The fox in our henhouse

Delmer Chilton

The fox in our henhouse

Lectionary blog for Feb. 24, 2013
Second Sunday in Lent
Texts: Genesis 15:1-18, Psalm 27, Luke 13:31-35

My grandmother used to get eggs from a family who lived about a mile farther down the dirt road by her house. When I was little, 5 or 6, Grandma and I would often walk there to visit on a cool summer's evening.

Eventually we would go out past the henhouse to the springhouse, where they kept the eggs in little wire cages submerged in a concrete tank of water fed by a cold mountain spring.

We put the eggs in little tin buckets padded with dishcloths and walked home for supper; probably bacon and eggs with biscuits, because Grandma wasn't particular about exactly when she had breakfast.

One summer evening, just as we came out of the springhouse, there was an awful fuss in the chicken yard.

A sudden raising of dust, flurry of feathers and scattering of hens and chickens, much screeching and squawking, and then, just as suddenly, things calmed down and an old gray hen emerged from the bushes with a large black snake in her mouth.

I thought of that day again when I read today's Gospel lesson. Herod, the king, the worldly power, a fox in the chicken yard; and the Messiah, the Christ, portrayed as a bold female, risking all to protect her chicks. It's an interesting play of images.

As our Gospel lesson begins, Jesus is told that he should be afraid, he should watch out, that the evil King Herod is out to get him.

Jesus appears to be unafraid, either of Herod or of dying. It would be appropriate for Jesus to be afraid, but Jesus shows no fear. Instead he taunts Herod, saying, "Come and get me, or better yet, I'll come to you, for no true prophet can die outside Jerusalem."

At the mention of Jerusalem Jesus' tone changes. He cries over the people, laments their misguided rejection of God's messengers of truth and love.

Then comes this startling image: God, Christ, as a mother hen protecting her children from the evil fox in their midst. Jerusalem is Israel and Israel is us, all of us, all of humanity.

The truth is that God has loved us, all of us, from the very beginning, from the time of creation, from the time of Noah and the flood, from the time of Abram and Sarai and the Promise, from the time of Moses and Miriam and the Exodus, from the time of Deborah and the other judges of Israel and the kings and queens and prophets and psalmists, God has loved the world and sent us signs and wonders and messages of that love.

And all too often, we have failed to understand or respond to that love. All too often, we have turned God's word of love into a life of hate; all too often, we have turned God's call to repentance into the pointing fingers and a call to arms.

The sly fox of the world turns us away from that which is good and eternal and pulls us in the direction of those things that satisfy now but do not linger and live with us for an eternity with God.

If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the sadness in Jesus' voice here. If you've ever watched someone waste their life away on drugs or booze or bad relationships or chasing after material possessions or honors or notoriety or celebrity, or something. Something undefined but just around the corner that will, they hope, make them whole and complete and healed, but that is never there; then you know the pain Jesus feels.

For you cannot save them, you cannot make them change, you cannot make anyone give up the things that are ruining them. All you can do is open your arms; you cannot make anyone walk into them.

And, it is the most vulnerable posture in the world, arms spread, chest exposed. Or, to continue Jesus' mother hen imagery, wings spread, breast exposed. It is interesting that this turns out to be the way Jesus died in Jerusalem, wings spread, breast exposed.

Jesus was able to face down Herod the fox because he had faith in the God of promise, the God who promises and follows through. Jesus had faith in the God who promised Abram and Sarai that they would have a son and that they would be the parents of a people who filled the earth.

Jesus was able to go to the cross because he believed the psalmist when he said, "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?"

In the middle of the night, when the fox is loose in the henhouse of our lives, we grow fearful and often wonder, "Where is God, will God come?"

Jesus is the promise that "Yes! God will come; indeed God has come in Christ.” Comes across the chicken yard -- clucking and screeching, wings spread, breast exposed; comes to rescue, comes to protect, comes to save."

Yes, God comes, that is the promise Jesus made and that is the promise Jesus kept upon the cross, where he sheltered us from the devil's wrath and saved us from ourselves so that we might live forever in God's love.

Amen and Amen.

Talk back:

• When have you loved someone you could not protect from themselves?
• When have you wondered, "Where is God, will God come?"


Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

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