Sanctuary movement was prominent in 1980’s in a good number of USA churches who offered support – legal, financial, housing, friendship to Latin American refugees fleeing repressive regimes in especially El Salvador and Guatemala. Civil wars raged in a number of South American countries and the Reagan administration was complicit in fostering unrest and supporting corrupt regimes.   Many fled to America where church offered support that was basically illegal.

Other examples of sanctuary offered by American churches include the Underground Railway movement that assisted fleeing slaves.

Sanctuary has historical basis for Christian churches. The Sanctuary Movement traced its roots to the ancient Judaic tradition of Sanctuary.  In the Old Testament, God commanded Moses to set aside cities and places of refuge in Canaan where the persecuted could seek asylum. This concept can also be found in ancient Roman law, medieval canon law and British common law. Same principles of granting sanctuary were behind many people housing and assisting and assisting to flee jews in Europe. Being revived today in light of Asylum Seekers.  Church putting up signs, offering to take in Asylum Seekers, some of this gets pretty close to the edge of the law as it currently stands.

we then played “Sanctuary”, a song by  Eliza Gilkyson, as sung by Sam Butler on his album “Raise Your Hands”. A great album!