Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX
Based on Luke 13:31-35
I have a confession to make. Many of you probably have anticipated this. Some days I take solace in animal stories and videos. This past week again with evil’s action of murderous white supremacy in New Zealand was such a time. The animal world often shows promise of what’s possible for humans. Or not. A few weeks ago in the Adult Forum I told of the Science magazine discovery that dolphins get high off the toxins of the puffer fish. When dolphins find one, the first on the scene will push his nose into the fish, rather like putting a stick into a deflated ball, inhale deeply, and then pass the fish around. No wonder dolphins smile so much! Morale: don’t take yourself too seriously, but beat up on sharks when possible. Such stories make me smile too. Then there is our dog, Fiddich, among all our cherished pets, Fiddich being the cutest, of course. And there are all those inter-species examples of love and friendship. Their love is never pretended. There are no fake friends in the animal kingdom.
But do not get between their love and their beloved. There is nothing as fierce as the love that rises up to protect its charges. Do not confuse their cuteness with gentility. She bears are not teddy bears. If it is not enough for a hen to cover her chicks with her wings, she could well place both her beak and claw into flesh. When necessary, love sacrifices itself to protect the beloved. It goes all the way. One understands love’s expense after researching the aftermath of a prairie or forest fire. Wild pheasants and other game birds will be found burnt dead with chicks still alive under their wings.
It is no surprise then to discover that early symbols abound depicting Christ or God as a hen. Because Jesus came to heal and cast out evil—all of which threaten the beloved of God—that threat turned to Jesus instead and he knew he would need to engage it directly so that the beloved would be threatened no more. Jesus came to bring true life and freedom to God’s fledglings…and to show us fledglings how love is done. Jesus also knew that the fledglings would turn on him, even from the start after his first sermon. He knew it would get worse after the devil left him looking for another opportunity to steer Jesus off his course. Wherever the threat would come from, Jesus was onto the game of selfish humanity and was always more than one step ahead. Finally, he knew that the narcissist Herod would look for a way to come at him. Jesus was not only ready for the warning. He answered by saying the best defense is love’s offense. It was not a warm fuzzy answer. The answer was resolute fierce love. “Go tell that fox that I cast out demons and cure ills and soon, very soon, I will finish my work right there in Jerusalem.” It was not just a warning. It was a promise.
Jesus will heal the ill. Jesus will cast out evil. Jesus will do what he came to do. And why should that bother Herod? On the face of it, it would seem Herod was feared Jesus’ growing popularity. The growing support could push Jesus past the primary and beat Herod in the general. Maybe. But I think it was more than that. I have come to believe that every person who utterly depends upon his or her white or wealth privilege for meaning, that every person who veers toward or embraces supremacy, every person who clutches power by whatever means with no sense of humility and surely no sense of gratitude: such persons are deeply infected with both self-righteousness and denial of it. Other than sociopathy, what else explains why one lives as if all others lives are for his or her pleasure and purpose?
History’s Herods also always fear. If there’s room for fear, there’s also evidence that Herod fears exposure not only of his bad history or loss of position, but exposure of his personal worthlessness, revelation that there is nothing that really matters beyond his failed self. Maybe he even feared that if Jesus was so adept at casting out demons, he might purge Herod too. Either Herod is cast out, or Herod must face new emptiness in himself that he had never known. Either way, the fox is done for. This goes for every Herod in history. That’s tragedy, because such fear also exposes the possibility that even Herods could be transformed.
But Jesus’s fierce love was and is not only directed at Herod. Herod will be left, along with his cronies and sycophants to the spoiling fruits of their own short-sighted labors, their own soon empty house. Jesus has a larger vision that will change everything. The hen will put her wings over Jerusalem and she herself would be raised from the ashes to herald that day when hate no more holds high office and sin no longer bears arms. Jesus goes into Jerusalem not to take on just one person. Jesus goes into literally “the foundation of peace,” which is what the word “Jerusalem” at its most basic means. Foundation of Peace. Only by getting at the basics, the very foundation of pace—God’s original and still abiding intent—will change the world. Only at the conjunction of personal and institutional evil does God create new and clean hearts, exorcising Herods along the way.
The risen Christ is still doing it. Though evil moves like a fox from church to synagogue to mosque, from Charleston to Pittsburgh to Christchurch (Christchurch!) and more, Christ is raised from death after caught in the conflagration, protecting his fledglings from death’s finality, and appointing us his body, his body—not supremacist bodies, not racist bodies, not anti-Semitic or Islamophobic or Christian Nationalist bodies, but His body, appointed to restore the foundation of peace, tasked at building God’s promised New Jerusalem.
This may sound like Pollyanna talk, like uninformed utopian fantasy. When Lent feels more like scourge than anticipation, we get that pessimistic spin. But Easter happened and the Lenten seasons of our lives are for shaping us better to build Easter’s consequences. We have faith, and so also, reason, to hope.
A friend here at CTK this week sent me a terrific short piece by Guillermo Del Toro about why he is hopeful. The friend recognized in Del Toro the same rebellious impulse as I hold, but in my case I am hopeful because I believe that God already has shown us that God wins, that love wins, and that whenever love’s turf is intruded upon by foxes and worse, love will always win. Del Toro writes: “History and fable show us nothing is ever entirely lost. David can take Goliath. A beach in Normandy can turn the tide of war. Bravery can topple the powerful. These facts are always seen as exceptional, but they are not. Every day we all become the balance of our choices—choices between love and fear, belief or despair. No hope is ever too small…Optimism is our instinct to inhale while suffocating. Our need to declare what needs to be in the face of what is. Optimism is not uncool; it is rebellious and daring and vital…and so it goes time after time, choice after choice, that we decide to leave behind a biography or epitaph. Look around you now and decide between the two. Inhale or die.”
Or imitate Paul. Or a mother hen, or even a dolphin. Inhale deeply of God, and pass the bread and wine. Return to and share from God’s foundation of peace. Now, wherever you are, is Jerusalem.
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX