Thursday, February 21, 2013

February 24, Lent 2: Herod the Fox and Jesus the Hen

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35

Herod is a fox and Jesus is a hen, and in Exodus, the Lord God is something like a barbecue grill floating above the ground. Such images. What do these images have to do with our salvation? That’s our theme for Lent: What is salvation? What is the sum total of what you want from God? What should God should do for you? "What would God do?" That was the question of Jesus. He had to represent what God would do, and offer the kind of salvation God would offer us.

What kind of salvation did God offer to Abram? Not heaven or hell. Never once in the Old Testament is salvation ever that you go to heaven instead of hell. For 97% of the Old Testament it’s not even about eternal life. The Israelites rejected that when they exited out of Egypt. Think about it. The Egyptians were fixated on immortality. They built their whole economy around it, as the pyramids still give witness. By contrast the Torah and the Prophets are absolutely silent on immortality, and it’s just not part of salvation which God offers in the Old Testament.

Salvation, for Abram, is a son and a place, a son to call his own and place to call his home. He was a resident alien in the land where he was living. He didn’t even have a green card. Yes, he had great wealth, but as for real estate, he didn’t own, he didn’t even rent, he was a guest. He had no piece of ground to leave to his descendants for their security. But that was immaterial as long as he had no descendants. Not one son. This was his humiliation. No child of his own to inherit his wealth, no grandchildren to miss him after he died or to name their own kids after him.

That was the Israelite version of eternal life. To live on through your descendants, through your seed, just like an oak tree, just like in the nature they observed around them. Your life lives on as your seed keeps cycling on through each generation after you. But Abram was a dry branch, an oak tree without acorns, magnificent maybe, but at an end.

Salvation means not just descendants, but descendants living securely in a land of their own. A permanent piece of private property. God promises the land to Abram’s seed. That’s why we call it the Promised Land. The land of the promise was the promise of salvation.

Of course he questions it, both parts of it. Somebody else owns all it already. And I still don’t have a son. Notice that God does not repudiate his questioning. Faith is allowed to question God. As a Dutch hymn says, Nooit kan ’t geloof te veel verwachten, Faith cannot do too much expecting. Your faith can have high expectations, even impossible expectations, so of course your faith will question God, but then you’ll have to accept God’s answer which usually is not much more than this: "You just have to trust me." O God, that again.

What was God’s answer to Abram? In the dream. If I don’t do this you can cut me up and kill me. In other words, "Cross my heart and hope to die." Now how is Abram ever going to cut up and kill God? Well, just by saying that God is dead to him. By not believing any more. Which God allows. All the time. Some God. Some God who does not stand up for himself or defend his honor. Some chicken of a God. Intolerable to Islam. Also inconvenient for the Christian Right.

What’s salvation for the Christians in Philippi? On first glance you might think it’s going to heaven when you die. Well, yes, the New Testament certainly offers eternal life. But it’s not up in heaven with immortal souls. It’s our souls and bodies in the recreated earth, when the Lord’s Prayer is finally fully answered, when "thy kingdom comes on earth, as it is in heaven." Our eternal life is our personal share in God’s eternal kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

The city of Philippi was a Roman military colony, which means a couple things. It means that Caesar was honored in Philippi quite literally as its Savior and its Lord, in those specific words, but more than that, in Philippi Caesar was even worshiped as a god and a son of a god. It also means that some of the Philippians will have been Roman citizens. Not that they lived in Rome, nor that they wanted to end up there, but that their citizenship was vested there, which had implications for their life in Philippi, for their privileges and their protection. Their citizenship carried the protection of the power of the person of Caesar. St. Paul had invoked this for himself when he was put on trial back in Palestine. The fact of their citizenship in Rome had great benefit for their lives in Philippi. It gave them security, a status, and salvation from bodily humiliation.

Many of the Christians in Philippi were not Roman citizens. Like Lydia, the founder of the church. But they knew the system. So St. Paul can encourage them when he writes that their citizenship is in heaven instead of Rome, so that not Caesar but Jesus is their Savior and their Lord. It is a jump, it requires a leap of faith. It is for this life already and also for eternal life. Not for up in heaven but for here within the world today, and also for the world to come. "Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven" both for now and in eternity. It means that salvation is for the world but not of the world. It is this-worldly but it’s not by being worldly that you achieve it, you receive it by the gift of God and in God’s time, when the Lord Jesus "transforms the body of our humiliation to conformity with the body of his glory by his power by which he is able to subject all things to himself." You share his subjection in the salvation of your body and your soul.

The down side is that if you do not live by faith, if you just live to satisfy your appetites, like animals, your end is destruction, both body and soul; you will die just like an animal. St. Paul does not mention punishment in hell, for he did not believe in that. St. Paul is quite clear that "the wages of sin is death," not hell. But still he grieves, he is in tears, he would not have anyone reject this hope and opportunity, those who live as enemies of the cross, who do not desire the promises of God and who do not yearn for the salvation of God. And yet God will not force us. God accepts our rejection. All the time. God does not defend himself. A chicken God.

Jesus is a hen and Herod is a fox. Herod does not want the salvation of Jesus, because he has his own agenda. He wants to be the King of the Jews himself, and if Jesus has a better claim to it he needs him out of the way. But Jesus knows that Herod is a fox, and smart enough to realize that he doesn’t have to take him out himself, because the powers of Jerusalem will do it for him. They will kill him and cook him in their pot. None of them in Jerusalem wanted his brand of salvation either. The erectors of the cross are the enemies of the cross.

The first response of humanity towards God is distrust. And there is no real proof of the salvation of God, not within the world. If you live by your smarts you will not trust it. But to be like a chicken is the point of Lent. As much of a chicken as Jesus was. You do not defend yourself and you suffer your dishonor. You do not protest to be called a miserable offender. No self-respect, no self-defense. Like a chicken in a pot and like God on a cross. Can you accept this kind of God? Please do, because then you can accept the kind of salvation that this God brings.

Why did Jesus do it? Like a hen with her chicks, for passionate love. But to live by such love, without defense, makes you a sitting duck. How did Jesus do it? By his faith. He lived by his faith too. He had to keep believing those same two things I said last week. He had to believe that he himself was the Lord, and he had to believe that God would raise him from the dead. Those two things: Jesus is Lord, and God raised him from the dead. That believe is not a password to admit you into heaven when you die, it’s rather your motto, your wisdom, your algorithm which that keeps saving you through your life, day by day, week by week, and through your death, as it did for Jesus, saving you to keep on living within God’s love.

Copyright © 2013, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

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