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Second Sunday in Lent

Year C, Purple


Chagall Amiens cathedral crucifixionThe Second Sunday of Lent

Introduction

The disciples are often painted as real cowards who let Jesus down and fled away from danger when he was arrested. But this picture does not take into account the very deliberate way in which Jesus put himself in harms way and went in a determined manner to his rendezvous with death on the cross. It was extremely difficult to look after Jesus when he refused warnings and rebuked anybody who tried to prevent his arrest. The events of Easter were no surprise to Jesus, he choreographed the whole proceedings. The story from Luke this week tells us why. Jesus saw his own death as being necessary to give protection to others. As he was to spread wide his arms on the cross, he saw this as being like a hen which stretches out its wings to protect its chicks from danger.

Opening Verse of Scripture    Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? We will offer sacrifices in the Lord's tent With shouts of joy; we will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Collect Prayer for the Day—Before we read we pray

Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth, that they may return to the way of righteousness: grant to all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion, that they may reject those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

Almighty God, by the prayer and discipline of Lent may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings, and by following in his Way come to share in his glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. CW

First Bible Reading Genesis 15:1-12,17-18 God's Covenant With Abram

The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the LORD came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Then he said to him, ‘I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.’ NRSV

Second Reading Philippians 3:17 – 4:1

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

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. NRSV
 

Gospel Reading Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘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 away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, 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! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”’ NRSV 

Post Communion Prayer

Almighty God, you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. CW.


Commentary

Dominus FlevitJesus weeps over Jerusalem.

Luke 13. On the western slope of the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem, sits a small chapel called Dominus Flevit. According to tradition, it was here that Jesus wept over the city that had refused his ministrations. Inside the chapel a high arched window looks out over the city. Iron grillwork divides the view into sections, so that on a sunny day the effect is that of a stained-glass window. The difference is that this subject is alive. It is not some artist’s rendering of the holy city but the city itself, with the Dome of the Rock in the bottom left corner and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the middle. Down below, on the front of the altar, is a picture of what never happened in that city. It is a mosaic medallion of a white hen with a golden halo around her head. Her red comb resembles a crown, and her wings are spread wide to shelter the pale yellow chicks that crowd around her feet. There are seven of them, with black dots for eyes and orange dots for beaks. They look happy to be there. The hen looks ready to spit fire if anyone comes near her babies. The medallion is rimmed with red words in Latin. Translated into English they read, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, 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!" The last phrase is set outside the circle, in a pool of red underneath the chicks’ feet: you were not willing.

 

Dominus flevit mosiac

The same lament appears in Matthew’s Gospel, but Jerusalem does not mean the same thing to him that it does to Luke. Luke’s Gospel begins and ends in the temple in Jerusalem. Zechariah learns in the temple that he and Elizabeth will have a child. Mary and Joseph bring their own child there when the time comes. Simeon and Anna deliver their prophecies there, and Jesus returns when he is 12 years old to take his place among the teachers of Israel. All told, Luke mentions Jerusalem 90 times in his Gospel, while all the other New Testament writers combined mention it only 49 times. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Luke loves the place—so rich in history and symbol, so dense with expectation and fear. Jerusalem is the dwelling place of God, the place where God’s glory shall be revealed (Isa. 24:23). It is also the place where God is betrayed by those who hate the good and love what is evil (Mic. 3:2).

If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world --wings spread, breast exposed—but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand. Given the number of animals available, it is curious that Jesus chooses a hen. Where is the biblical precedent for that? What about the mighty eagle of Exodus, or Hosea’s stealthy leopard? What about the proud lion of Judah, mowing down his enemies with a roar? Compared to any of those, a mother hen does not inspire much confidence. No wonder some of the chicks decided to go with the fox. But a hen is what Jesus chooses, which -- if you think about it --is pretty typical of him. He is always turning things upside down, so that children and peasants wind up on top while kings and scholars land on the bottom. He is always wrecking our expectations of how things should turn out by giving prizes to losers and paying the last first. So of course he chooses a chicken, which is about as far from a fox as you can get. That way the options become very clear: you can live by licking your chops or you can die protecting the chicks. Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first.
 

Meditation

 

Herod the Fox

"The Fantastic Mr Fox – From a Jerusalem Perspective

There is a children’s book called ‘The Fantastic Mr Fox’ which tells the story of how a wise old fox outwits a farmer to provide food for his family and friends.It’s a story which emphasises the cleverness and guile of the fox. In Hebrew, and to the hearers of the gospel pronouncement of Jesus calling someone a fox, it had a different, and much less complimentary connotation. In Hebrew, foxes and lions were contrasted with each other to represent the difference between inferior men and great men. The great men are called "lions," and the lesser men are called "foxes."  It was used to refer back to someone’s lineage or pedigree and had moral overtones too. The Mishnah, the written codification of Jewish oral law, exhorts people to "Be a tail to lions rather than a head to foxes”. Jesus called Herod a fox after some Pharisees reported that Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Jesus' response challenged any such plans: "Tell Herod I've got work to do first."  Jesus was not implying that Herod was sly, cunning, or even wise, rather he was commenting on Herod's ineptitude and inability, to carry out his threat. Jesus questioned the tetrarch's pedigree, moral stature and leadership, and put the Herod "in his place."  When Jesus labelled Herod a fox, Jesus implied that Herod was not a lion. Herod considered himself to be a lion, but Jesus pointed out that Herod was a mere fox, the exact opposite of a lion. Jesus cut Herod down to size, and Jesus' audience may have had an inward smile of appreciation at Jesus’ carefully chosen words.  How ironic that it was Jesus himself that was to become known as the Lion of Judah, a symbol which still remains on the emblem of Jerusalem, over which Jesus wept.

 

Hymns

  1. Sing to God new songs of worship 600

    be thou my vision O lord of my heart

  2. Give thanks 170 & For I'm building a people 151

  3. He who valiant be 224

  4. O Lord my God 506

  5. Lord of creation to you be all praise 440

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

"Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian. If it is well cultivated

and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."

Christ, Son of the living God, who for a season laid aside the divine glory and learned obedience through suffering: teach us in all our afflictions  to raise our eyes to the place of your mercy and to find in you our peace and deliverance. We make our prayer in your name. Amen. Methodist Worship.

God of the day and of the night, in me there is darkness, but with you there is light. I am alone, but you will not leave me. I am weak, but you will come to my help. I am restless, but you are my peace. I am in haste, but you are the God of infinite patience. I am confused and lost, but you are eternal wisdom and you direct my path; now and for ever. Amen Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906-1945


We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee, because of thy Holy Cross thou hast redeemed the world. O Saviour of the world: who by thy cross and precious Blood hast redeemed us, save us and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord. Sarum Rite

Additional Resources

Meditation

God of tenderness and strength, under the shelter of your wings, the night harbours no terrors, only peaceful stars bearing promise. We praise you for giving refuge and for pointing us toward the stars. In peace we rest in your Presence; in strength we go forth into the world. Amen. From Diane Karay, All the Seasons of Mercy (1987).

God makes big promises to Abram, soon to be called Abraham, and Abram understandably asks, "How am I to know that I shall possess it?" Now surely this is one of the big questions which we all ask of God. How can we know that God is with us and will continue to sustain us as we journey on? Lent is a time for us to open our lives and obtain awareness—awareness of the presence of God. We may see God in those around us, in our prayer, in our action, in people who are different from ourselves and in people who are the same, in all things. Possibly the best way to judge whether Lent has been profitable is ask whether it has helped us to see God better and so amend our lives. Reflection leading to action. How is your Lenten observance helping you to see well? To be more aware of the presence of God in the world? To be better able to see and understand those who are different from yourself? To see the poor and needy of the world and work to make a difference, to see the sins of which we are ashamed and leave them at the cross.

 

Commentary

The covenant relationship we have with God through Jesus is based on the principles and precepts of the promises of the Old Testament covenants, each one of which is progressive and builds on the previous covenants. This is true from the covenant God made with Noah through to the later Davidic covenant. In the covenant with Abram/Abraham God promised many things to him; that He would make his name great, that he would have numerous physical descendents, that he would be the father of a multitude of nations, that the families of the world will be blessed through the physical line of Abraham and promises regarding the nation called Israel and its geographic boundaries. In the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7 v 8 - 16) the Abrahamic covenant is amplified and extended. The promises to David are very significant for Christians today. God promised that David's physical line of descent would last forever and that his kingdom would never pass away permanently. This kingdom would have an individual exercising authority over it and there will be a time in the future again when someone from the line of David will again sit on the throne and rule as king. As we now know this future king is Jesus.
The covenants are based on the unchanging promises of God. In our reading today, Abram had two main concerns; firstly, having an heir, and secondly a concern regarding how he could be sure about the land he should inherit. In the Ancient Near East there was a well-attested practice to ensure an heir, even if no son were born to a childless couple, they would adopt one of the servants born into the household. This ‘son’ would then care for them in their old age and would inherit their possessions and property at the time of their death. Until now Abram had assumed that his line and inheritance would be trough Eliezer. God meets with Abram and assures him that Eliezer was not the heir that God had promised. Abrams descendants were to come from his own genes. He would have a son of his own.
Having dealt with Abram’s greatest need, namely to have an heir, God went on to strengthen Abram’s faith concerning the land he would possess: God said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon. Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away’. In the ancient world of Abram, legal and binding agreements were not put on papers written by lawyers and signed by the parties involved. Instead, the two parties would arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement, and then they would formalize it in the form of a covenant. The covenant was sealed by the dividing of an animal (or animals). In fact, the technical term means ‘to cut a covenant’, just as we use the phrase sometimes today ‘to cut a deal’. The animals were cut in half and traditionally the two parties would pass between the halves, as if acknowledging that the fate of the animal should be theirs if they broke the terms of their agreement. In this particular case it was not men who passed between the pieces of the animal but ‘a smoking brazier with a blazing torch appeared’ which passed between the pieces. Perhaps this was the glory of the Lord which ratified this covenant, we will never know for sure. But what is important is that today’s Old Testament reading is not primarily describing a symbolic animal sacrifice, but more critically the legal act of making the agreement between God and Abram (and his descendants) one which was eternally binding.

Through the Old Testament reading today we are reminded of a God who keeps His promises. We are reminded of the covenant relationship we have with God through Jesus, the instigator of the new and everlasting covenant. Like the covenants of the Old Testament it is progressive and builds on the covenants which have gone before. This new covenant is not just a binding agreement between God and people; it is an invitation to enter into a relationship with Him, made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. As we look towards Easter we remember the sacrifice that Christ made for us, and we also look forward to the solemn yet joyful promise of the covenant relationship we have with Him which is ratified on Easter Sunday, ‘Lo, I am with you always to the end of time’. This is our covenant relationship with the true Lamb of God. Sam Cappleman

 

Commentary

Who needs a bodyguard?

In the film, ’The Bodyguard’ Kevin Costner stars as an ex-Secret Service agent who was injured as a bodyguard having ‘caught a bullet’ for the President. He reluctantly takes a job as a bodyguard for Rachel Marron (Whitney Houston), a superstar singer and actress. In one scene, the superstar's young son asks the bodyguard what he fears most; he answers, "I'm afraid of not being there."


This is stirring stuff, the body guard thinks nothing of his own safety, he is willing to lay down his life for the one he has to protect. In contrast to this type of bravery, we often think of the disciples and friends of Jesus as being cowards, running away when danger came. This is surely unfair, some of them would have been prepared to put their lives up to defend Jesus and there were people who wanted to be like a bodyguard for Jesus. Think of that scene in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:47). Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus for money, came to the Garden with a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Judas goes to Jesus and kissed him, but this was no kiss of affection, it was a sign of betrayal, the gang must arrest the one Judas marks with his lips. On the sign, the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.

But we are told that the disciples of Jesus did not run away, one of his companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck one of the men with the high priest, cutting off his ear. We do not know who it was who drew a sword, but we do know that this was an act of bravery. In the face of a large crowd armed with swords and clubs this companion of Jesus put himself forward and was prepared to protect Jesus with his own life. But, Jesus does not join in the fight. Instead he helps the enemy and miraculously heals the injured man. Can you imagine how that brave friend of Jesus must have felt when Jesus started healing the enemy? What was the point of trying to act like a bodyguard and look after Jesus when he was actively helping the other side? The response of Jesus must have appeared totally ungrateful, especially when in front of the angry crowd he then admonishes his own people telling them to put their swords away ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’


Jesus believes that he can simply ask the Father and he will at once have at his disposal more than twelve legions of angels. However, the reason why Jesus will not defend himself is because he has to be obedient to scripture and give his life on the cross. Far from allowing himself to have bodyguards, Jesus must deliberately put himself in harms way.
 

Much of what Jesus did in the events leading up to the crucifixion could have been interpreted as weakness. He did not argue forcefully in his own defence when faced by his accusers, he did not summon his supporters to take up arms and fight back against those who wanted him dead.
Given the unwillingness of Jesus to defend himself, how could his followers possibly stand up and protect him, no wonder they all ran away. Jesus was an impossible person to look after.

So in the passage today we see Jesus being warned about Herod.
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him,
"Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you."

We need to think twice about this passage, for sometimes we think that all the Pharisees wanted Jesus dead. Not all of the Pharisees bore such hatred towards Jesus. Some like Gamaliel in Acts Chapter 5 were perfectly prepared to watch and see whether this new movement turned out to be from God. So today we read in Luke that some of these Pharisees actually warned Jesus about danger from Herod.

Jesus is unconcerned about warnings of danger and totally unafraid of Herod. This is because Jesus has a date with his own death and he has the rendezvous planned. He knows where and when his death will come and it will be in Jerusalem and not at the hands of Herod. Throughout the Easter story we see Jesus choreograph the events that will lead to his death on the cross. He is not the unwitting victim, he arranges the action.

The passage from Luke today is a clear expression of exactly what Jesus thought his death was all about. Jesus has no need of a bodyguard to protect him, instead his death would offer protection to others. Like the hen with her chicks he will take up the challenge of the cross and lay down his life in Jerusalem. There is an important theological point here: that Jesus went to the cross voluntarily. This passage seems to emphasize the intention of Jesus, the cross will not come because Jesus is trapped in the Garden and his followers let him down.

Jesus will not fight back, but this is not because he is a coward, rather because he knows that he must offer his own life for the life of others. Like a hen which will put out its wings to protect chicks, and ultimately give of its own life first, so Jesus shows a willingness to pay the greatest price.

So Jesus calls us all to the shelter of his protecting wings. As he stretches wide his arms on the cross, he calls you and me to come to him for safety. He calls us place our trust in him, irrespective of how great are our fears, the hurts, troubles or pains which we feel. We can have confidence to believe that his outstretched arms are strong enough, his wings sufficiently broad to keep us safe. It is only in the safe shadow of his wings that we are saved. Charles Royden

Prayers for Sunday

Lord God in your holy word today we heard that you call us to come to you and more that you seek us out like hen seeks out her chicks, that you offer us the protection and the safety of your strong wings. Help us O God to stop each day and to listen for your call - to pause and allow you to overtake us—to wait and to have your warmth and your wisdom overwhelm us. Amen.

Father and Mother of us all - you have given us many images of what you are like in the law and the prophets and through the ministry of Christ Jesus our Lord—you have been compared to hen seeking out her chicks, to a rock which cannot be moved - to a mother suckling her child - to a wind which cannot be controlled and a fire which cannot be quenched - to a woman seeking out a lost coin—to a king who invites everyone to his wedding feast - to an eagle who stirs up her wings and shields the young in her nest—and in each of these images we learn more about you. Grant us, O Lord, a personal image of your presence - an image which will sustain us we seek to love you with all our heart and soul mind and strength and as we seek to love one another as Jesus loves us. Amen.

Loving God - we stop here today to think not only of ourselves and our needs - we pause not just to have our cups filled by your love - we stop as well on behalf of others. We hold before you those whose cups are filled with bitterness and anger, those who have lost their way and who worship success and the idols of our world. We ask that you give them new hearts - hearts that are filled with goodness and with faith. Lord hear our prayer. Amen.

Hymns for Sunday

Mission Praise Fight the good fight 143 (After confession), God forgave my sin 181, Let us sing to the God of salvation (On notices), Great is thy faithfulness 200, Come let us sing of a wonderful love 94, Lord for the Years 428.