Second Sunday in Lent – Year C The Rev. Anna C. Shine
Readings: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
Abram confronts God about his lack of an heir in today’s lesson from Genesis. He displays a very deep human concern, that of our struggle with our finitude, with mortality, of a desire to have a legacy and someone to leave it to. You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir, Abram tells God. The word of the Lord reassures Abram that he will not remain childless, bringing him outside and saying, Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them…So shall your descendants be.Abram believes what the Lord tells him, trusting in God, and as a result, brings himself into right relationship with God.
God then says, I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess, and proceeds to tell Abram how to offer the appropriate sacrifices. On that day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.’God’s first covenant with Abram, then, is the granting of the land to his descendants. Before God gives him Ishmael and Isaac, God gives Abram the land. And this mirrors our creation narratives. God gives us the created world before God creates us. God gives us Eden before Adam and Eve have Cain, Abel, and Seth. Land precedes offspring. And so it is important to look at what God gives us the land for. In this story, God says God gives us this land to possess. However, the Hebrew word for possess – yarash – can also mean “to inherit” or “to be heir to.” Possession implies an element of power over something, whereas inherit gives the sense of stewardship. For too long we have made decisions in translation and interpretation that have allowed us to place humanity above all other creation, as a way to excuse our plundering of the earth and its resources, our trashing of our oceans and waterways, our poisoning of the air, and our genocide of myriad species – all creations of God.
Lent is about repentance, or turning back in order to walk closer with God. Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden that was given them to till and keep, to steward and cultivate. It is fitting, then, that we are given this reminder of God’s covenant between Abram and the land during the season of Lent. Given the way we are currently treating our planet, it is clear that we are in need of repentance, of turning back. And what is both tragic and beautiful, is that this call to repent is coming from our children, our youth, our heirs.
As stated at the beginning, Abram is hoping for children, for a future, for the assurance that he will have a legacy. But today, our children are wondering if they will have a future at all. The question they face is not, will I have a legacy, but rather, will my ancestors’ legacies leave me a planet upon which I can bear my own children? God’s call to look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them rings differently today than it would have in Abram’s time. For Abram, the thought is that the stars are so numerous as to not be countable. But today, with all the light and air pollution we face, when our children look up at the sky, it is a wonder just to see stars at all. If you are able to count them…God says. In our deep desire to leave a legacy, regardless of the cost to our planet, we have lost sight of God’s first gift of the land – of the created world.
And so, our children are standing up and calling us to come back to right relationship with that gift. On the fifteenth day of this month, this past Friday, our heirs left school in a strike for climate action. Inspired by the sixteen-year-old Swedish woman, Greta Thunberg, who began her protest in August of last year, the world’s youth are standing up and crying out. Hear her words: “Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”
Greta is calling us to action. To urgency. The calls to hope are not unreasonable or spoken with ill-intention, but they distract from the real ministry we are called to – to return to right relationship with God’s gift of creation in order to turn back to right relationship with God. The Pharisees provide a similar distraction to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading.
Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’While at first this might seem like well-intentioned people trying to save Jesus’ life, a little context provides a different understanding. Jesus, at this point, is no longer in Galilee, where Herod reigns. He is not yet in Jerusalem, but his journey there has begun. In the context of the Lukan Gospel, the Pharisees have proven to be adversaries throughout. It is more likely, then, that they are trying to deter Jesus from fulfilling his role of going to Jerusalem as a prophet and being killed there. As Luke Timothy Johnson questions and then confirms in his commentary on The Gospel of Luke, the Pharisees’ “message is really ‘law low, stop this noise, and you will be safe.” If Jesus doesn’t go to Jerusalem, he will not be killed and therefore must not be a true prophet. But Jesus responds in the way we would expect in Luke. 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. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’Jesus will not be kept from his ministry as he travels toward Jerusalem. And his ministry is one of healing and transformation. Last week, Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. One of those temptations was to save himself. Here, we see the Pharisees tempting Jesus to do the same. Save yourself! Self-preservation is key! But Jesus’ goal is not survival. His goal is not even death on the cross! Here, Jesus tells us of the third day, of the resurrection. His goal is transformation. His goal is the healing of the world.
Jesus then laments over Jerusalem, providing us with the image of a mother hen providing shelter for her brood under her wings. There is much to lament. Aside from the catastrophic future our planet currently faces, we were faced with another murderous shooting rampage, this time in New Zealand. At least forty-nine of our fellow descendants of Abraham, Muslim brothers and sisters, were killed in their houses of prayer. We must be wary of falling into the trap of ideologies that make value judgments upon a person for their country of origin, their set of beliefs or lack thereof, their citizenship status, or the color of their skin. White supremacy and white nationalism are in direct conflict with the message of the Gospel! Jesus’ cry of lament includes his desire to gather all children together, but we have allowed ourselves to be taken in by the foxes of the world.
Jesus’ choice of hen as his image is a powerful statement that turns everything upside down. As Barbara Brown Taylor so eloquently writes in her sermon entitled “As a Hen Gathers Her Brood:”
it is curious that Jesus chooses a hen. Where is the biblical precedent for that? What about the mighty eagle of Exodus, or Hosea’s stealthy leopard? What about the proud lion of Judah, mowing down his enemies with a roar? Compared to any of those, a mother hen does not inspire much confidence.
But have you seen what a hen does when protecting her chicks? She becomes bigger by making herself completely vulnerable – she opens her wings, spreading them out as far as she can, and leaves her heart exposed. We see Jesus do the same thing on the cross, spreading out his arms on that hard wood and embracing all the pain, the evil, the separation from God and God’s creation, absorbing it and transforming it into his healing love. All this for us – beloved children of God. And as the beloved children of God, we are called to imitate this transforming and healing love – as St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians.
Abram cries out to God for an heir, for a legacy. And now Abraham’s heirs are crying out to us – the elders and adults – to turn back to God and make a right relationship with God’s creation – through that transforming and healing love that Jesus shows us on the cross.
The choice is ours. But the question remains: what will our legacy be? Amen.