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Three Modes of Gathering (sermon for Lent 2)

February 19, 2016

Buff Bantam Hen {Gallus gallus domesticus} with nine of her ten chicks, 2-days-old. The tenth chick is under her

Philippians 3:17- 4:1           

Luke 13: 31-35

 

I must be on my way… says Jesus. It’s interesting to remind ourselves of the direction Jesus has been taking in Luke so far this year          

 

He is baptised and immediately goes into the wilderness and for 40 days he deals with three temptations to his career. Will he be sidelined into the provision of material needs (bread alone)? Will he be sidelined into the political arena (kingdoms of the world)? Will he be sidelined into show business (jump off the temple)? Good things, potentially, you might say, but ultimately distractions. Jesus will not be distracted from the main thing. So he goes on and announces the main thing in Nazareth: a vision of God and a calling of God for the most vulnerable and weakest in the world. As a result he is nearly killed by the folk he grew up with. That must have been traumatic! They drag him to a cliff top and are about to throw him off. And suddenly, we read, ‘he passed through the midst of them and went on his way

 

And so begins his ministry … he goes on his way to heal lives, he goes on his way to liberate people from the demons that hold them captive and take over their lives, he goes on his way with good news for the outcasts and lives in companionship with the outcasts … and his main enemies, it seems are the most religious people.

 

And then today’s readings catches our attention. Some of these very same religious leaders, some Pharisees seem, surprisingly, to be on Jesus’ side. They come to him and say

“Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

Jesus is not impressed by their apparent good intentions:

“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, (that same phrase again) because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 

We don’t know why they are warning Jesus. We don’t know whether they are secretly in cahoots with Herod. But we do know that Jesus is not that worried. He’s going to die anyway in Jerusalem. The episode in Nazareth has made that clear.

 

But that phrase is important … I must be on my way. His way is not going to be determined by Herod. He will go to Jerusalem but in control of his own timetable. He’s not anxious about Herod the Fox. He has kingdom of God on his mind.

 

The question for us is Will we follow? He is on his way. His way is unique. He follows his Abba (in the spirit of ‘star trek’) where no one has gone before. He gathers folk in a way that no one has gathered them before. He is unafraid of death in a way that no one has been unafraid before. Will we follow?

 

Herod the Fox and his friends will catch up with Jesus at Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the centre of the nation. It is also where the nation meets Rome. Jerusalem gathers people for a stoning. Jerusalem is the place to gather around the enemy and get rid of him. It is the centre of power. It is the centre of violence. As a capital city represent the way a nation gathers together. Jesus has a place in mind to meet with Herod and his tribe.

 

Jesus too, in a completely different way, seeks to gather his people together.

 

In contrast to Herod the Fox he likens himself to a Hen gathering her chicks under the protection of her wings. It’s a great contrast. The fox and the hen… who has no protection… just open wings for the people of God. Its the most feminine imagery we have of Jesus. Very appropriate for this Women’s Institute day. There he is in Jerusalem with his arms wide open, like a hen with wings ready to enclose the chicks. That’s his deep desire. But the tragedy is that the people are not willing to be gathered.

 

What does all this mean for us?

 

Paul writing to the Philippians has slightly different language but I think he is talking about the same thing. Where the gospels talk about disciples (mathetes) who follow thus unique way, Paul talks about imitators (mimetes). Imitators are people of the cross of Jesus – they have the mind of Jesus, they let go of power over others and humble themselves like he did even to death on a cross. In verse 17 Paul invites the Philippians

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me (or better ‘be born anew in imitating with me’), and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.  

“Their God is the belly”. That’s a very evocative phrase for those who are enemies of the cross of Christ. Where the imitators of Christ gather with Paul, there are also enemies of the cross gathering differently. It is ultimately a destructive way of gathering. It is not sustainable.

What I see as a thread in our readings today are three ways of gathering people together – three kinds of unity.

 

1. Jesus gathers people like a mother hen with her chicks. His is a mode and a journey of humility and vulnerability. He lives with the poor for the sake of Abba who has good news for the poor and he gathers them into his vulnerable communion.

 

2. Herod and Jerusalem gather people around a common enemy. They stone the prophets. They create a community by doing so. We find our unity because we all hate Donald Trump, or because we all hate Sadam Hussein or because we all hate John Key. It doesn’t matter who… it’s a mode of gathering people.

 

3. The enemies of the cross that Paul talks about find their unity because their god is the belly. Their common commitment to consumption unites them. They form a society based on an ever greater commitment to consuming more and more. There’s a technical term that theoreticians of the new capitalist economies use to describe the ideal citizen of our society. That citizen who keeps the show going is called a ‘self-interest maximiser’. Implicit in this is the idea that the welfare of all depends on it. The essence of capitalism as a religion which gathers people is this ‘our god is our belly’.

 

Maybe that’s why at Lent it increasingly makes sense to symbolise our friendship with the cross by giving up some kind of addictive form of consumption. It’s not puritanical self-punishment… perhaps… perhaps its a symbolic gesture, a reminder – a reminder of how God gathers us, and how differently he gathers us from the way our society gathers us, week in week out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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