By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
2 Lent – February 28, 2010
Read: Luke 13:31-35
Jesus’ opening words in today’s gospel reveal facets of his character often unseen. He’s usually not a name-caller, but when he calls Herod a fox, we hear the weariness in his voice. His speech is direct; he refuses to act from fear. He points to the concrete evidence of his good work: how could anyone object to curing the sick? He’s probably also suspicious: why do the Pharisees who have long opposed him suddenly provide him with thoughtful warnings? Do they have a more selfish motive for running him out of town? There’s bitter irony in his words: Herod mustn’t kill him; that privilege belongs to the religious establishment of Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! It was the temple, more than anything else in Jerusalem, that gave the Jewish people their unique identity. The identity of the Jews was as God’s Chosen People, and the temple was regarded as God’s special dwelling place. It was here that the people came to offer sacrifices and prayers. It was here that the priests sought God’s will for the people of Israel. It was here that Jews from all over the world came to celebrate the great feasts of their faith and to recall the acts of God on behalf of their ancestors. In short, it was at the temple in Jerusalem that God’s presence was most keenly perceived.
But the picture that Jesus presents of Jerusalem in today’s passage is something quite different. He does not regard it as a place of refuge or a place where God’s presence is especially made known. Jesus identifies Jerusalem as the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to it.
My friend shares his story about the movie, the Red Violin. Not much hype about it, but an interesting story. Instead of following someone’s journey through their life as many movies do, in this story we follow the life of a violin as it passes through generations of owners during its 250 year history. Its birth begins in a famous violinmaker’s shop in Europe. Just as the violinmaker prepares to varnish his life’s masterpiece, a servant bursts into the shop, “Come quick! It’s your wife!” His wife is in labor with a breach baby and neither survives. The violinmaker is so grief-stricken that he puts the final coat on his masterpiece and then ends his own life. However, it is but the beginning of the violin’s life.
The story takes us up into a secluded, impoverished orphanage where the violin provides years of enjoyment to young boys in an orphanage. A tragedy at the orphanage frees the violin to one owner after another. On one occasion the violin falls into the hands of a spirited gypsy girl and its minor rousing music provides her comrades hours of respite. A man passes by and hears the violin’s deep, clear tones and once in the hands of this virtuoso, the violin performs before royalty and masses of subjects. Even serfs and servants drink in its deep, somber tones. Yet, a bullet tears deeply into the violin and separates it from its owner.
Years pass, maybe a century, before the violin turns up again. This time it turns up not in Europe but in San Francisco at an old antique shop. A Chinese woman happens by and buys the tattered old violin for her daughter to practice. A generation later the violin lies hidden under the floorboards of this daughter who has grown up and returned to China and has joined the Chinese Communist Party. At this very time the Party decides to purge every trace of Western music and instruments. To be caught with the violin is to have it publicly burned and the owner to be condemned to life imprisonment or death.
How the violin survives the Chinese purge or what ultimately happens to the red violin I’ll leave to your imagination. But what’s interesting about the story is that it takes many lifetimes to keep up with the violin. Each owner has a small chapter to tell about the violin, but no one is capable of possibly knowing all of the entire story or destiny of the red violin, because the violin outlives everyone.
What can we learn from this strange story? First, God is timeless and ageless, so we can boldly trust our aging lives to God. Scripture reminds us, “what is your life? It is a vapor, like morning fog—ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It’s true that any of us are but a stroke away, an unseen stop sign away, a slip on the ladder, an illness away from eternity. We’re the temporary owners of our life—just like that red violin. We are stewards of a borrowed life. But the Covenant means that God took our limitations of sin, suffering, and weakness upon himself. And in exchange, God placed us into Christ. This morning, right now, our sins are forgiven—in Christ. We are set free—in Christ. We will live forever with God—in Christ.
Jesus was correct in identifying Jerusalem as a city that kills prophets. And still he went there. Why? Did he have some sort of death wish? Was it an act of sheer suicide? Not at all. His motivation is made clear in our text today. No sooner does he denounce Jerusalem as a prophet-killer than he adds, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!”
These are words of compassion, not judgment. They are words of mourning, not anger. It may be intentional that fox and hen are used as the images in this story. Recall Jesus’ name calling – Herod is a fox. The fox and the hen. A hen is essentially defenseless against a fox but will do anything to protect her chicks, her children.
A farmer tells a story about the day that the hen house burned down on his grandpa’s place just down the road. Ike arrived just in time to help put out the last of the fire. As he and his grandfather sorted through the wreckage, they came upon one hen lying dead near what had been the door of the hen house. Her top feathers were singed brown by the fire’s heat, her neck limp. Ike bent down to pick up the dead hen. But as he did so, he felt movement. The hen’s four chicks came scurrying out from beneath her burnt body. The chicks survived because they were insulated by the shelter of the hen’s wings, protected and saved even as she died to protect and save them.
“How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…”
This morning, once again, Jesus Christ calls you and me. He calls us to the shelter of his protecting wings. He calls you and me to the safety of his arms stretched out for us on the cross. He calls us to trust him, no matter what our fears, hurts, or troubles; to trust that his outstretched arms are strong enough, his wings broad enough to keep us safe.
And in the shadow of those wings we are saved. AMEN
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