Sermon for February 21, 2016

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

February 21, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Luke 13:31-35

Sermon Theme:  “The Pharisees, the Fox, and the Mother Hen”

(Sources:  Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; “You Might Be a Pharisee If” . . .; “12 Signs You Are a Modern Day Pharisee’ by Frank Powell; “Am I a Pharisee?,”; original ideas; Believer’s Commentary; Harper’s Bible Dictionary)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

The popular comedian Jeff Foxworthy made a fortune out of telling “You might be a redneck if” jokes, starting a nationwide trend of telling “You might be, if” jokes.

For instance, “You might be a redneck if you believe you got a set of matched luggage if you have two shopping bags from the same store.”  Or, “You might be a redneck if you think a stock tip is advice on worming your hogs.”  Or, “You might be a redneck if you think Taco Bell is the Mexican Phone Company.”

This has no doubt triggered all the current Lutheran jokes.  “You might be a Lutheran if, rather than introducing yourself to a visitor at church, you instead check out their name in the guestbook.”  Or, “You might be a Lutheran if you forget to put water in the baptismal font, but never, ever forget to put water in the coffee pot.”  Or, “You might be Lutheran if a midlife crisis for you means switching from the old hymnal to the new one.”  Or, “You might be Lutheran if your idea of a mixed marriage is an ELCA bride and a Missouri Synod groom.”

Frank Powell and several others have come up with the Foxworthy paradigm regarding Pharisees.  Here are a few:  You might be a Pharisee if you are sure nobody has ever had to forgive you.  You might be a Pharisee if you go to church to prove you’re good.  You might be a Pharisee if you believe God actually needs you.  You might be a Pharisee if you read the Bible to substantiate your own convictions, not to be shaped in God’s image.  You might be a Pharisee if you think the world would be a better place if everyone were just like you.  You might be a Pharisee if you believe your salvation is based on your works, not on Jesus.

Our sermon text for today is about some Pharisees, a fox, and a mother hen.  Let’s talk about the Pharisees first.

In the United States in the 21st Century, no religious leader or leaders have any great influence on the people.  If Pope Francis speaks out on issues, as he has done recently, very few outside of faithful Catholics are influenced by him.  If Franklin Graham, or some other conservative Protestant leader, speaks out on issues, only those in the Bible Belt are moved by him.  If the Archbishop of Canterbury speaks out, even American Episcopalians don’t pay much attention to him.

Not true in Judah in Jesus’ day.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees had a great influence over the people, the Pharisees no doubt even more clout than the Sadducees; and that leverage eventually led to our Lord’s death.

In our text, a group of Pharisees came to Jesus, warning Him that He had better hit the road because Herod wanted to kill Him.  Now, either there were some good Pharisees who were on Jesus’ side and sincerely came to warn Him, which is highly unlikely; or, they were faking their concern for this trouble-maker by professing their interest in His welfare and safety.  Possibly having joined in a plot with Herod to frighten Jesus into going to Jerusalem, where He would certainly be  apprehended.  That is the most likely explanation of their apparent concern.  I mean, look at what they have thought, said, and done prior to this.

Earlier in Luke’s gospel, when the Pharisees heard Jesus presume to forgive a man’s sins, they thought Him blasphemous.  Shortly after that, they criticized Jesus for the company He kept, eating and drinking “with tax collectors and sinners.”  A little later, they challenged Him about breaking the Sabbath.  Much later in Luke, they spied on Jesus to try to find some accusation against Him.  They continued to lie in wait for Him, hoping to catch Him speaking heresy.

The bottom line is that the Pharisees wanted to get rid of Jesus.  And, short of a good and permanent way to do it, they attempted to scare Him off with an improbable threat, all the while disguised as concern for His welfare.

A Sunday School teacher recently asked her class for a definition of the word “Pharisee.”  One bright little kid answered, “I would say ‘a horse.’

“What makes you think that?’  asked the teacher.

“Well, because Jesus said, “Whooaahh to the Pharisees.”

The SECOND element in our text is a fox.  Or maybe I should say THE fox.  When the Pharisees come to Jesus, He is in territory under Herod’s jurisdiction, and so they say to Him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”  Jesus replies, “Go tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’”  That statement suggests Jesus believed the Pharisees were in league with Herod.

Jesus is very bold and courageous to call Herod a “fox.”  Those who think Jesus was some sort of milquetoast need to consider how he responds here and elsewhere in His ministry, — such as throwing the money-changers out of the Temple.  Jesus knew He was God’s Son carrying out His Father’s plan for salvation, which included dying in Jerusalem, and He feared no one, and certainly not a moth-eaten fox like Herod.

For centuries, the fox had been a symbol of cunning, for stealing and killing.  Aesop’s fables were written over 500 years before Jesus was born in the area now known as Turkey, which in the Old Testament was occupied by the Hittites, north of Israel and Syria.  Everyone, including Jesus, must have known the Fable of the Fox and the Rooster and/or the Hen (in the various permutations of the story).

Thus it seems appropriate that Jesus should compare Himself to a mother hen in the same paragraph wherein he compares Herod to a fox (he was certainly a fox who would devour the mother hen if he could).

Jesus likened Himself to a broody hen when He said He longed to gather Jerusalem under His wings to protect them.  A chicken will generally lay one egg a day.  Only after she has laid a certain number, called a clutch, she will begin to incubate them.  This ensures that the eggs will hatch at the same time.  At this point, her physiology changes, and she becomes “broody.”  When danger approaches her nest, she will utter a low growling noise and may peck at the intruder.

For up to twenty days, she will sit on the nest, leaving only once a day to water, feed, and use the bathroom.  Once the eggs hatch, the hen remains on the nest for another day or so, then, she will take her newly hatched chicks on their first walk.

The broody hen continues to protect her chicks away from the nest.  She will call them to her when faced with danger, spreading out her wings to gather them in.  She will charge at intruders, pecking and clawing at them in an attempt to keep them at bay.  In cold temperatures, she will gather her chicks under her and squat on them to keep them warm.

The image is one of natural protectiveness.  Here is not an angry God, ready to punish, but a loving God, ready to forgive, to protect, and to nourish.  This is one of the most touching, comforting, heart-warming depictions of God in all of Holy Scripture.

The hen wants to keep her chicks close, to gather them, to shelter them, to have them all under her wing.  What a good and right place to be!  But as our text says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”

These “chicks” of Jerusalem, which would include not only the people, who were mislead by the religious leaders, but also the Pharisees and Sadducees themselves who targeted Jesus to die, — they would have none of it, rejecting all that God had offered them.  Jesus knows the danger that they have chosen for themselves by rejecting the protection of the very One who loves them.  He predicts it.  And He mourns in advance of it.

Had we been living in Judah during the time of Jesus, you and I, too, might have been swayed by the misleading voices of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the corrupt priests.  If you don’t think so, just look at how many Americans today are being led by politicians who proclaim messages contrary to Holy Scripture.  How eager citizens are to follow someone more lost than they.  But the good news is that, as believers, we have the Law and the Gospel ever before us, showing us the truth and leading us to Jesus and His protective wings.  That should mean no modern-day Pharisee, nor any politician like Herod, can lead us astray.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.