Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Can You Imagine a Castle on a Cloud?

Reflections for Easter Sunday
Isaiah 65:17-25; John 20:11-18
March 27, 2016
© 2016

If you had the power to fix whatever you think is wrong with the world, what would your new world look like? Artists often express these dreams with great eloquence.
Candy and I saw the Les Miserables movie at Christmas 2012, having seen the stage play years ago in Philadelphia. Young Cosette’s song Castle on a Cloud is her dream of escaping abusive servitude and drudgery. In the church I served in New Jersey, it was sung by the school choir at the funeral for a girl killed in an auto accident on her 13th birthday.
There is a castle on a cloud,
I like to go there in my sleep,
Aren't any floors for me to sweep,
Not in my castle on a cloud.
There is a room that's full of toys,
There are a hundred boys and girls,
Nobody shouts or talks too loud,
Not in my castle on a cloud.
There is a lady all in white,
Holds me and sings a lullaby,
She's nice to see and she's soft to touch,
She says “Cosette, I love you very much.”
I know a place where no one's lost,
I know a place where no one cries,
Crying at all is not allowed,
Not in my castle on a cloud.
John Lennon’s Imagine has become the anthem of a generation and identifies religion, nationalism, personal property and the expectation of life after death as the sources of injustice and suffering that need to be abolished. All of this is packaged as a winsome, lyrical invitation to dream.
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world
You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one
Isaiah 65:17-25 envisions God’s renewed world. This vision of hope answered the disappointments that came when the people of Judah returned from captivity in Babylon and realized that it did not inaugurate the ideal world. Through the prophet, God promised a new heaven and a new earth, which is echoed again in Revelation 21:1. In a time when life was short and any hint of personal, eternal life was vague at best, the defeat of death was longevity measured by centuries and the age of trees. No longer would people work to enrich others but would enjoy the fruits of their own labors. The end of suffering and weeping is also echoed in Revelation 7:17. God will not only protect but rejoice and delight in all who live on God’s holy mountain.

For centuries people have concocted all sorts of silly speculations about Mary Magdalene, though what the New Testament tells us about her seems more than fascinating enough to me. She is the main character in the account of Jesus’ resurrection in John 20. She, probably with a few other women, was the first to arrive at the empty tomb at dawn. She ran to tell Peter and probably John that Jesus had been taken out of the tomb. Peter and John ran to the tomb but returned to the others without seeing Jesus. Verses 11-18 report that …
… Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means MY Teacher).17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Mary’s experience with the risen Jesus was intensely personal. Whether the other women were there at that moment, John focused on the personal encounter between Mary and Jesus. Mary recognized Jesus when he spoke her name, and she called him “my teacher.” Emotionally overwhelmed, she clung to him, not wanting to let him out of her grasp ever again. He said, “Don’t hold onto me.” Something bigger was coming. He said, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God,” bringing together the personal and the cosmic.
Mary ran to proclaim, to preach to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” Thus, as the first eye witness to proclaim having seen the risen Jesus, she is called the first apostle and the apostle to the apostles. Legend has it that she once had an audience with the Emperor Tiberius and told how she met the risen Jesus. The Emperor replied that no one could come back to life after a Roman crucifixion any more that the egg on the table could turn red. The story is that the egg on the Emperor’s table instantly turned red, and so many Eastern orthodox icons of Mary Magdalene show her holding a red egg.
The risen Jesus invites us to join him in God’s future that is at once personal and cosmic, immediate and eternal.
I may have told you before of hearing Fr. Thomas Hopko speak on the spiritual life when he was Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in New York. He said that when he was a boy, his mother told him, “If you want to grow as a Christian, read your Bible, say your prayers, and go to church.” Then he said to us, “Now I am the dean of a seminary training people for a lifetime of ministry, and I tell them to read their Bibles, say their prayers and go to church.” As simplistic as it may seem, Jesus meets us in the pages of Scripture, in the quiet conversation of prayer and in the community of God’s people of faith.
Jesus also calls us out of ourselves to be his partners in his redemptive repair of this broken world. He invites us bringing join him in the world of struggling people he is loving and transforming, into his cosmic redemption of all humanity and all creation. Here in Albany, TX, I have observed this in those who volunteer with Vittles by Vehicle, Closet Angels, Neighbors in Need, the Food Pantry. By look into the faces of the hurting, wounded people around us, they do much more than extend the love of Jesus to them, they join Jesus in his redemptive mission for all people in all times and all places. Beyond that, they see Christ looking back at them and smiling at them through their tears.

What is in Your Heart Comes Out

A Good Friday Meditation
Psalm 22:1-15; Mark 15:33-41
March 23, 2016
© 2016

In over 40 years as a pastor, I have been with a lot of people while they were dying, sometimes even at the moment of their passing. Christopher was 35 years old and dying of brain cancer. He had agreed with his parents that when hospice told them his last day had come, they were to invite me and the young adult group from church to be with them. He had been a runner in his healthier years and asked his parent to play a song called “He Finished the Race” when they could tell he would be breathing his last, which they did. Sad? Of course! But this was a most holy moment. What was in his heart came out. Sometimes what comes out as someone dies is angry cursing, but sometimes sweet peace comes out even in pain. It all depends on what was already in the heart.
Mark 15:33-41 reports what came out of Jesus’ mouth from his heart as he breathed his last. It had different effects on those who were there to witness it.
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
40There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
The bystanders misunderstood and thought Jesus was calling the prophet Elijah to rescue him. They mocked his words as foolish.
The centurion recognized Jesus was God’s Son in the loud cry of his last breath.
I believe we know a lot of what Jesus said from the cross because the women witnessed it and reported it. They recognized that even their presence couldn’t relieve the acute abandonment Jesus felt in those three dark hours.
We typically think of Psalm 22 as prophesying the details of Jesus’ crucifixion. That certainly makes sense, but I think that by Jesus’ quoting Psalm 22 from the cross we can see deep into his heart. This is not the only Scripture or Psalm Jesus quoted during his ordeal. Jesus’ heart was so full of Scripture that he could draw on it for spiritual sustenance each step of the way, even in the three hour darkness of being abandoned by his Heavenly Father.
Psalm 22 gave Jesus an honest, intense way to respond to the pain of his abandonment. He didn’t have to pretty it up with pious words. He could draw on Scripture to express his most excruciating pain. He didn’t have to struggle to compose appropriate words. He could draw on the words of Scripture already in his heart.
That same Psalm also gave him a way to hang onto trusting his Heavenly Father in the face of feeling total abandonment and alienation. It gave him a way to appeal to his Heavenly Father in his moment of extremity.
Sometimes when we are at the extremities of our lives, feeling abandoned by friends, family and even God, we are afraid to express our emotions honestly. If we will fill our hearts with Scripture, especially the Psalms, we can receive from God honest words to express our pain and struggle to trust, knowing that since they come from Scripture, they are acceptable to God. I would also say that by filling our hearts with Scripture, we supply the Holy Spirit with raw material to bring into our minds and out of our mouths for every circumstance of life from deepest grief to most exalted joy.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

God Meets Us in the Spaces Between … Humiliation and Exaltation

Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 19:29-44
March 20, 2016 – Palm Sunday
© 2016

Palm Sunday is a bitter-sweet day in the liturgical calendar. We want to welcome Jesus with cheers and not think too much about what’s coming on Friday. Those who don’t have a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday experience jump from “Hosanna!” to “He is risen!” without the Last Supper, praying in the Garden, trial and crucifixion. The seemingly anonymous overseers of the liturgical calendar have tried to remedy this by inserting Passion Sunday to focus on the events around Jesus’ crucifixion either the fifth or sixth Sundays in Lent. Few churches want to give up Palm Sunday festivities on the sixth Sunday, and observing crucifixion on the fifth Sunday, a week before Palm Sunday, is disturbingly out of rhythm.  
I have heard plenty of Palm Sunday sermons about fickle people who shouted “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday and “Crucify!” on Good Friday. Unique among the Gospels, Luke is clear that these were two different groups. Vocabulary that is apparent throughout Luke becomes blatant from Palm Sunday through Good Friday. Luke calls those who welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday “the people” or “the disciples,” meaning all of his followers not just the Twelve. And Luke calls the mob that cried for his crucifixion “the crowd.” Our English translations don’t always make this as clear as it is in Greek.
While John 12:12 emphasized that pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for Passover went out to greet Jesus on Palm Sunday, Luke emphasized those who had followed Jesus from Galilee and witnessed his deeds of power shouted praises as they approached Jerusalem. This is not a conflict but the bitter-sweet way Luke 19:29-44 sets the stage for Jesus’ response as he came around the Mount of Olives for a panoramic view of Jerusalem.
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry concludes the transition we have been watching through Lent from Jesus’ ministry in Galilee to his destiny with the cross in Jerusalem. In this space, Jesus was teaching on the go and had become increasingly pointed, foreshadowing the climatic confrontation with the Temple leadership in Jerusalem.
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”34They said, “The Lord needs it.”35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
41As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.43Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side.44They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
For Luke, the bitter-sweet of Palm Sunday was not fickle people but that Jesus’ disciples enthusiastically shouted his praises, oblivious to his weeping over Jerusalem. Contemplating this incongruity opens a vista into our spaces between humiliation and exaltation, where we can listen for the voice of God to identify our growth zones.
Matthew 21:5 quotes Zechariah 9:9 to specify that Jesus purposely chose to ride a donkey as a sign of humiliation. Jesus presented himself, not as a conquering hero on a white horse but as a servant riding a beast of burden.
In the midst of the exhilarating exaltation of the cheers of his disciples, Jesus was insulted by the Pharisees. Even deeper, his humiliation was knowing that he would not be recognized by the Temple leaders in Jerusalem. He wept for the fate of Jerusalem. If only they recognized him!
In that space between humiliation and exaltation, Jesus yearned for the people of Jerusalem, and I believe for us to identify where we are growing in the things that make for peace: faith and harmony with God.
Philippians 2:5-11 is clearly a hymn of the New Testament Church. Scholars speculate whether Paul inserted a known hymn to make his point or whether he composed it himself. I’m inclined to think Paul used something the Philippian church already sang in worship, but I don’t think it matters. But recognizing how Paul introduced this exquisitely theological praise is critical. “Let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Paul is purposely practical!
Jesus leads the way for us through humiliation to exaltation. When you think you deserve some respect or appreciation, remember you are following the one who emptied himself of divine prerogatives to ride a donkey to the cross, weeping, not for himself but for people who couldn’t recognize the things that made for peace.
In your spaces between humiliation and exaltation, how can you listen for the voice of God to identify your growth zones? We may squirm, but these are not deficiencies as much as the zones where the Holy Spirit is encouraging us to grow. Do you feel your hackles coming up when someone challenges you? Maybe it’s when you’re sure you’re right and someone else tells you that they’re sure you’re wrong. Maybe it when you’ve made a decision that affects other people and someone questions your right or authority to make that decision. Behind the noise of your own heart, can you hear the whisper of Jesus saying, “Here is where you are growing now”?
Much has been made of Pope Francis being the first Latin American Pope, the first Jesuit Pope and the first Pope to choose the name Francis. Francis of Assisi never aspired to be a parish priest or bishop, much less a Pope. In fact, he clashed with Popes. Yet in 1208 Pope Innocent III had a dream of the Church sliding off its foundations, stopped by the little monk, Francis. I have seen Giotto’s fresco of that dream in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. Francis refused to be called the leader of the Friars Minor, “Little Brothers.” We know them as the Franciscans. Francis would have been horrified to have something named after him. He even refused to be the leader of the band of 12 brothers with whom he lived and served. Though others recorded some of Francis’ sermons, teachings and prayers (some of which are more legendary than historical), he never wrote with the idea of leaving a legacy. Nevertheless, Francis is one of the most influential Christian since the apostolic age. While claimed by Roman Catholics, Protestants and even non-Christians love Francis. Legend has it that in 1219, during the 5th Crusade, Francis crossed enemy lines for an audience with the Sultan of Egypt who is reported to have said, “If more Christian were like Francis, I would consider becoming one.”
For centuries the Jesuits and Franciscans have been rivals, making Pope Francis’ choice of that name extraordinary. Francis of Assisi shows us the journey through humiliation to exaltation.
From Luke’s bitter-sweet account of Palm Sunday, as you join the cheers of the multitude of Jesus’ disciples, can you also watch Jesus weeping and hear him whisper, “These things make for peace. You are growing here.”

Saturday, March 12, 2016

God Meets Us in the Spaces Between … Then and There, Here and Now

Isaiah 43:16-21; John 12:1-8
March 13, 2016
© 2016

My friend Caela is a pastor in Kansas. She and her husband David have two boys. While watching his Mom read the news on the internet, then three year old Maitland said, “Oh, I see the Pope! Pope Francis. He is a pastor, just like my Mama.” Of course, he is too young to grasp the many layers of irony that make us laugh at his observation. Yet, making the connection between a married, woman Protestant pastor and the Pope surrounded by centuries of tradition and trappings is something of a metaphor for living between the then and there, here and now.
We all know that as an interim pastor I will be with you for a brief but important time. Candy and I are also aware of living between our then and there, here and now. We’ve begun checking off the lists of what we need to do for the next steps of our journey. During Holy Week Candy will be with our son David’s family in Milwaukee and hopes to see her Dad to dovetail our plans together.
Today’s Scripture is about emerging from the past so we can embrace the future. It can help us listen for God in the spaces between then and there, here and now.
Providing pastoral leadership and care while the Search and Call Committee looks for another pastor is only part of the ministry of an interim pastor. Equally important is creating a space between pastors that insulates the new pastor from comparisons with the previous pastor. In my time with you, I hope I am helping you listen for God in between pastors.
Isaiah 40-55 was pointedly applicable to Judah’s Babylonian Exile and prepared them to return to their homeland. 43:16-17 recalls God opening the Sea (of Reeds) so they could escape Egyptian slavery on dry ground. But when they were captives in Babylon, a desert rather than a sea was the barrier they would have to cross to get to freedom. Instead of dry land through the sea, God would make a river in the desert; instead of a pursuing army, God would use a pagan King to launch and finance their return to the Promised Land.
The prophet asked Judah, “Do you not perceive the new thing God is doing through you?” Seen from a New Testament perspective, Judah’s return from Babylon was far greater than the Exodus from Egypt, as it set in motion the coming of the Messiah. On a congregational scale, I am convinced God is saying to this congregation, “In your space between pastors, the future I have awaiting you will far exceed the best of your past. I’m about to do a new thing. Can you not perceive it?”
What new thing can you see God doing around you?

Lent, also, is a space between then and there, here and now. We look back at our spiritual struggles and wandering, and we look ahead to redemption and resurrection. Lent is an annual reminder that we are neither chained to our past nor fully living our future. In Luke’s Gospel, we’ve been following Jesus through the spaces between his Galilean ministry and his redemptive mission at the cross. Today we jump to John 12:1-8 for a poignant, personal glimpse into one of those spaces. All four Gospels record a woman anointing Jesus. Scholars love to debate the identity of the women and the exact occasions of the anointings. That could be another fun Bible study, but too detailed for a sermon. I will tell you this much. I believe Luke 7 was a different woman much earlier in Jesus’ ministry. Matthew 26 and Mark 14 are almost certainly reporting the same incident. While I can’t prove it, I suspect John 12 is the same woman and incident as Matthew and Mark, that John has told in his own way of making the dramatic transition to the events of Holy Week.
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
The dinner for Jesus at Bethany seemed to be out of gratitude for the raising of Lazarus. Though unlikely that Mary bought the perfume thinking of Jesus’ burial, he pointedly turned it into a stark precursor of his death.
When Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 15:11 about always having the poor, both the context of that verse and his own life, preclude using it to rationalize withholding generosity from the poor. By saying “you do not always have me,” he focused this occasion on his coming death.
For Mary to anoint and let her hair down in public to wipe the feet of a man who was not her husband was scandalous intimacy. I believe I hear the voice of God in the spaces between the past and the future inviting us to a similarly close relationship with Jesus.
In Isaiah 43:21, God called Judah “the people I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” Each time we see Mary of Bethany, she is an icon of deep closeness with Jesus: the dinner in Luke 10:38-42, the death of her brother Lazarus in John 11:28-33 and the anointing we read today.
Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10-11 that he wanted “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” He wasn’t thinking of a seminary degree. He wanted to be so absorbed in Jesus that he could live every day by the power of Jesus’s resurrection.
Paul also knew that for Jesus’ resurrection to be his daily reality, not just a past event or future hope, he would also share the fellowship of his suffering. To be with Jesus in the spaces between then and there, here and now is to be with him wherever people suffer as you journey toward the future with hope.

Friday, March 4, 2016

God Meets Us in the Spaces Between … Previous and Next

Genesis 15:1-12; Luke 13:31-35
March 6, 2016
© 2016

Listen to this quote and think about who might have written it and when. “Our earth is degenerate in the latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common. Children no longer obey their parents. Everyone wants to write a book, and the end of the world is evidently approaching.” Does this sound like some Christian doomsday prophecy preachers? Every few years another one writes a book. Or maybe a commentary on our current election cycle. We know that Socrates and others made similar observations about the impending collapse of Greek and Roman culture over 2,000 years ago. This was quoted from an Assyrian clay tablet dated to 2800 BCE, 4800 years ago – closer to Abraham than to us. (Chicago Tribune December 9, 2012 quoted by Christian Century, January 9, 2013, p. 9)
Rather than dismissing our present anxieties by comparing them to ancient anxieties, I want to ask, how can we keep believing God has a redemptive plan when generation after generation sees so much doom?
Whom do you trust when the dark spaces in life seem interminable?
What do you hear when you listen for God in the dark, interminable spaces of life? Many spiritual giants through the generations have faced what St. John of the Cross called the dark night of the soul. I expect some of you have had experiences you think of in the same way.
When you heard the story in Genesis 15, did you think, “That’s strange?” At that time, when two nomadic chieftains made a treaty, they each brought an animal which they cut in two and holding bloody hands walked between the halves of the animals before offering half of each animal as a sacrifice to each of their patron gods. When our English translations of the Hebrew Scriptures say “made a covenant,” the literal translation would usually be “cut a covenant.”
In the Bible fire and smoke are often signs of God’s presence. Here the smoking fire pot and flaming torch that pass between the halves of the animals signify that God alone is responsible for keeping the covenant with Abram.
Though Abram does nothing to show he was responsible for the covenant, verse 6 says, “He believed the Lord and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” This may be the most important single line in the entire Bible.
About 1400 years after Abram, the prophet Habakkuk (2:4) made it the core of God’s expectations of all people, “The righteous will live by their faith.” The New Testament traces the Gospel to this seed in Romans 1:17; 4:3; Galatians 3:6,11; Hebrews 10:38; James 2:23.
The usual English translations say Abram “believed the Lord.” We tend to use “believe” to mean agreeing that something is true. So we speak of believing in God as meaning we believe God is real. But Genesis makes an entirely different point that could probably be better translated “Abram trusted the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
Abram trusted God’s covenant promise of descendants and land, even though both seemed impossible. Abram and Sari were well beyond childbearing years. They were landless nomads among hostile people who were not about to give them any land. The rest of Genesis records how Abram and his immediate descendants repeatedly do things that seem to interfere with the covenant, but God fulfills it anyway with Isaac’s birth, and five centuries later Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land.
God reminded Abram that God brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give him the land where he was then an alien (v. 7). He had to live in the space between Ur and Canaan. The Ten Commandments open (Exodus 20:2) with God reminding Israel that God had brought them out of Egypt and slavery to bring them into the Promised Land and freedom. For 40 years in the wilderness they lived in the space between Egypt and Canaan, between slavery and freedom.
Hebrews 11:9-11 explains that Abraham could live in this in between space by looking forward to a city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.
During Lent we follow Jesus in the space between his ministry in Galilee and his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Luke 13:31-35 comes as Jesus had been going through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”32He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’34Jerusalem, 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! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
We compare a destructive person in charge of something vulnerable to a fox in the hen house. Jesus gives the fox and the hen a surprising, distinctly Hebrew twist. To call someone a fox was not so much about their cunning but a contemptuous way of saying they were unimportant and insignificant. So Jesus was saying that Herod, whose interest was immediate power was not significant enough to keep him from his long-term mission in Jerusalem.
Then Jesus compared himself to a hen gathering her brood to protect them, but the chicks of Jerusalem insisted on exposing themselves to danger. Like prophets before him, Jesus did not waver from going to Jerusalem and the cross. What seemed like defeat was the path to ultimate victory. Herod the fox lost, and Jesus the hen won.
Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem (vv. 34-35) was inner anguished musing, not a speech to an audience. He quoted Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” connecting Israel’s ancient hope with his Triumphal Entry and his redemptive passion. In this space with Jesus, God’s redemptive plan for all humanity was suspended between anticipation and fulfillment.
What do we hear when we listen for God in the interminable, dark spaces of life?
God says, “Trust me, however dark or long the space.”

Some time ago I watched a program on Public TV about Chinese Jade. One piece was about 4-5 feet high and 2-3 feet in diameter. It was intricately carved with scenes of people in nature in elegant details that were visible not only on the outside but through a latticework of passages and windows that went all the way through. The history of this piece was that when it was found the Emperor commissioned the premiere jade carver in China to create a work suitable for the Imperial Palace. The carver began his work, and when his son was old enough he taught him not only jade carving but also the design for this special piece. The jade carver and his son also taught his grandson. Eventually the original jade carver died, but his son and grandson passed both the skills and vision for this very special piece of jade to his great-grandson. Shortly before the original jade carver’s grandson died, he and the great-grandson presented the finished carving to the great-grandson of the Emperor who had commissioned the work. He received it with great pomp and gratitude, exclaiming, “This is exactly what we in the Palace have been expecting for four generations!”