Luke 13: 31-35, Genesis 15: 1-12, 17 & 18
Here we go, another week deeper into Lent, and another week closer to Holy Week and Easter.
Last week I imagine you heard about the temptations of Jesus, and this week’s readings help us to focus on the trust Jesus shows, even though he knows that walking God’s way is walking the road that will lead to the cross.
Jesus shows great courage when he is approached by some Pharisees, who say ‘get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you’. It seems they are wanting to help Jesus to escape from Herod, to run and spare his life, perhaps so that Jesus can continue his teaching and healing ministry.
But Jesus refuses to run. He does not underestimate the power or the malice of Herod – he calls him ‘ that fox’ - nor is he filled with bravado, believing that Herod won’t dare to confront him.
Jesus recognises that his ministry will end, and echoes the forthcoming events of Easter ‘on the third day I finish my work’. Jesus is clear-eyed about the real danger he is in ‘ it is impossible for a prophet to be killed anywhere except Jerusalem’.
He knows the danger, but he will not run from it, because Jesus does not have his own interests at heart.
This is real courage – the word comes from the Latin ‘cor’ – meaning heart. You might dimly remember from school French the term “affaire de Coeur” – an affair of the heart. Courage is not really about your mind or your nerve – it is about your heart. Courage is sticking with what your heart tells you is right.
Faced by those fearing for his life, Jesus speaks from the heart - of his love for the people of Jerusalem, even if they will not listen to the gospel he brings them. Jesus speaks lovingly of the city and its people ‘how often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers its chicks’.
In the face of the violence of ‘that fox’ Herod, Jesus is determined to put himself between the fox and the little chicks who are the people of Jerusalem.
Like a devoted mother, Jesus will give his own life for the lives of his brood.
And as Good Friday approaches, we remember that Jesus gave his life not only for Jerusalem but for us all.
Trusting in God the Father’s purpose for his life allows Jesus to face the fact that his gospel of love and peace will unsettle the political status quo in Jerusalem and will lead to his arrest and trial and death. But Jesus is not about to give up, shut up or run away. Such is the extent of the love of God which he is determined to live out, such is his courage and heart, that Jesus will accept death in due course.
But for a time he will withdraw and he says “you will not see me again until the time come when you say ‘blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’.”. These words will ring out on Palm Sunday as Holy Weeks begins.
Jesus describes his work so far as ‘casting out demons and performing cures’. This is the work of bringing in God’s kingdom, a place where people will be at peace and will be whole and filled with eternal life. The way Jesus talks about death he is clear that his death, too, is part of the work of the kingdom. In order to show the extent of God’s love, Jesus will not flinch from persecution and death on the cross, because he knows that through his death the power of God’s kingdom of love will be displayed. This is a love which will accept our human condition by going all the way to death, and a love which will prove stronger than death on Easter Sunday.
And what are we to make of the strange ritual that Abram carries out, cutting a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtle dove & a young pigeon in two?
This is very like the sort of ritual which people of the Near East in Abram’s time might have performed to settle a deal between two people or between two tribes. The nature of the agreement is – if one of us breaks this pact, we will be cut in two like these animals.
Abram, a stranger in a strange land, is still waiting for God to make good his promise to give him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.
While Abram waits, surrounded by potential enemies, he makes a pact – but this pact is not with another tribe, it is with God. This is another act of trust – Abram decides to place his trust in God, and not in other people. He believes God when he says ‘Do not be afraid Abram, I am your shield.’
Abram, like Jesus, doesn’t rely on his mind to work out the best ally he can find, he relies on his heart and courage to tell him that he should trust God.
So what about us? Do we have the courage to trust in God? Do we rely on what our heart tells us about the God who loves us, or do our minds turn away from the reality of a God who cares?
Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion, said this in a sermon about having the courage to speak out in love:
"It's funny isn't it that you can preach a judgmental, and vengeful, and angry God, and nobody will mind. But if you start preaching about a God that is too accepting, too loving, too forgiving, too merciful, too kind -- you are in trouble!"
We can continue to trust in our own strength, to keep ourselves safe, to avoid the potential danger of ridicule created by putting our lot in with Jesus. When we hear the equivalent of the voices telling us to beware Herod, we can turn tail and run.
Or we can choose to trust and accept the love of God, which we see in the sacrifice of Christ.
We can reach out in prayer to receive his strength and accept our part in God’s kingdom. Like Abram, we can believe that God will be our shield. This may not mean absolute safety and security for our lives, any more than it did for Jesus. But it will mean a place at the table of God’s kingdom and the strength to trust God and seek to do God’s will.
The choice to be courageous this Lent is ours – may God help us to choose well
In Jesus’ name.