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Fabled Grace

2/28/10

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By my 1979 Webster's Unabridged Dictionary God's grace can't be fabled. According to it "fabled" means 1st "mythical" and 2nd "fictitious." The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary, however, lists a 3rd meaning: "renowned" or "famous." In this sense, God's grace in Christ is fabled. Is it to you? Lord willing it will be if you see it unfold fable-like.

Our text has a fox and a Hen like in one of Aesop's Fables. The fox cunningly tries to scare the Hen into a trap. In Aesop's fable the hungry fox calls to the hen perched safely in a tree to come down where he is. In some versions of the fable, the fox points out that there is more food for the hen on the ground with him. Of course, the fox is only interested in the hen for his food. The hen replies that she feels more secure on her perch.

In a show of friendship, some Pharisees come up closely, intimately to Jesus feigning concern for Him because Herod will kill Him if He stays in his territory. Like in the fable, these foxes speak as if their only concern is for the safety of the Hen, but we know it's is a lie. Two years before this Mark 3: 6 reports, "The Pharisees left and immediately started plotting with Herod's men how to kill Jesus." These Pharisees weren't chicken lovers; they were foxes who liked to eat chickens.

What's theirs and Herod's interest in trying to get Jesus to move on? From what Herod says about Jesus elsewhere, he doesn't seem predisposed to kill Jesus. He wanted to see a miracle; he thought He might be the resurrected John the Baptist he had murdered. Herod might be trying to avoid another incident like that. He knows his own followers and the Pharisees want Jesus dead. Herod doesn't want it to happen in his lands. As for the Pharisees interest in moving Jesus on, don't think it was only on Palm Sunday that they realized to avoid a riot of the people Jesus shouldn't be killed during Passover. They knew this all along. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem for the Passover now. If they can get Him there early, they can deal with Him before Passover.

So the fox warns the Hen, but Jesus knows they speak as foxes and not as friends, so the Hen behaves like the mighty eagle. To their assertion that Herod can put an end to Jesus' life and therefore ministry so He must leave, Jesus spreads His wings, eagle-like and says, "No one prevents My ministry of saving bodies and souls from being accomplished."

As Jesus heads to Jerusalem, He is like great ship throwing a wake. On one side Jesus throws a wave of spiritual health driving out the demons of unbelief, misbelief, despair, doubt. On the other side Jesus throws a wave of physical health. Just as if you follow a boat's wake you eventually get to the boat itself, so people could follow the wake of healing souls and bodies to Jesus and what He does in Jerusalem. Jesus is going there to give up His own body and soul to win back, buy back, redeem bodies and souls from sin, from death, and the power of the Devil.

Understand this, bodies and souls, your body, your soul deserves whatever sin, death, or the Devil give it. You can't claim God is unfair. Look into your heart, look at your fallen flesh, see anything but wickedness, unbelief, and evil? Our spiritual blindness deserves physical blindness; our spiritual death calls for physical death; our hatred of God puts us on the Devil's side. These bodies and souls owe not only obedience to God which they can't pay, but payment for their disobedience.

So far in our fabled grace story the fox has threatened the Hen with murder unless He runs like a chicken. Now the Hen rather than "bawk, bawk" like a chicken, screeches like an eagle, "O don't you worry; I'm going to Jerusalem alright; not in an attempt to avoid death but to meet it." Jesus goes to His death willingly. This must be kept in mind as we get ever closer to Good Friday. Scripture says that Jesus came to give His life as a ransom. Jesus laid down His life; nobody took it from Him.

But that is more like a chicken than an eagle. Birds of prey such as eagles are defiant. Watch a show where they're trying to help wounded eagles, hawks, or owls. Those birds are aggressive with beaks and talons. Hens aren't; they run from you, flab their wings, and strain to get away, but they don't really fight back. Jesus in a moment of eagle-like soaring says He won't shorten His ministry to save bodies and souls because of a fear of death, but then He flutters to the ground chicken-like and says He will accept death at Jerusalem.

Death is the price that needs to be paid to redeem, save, forgive us. Bodies and souls have failed to keep God's Laws. The punishment for offending the God who is life is death, and just like a monetary debt, you keep paying on the bill of death until it's paid off. Let's do a little accounting: We've sinned against the eternal God with our bodies and souls. His justice demands compensation. What are you going to pay with? Think the sufferings you do here, think the fact that you believe this life is hell, counts anything before God? No matter what your pain and suffering here, it's still the suffering of a fallen body and soul. How can the suffering or even dying of a sinful body and soul appease the wrath of the eternal, holy God? It can't; that's why those who have nothing to offer except their fallen bodies and souls to take away God's wrath end up in hell forever.

Jesus' body and soul are different. They are truly human, but they are not fallen. Even when tempted by the Devil, Jesus didn't sin. You and I really can't imagine not having bad thoughts, unbelieving fears, this seething mass of sinfulness slithering throughout us. But Jesus didn't. His Father was pleased as can be with Him. His Father loved Him as dearly as any parent loved any child. Yet the Father is the One who has sent Him to Jerusalem to suffer, to die to pay off our debt. Jesus had to have a human body and soul to pay in our place. But it's because He is true God that His suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying can pay for all your sins and take away all of God's wrath that hangs over your head.

In the end the Eagle turns chicken, He spreads His wings out on the cross and dies willing. And there is safety, salvation, and help for anyone and everyone under those wings. Hens not eagles do this. After a prairie fire has torched his land, a farmer walks over it disgusted at the damage. He comes upon one of his hens dead, charred body and kicks it in disgust. Out from under it's wings, run her little chicks, unburned, unharmed.

God's wrath is coming. The day of judgment is at hand, and do you think you can face it alone? Remember how we trembled in the face of a possible global flu? Remember how unnerved we were when the god mammon teetered last year? Remember how shaken we were when God touched the earth but a little and brought a tidal wave to Indonesia, a hurricane to New Orleans, and a earthquake to Haiti? Greater judgments than these are coming, and not one of us can bear them.

And you don't have to. Jesus spreads His mighty wings on the cross and says, under here is safety; under here is salvation until these calamities have passed over. Anything that is God's wrath or judgment in what is to come has already struck Jesus on the cross. These don't fall on us under His wings. To be sure, we will suffer; to be sure it will be frightening, but under the wings of Jesus we're secure in the knowledge that God isn't angry at us; that our sins have already been paid for; that we will be borne to heaven on the wings of an eagle.

Jesus the Hen wants to do this for every person you know regardless of how unbelieving, wicked, or hateful they are. Jesus says of the Jerusalem that would reject Him, ridicule Him, and call for His death, "How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings." No one has to face the wrath of God; no one has to pay for their own sins; no one has to go before the judgment throne carrying their sins of body and soul. Jesus longs to gather everyone without exception under His wings of grace, but some are not willing. Jesus is willing to save all but all are not willing to be saved.

Reject the Hen of salvation and you get the Eagle of judgment. Jesus says, "Your house is left to you desolate." Jesus is speaking around 30 AD. Forty years later the Roman eagle will swoop down on Jerusalem leaving not one stone of the temple standing. So much blood flowed in the streets that horses and men lost their footing. Thousands were crucified. Read about it if you dare. If God did this to the city where He Himself had dwelled for centuries, to the people He had chosen, what will become of cities and peoples He hasn't so favored?

Thanks be to God this isn't Jesus' last word on the matter. He doesn't abandon us to the eagle of judgment; He says His fabled grace is still available even now at this late hour. Jesus says, "You will not see Me, the gracious Hen of grace spreading its wings for your safety and salvation, until you say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."

Some did chant that when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Some could see Jesus coming to save them, coming in mercy not judgment. We know what happened; all fell away; all rejected the dead Chicken on the cross, but then the Chicken rose and began gathering His chicks once more under His wings. And those gathered began early on chanting in the Communion liturgy what we do: "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."

Those who so chant, according to Jesus' promise in this text, again see Jesus the Hen spreading His wings to cover them; again see Jesus the Eagle carrying them far above the judgments on this world; again they hear Jesus the Savior speaking that fabled grace, "There is not one, no not one, that I do not long to gather under My wings of shelter and salvation." Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Second Sunday in Lent (20100228); Luke 13: 31-35