Audio: Lent II
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is not a fox-and-hen story. This is not a story about how the clever and crafty fox finds his way into the hen-house and how the hen outfoxes him in the end. This is not a story about how the fox approaches the hen with tooth and claw bared and the hen, with only her love as a weapon, spreads her wings over her children and the fox devours her instead of her children. Jesus does die in the place and for the sake of His children, but not because they are gathered under His wings. That’s why this Sunday’s bulletin cover is just a little misleading: mainly because it doesn’t say what the Scripture actually says. Jesus dies in the place and for the sake of His children precisely because they would not be gathered to Him. Instead, they would rather run like headless chicks in any and every direction but to Him. That’s why He dies. And Herod has nothing to do with it. What is Herod? He’s a second-rate predator. He scrounges around for whatever scraps or crumbs might fall from Caesar’s table. He scavenges whatever he can find, including other men’s wives. And if someone threatens his territory—especially someone clothed in camel-skin and eating locusts and wild honey—he will take his head off. And because he thinks Jesus is John come back from the dead, well, he’ll kill Him, too. And so those always well-meaning Pharisees come to Jesus and say, “Get up and get out of Galilee, because Herod wants to kill You. Go to Jerusalem; that’s out of Herod’s jurisdiction.” And Jesus says, “Go tell that fox: See, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will finish My course. But it is necessary for Me to go on My way today and tomorrow and the day after.” Jesus is going out of Galilee and to Jerusalem, but not because of Herod. Jerusalem was always His destination; He was always going to Jerusalem, because that was the way that had been laid out by His Father and the Son willingly and obediently followed it. Luke makes it very clear, especially after chapter 9: Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem (9:51); He was teaching and journeying and healing on the way to Jerusalem; He passes through Jericho, because He is on His way to Jerusalem; He is going up to Jerusalem; He is drawing near. And the people welcome Him on the near side of the Mount of Olives with “hosannas!”
Jerusalem. “Yerushalaim, Yerushalaim! The city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often would I have gathered your children together in the same way that a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you would not! See, your house is forsaken” (Luke 13:34-35). It is no longer God’s house. You have treated it for so long as if it was your house, that God has left it to you. It seems, then, that Jerusalem is the problem, not Herod. And we feel a little sorry for Jerusalem, but we’re not too surprised. Of course their house is forsaken. Of course it’s deserted. Those legalistic, hypocritical Pharisees, and the Sadducees, scribes, and chief priests. They rejected Jesus, the Son of God, their Messiah. Of course the Romans came in in 70 AD and tore their house down stone by stone. So now we are the House of God. We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We rejoice in His Word to us every single week, and His Sacraments, and His promises, and His forgiveness of our sins! We delight in loving our neighbor as ourselves, and in welcoming the stranger, and in bearing witness to everything God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We are the House of God and He will never leave us or forsake us.
But I find it hard to believe that anyone living in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus had any idea that God would abandon their house. They were the chosen people of God! He had called them out of Egypt and claimed them for His own, and brought them into that very Promised Land! They had the Word, and the Promises, and the Priesthood. They ate the sacrifices from God’s very altar. They prepared for the Passover every single year and went up to Jerusalem and worshiped God. But they forgot. They forgot that they were God’s chosen people, and they began to take refuge in the fact that they were the Chosen People. They were the chosen ones! They began to go through the motions of being God’s people. They began to mouth the words that God’s people spoke. They had no intention of changing their lives. Why should they? They were doing pretty well. And, anyway, they knew everything would turn out alright in the end. God had told them so. They were God’s chosen people, in God’s chosen city, worshiping in God’s chosen house. They had nothing to worry about—not even from God. But Paul says, “They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you” (Romans 11:20-21, ESV). Do we think that He will never forsake this house? I hesitate to say that Luther prophesied—but Luther prophesied that if the German people refused to stop using the Gospel of the forgiveness of their sins as an excuse to go on sinning, and if they refused to hear the Gospel, then the Gospel would forsake them. If you look around Germany, the land is dotted with deserted houses of God. Do we think it cannot happen here? Look around. There are churches in this country who use the holy Gospel against God’s holy Will. There are churches who use the Holy Spirit against God’s holy Word. There are Christians who take the Gospel for granted, as if they had it by right, and not by gift. And they will be deserted unless they turn and repent.
So for us. We are preparing again for our Passover festival, for the feast of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and today, this Lent, Jesus calls us again to true repentance. He says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things I say? … The one who hears [My Words] and does not do likewise is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation” (Luke 6:46, 49). Maybe you know what happens to foundationless houses. So no more going through the motions of being His people and simply mouthing the words that the people of God speak. We must stop mouthing words like “justification,” “grace alone,” “Law and Gospel,” and “Jesus,” and hear what Jesus actually says, and do likewise. To do likewise is to believe His words, receive His gifts, and love our neighbors in deed, and not in good intentions. He calls us to mend our ways and our works and listen the voice of Yahweh our God; He has relented of the disaster against us (Jeremiah 26:13). But Jesus did not die for us because we all gathered under His wings for protection and warmth. He died for us precisely because we would not; we would rather run in any and every direction but to Him. And the evidence of that is that we find this house and what goes on here a burden, rather than a joy. Better, perhaps, this morning than the familiar picture of the hen gathering her chicks under her wings is the unfamiliar, and even legendary, picture of the pelican. In the legend of the pelican-in-her-piety, she pierces her own breast and pours out her blood into the mouths of her hungry young, so that they live even as she dies. And just so did Jesus willingly make His way to Jerusalem and the cross, where He was pierced and out of His side flowed the blood that would heal the nations.
And so today, if you desire to forsake your sin and be gathered to your Lord, come; eat His broken Body and His Blood outpoured, and He will gather you. Today He brings His Word again; today He calls you again to Himself. If you desire to be more fervent in prayer, more generous in works of charity, and more eager in celebrating the mysteries by which we are reborn, then come; eat and drink this mystery, and He will gather you to Himself. If you do not desire it, that is only a sign that you are even more in need of Jesus. Repent and believe the Gospel. If you would welcome Him on the last day, welcome Him now, on the near side of heaven, with “Save us now!” If you would see Him face to face, see now by faith and cry out, “Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord!” He is here to be seen and heard and eaten and drunk. As long as it is called “today;” as long as His true Word and holy Supper are here, this is still His House, and He calls—as always, until the end of this age—all His wayward, wandering, unwilling children—and all who are not yet His children—to His pierced side, to His arms spread like wings on the cross, to faith and baptism, to the Supper of the risen Lord: Come, eat and drink; behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/16/16