Of Foxes and Hens
I was born and raised in the city.
There’s not much I know about life on the farm.
But I have heard the stories about foxes threatening animals on the farm, and chickens in particular.
When a fox appears at the edge of the chicken coup, most of the chickens (and probably
roosters too) will run around the coop and balk-balk-balk-balk to get the attention on the farmer.
But not the mother hen.
I’ve been told that mother hens will, above everything else, protect the lives of every one of her chicks.
She may peck at the fox, trying to hurt the fox if possible.
But, if the fox is focused on her chicks, she will cover the chicks with her own body;
offering herself up to the fox, if necessary, for the sake of the lives of her chicks.
Again, not from first-hand knowledge, I have been told that the way a fox hunts is quite wily.
A fox may even make its prey feel at ease to force its intended meal into a false sense of security.
(Remember the story of henny-penny? When the hen, the goose, and the turkey
meet the fox at the end of the story, the fox tells them that he wants to help
them get their message about the falling sky to the king by leading them right into his den.)
Today’s readings are all about trust.
The seemingly homely and powerless hen is much more trustworthy than the powerful, yet self-centered fox.
It is that way in the kingdom of God.
Abram and Sarai were already old when God first called them to leave the comfort and safety of their home
in Ur of the Chaldeans.
God had given them two promises:
first that they would have an heir and second that they would claim a new land for themselves and their posterity.
But weeks and months had gone by as they traveled to this new land. They weren’t getting any younger.
Abram was ready to adopt his slave, Eliezer of Damascus.
But God was not about to accept Abram’s Plan B.
Abram was asleep and had a vision.
Frustrated by God’s seemingly lack of fulfillment, Abram offers this alternative to God.
God takes Abram out under the skies and tells him, “count all the stars if you can.
That’s how many descendants you will have.”
Yep, that’s just like God.
When a promise is hard to believe, God promises more.
“Ok,” says Abram, “I believe you’ll give me the heir you promised.”
Then Abram, still dreaming, challenges God about the land God had promised.
God tells Abram to bring a calf, a female goat, a ram, a turtledove and a pigeon.
Laying them out for sacrifice, Abram even chases away the vultures.
But then Abram went deeper and deeper into sleep; so deep that he became terrified at the darkness.
And an incense pot with a flaming light passed over the sacrifice.
God was making a solemn promise, an oath, that all the land between Egypt and the Euphrates would be the land of Abram and Sarai.
When a promise is hard to believe, God swears by God’s very being. God puts the life of God on the line.
That’s the same thing Jesus is saying in the Gospel reading.
Some Pharisees come to Jesus to tell him, “Herod wants to kill you.”
“What else is new?” Jesus might have said.
Herod Antipas, this Herod who put the head of his cousin John on a plate to entertain his wife;
whose father, Herod the Great, had killed the innocent children of Bethlehem to try and kill him;
this Herod who had even invited Jesus to court for a “talk;”
this Herod would not scare Jesus.
This Herod is just an old, tricky, manipulative fox!
When daddy Herod died, he split his kingdom for his three sons.
All the Herods were foxy rulers. On the one hand, they built roads and
bridges and palaces and even made major improvements to the Temple.
That Temple is still referred to as Herod’s Temple.
But all of them used their capital building projects for the sake of propping up their own power.
Herod Antipas, THIS Herod, the beheader, the one to whom the Pharisees in today’s Gospel refer;
wants to do what daddy Herod couldn’t accomplish.
He wants to have Jesus eliminated.
But Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Go and tell that fox for me that I have work to do.
I’m just not that into you, foxy-loxy!”
I’ve got to cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow and the day after that and……
and eventually I will get to Jerusalem because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem”
Have you ever noticed that in all the sacred art produced over the centuries, you see Jesus praying,
walking, knocking on doors, gathering crowds, climbing hills, calling disciples, writing in the sand with his finger,
spitting into dirt to heal a blind man, raising dead people, sharing bread,
preaching to crowds, even weeping – but never running away.
Beginning with the devil’s temptation to be afraid, Jesus is cautioned time and again by friend and foe alike
to be afraid of what he’s doing. But he never runs away.
It doesn’t mean that Jesus never felt fear.
He was just as truly human as he was truly divine.
But Jesus knew what his mission was and nothing; not Herod, not the Pharisees, not his disciples,
not even the devil, would keep Jesus from finishing that mission.
Because that mission is God’s mission.
That mission fulfills the promise made to Abram and Sarai.
That mission, I tell you today, is OUR mission.
It is my mission and it is your mission.
There are still many wily, cunning, manipulative foxes around us today.
“Don’t worry about missing church once in a while,” they say to us,
“after all God wants your Sabbath to be a day of rest so sleeping in late on Sunday morning is just as important
as being in church.”
“Don’t feel bad about walking past someone who asks for your help on the street,” they say,
“after all, wasn’t it Jesus who said, ‘the poor you will always have with you.’”
Again and again, they will tempt you and lure you and make you false promises.
They will ask you to put your own needs, your wants and your desires,
ahead of the mission God sealed in us in our Baptism.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the holy city, the city that God chose to be God’s dwelling-place,
the place where foxy rulers and foxy priests gather together to kill prophets and stone messengers of God,
your God still wants to gather you all as a hen gathers her chicks under her protective wings.
But sometimes, little chicks, you’re just not willing.
You’re not willing to keep the mission going.
And so, beware! See, your house is left to you.
I tell you, you will not see me or hear me or touch me or taste me until the time when you say or sing,
“Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
It’s all about trust, you see. In the end, Abram and Sarai trusted the promises,
the unbelievable and fantastic promises that their heirs would be the
caretakers of the land and would be as many as the stars.
There was no reasonable way to believe yet they believed and were seen by God as righteous.
There were so many reasons why Jesus could have run away from Jerusalem.
Instead, he became more and more determined to be sacrificed for the sake of his brood, his flock, his children;
for the sake of you and me.
So, now it’s our turn.
Will we walk the way to Jerusalem this Lent?
We will participate in the mission God gave us at our baptism:
“to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the Word of God and share in the Lord’s
supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to
serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and
peace in all the earth?”
That’s a lot to promise.
And there will always be cunning foxes to get in our way.
But “trust me” God says to us.
Like he told Abram in a dream,
“Do not be afraid; I am your shield, your brooding mother hen; and your reward shall be very great.”
God of the covenant, in the mystery of the Cross you promise everlasting life to the world.
Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us in your mercy,
that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
And let the people say: