Finding the Lessons

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Lent 2C February 21, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Part of the way in which Jesus spreads his wings over us is that in our work we, too, find our courage to stay and face ugly dangers, to let life bite deeply into our flesh and shelter those in our care even while Herod is menacing."
"That Fox," Nancy Rockwell, Bite in the Apple, 2013.

"The image we are give is of God/Jesus as a hen gathering a whole bunch of chickens under her wings. What might that imply about our relationship with those other chickens?"
Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

"Jesus, let us note, employs a feminine image for himself and, to the degree that we confess Jesus reveals the essential character and disposition of the One who sent him, also for God."
"Re-Imagining God," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


O God of salvation, the people in whom you delight hasten with joy to the wedding feast. Forsaken no more, we bear a new name; desolate no longer, we taste your new wine. Make us your faithful stewards ready to do whatever Jesus tells us and eager to share with others the wine he provides. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 13:31-35
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The passage today contains unique verses that are found only here in the Gospel of Luke.  The pericope or whole passage begins actually in verse 22 and while I don’t think that one should necessarily elongate the Gospel reading in the service, I do think that for the purposes of bible study and for sermon preparation it is important to read the whole section as one unit.

The passage begins with Jesus traveling. He is making his way to Jerusalem.  These passages are wonderful bits of narration by our author and show a skilled writer imparting and telling a story.  More than simply literary style the passage reminds us that our great prophet Jesus is making an exodus journey, prophetically teaching along the way, leading God’s people to ultimate deliverance from the bondage of sin.  This is part of the mosaic theme of this particular Gospel.

“How many will be saved?” a companion asks.  Interesting is Jesus’ response. He does not give a number but rather turns the question offering discipline instead of answers.  Jesus says to them that as followers we are to “act in such a way as to be one who is saved.” (LTJ, Luke, 216)

Notice if you put your finger in your bible and turn to Matthew 7:13, Matthew compares and contrasts a wide and a narrow door.  (LTJ, Luke, 216)  Luke’s emphasis is on the difficulty of being a disciple; he is focused on the hard work of following Jesus and a life lived in discipleship.

Luke has a strong sense of grace, but it is tempered always with service and discipleship.

Once you know the truth, you may not live your life as if you did not have grace.  You cannot in some way live life hoping in the last hour for grace at the doorstep of the master’s house.  In fact your entrance into the reign of God will be because you believed and because you worked with Jesus on behalf of the poor and those in need. 

In other words once one believes the second step is to serve others; because as Jesus welcomes the poor through the door you may by the grace of those who remember your service walk with them into the reign of God?  We are disciples (those who follow) but following is never the goal. The goal is always to formed into an apostle (one who is sent).  Christians are not followers only; they are those who go out as well.

Certainly this is present in the thoughts of St. Chrysostom as he writes the following words:
If you ever wish to associate with someone make sure that you do not give your attention to those who enjoy health and wealth and fame as the world sees it, but take care of those in affliction, in critical circumstances, who are utterly deserted and enjoy no consolation.  Put a high value on associating with these, for from them you shall receive much profit, and you will do all for the glory of God.  God himself has said: I am the father of orphans and the protector of widows.[1]

This short quote does the work of N. T. Wright (a contemporary theologian) some injustice but I think it is important to mention here.  For a longer argument on this matter of balancing faith and works I encourage you to read Wright’s book entitled: Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, 2009.  In this text Wright argues that the work of discipleship is essential within the framework of faith.   He writes the following as if to echo Jesus’ own essential teaching about the reign of God and the work of discipleship:

The linguistic point about Romans 5-8 (the absence of pistis [faith]) thus points to an underlying theological point of enormous significance for our whole topic.  Loose talk about “salvation by faith” (a phrase Paul never uses; the closest he gets, as we have seen is Ephesians 2:8, “by grace you have been saved through faith”) can seriously mislead people into supposing that you can construct an entire Pauline soteriology out of the sole elements of “faith” and “works” of any sort always being ruled out as damaging or compromising the purity of faith. (p. 239)

All that is to say that one must work hard, and that the primary focus is not simply about following Jesus, but that discipleship means acting like Jesus and helping God to restore the world.  It is within this context that we come to the passage for today; and without which our passage today makes little sense.

In our passage today some religious leaders come up to Jesus.  They are consistently throughout Luke recognized and described as opponents of the prophets.  So, here they come, and one must wonder if they have Jesus’ best interest at heart.  One might even go so far as to think that perhaps what they are saying is to stop this preaching, stop this teaching, get out of here and there won’t be trouble.  Jesus is heading to Jerusalem and I do not have the sense they want him to continue on his journey. This is certainly the way most scholars read this warning, not as a warning at all but rather a threat veiled in kindness.

They tell Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. (This is a very different word than the message being articulated to the reader by the narrator in Luke 9.9 and 23.8.  Herod simply wants to see Jesus and it isn't even Herod who puts him to death.  Herod sends him back to Pilate.)  This passage seems to amplify the desire by these individuals to have Jesus stop teaching about discipleship and the reign of God.

Jesus says to the messengers go back and tell that crafty person, that sly king, that fox that I continue on to my goal which is resurrection (the image here of the third day).  Chris Haslam points out that we may not wish to take this literally.  He writes, “Jesus did not mean “third” literally; rather, he means a short and limited time. The NRSV translates the Greek literally, but BlkLk translates it as day by day, and one day soon. He says that there is an Aramaic idiom behind the Greek which does not refer to two actual days but to an indefinite short period followed by a still indefinite, but certain, event. This idiom is also at work in Hosea 6:2: “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him”. 
Sometimes we can miss the point if we get stuck here. I believe the subject of Jesus’ words is the determination to go on to Jerusalem and that there he intends to die.  So it is that Jesus continues on to Jerusalem and the pharisees depart.

It is then that Jesus teaches about the prophets and how they have suffered under the stoning nature of God’s rulers and people.  Jesus’ message is clear; God wants to gather his persons like a hen gathers her brood. God wishes to offer care and protection, security and health.

Jesus says your “house” will not be untouched. Some scholars believe this has to do with the sacking and destruction of the Temple.  It is more likely that Jesus is referring to God’s people being left, as it were, like sheep without a shepherd, chicks without a mother hen. (LTJ, Luke, 219)  Haslam also points out the following, “Verse 35: “your house”: The Old Testament background seems to be Jeremiah 22:1-9 where house means the king’s household of leaders. [NJBC]  I like both ideas very much.  And we might be wise to remember Jesus in his own family’s synagogue and how he was received. 

There are in these thoughts the continuing theme of each Gospel proclamation that Jesus and God are calling people out of their comfortable religion into a discipleship of faith along the way and always proclaiming the reign of God and its bounty.

We conclude this passage with “Blessed is the one who is coming in the name of the Lord.”  This looks forward to Jesus’ own triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It also is a prophecy regarding Jesus’ return.  The parallels are found in Matthew 21:9, Psalm 117:26.  It is important I think to note that the psalm is referring to “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  Christians have always understood this to mean Jesus.

So we end with the understanding, I think, that one of the chief reasons that Jesus is crucified is because of his teachings about the reign of God and discipleship.  Jesus also understands clearly that his death in Jerusalem is only part of reaching the third day and resurrection which is a primary goal of his ministry.  I believe truly that Jesus understood his death as essential to the working out of salvation history and that he was following a long line of prophetic witnesses.  He could not be stopped in his work and his drive to enter Jerusalem, which meant for him certain death on the one hand, but also the salvific event needed to gather God’s people under his wing.  Indeed, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

[1]Psalm 67:6, John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions, 6.12 (Paulist Press, 1963)  I chose this quote after hearing Diana Butler Bass giver her plenary as I thought it was a nice tie-in. I did have the following quote from Giovanni Battista Franzoni the former abbot of San Paolo Fuori le Mura, “In the sixth century, Saint Benedict abandoned the worldly city and took refuge in the mountains so as to be able to find a favorable environment in which to seek God and live the Gospel.  This led him to create a community of men who lived the same life as the “poor of the earth.”  Today, perhaps, St. Benedict would abandon the countryside and the mountains, now covered with gracious and comfortable villas.  Perhaps he would abandon all those places where the rich and powerful have chosen to live and would go live among the dependent and exploited masses of the city in search of the “right place” to reread the Gospel. From The Earth is Gods, 1978, Italian News Agency.

Some Thoughts on Philippians 3:14-4:1

Paul offers in this passage the notion that the little laws of this world (by which we abide or chafe against) do not bring about the kingdom.  We obey and foolishly we think in our obedience we are like God.  Paul reminds the Philippians that Jesus Christ calls us to faith and not to law.

Paul is not saying don't follow the laws of this world.  His statements are not contrarian.  Paul is saying that there is a higher standard though.  That standard is the standard of faith which is given in Christ's suffering and resurrection.  In this work of God the world is claimed by God, he claims the church, and he claims you and me.

Therefore, this historical event brings about a higher principle.  These principles are lived out as individuals and among the community that follows Christ.

Faith for the Christian, in Paul's way of thinking, is not a passport - a ticket - into the kingdom of God.  Faith is the indwelling of Christ's spirit in the heart of the believer.  Faith is the growing principle and quality that believers have.  It affects us.  And, it is the faith which grows in us as we continually try and lead a life worthy of Christ's gift.

When we hold fast to what has been given by Christ we are formed.  Between our faith and our human will there is a rub and that rub itself is forming.  For the Christian it is the work of living this faith that creates our return again and again to God.  It is as if like a pot being formed by the potter we push against his hands.  It is in this friction that the Christian lives - between human life lived in a world of human law and the a life lived in the hands of a loving God.

It is furthermore this work of living faithfully that binds us into community with others trying to do the same thing.  We are joined together trying to imitate the apostles and Christ.  Our citizenship is in a heavenly bond of faith, bound by the saving Grace of God.

This life is not always easy. It is hard in community and it is even harder in a life lived alone.  So, Paul encourages us to be bound together.  Christ in his love binds us together already and we all recognize that we all fall short in the face of such love.  In our citizenship is the constant work of living in community (despite our variation in personal narrative and sin).

All the while God is forming us and conforming us into his body.

In the end if the clay being formed into a pot has its way it will naturally rebel against the potters hand simply by force and dessolve into a wet mound which is formless.  This is true of Christian life as well.  It is easier to call oneself a Christian, to claim the kingdom by our own proclamation of faith, and then to live outside of community and the higher principles of faith.  It is. It is our nature.  Paul has hope though.  Paul ends by reminding the Philippians that it is easier to live apart, to be divided, and to shrink from the higher formation. Yet this is not God's mind.  Instead God intends a unified community being formed into a mature faith by the Christ's spirit.  So, Paul encourages his little community at Philippi to not give up and to continue to stand firm in their faith.  He says, you are the ones "whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved."

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