God the Hen, Herod the Fox

God the Hen, Herod the Fox

Psalm 27

Alan Claassen

This one of the great challenges of being human; standing on the edge of the awareness of our finitude and yet choosing the amazing place of being alive.

Standing on the edge of

our memories of loved ones, who are no longer with us,

ones we love who are facing illness that may be terminal

or injuries that restrict our movement

or our awareness of the foxes of the world that breathe out violence,

          and wanting to still choose to be fully alive

          wanting to live as if we are on the road to the land of the living

          where life will be as it was meant to be.

          Where does that vision, that strength, and that courage come from?

“I believe that I shall see, the goodness that was meant to be,

               In the land of the living.

       Let your heart take courage.

               In the light, of love.”

       Psalm 27 is my favorite Psalm.

       These words are like spiritual medicine.

       Our spiritual well-being is strengthened if we include this message of love and light, protection and courage among our daily vitamins.

       Our muscles of our soul will be strengthened when our daily practice includes remembering the source of all creation, remembering whatever anchors us to something solid, remembering a sacred place or community that can hold all the emotions we are feeling.

        If take scriptures such as these verses from Psalm 27 deep into our heart and soul they will be ready to help us in times of the stress, and storms of life.

       I once saw a documentary on PBS about hurricanes and there was a story of a woman who was carried twelve miles out into the sea and back. The entire time she was in the water she said the 23rd Psalm, over and over again, and prayed that God would be with her.

       Now all sorts of tragedies happen to people who pray, so remembering a Psalm is not a miraculous cure that can work in every situation. But I believe, that because this woman held on to Psalm 23, she was able to keep hanging on to the hope that she would survive. In this case, her faith in God may truly have been her salvation.

       Having Psalm 23 in the core of her being kept her eyes focused on hope.

       Psalm 27 has the same message.

       The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?  

       For the writer of this Psalm, salvation is very immediate.

       Salvation is health, wellness, trust, now.

       It is a daily experience.

       It’s a way of seeing the world no matter what the broken world is seeing.

       Salvation is confidence, is patience, is trust, in the midst of being carried out to the sea of injustices and frustrations and disappointments of this life; the times when we grieve over the losses we have to endure because we have taken the risk of loving. Psalm 27 is a good friend to have in one’s spiritual medicine chest.

       I remember sharing with a member of a church that I was serving many years ago that Psalm 27 was my favorite Psalm, and he said it was his also,

       Though his favorite verses in the Psalm were different than mine, which was puzzling to me. I was drawn to the passages of love, light and living.

       My friend, was drawn to the verses:

               “When evil doers assail me… they shall stumble and fall.”

               “Though a host encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.”

               And, “Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;

               for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.”

       For my friend these passages meant a lot to him because there were times in his life when he had enemies who slandered him, there were times when he knew people were lying about him and it felt very violent.

       And these words of the Psalmist comforted my friend because he believed there was a deeper truth, a deeper source of strength and righteousness that would guide him and protect him. And these words gave my friend strength because they were his words. The Psalmist, like a great blues singer, was singing his experience.

       He wasn’t alone. And he was guided to respond in a way that was non-violent, honest, and compassionate.

       Heard the words of the Psalmist again,

       “Teach me thy way, O Lord; and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

       Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;

       for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.”

       My friend had to ask himself:

       What shall I breathe out in response to these attacks?

       Do I breathe out fear? I don’t want to.

       Do I breathe out violence in defense? I don’t want to.

       Protect me, O Lord. Lead me not into temptation. Lead me away from violence. Lead me on a level path.

       Another way to put it is this:

       To respond to pain, not with fear or judgment,

       but instead with compassion or mercy.

       This is the level path: to respond to violence without resorting to violence.

       This is the path that sustains life, even in the face of death.

       This is the path of Jesus. This is the path of prayer-focused living

`     which becomes the source of healing and strength, hope and courage.

Baptized in the Holy Spirit in river Jordan,

       tested by the Holy Spirit in the wilderness,

       returning to the world with the light of God within him,

       Jesus proclaimed good news to those without power,

       which was bad news to those who had power.

       Jesus proclaimed the power that comes from the place of no fear.

       And so when some Pharisees came running up to Jesus with a warning that Herod wanted to kill him, because Herod was threatened by this wandering rabbi

who was healing the sick, and preaching a gospel of good news for the poor.

       Jesus responded from the place that the Psalmist sang about,

        “The Lord is my light and my salvation who shall I fear,”

       and Jesus said you tell that fox, Herod, this news:

       I am going to keep on walking, keep on talking, keep on healing, keep on teaching, today, tomorrow and the day after that.

       And then Jesus cried out for Jerusalem,

       He cried out for humanity,

       When are we going to see that we all have, all that we all need?

       There is bread enough; there is room enough,                    

       there is land enough; there is water enough,                 

       there is compassion enough for everybody.

       And then Jesus shares a wonderful, fully feminine image of God.

       Having just called Herod a fox, Jesus imagines God, as the hen in the yard,

       wings outspread, gathering in the chicks under her wing, protecting the   innocent, at the likely cost of her own life.

       This just like Jesus who turns all cultural norms and expectations on their head; for Jesus, the hen has more power than the fox.

       It is a power that begins by caring for the least among us so that all are fed.

       It is a power that remembers the teachings of the prophets, and that is what scares Herod the most, for the prophets condemned the king who would take advantage of the poor.

       It is power that can be both merciful and strict.

       Just like a mother hen, who loves her chicks.

Jesus, filled with the light of God’s love for all creation, walking the path of nonviolence, and preaching a gospel of good news for the poor, and made his radical action plan healing the sick, feeding the hungry and clothing the clothes-less and housing the homeless, and welcoming the stranger.

Jesus did not let the overwhelming power of Herod stop him; but neither will he heed the Pharisees advice to run away, to avoid the conflict.

       Jesus saw something different. Jesus saw the vision he received at his baptism:

       We are all beloved.

       Believing that he was called to share that vision of humanity with humanity,

       knowing that in sharing that prophetic vision he would make enemies,

       and trusting that he was protected,

       not from death, but from fear,

       he kept on walking, this day, tomorrow and the day after that.

       At the beginning of this sermon I mentioned a woman carried out to sea 12 miles and back. How many times must she have thought about letting go of that little raft that carried her? And yet, she held on.

       How many times must Jesus have despaired over the wide gap between what he saw as a real possibility for humanity and what he saw in Jerusalem.

       And yet, he kept on walking, preaching, healing, right into the city of Jerusalem.

       Our call is not to save Jerusalem, though we can pray for her, and all cities to live in peace.

       Our call is just about as wide as our wings can reach.

       Our call is to be the body of Christ in this community.

       Like a mother hen we can be peacemakers, courage teachers, bread-makers,

       in that little bit of the world that we can reach.

       Our call is to accept the love that gathers us in, protects us, provides for us,

       and guides us on the level path.

       Our call, as the body of Christ is to live the resurrection,

       And whisper this message to Herod, wherever he is these days,

       The work that Jesus began will be completed.

       Today, tomorrow, and the day after that.

Let the people say Amen.


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