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Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent – March 13, 2022

Luke 13:31-35

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Throughout the ages there have been all kinds of stories about foxes and hens.

Maybe you heard the one about the fox who got into the hen house and ran around in circles causing the hen to become dizzy. When the hen collapses, the fox captures her in his sack and takes here home, where he plans to gobble her up. But along the way the fox stops to rest. As he is snoozing, the hen slips out of the sack and carefully replaces her weight in the sack with a stone. And so, when the fox gets home and reaches into the sack for his supper, the joke is on him.

In these stories the foxes are inevitably depicted as wily and cunning and deceitful and tricky, employing various clever strategies to fill their bellies with some Chick-fil-A. But in most of these stories the foxes are outwitted by the higher wisdom of the hen. They are foiled by those seemingly awkward, seemingly foolish feathered creatures who end up exercising an unexpected power of their own.

In our gospel reading for this second Sunday in Lent, we see that stories of foxes and hens going after one another go back a long way. They go all the way back to the ancient near east. They go all the way back to the Bible itself!

Today we hear Jesus make some interesting remarks about both himself, and the Roman-appointed king of the Jewish territories, Herod. In making these remarks, Jesus draws on the well-known story lines of the perpetual battle between foxes and hens.

As we heard from Luke’s gospel, when the Pharisees tried to chase Jesus out of town by warning him that Herod wanted him dead, Jesus shot right back, saying: “Go and tell that fox for me that I have ministry here to do. I’m casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”

Herod is described as a fox. He must have inherited his wily ways from his father, Herod Sr. Years ago, when Herod Sr. heard people saying that a new king had been born in Bethlehem, he had every baby boy in that town under the age of two massacred. It was a ruthless and calculating way for a king to try to keep his hold on power. But as brutal and crafty as his strategy was, this fox was outwitted – the newborn king and his parents had fled to Egypt.

Herod Jr. is the fox in this power play, while Jesus casts himself as the hen. As Jesus sets his sights on Jerusalem, he says: “Jerusalem, 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.”

Jesus is the hen in this struggle. He’s like a mother hen who wants nothing more than to protect her chicks under the shelter of her wings.

But there’s a problem – the chicks aren’t willing! The chicks, who represent the people, don’t seem to want anything to do with the mother hen’s wings! They don’t want to be part of a brood!

The people, you see, don’t want to be chicks. They want to be foxes, and so they kill the prophets and stone those sent to them. They’re just like Herod, rejecting anything that threatens their own power, their own autonomy. The children of Jerusalem, the children of every city and every nation, of every time and place, don’t want to be chicks. We want to be foxes.

Being a fox, we think, is a much better proposition than being a chick. Foxes go it alone. They don’t need a whole bunch of other foxes around. Foxes live by their wits. They don’t need anyone telling them what to do. Foxes are free to pursue their own interests. They won’t be bothered with the needs of others – they only need to be concerned about filling their own bellies. Foxes can take care of themselves. They don’t need anyone’s help or protection.

We often bristle at the idea of being gathered together as the helpless chicks of a mother hen. We’d rather go through life manipulating things towards our own interests. We employ every scheme we can come up with in order to maintain a sense of power and control over our own lives. Being a fox must be better than being a ridiculous, needy little chick, right?

But we need to ask – if being a fox is so great, why are so many people hurting? Why do so many people feel so empty inside? Why is there so much loneliness among us? Why is there so much bitterness and pent up anger in our society? Why is there so much conflict and animosity and rancor?

Well, maybe its because we’re all trying to be something we’re not. After all, God didn’t create us to be foxes, he created us to be his brood. He created us to live in community, not to go it alone. God created us to live under his wing, not by our own wits or schemes or strength or power. God created us to be dependent on him, not on ourselves.

Jesus knew what he was doing when he described himself as a mother hen, longing to gather her brood. And when he eventually did make his way to Jerusalem, he showed us the unexpected power of a mother hen.

Hens aren’t usually thought of as powerful creatures. They don’t have claws or fangs. They don’t have the talons that roosters do. They can peck at an enemy, but it is usually no match for a hungry fox. And so, when her brood is threatened, a hen exercises a different kind of power. When a fox comes after her chicks, mother hens have been known to jump in front of them. They will hurl themselves into the jaws of their attackers in order to save their chicks. It isn’t uncommon for people who keep chickens to go out to the coop the morning after an attack and find the mother hen reduced to a pile of feathers, while the chicks are all safe and sound. Those mother hens will give themselves up for the sake of their brood.

This, dear friends, is precisely what our Lord Jesus has done for us. Jesus went on to Jerusalem knowing full well what would happen to him there. And when he arrived, this self-described mother hen hurled himself into the jaws of the worst fox of all. He handed himself over to sin, death, and the devil. On the cross, he gave himself up for our sake. He gave up his life in order to save us. And just as he said, on the third day he finished his work, rising from death to bring us new life.

Such is the strange, unexpected power of this hen. Jesus ultimately defeated the fox by offering himself up for the sake of his chicks. In so doing, Christ has defeated the power this fox has over us. Through his death and resurrection, Christ has set us free to be who God created us to be. We don’t need to pretend to be foxes anymore. We don’t have to fend for ourselves. We don’t have to go it alone. Instead, we can be Christ’s brood.

And as we gather here today as Christ’s brood, he makes a place for us close beside him, where we find the protection of his wings, and the warmth of his never-failing love.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church