Bethlehem/West Elbow Lake Lutheran Church, Elbow Lake
Lent 2/February 28, 2010
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
When we think of Jesus, chances are that “danger” isn’t the first word that pops into our heads.
We don’t picture Jesus as someone who courted danger, flirted with danger or spit in the face of danger.
To link “Jesus” and “danger” we’d have to revise how we conceive of Jesus. We’d have to alter the common notion that Jesus was mainly soft, passive, eager to live and let live. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon Thy little child…”
Here in these few verses from Luke 13 another Jesus steps forward. The Jesus we meet here is one tough customer.
Having set his face like flint toward Jerusalem and the Cross, Jesus resolutely pursues his path—knowing where he’s heading, why he’s heading there and what’s going to happen there. Jesus is a man on a mission!
And then along the way, some guys try to derail him: “Get away from here,” they whisper—“for Herod wants to kill you.”
The “Herod” they spoke of was Herod Antipas who ruled over Galilee, at the pleasure of the Roman emperor. He was one in a whole line of “Herods”—penny-ante politicians whose main goal was to keep things on an even keel in their petty little kingdoms.
Having dispatched one rabble-rouser, John the Baptist, Herod Antipas was apparently ready to “take out” someone else who was stirring up mischief. But friends catch wind of this and warn Jesus to make himself scarce. Dangers surround Jesus—he needs to hide.
Which is why Jesus’ response seems, at first, so surprising. Bristling at the warning he has just received, Jesus shoots back with a defiant tone: “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’”…
Herod Antipas thought highly of himself. Herod fancied himself a lion—the king of beasts, a noble ruler of his realm.
But Jesus saw another animal when he imagined Herod. He was no majestic lion, in Jesus’ opinion. Herod was on a par with the lowly fox--a barnyard predator, an egg-sucking varmint, a critter that raids hen houses.
It’s as if Jesus told those who had warned him: “Go and tell that no-good polecat, Herod, that I will not alter my itinerary just because his nose is out of joint. I have work to accomplish. I will proceed in my own way, according to my own timetable. I will run my course”—says Jesus—“and I will reach the finish line in Jerusalem.”
Pretty “in your face,” wouldn’t you agree? Pretty audacious of Jesus, to turn Herod’s threat around and hurl it right back at him!
The Jesus who steps forward here in Luke 13 stands in sharp contrast to all those “soft, sweet” pictures we have of him. This Jesus is no milquetoast, no “doormat” sort of personality. Here’s a Jesus we need to get to know--to stand in contrast with “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon Thy little child.”
And yet, and yet….we need to be careful precisely at this point.
Because Jesus isn’t engaging in a little Dirty Harry “make my day” bravado, here. Jesus isn’t playing the part of a tough guy. Jesus’ response to Herod tells us something much, much deeper than that.
Jesus, in his fearless response to the danger in Herod’s threat, reveals the depth of his determination to go to the Cross for you and me and all people.
Jesus has a race to run, he’s on a road to a finish line—and he will let no one or no thing keep him from it. Dangers dot the landscape, like roadside bombs in Afghanistan. But Jesus is not cowed by them. Jesus cares for much more than saving his own skin.
Jesus’ willingness to face dangers speaks volumes about his determination.
And what is Jesus absolutely determined to do?
He is determined to gather all people unto himself. “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…”
In these words Jesus seems to shift from toughness to tenderness. One minute he’s calling King Herod a fox. Now Jesus describes himself as a cluck hen, perched on a nest, fervently gathering up all her chicks. This is who Jesus is, too—not just a tough guy, determined to run his course.
Here, in the image of the hen and her chicks, we see why Jesus was so determined. We behold the object of his determination: the gathering, the coming-together, of all people, under the shelter of his wings—even, even those who resist him! Jesus wants even them to come in from the storm, to take shelter in his nest: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
So who actually is Jesus here in Luke 13? The tough guy, telling off Herod? Or the mother hen, clucking to the chicks? Or are these two seemingly opposite views of Jesus closer to each other than we might think?
A mother hen, after all, is nothing if not determined—determined to gather her brood, tuck them under her wings, and protect them for all she’s worth. “Chicken” may connote “coward,” to us, but spend some time on a farm and you’ll observe that a mother hen won’t hesitate to attack a predator, with sharp beak pecking and claws flying! Cluck hens have died from attacks by foxes and other predators rather than abandon their nests. Mother hens have stayed on their nests, even when fire sweeps through the chicken coop.
Mother hens can be tough customers, too!
And why? All for the sake of protecting the weak. All for the sake of sheltering the little ones. All for love.
If Jesus is not cowed by danger here, if he is determined to run his course, it is all for us, all for the human family—including even resisters like Herod “the fox.” Jesus does not shirk his assignment to gather all people unto himself, under the shadow of his Cross.
The road Jesus traveled was fraught with danger. Opponents like Herod “put contracts out” on Jesus. It mattered not to him. He was bound and determined to love us all—to love us to the end.
And where does that leave us, who also travel The Jesus Road, today? None of us will be ambushed by snipers on our way home from worship this morning. No one is “out there” threatening to kill us because we belong to Jesus. (Though there are Christians in our world who do face such dangers—and we would do well to remember them, speak up for them and pray for them!)
No, if we face dangers because we follow Jesus, they are usually dangers of our own making.
Let me mention just one of them—the danger that comes from AVOIDING danger at all cost. Being overly cautious, shying away from risks of any kind—there is great spiritual danger in that, for you and me.
I’m speaking of the danger of doing little or nothing, lest we rock the boat. Avoiding all risk, we are found to be faithless by our risk-taking Lord.
When you and I hold back from risky ventures like speaking of our faith or standing alongside someone who’s marginalized or giving so generously that we have to alter our lifestyle—when, instead, we play everything cool and cautious, we miss the adventure that the life of faith is meant to be.
When we are so fearful of failing or making a mistake that we never try anything new—we give way to the danger of avoiding danger at all costs. We feed the notion that the church is utterly harmless and of no account.
Our son-in-law used to be a wrestler at Augustana College in Sioux Falls. Several years ago we got to see him wrestle up in Moorhead, at MSUM. As I observed how the wrestlers went after each other, each one seeking advantage over the other—it dawned on me that a wrestler, in order to win, has to risk the possibility of losing. When two wrestlers face off in the center of the mat, sooner or later, one of them has to venture out—to get momentarily off-balance in order to try throwing the other guy off-balance.
I love that line from Eleanor Roosevelt, who said: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
Christian faith and life is about so much more than not rocking the boat, avoiding risks and dangers, all so that we can arrive at death’s door--safe and sound.
Christian faith and life is, at its best, a high adventure, following our determined, risk-taking Lord who willingly walked the road of danger for you, for me and for all people.
Lawrence Robert Wohlrabe was born in Mankato, MN. He graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and Luther Seminary, St. Paul. Luther Seminary awarded him a Doctor of Ministry degree with distinction.
Ordained in 1981, he served parishes in Willmar, MN; St. James, MN; and Moorhead, MN. He was also on the staff of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, and the SW MN Synod ELCA, Redwood Falls, MN. Larry was elected bishop of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod on June 10, 2007. He was re-elected bishop of the synod, to a second 6-year term on June 7, 2013.
Larry's wife, Joy, has worked many years as a hospital and hospice social worker. They have two young adult children, Erik and Kristen (married to Aaron) and two grandchildren, Olivia and Micah. Note: the views expressed here are Bishop Wohlrabe's views--not those of the NW MN Synod.