Opposition

Sometimes it’s hard to tell who is with us or against us. People don’t always behave the way we expect them to, and we don’t know their stories or motives. How do we know how to respond?

Read Luke 13:31-35, Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Psalm 27 here.

Listen here:

Do you have a motto?  A motto is a short sentence or phrase that encapsulates our guiding beliefs.

  • InGodWeTrustThe motto of the United States is printed on our money:  “In God We Trust.”
  • The motto of the state of Kansas is “Ad astra per aspera” which means “To the stars through difficulties.”1200px-Seal_of_Kansas.svg
  • Truman Capote has a motto our theater fans might appreciate: “Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.”[1]

Do you have a motto?  I do. “Fully Rely on God” and the acronym F.R.O.G. is my motto.

This week on Facebook I asked people about their mottos and my brother-in-law reminded me of a motto that has been popular in the Krabbe family: “If you can’t have fun, don’t go.”  But the motto post that surprised me the most was this from my former Hebrew professor: “You don’t always have to do the hardest thing.”  I pointed out the irony to him and he said, “Hebrew’s not so hard.  Much easier than Akkadian.”[2] Akkadian(Akkadian is a language from ancient Mesopotamia around 30th century BC that was a precursor to Aramaic.)[3]

You might recognize this famous motto:

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Whose motto is it?  The USPS.  – nothing will get in the way of delivering the mail.

In our gospel reading for today, we see that nothing will get in the way of Jesus accomplishing his purposes.  Despite opposition, Jesus will accomplish the purposes for which he came, purposes he already knew when he was a child and his parents found him in the temple. In his explanation for being there, he told them “I must be about my father’s business” (Luke 2:49).[4] In today’s text we hear him say something similar: “I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work…I must be on my way” (13:32-33).

Jesus is a man on a mission.  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10)[5]

Jesus knows he will die and be resurrected, as he had already explained to the disciples:

“The Son of Man must suffer many terrible things,” he said. “He will be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” (Luke 9:22)

Jesus knows this happens in Jerusalem.  He began his ministry in Galilee, preaching and healing in the towns around the Sea of Galilee. But then, Luke tells us, “As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).  Resolutely.  Jesus knows what will happen in Jerusalem and that this is where he finishes his work. Jesus is determined and will not be stopped.  Jesus is headed for the cross, but in our reading today we see three kinds of opposition, three things that threaten to stop him.

One opposition we see is from the pharisees. They bring friendly opposition in the form of a warning about Herod. “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you” (Luke 13:31.)  Often the pharisees are the ones challenging Jesus, so it might be surprising to us to see that these pharisees are trying to be helpful.  Not all pharisees were against Jesus.  Some became his followers.  This should be a reminder to us that we can’t make assumptions about people.  We see similar friendly opposition from Peter, one of Jesus’ own disciples. After one of the times when Jesus explained what would happen to him in Jerusalem, Peter took Jesus aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”  Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (Matthew 16:22-23).

Sometimes even those who love us can get in the way of our accomplishing God’s purposes for us.  They love us, and don’t want us to fail, and their fears for us can distract us and get us off course.  One of the reasons we see Jesus regularly going off to pray was to keep from getting distracted from God’s purposes, and to keep seeing things from God’s point of view.

The second opposition we see in our text today is from King Herod who reportedly wants to kill Jesus. This is Herod Antipas who had beheaded John the Baptist for opposing Herod’s marriage to his sister-in-law. Jesus was doing many of the same things John had been doing, so Herod thought Jesus was John-the-Baptist come back to life (Luke 9:7).  Jesus calls Herod a fox (“tell that fox…” 13:32).  In modern terms, we might think that Jesus is saying Herod is wise, but in Jesus’ time this was calling Herod an inferior leader.  Great leaders were called lions.  Lesser leaders were foxes.[6]

In the classic fable by Aesop we see a fox who thinks he is wise, but he is not.  The fox sees the hen up in the tree and wants to eat her, so he tries to trick her into coming down.frontis_th_cock_fox

“Have you heard the wonderful news?” cried the Fox in a very joyful and excited manner.

“What news?” asked the Hen very calmly. But he had a queer, fluttery feeling inside him, for, you know, he was very much afraid of the Fox.

“Your family and mine and all other animals have agreed to forget their differences and live in peace and friendship from now on forever. Just think of it! I simply cannot wait to embrace you! Do come down, dear friend, and let us celebrate the joyful event.”

“How grand!” said the Hen. “I certainly am delighted at the news.” But he spoke in an absent way, and stretching up on tiptoes, seemed to be looking at something afar off.

“What is it you see?” asked the Fox a little anxiously.

“Why, it looks to me like a couple of Dogs coming this way. They must have heard the good news and—”

But the Fox did not wait to hear more. Off he started on a run.

“Wait,” cried the Hen. “Why do you run? The Dogs are friends of yours now!”

“Yes,” answered the Fox. “But they might not have heard the news. Besides, I have a very important errand that I had almost forgotten about.”

The Hen smiled as he buried his head in his feathers and went to sleep, for he had succeeded in outwitting a very crafty enemy.[7]

The fox thinks he’s crafty, but he’s underestimated the hen, just as Herod has underestimated Jesus.  We also tend to underestimate God’s work in our lives and in our world.  Jesus said, “With God all things are possible,” and demonstrated this by healing people and being raised from the dead.

If you were here last week, we were given an egg with a scripture and a challenge to pray during Lent for something we desire but that seems impossible. (If you didn’t get one, be sure to pick one up from the basket on the table. If you’re reading this online, comment below or message us on Facebook.) In addition to whatever prayer you have chosen to pray with your egg, I’d love for us all to pray for an end to the hateful killings like what happened in New Zealand this past week.[8]  It is important that we pray and that we also ask God to show us what to do in addition to prayer, and watch for the opportunities that God puts before us to help be a part of stopping hate and prejudice and extremism. This may seem impossible, but with God all things are possible.

The third opposition we see in our reading from Luke is from the people of Jerusalem and their lack of faith.  This is the lament in which Jesus describes himself like a hen. “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!” (Luke 13:34)

Jesus longs to take us under his wing. That’s why Jesus is focused on his mission – heading to the cross so that nothing, not even death, can keep us from being gathered under that wing and knowing and enjoying God’s love forever.

Author and priest Barbara Brown Taylor raises chickens and knows what it looks like for a hen to gather her chicks.  She tells about a special kind of hen, a Silkie, that unlike other breeds will take care of other chicken’s babies.

Silkie-ChickenShe says:

“When my Mille Fleur chickens lay eggs they will not sit on, I put them under a Silkie that sets until they hatch. When I hatch Old English Bantams in the incubator, I wait until the sun goes down. Then I take the babies down to the Silkie pen and slide them under a sleepy hen. The next morning they are all trailing around behind her while she shows them the ropes of staying alive.

“Look, food!” she squawks when I throw corn, and they all come running.

“Run for cover!” she yells, when the shadow of a hawk passes overhead, and they all go diving under her wings.

This is counterintuitive, I might add. If this hen is into the preservation of her species, then she ought to be looking out for her own babies and letting the others go hang, but she does not. She accepts all comers, no questions asked. She has never seen a chick she didn’t like.

I ought to trust her by now, yet every time I introduce her to a new baby with nowhere else to go, I can feel the back of my throat get tight. Please, please, please, don’t peck this baby, I plead. It’s so little. It has never laid eyes on any momma but you. Then I set the chick in the cage with her, sitting down where I can watch what happens.

The baby cheeps. The hen does not move a feather. The baby cheeps again. The hen stays right where she is. The baby takes a few steps toward her. The hen lifts her wings. Come to momma, honey.  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”[9]

Jesus longs for us all to know God’s amazing, unconditional love.  The more we believe it and enjoy it and depend upon it, the more we will be drawn to be about our mission of telling the world about it.  Jesus gave us that mission, to spread the good news of the gospel, of God’s great love for us all. To be telling it and showing it, despite opposition from people who mean well but are fearful, or from displays of cleverness or power, or from our own doubts and lack of faith.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

May nothing keep us from accepting and sharing the amazing, unconditional, sacrificial love that Jesus showed us on the cross.

***

[1] More funny mottos https://quotabulary.com/funny-mottos-about-life

[2] https://www.omniglot.com/writing/akkadian.htm

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akkadian_language

[4] Charles Spurgeon’s sermon on this text https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/christ-about-his-fathers-business#flipbook/

[5] List of Jesus’ purpose statements http://livingthebiblios.blogspot.com/2007/06/purpose-revisited.html

[6] Randall Buth, “That Small-fry Herod Antipas, or When a Fox Is Not a Fox,” https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/2667/

[7] https://fablesofaesop.com/hen-fox.html

[8] 49 people killed in mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand March 15, 2019 https://www.cnn.com/asia/live-news/new-zealand-christchurch-shooting-intl/index.html

[9] Barbara Brown Taylor in Christian Century, Sept. 19 2006 https://outline.com/ZSfFND

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