Psalm 27 Genesis 15.1-13 Luke 13:31-35
This very short Gospel reading which we heard this morning is a curious text. It is brief yet contains so many possibilities. We have Pharisees asking Jesus to go away because of Herod’s desire to kill him. Are these good Pharisees concerned for Jesus or is this a polite form of threat? We have Jesus’ description of Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” sadly an image that is still apt today as Bishop John’s reflection on his recent visit to the Holy Land, in his Lent Message makes clear. (Check out the video on the diocesan website if you’ve not seen it) and then there is this curious talk of the fox and the chicken.
Jesus expression of his desire to care for the people of Israel “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” was brought to life for me this week as I was watching the penguin programme on BBC1 – I don’t know if anyone else has been watching this Penguins, Spy in the Huddle, filmed using cameras disguised as penguins, eggs and rocks so that they get intimate shots of the penguins in their natural state and behaviour. It’s been a beautiful, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking series with images of care given by mother and father penguin alike and the care the adult penguins offer each other either through the large group or most poignantly when a female penguin placed her head on the shoulder of a fellow female who had been too late in finding her lost chick. The huddle of the title is the closely knit group which the penguins form, with their eggs or their young chicks carefully balanced on their feet, to become one large mass against the bitterly cold winds – gathered together as if under one great wing.
This image which Jesus uses of a hen gathering her brood under her wings is a powerful expression of God’s love for his creation, for the people of Israel and for the church. God as loving mother and father; loving hen against the threatening fox of the empire, seeking to protect the children of God and sorrowed when we refuse the protection of the motherly wing. The other element of this short dense Gospel is the surety of Jesus. Jesus seems so very sure of himself and of his course. Something I imagine few of us feel all - if any - of the time. Even though this group of Pharisees come and tell him of a very good reason why he should be afraid, he sticks to his decided path which he know leads to his destiny in Jerusalem. How does he maintain this surety? I can identify much more clearly with Abram, in our first reading. He shows a more human lack of surety. God needed to assure him not to be afraid. Jesus refuses to give in to the fear the Pharisees seem to want to instil in him.
How did Jesus maintain such surety? Obviously he was human and yet also divine so he had something more than the rest of us but I think also he would have turned to those Hebrew Scriptures he knew so well. The gospels show us that the book of psalms is one of the key scriptures for Jesus in supporting his ministry. On Good Friday I’m going to be leading the three hours service and we’ll be taking a journey to the cross through the book of psalms. It is a book he quoted and one which, as all young Jewish boys, he would have learned by heart. As a foretaste, this morning, I’d like to explore this passage we heard today through the psalm set for this morning. Psalm 27.
Psalm 27 is one which might well have given Jesus strength and assurance. Like Jesus’ own words, it too is a psalm of certainty, of great faith.
1The 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?
Many of the psalms are words of lament or words of praise but this famous psalm is one which is a declaration of faith and dedication to God.
13I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Not only does the writer declare their own faith but equally exhorts the listeners also to have faith: 14Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
This surety doesn’t come without an awareness of the possible dangers and doubts in life:
3Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.The surety comes not from ignoring doubts and troubles but instead from the determination no matter what to follow the path set by God and a deep devotion to prayer:
4One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.The Psalmist follows God’s path but it doesn’t mean that the path is one which is entirely without problems.
11Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.Knowing all his psalms, I imagine Jesus might have felt his responses to the Pharisees echoed parts of this psalm. He is fully aware of the enemies that are there against him. Yet like the mother hen when danger threatens, Jesus’ concern is not for his own safety but for that of his people, offering his own body as a shield against that which would threaten us. For him there is little space for doubt. Not so for us though.
Like most of us I have times of doubt. Times when I’m not so sure of where I’m going, where the church is going whether God is real enough to make a difference to my life and the world. It might surprise some people to hear doubt not faith being preached from the pulpit but these times of doubt are key for all of us. Without being aware of the doubts and challenges to us we cannot experience the depth of our relationship with God. In our certainty we feel confident to live without relying on God, like those small penguin chicks we can wander off on our own and explore, we can keep on keeping on, never exploring that valley of shadow. It is only in our doubting that we truly turn to God, to seek shelter under God’s motherly wing and be reminded of God’s deep love for each of us and our great need for God.
In a moment we’ll stand and declare our faith, as we rightly should that which WE BELIEVE – a statement of what we as those who stand together across the world as the church believe together (like that great penguin huddle) but with space for each of us in our own time to doubt as well as to believe, to doubt and find God all the more deeply in our doubting, to doubt and find ourselves held up by the faith of others and so more able than ever to say WE BELIEVE
Luke 13:31-35 31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32He said to them, “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. 33Yet 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.’ 34Jerusalem, 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! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Genesis 15.1-13 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”[a] 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD[b] reckoned it to him as righteousness. 7 Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. 13 Then the LORD[c] said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; 14 but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 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,
Psalm 27 1The 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? 2When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh— my adversaries and foes— they shall stumble and fall. 3Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. 4One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. 5For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. 6Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. 7Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! 8“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek. 9Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! 10If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up. 11Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. 12Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence. 13I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 14Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!