Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Psalm 27 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35
The gospels are full of examples of the Pharisees plotting against Jesus, trying to trap him into saying something that all will agree is heretical – but here, our reading begin by saying “Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” They are warning Jesus, so that he might escape being arrested, tortured and killed.
This tells us that not all the Pharisees are against him, not all who are in authority wish harm upon Jesus. It might be easy to overlook this one verse, but it speaks volumes about the Jewish faith at the time of Jesus. As modern-day Christians, we may tend to view all the Scribes and the Pharisees in his time as being of one mind, with perhaps a few dissenters. But the Jewish people then as today are like Christians in the early church and today. We have all the various denominations and free-standing groups within Christianity and the beliefs of some seem to be polar opposite of the beliefs of others.
People of faith – any faith: Jews, Christians, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhism – to name a few, form communities where they agree upon certain principles and doctrines. And, like within the Christian faith today, there can still be vast differences in their beliefs and religious practices. Zealots in any faith can create public images that prevent us from seeing and understanding their core beliefs.
One of the things I love about the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion is the fact that we share so much in common – but we also have our differences. No doubt most of you have heard references to liturgy being either “high church” or “low church.” In Episcopal speak, high church means more bling (vestment, chanting, and maybe even bells and incense) and low church means a more casual approach to worship. Either way, though, we all use the liturgy in our Prayer Book, we pray the same prayers and hear the same Gospel Lesson read on Sunday morning. Like the Pharisees, though, we are not of one mind in all our beliefs and the Episcopal Church is considered heretical by some of our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Community.
So, in today’s gospel, it is important to hear that there are Pharisees who are supportive of Jesus, who care about his wellbeing. Jesus is challenging those in authority and we know that ultimately those who hold the power will win the battle and succeed in having Jesus executed. In the midst of struggles within any faith community, there are times when one side appears to win, as they did. But we also know those who wished to silence Jesus failed to do so.
Likewise, those of us in the church who hold authority over our denomination or any denomination, will not have the last word. God is continually at work in the world, in OUR church, and in all churches – and through the work of the Holy Spirit, closed minds will be opened and the world will change once again.
The late Phyllis Tickle, an American author and lecturer on the topics of spirituality and religion, published two books on what is called the Great Emergence. Her work helps us understand a phenomenon that occurs every 500 years in Judeo-Christian history. Every 500 years the church experiences a transformation. The rise (and fall) of the Davidic Dynasty, the Babylonian Captivity, the Great Schism, the Reformation are all examples of these periods of transformation. Tickle and others say we are now living in such a time of transformation, a time in which organized Christianity is being challenged on many fronts.
Tickle says simply, “God is doing a new thing amongst us.” She speaks of this as an exciting time, a time when the Holy Spirit is at work transforming the world and Christianity is shifting and reconfiguring itself. Few of us, however, enjoy transformation. Just think of our adolescent years. We experienced significant changes physically and emotionally as we were transformed from a child to an adult. It wasn’t a bad time, we experienced a great deal of joy – but I don’t remember hearing a single adult saying they wished they could relive those days.
Change is difficult, even if the end result is good, even if it is wonderful. Change is difficult. Change can hurt. The change that Jesus will bring comes at a price to him – and we can see in today’s lesson that he knows it.
First, he responds to the warning from the Pharisees, by calling Herold a fox – meaning he is sly and destructive. Calling him a fox was the same as calling him worthless. Such disrespect for the king will get one killed – but Jesus is not worried about that. Jesus says, “Go and 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. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.”
Jesus is going to Jerusalem and he knows what will happen. He will be killed and he is not afraid. “Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, ,” he says, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” A hen is no match for a fox, yet a hen will offer herself up to the fox to protect her brood. She will place herself between the fox and her young.
Since his mountain top experience, Jesus has been headed to Jerusalem and to the cross. He is going to place himself between us and the fox. Who is this fox? We are. We can be our own worth enemy, placing all that is worldly over that which offers us life. We focus our attention on things that don’t matter, rather than the things that do matter. We focus on ourselves, our wants and desires, rather than our relationships.
Paul writes about this in his letter to the Philippians. And then says to the people, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” Standing firm in the Lord means to live in the kingdom, God’s kingdom, Paul says, “our citizenship is in heaven.” Heaven is not found in material goods, but in relationships.
Jesus tells the Pharisees to tell Herod, “I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.” Note that Jesus places the needs of others over himself. He will be “casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow,” but then, on the third day he will “finish his work.” Remember it is on the third day that Jesus is raised from the dead. It is on the third day that Jesus conquers death for us all! In literature we call this foreshadowing, hinting at what will happen later in the story.
The gospel writers know how this story is going to end as they write their gospels. Scenes such as this, words that Jesus speaks, make sense to them in hindsight and so they include them in their gospels. They can now see that Jesus was not careless about what he said, Jesus was intentional and his actions which lead him to the cross were deliberate.
Our words and our actions need to be intentional and deliberate if we are to be citizens of heaven. What we say needs to build healthy relationship and what we do needs to support others in their struggles – and we all struggle at times in our lives. Being intentional and deliberate in caring – this is how we follow Christ.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, help us, we pray, to see past our own wants and desires and to spend our energy building healthy relationship following the example of Jesus. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.