FIGHT OR FLIGHT
It was a delight today to share in the baptism of five of God’s precious children. It is one of the pleasures and privileges of being a minister of the Gospel. There are three major identifiable participants in baptism. The first are the families who have brought their child to the church seeking baptism. They make their vows before the church to raise their children in the faith of Jesus. The second is the church that promises to support the family and do its best to provide the resources that are needed to raise godly children in this day and age. And finally, there is God. We don’t ask God to make promises because he’s already done that and we can trust God to be faithful. For God loves us and cares for each of us as his children.
We acknowledge God’s love and care for us. In doing that, we also acknowledge that God calls us to love and care for each other. And that’s what we’re going to talk about this morning. To do that, we’re going to use a story from Luke 13:31-35. It begins like this in Luke 13:31 (NIV): “At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you'”
I want to give you some context so that you can understand what this is referring to. What we know from this verse is that Jesus and his disciples are somewhere in either Galilee or Perea. We know that because those are the two regions controlled by Herod who is the governor of both of these regions. Just to be clear about who we’re talking about, we are not talking about Herod the Great who ruled when Jesus was born. He was a cruel, conniving, power hungry man. When that Herod died, his kingdom was broken up into three sections to be ruled by his three sons: Archelaus, Herod Philip and Herod Antipas. The Herod in this story is Herod Antipas and history tells us that he takes after his father. If you know a bit about New Testament history, this is the same Herod who had John the Baptist beheaded. Not a nice guy.
Nonetheless, the Pharisees, who are some of the religious leaders of the day, are concerned for Jesus’ safety because they have heard rumours that Herod is not pleased with him and wants him dead. And, just to be clear, the Pharisees have connections so they’re probably right. Good of them warn Jesus.
And just to be clear about something else, back in those days it was well within Herod ability, as the governor of the region, to execute anyone he wanted – remember John the Baptist. No one had the right to life except Roman citizens and Jesus was not a Roman citizen. So if Herod says, “Off with his head,” it’s off with his head.”
And so it’s very good that the Pharisees care enough for Jesus to warn him. The only trouble is that this is not Jesus’ style. They are trying to get him to run away from the situation. And to tell you the truth, that’s not always a bad idea. If I heard that someone wanted to kill me, I’d be tempted to go and hide too.
But I clearly am not Jesus. When given the choice between fight or flight, Jesus was not about to fly anywhere.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE HEAD ON
Jesus prefers to stay and fight. He prefers to meet challenges head on. There’s no beating around the bush with him. Listen to what Luke 13:32-33 (NIV) says: “He replied, ‘Go tell that fox, “I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.” In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!”‘”
Jesus isn’t about to run away from any challenge. He isn’t going to avoid confronting a bully even if that bully is the most powerful man in the region. Rather he calls him out and he calls him what he is, a fox. What is a fox? The sense of fox is that Herod is sly and smart and willing to do whatever he has to do to get his own way. That might be a bit unfair to foxes but that’s who Herod is.
Jesus issues a challenge to Herod. He says, “I don’t care about his threats. I am going to stay here, doing what I’m supposed to be doing and if Herod doesn’t like it, he can come here and we can have a little talk about it.” Jesus is not going to stop. He’s going to keep on doing what God has called him to do. No matter what. Why? Because he cares for people. He wants to heal the sick and drive out demons. He loves his people so much that he wants them to be well and whole. He wants them to live full and productive lives because of his great love for them.
We’re called to do the same thing. In the face of threats and bullying, we are called to keep on doing what God has called us to do which is to care for each other. We saw a great example of this in the aftermath of that horrible shooting in New Zealand. I know that all of you were horrified and disgusted by what happened. A crazy guy with guns and lots of rounds of ammunition goes into a mosque in Christchurch – of all places – and starts shooting the place up. The result, of course, was predictable. The initial death toll was forty-nine people with many wounded. We need to pray for those people. We need to pray for their healing and peace in the midst of profound grief. They may not be Christians but they have every bit as much right to worship in peace as do we. They too deserve our prayers and they need our care.
I was moved to hear what people are doing to support the Muslim community in Christchurch. There are prayer vigils being held in many places in New Zealand and around the world. The community of Christchurch is coming together. And this I thought was really neat. The Muslim people are understandably concerned for their safety and about walking around outside. And so non-Muslim – including many Christians – are walking with them to give them a sense of security when they venture outside their homes. I think that would put a smile on Jesus’ face.
The other thing I like is the fact that, like Jesus, more and more people are calling out the sad factions of society that thinks this is okay to hate others, who think that it’s okay to terrorize people to make a point. That’s not okay and it never will be okay. This is the stuff from which we can’t run. This is the kind of stuff that we need to continue to face head on. That’s what Jesus would have done.
UNDER JESUS’ WINGS
The story continues. In Luke 13:34-35a (NIV) Jesus says this: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.”
What’s that all about? Jesus might be in Galilee or Perea but that’s not where he will stay. He will leave the region ruled by Herod but he won’t be leaving because he is afraid or because he is being chased out. He will leave because he has somewhere else to go. He has to go to Jerusalem. There he will be arrested, tried on trumped up charges and executed by being nailed to a cross. But then on the third day he will rise from the dead to defeat the power of sin and break the gates of hell so that through faith in him we will have eternal life. That will all happen in Jerusalem.
But then Jesus says something else that is most interesting. He says, “… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” And suddenly, we go from this really difficult image of Jesus being crucified on the cross to this really tender image of a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings.
Why do hens do that? I suppose there are many reason. To give them warmth when then air is cold. To shield them from the sun and the rain. And to protect them from those who would harm them. Or maybe just because they have a special place in their hearts.
That’s what comes to mind when we think about a hen covering her babies with her wings. It is an image of self-giving love and compassionate caring. It’s how Jesus longs to care for his children. It’s also the way that Jesus wants us to care for one another.
Here at Cottam United Church, we have always been pretty good at caring for others in need. It shows up in many ways. For example, we take about 15% of all of our revenue from all sources and give it to a variety of missions and ministries. We support the Mission and Service Fund of the United Church and everything from the Downtown Mission to the Essex Food Bank and Gleaners locally. And this year, we’ve committed ourselves to supporting Murchadha House, a place right here in Cottam where people with exceptional needs can find a place to belong and thrive. I think we call all agree that Sandy’s presentation last week touched all of us. And so we will advertise the fundraisers and provide meeting space for events in support of Murchadha House. And we will be encouraging people to get involved in any way they can. That’s because it’s important to reach out and to care for those in need as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings.
Between now and the summer, we are going to be really emphasizing the need to reach out in Jesus’ name to those in need. A lot of that will be done with the help of World Vision. That’s because, as you may recall, we also decided at our Annual Meeting last month to take on a World Vision village as our third world mission project. That village is called Montana de Fe and it is located in El Salvador. Quite a few of us have already sponsored children in that village and others are welcome to join us. But if you don’t want to sponsor a child then there are other ways of supporting the project including two events that we are planning this spring.
We’ve already talked a bit this morning about the Matthew 25 Challenge which we will be starting in two weeks. It’s simply a one week program in which everyone can take part. Every day you will be given a new challenge based on a phrase in Matthew 25. Day one, for example, is, “I was hungry and you fed me.” On that day, we remember that many people in the world don’t have enough to eat and so we challenge ourselves to skip a snack during the day and eat a simple dinner. Day two is based on, “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” On this day all you drink is water. And so on for seven days with a different challenge each day. At the end of the seven days, we’re planning a pot luck lunch after worship where we will give people a chance to share what the week was like for them. We will also have family activities for families who want to do it together. And there is four week Bible study that some of our small groups may be interested in using.
And the really fun part of this is that those who have cell phones can sign up to a phone number and every day you will get a text in the morning reminding you of your challenge for that day and also to give you a couple of other texts during the day to encourage you along the way. So, it can be quite interactive. You aren’t often told to turn your phones on and pull them out during worship but we’ll be asking you to do that in two weeks so please bring your cell phone.
The second event will take place on May 25. We’ll be inviting all of the churches in the area and our entire community of Cottam to participate in a 6K Walk for Water. That’s because six kilometers is a common distance for people to walk in the third world to get water for their daily needs. Usually, it’s the girls and women who do this walking once or even twice a day.
To understand what that might be like we are going to go together on a six kilometer walk. Coincidently, if you go out the church, turn left and go around that big block that makes up Talbot St., Marsh Road, the Service Road and back down Belle River Road back to the Church, that is almost exactly six kilometers. That’s the route and if you want to carry some water along the way, you are welcome to do that too. We’ll be telling you more about that event as the day approaches.
But the point of all of this is that Jesus longed to gather the people of Jerusalem under his wings to shelter and protect them – to care for them. We are called to do the same thing with those in need both near and far and we’re going to do our very best to do that. And I think that’s pretty exciting.
I just want to close with the last verse of today’s story. In Luke 13:35b (NIV) Jesus said this: “I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
What this tells us is that as we bless and care for others, so God will bless and care for us. I have been pleased that this year, when we’re actually going through some financial struggles for the first time in ten years, that this congregation is still willing to do these things. It would be really easy to cut back on our missions in order to get our financial house in order. But if we stop caring for those in need, we stop doing the work of Jesus. James 1:27 (NIV) is one of my key verses in the Bible. It says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Or as the one pastor said on the World Vision video we saw earlier this morning, “I’ve never seen a church go broke taking care of children.” How true. That’s because if we are faithful, God is faithful and we simply cannot outgive God.
That’s where faith comes in. Jesus said, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” That promise reminds us that God is faithful. That God will bless us. As he wraps his wings around us and we wrap our wings around each other, his work will be done and we will catch of glimpse of his everlasting kingdom where no one will be hungry and no one will be thirsty and everyone will live in peace and justice will reign.
Each and every one of us has a part
to play in the building of that kingdom, be it large or small. Each of us has
an opportunity to do our part here and now in the name of Jesus.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God of Creation, we praise you for all your mercies and goodness. We thank you for the sounds of laughter and the joy of song. Thank you for this Lenten season as we come together in your name
As your Holy people, we pray for unity within your church. We are called to be one body in Christ. We ask you, God of Love, to help us to break down the denominational barriers that often causes division among us. Bring us together as your hands, feet and voices in a fallen world that needs so desperately to hear your Good News of hope and salvation.
We pray this day, for those who grieve. We remember the family and friends of Blake Collard whose funeral was this past week. Our prayers are also for those who grieve the loss of loved ones in the air crash in Nigeria and also the senseless terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. Bless them, O God, with your peace and wrap them in the love or your wings.
We would ask your blessings upon the world, O God of Creation. In a world of strife, we pray for peace. In a world of darkness, we pray for light. In a world of fear, we pray for love. In a world of suffering, we pray for healing and fulfilment. Lift us up above the problems of our own making and set our feet upon the higher ground when your Spirit would lead us.
You, O God are the Great Physician and we pray for those sick at home or in hospital. We remember especially Sharon and Mary. Bless them with your Healing and Holy Spirit.
Enable us to do your will, God. We
need you to guide us and teach us. Enable us to hear the still small voice
within that calls us to fulfill your purposes in our lives. Your ways are not
our ways. God of Mercy, help us to trust you in all things, without fear. We
pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
March 17, 2019 / Lent 2
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Luke 13:31-35; Philippians 3:17-4:1
CALL TO WORSHIP
God is our Light and our Salvation. We have no need to fear.
God hears us when we call for mercy in times of need.
Let us worship God who blesses us with goodness.
PRAYER OF ADORATION
You, O God, are our protection and our shield. You stand before us to guide our feet along your path. You surround us with your angels to guard us from the forces of evil which threaten our lives. We gather in this house of worship, the inspiration of your Spirit, the work of our hands. Hear us as we pray to you. Listen to our songs of praise and adoration. Fill us anew with a full measure of your awesome Spirit to gift us with life, hope and renewal. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Compassionate God, in spite of your blessings, we have often failed to turn to you. Do not be angry with us when we falter. Do not destroy us when our sin mounts up in heaps of refuse. You know how proud and bitter we can be. You know our arrogance and our conceit, our fears and our failings. We confess them before you. Move us away from our narrow self-concern and fill us with a love for others. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
As a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings, so God gathers us. Be renewed by the power of God’s love. Have the assurance that confessed sins are forgiven and forgotten. In Jesus, we have our salvation and our healing.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
You, God, have given us so much. You even gave us your Son that we might have life. We give our offerings and gifts to you that they may be the means for others to experience new life. Use them for your purpose. Use us for your will. Your kingdom come. Your realm reign forever. Amen.
in the name of Jesus with the sure and certain knowledge that our citizenship
is in heaven where God lives and reigns. Go in the transforming power of the
Spirit to change the world in small and gentle ways.