An Opportune Time

“An Opportune Time”

Luke 4:1-13 (4:13) – March 6, 2022

            Have you ever been tempted? For little (and sometimes, bigger) people, these do not need to be big temptations. Smaller, everyday temptations can be troublesome enough. Like, a plate of delicious cookies left on the counter. Or, a cool item – like a late-model smart phone, or a fancy set of ear pods – left unattended in a very public place. Or even, some test answers in such plain view that you can hardly help but see them on the desk nearby. [1]

            What do we do, with such delicious temptations practically begging us to give in?

            This is the first Sunday of Lent, and our Scripture reading today is from Luke’s Gospel: the narrative of the temptation of Jesus. Each week in Lent we will look at one of the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer. They will not be in order, but they all are there. Today’s connection is to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

            We all know what temptation is. (Don’t we?) I gave several examples just now. Sometimes people can see temptation a mile away, and do the right thing right away. Other times, the temptation can sneak up on us. Or, be overwhelming, or even seductive and alluring. And then, you all know what happens. We give in to temptation.

            As we followed the Gospel reading this morning, the reading from Luke started with Jesus being led into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil for 40 days.    A verse from Hebrews gives us additional insight into the “why” of it. Jesus was “tempted in every way as we are,” and yet He did not sin. He had no sin. Even thought the Devil tried his best (or, worst) to tempt away at Jesus, Jesus did not succumb. Jesus did not fall prey to any of the presentations, any of the temptations.

This first Sunday in Lent we are reminded of just several days ago, when so many people around the world had ash crosses put on their foreheads. Yes, that was the visible symbol. Ash Wednesday also means self-examination, and confession, and admitting that each of us is limited, imperfect, and each of us needs to face our own mortality. Our sinfulness, too. [2]

            Face it, each of us is only here on earth for a brief time. Psalm 103 tells us that “14 for God knows how we are formed, God remembers that we are dust. 15 The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”

That is the reminder of the Ash Wednesday cross, and the liturgical words said at the beginning of Lent each year: “dust you are, to dust you shall return” is what we hear as the ashes are applied to our foreheads. We are marked with mortality for this Lenten journey, and that is sobering enough for anyone. And on top of that, we are called to be self-reflective and to contemplate where we fall short. By extension, we come to the first Sunday of Lent, and are encouraged to do the same thing because we are all marked with mortality,

Our Lord Jesus was led into the wilderness, because that is where you and I commonly live. Wasn’t He a human being just as we are? Jesus was out there hungry and hurting just as we are hungry and hurting, too. Jesus was tempted in all things, just as we are, too.

Most of all, we may be tempted by shortcuts. Wasn’t Jesus tempted by the Devil by that very thing – shortcuts? Sure, all the kingdoms of the world will eventually belong to Jesus, except not just yet. But, the Devil tempts Jesus with those exact things. “All of these kingdoms will be yours right now, if you bow and worship me!” The same with the temptation of loaves of bread. “Turn these stones into bread. You know how easy it will be! Come on, you can do it!” And again, the Devil brought Jesus to the highest place on the Temple and said, “see, if you jump off, God will for sure save you. Angels will come and lift you up! You know they will – come on, I bet you won’t do it. I double dog dare you!

Each of these temptations are shortcuts to power, glory and majesty, which are the Son of God’s by right. Except, the Devil twists them, and tries to convince us all that it’s okay. It’s what God would want…isn’t it? Just as the Devil tried to convince our Lord Jesus, tried of offer Him to claim these glorious things without suffering, without dying, the easy way. Take a shortcut. We may be tempted to take that shortcut, too! [3]   

Our reading ends with an ominous note that the Adversary went away until an opportune time. We could spend some time speculating on when that opportune time might have been for Jesus. But it might be better for us to realize that opportune times come all too often in our lives, and that the Devil can sneak up on us unaware, too.

We all need help to stay on God’s path. We all need someone who will help us to stay focused on God, and especially not to take shortcuts, as tempting as they may be. We can “find someone who can help keep us on track. Find someone who will help us think about the choices we make. Find someone who will fill us out. Better yet, find a group of someones – a community of faith that will help make sure we think with a full mind.” [4]

Won’t you continue walking with Jesus? I pray that we all can stick together and keep on the journey to the Cross. That is the best way to avoid temptation that I’ve found yet: stick close to Jesus. Amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-first-sunday-in-lent-february-14.html

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/gathered-up-in-jesus/first-sunday-in-lent-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/gathered-up-in-jesus/first-sunday-in-lent-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes

[4] Ibid.

Love, Under His Wings

“Love, Under His Wings”

Luke 13-34 under His wings, mosaic

Luke 13:31-35 – February 21, 2016

During this season of Lent, our focus is on love.

When we think of the animal kingdom—and let’s broaden that to all birds and beasts, all creatures great and small—how does love fit into the picture? Picture this. A mama cat or dog, licking and cleaning her little ones. A mama horse or elephant or dolphin, feeding her baby. A mother hen on her nest, spreading out her feathers, her wings, to keep her chicks warm and safe at night. All loving and caring pictures. All maternal. Motherly.

When we think about God and God’s actions, maternal and motherly images are not necessarily the first things that pop into a person’s mind. `

Let’s turn to Jesus. The Rabbi Jesus has His disciples and other followers around Him. They are in Jerusalem—as they periodically are, since Jesus is an itinerant rabbi. Traveling round about Judea, Galilee, and all places in between. Jesus is speaking to and teaching a group of people. What does today’s reading from Luke tell us? Some Pharisees actually warn Jesus!

This might seem odd, or out of character. Imagine, Jesus is almost always fighting with the Pharisees! And here, we find several of them going out of their way to warn Rabbi Jesus: “Go somewhere else—far away! Herod wants to kill you!”

Oh, my! This is the puppet king that the Roman Empire installed as supposed king of Judea. Plus, Herod was the king who executed John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin. Jesus may even have been knowledgeable about Herod and his plots. No surprise here. What else is new?

It doesn’t particularly matter whether the Pharisees who hurried up and visited Jesus were doing this in all seriousness, or whether they were just kidding around. After all, Pharisees were among the foremost Jewish teachers of the Law. As one of the commentaries I consulted said, Pharisees were “community leaders, [who] actively opposed the ministry of Jesus. They were scared of His miracles. Perplexed at His teachings. Most of all, they were angry – angry and shocked – that so many people were drawn to this carpenter turned Rabbi.” [1]

Jesus had a fascinating response to that warning from the Pharisees: “’Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!’”

This is important stuff! Yes, Jesus identifies Himself as a rabbi. But, there is more. Much more! Jesus also embraces His role as a prophet. It says so, right here!

There are so many fascinating directions to go. I could write several sermons from this one short passage, each on a different topic. However—our topic for this morning is love. Remember? This whole service this morning is brought to you by the word “love!”

True, Jesus wants Herod to know that He is not afraid of Herod’s threats and muscle. True, Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem. He is going forward to reach that goal, that journey to the Cross. Eugene Peterson has a marvelous translation of Jesus’s response: “Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now…I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick.”
Question: why did Jesus call Herod a fox? I return to my commentator, Drew McIntyre, who says, “Did Herod have red fur and a bushy tail? No. A fox had a reputation for cunning, for sneakiness, and trickery. Today, we might say, ‘a weasel.’ Throughout most of human history foxes have been regarded as clever creatures – animals that the wise farmer would not turn their back on for an instant.” [2]
The next moment, Jesus compares Himself to a hen. A hen!

I am not aware of exact practices of the keeping of chickens in Israel. I know there must have been some chicken coops in the area. Just think of Peter denying his Lord three times before the rooster crowed. But, let’s assume chicken coops were fairly common.

Jesus says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” Using His vivid skill in drawing pictures with words, Jesus continues: “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Jesus just got done telling people He was a prophet, and He was going to continue doing His work of healing people, body and soul. The next words out of His mouth contain this warm, nurturing word picture. Can you think of anything more caring and comforting than to be drawn under the wings of a mother hen? To rest amid that soft, feathery embrace? I can’t.
Let’s transfer this situation fraught with tension to the modern day. We all know how wonderful it is to be wanted, to be welcomed and loved. This is exactly what Jesus offers us. This is what He wishes to do for us; to welcome us, and love us. Just like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings.

Yet, there is the tension of Herod, looking to kill Jesus. Jesus is in danger, and we are following Him. What kinds of images come to our minds, in that case?

Yes, we hear about the mother hen who gathers her chicks under her protective wings in dangerous situations. It can be at the eruption of the volcano at Mt. Saint Helens, or at a sudden fire in the barnyard. Yet, the hen is sacrificed to save her chicks. Stories are repeated that tell of a hen dying, showing sacrificial love towards her chicks. Her live chicks are found unharmed, safely beneath her protective wings.

Jesus is telling us exactly that. He is the protective mother hen. We are the defenseless, helpless chicks that need protection.

Here we have a feminine image of God! This is so rarely seen in the Bible, in either the Old or the New Testaments. One commentator I consulted talks about the theological rationale of women’s gender and their bodies. I remind you that women are made in the image of God just as much as men!

Speaking of her talk at a women’s retreat, Karoline Lewis says, “If [we] rarely, if ever, hear about God’s femininity, female images for God, or female characteristics of God, then even that biblical truth will be hard to believe. And, if God is mostly assumed to be male, referred to with male pronouns, and described as male, then it will be more difficult and take more energy to imagine God in female categories — and to believe that you have a place in the kingdom of God.” [3]

Yes, of course God has male attributes and characteristics. God also has female attributes and characteristics. As we can see from this motherly image or word picture that Jesus uses!

Jesus welcomes us into His embrace, into His community of love and caring. Just as a lost little chick who finally finds the way home into the nest, into his or her mother hen’s warm feathery embrace, so we can find our way into a community of caring, love, nourishing and belonging. I hope our church community extends that caring and loving welcome to everyone. Jesus wants us to know that we are welcome with Him, always.

Are you still searching for that community of belonging? That warm, caring place? I pray that we all may find it. Not only here, in this community, but especially in the embrace of Jesus.

Amen.

[1] http://drewbmcintyre.com/2010/03/01/luke-1331-35-the-fox-and-the-hen-lent-2/

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4530 “Love and Belonging,” Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, 2016.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!