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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Greek author Aesop lived around 500 years before Christ. His fables were so popular that they become the first assignments for learning classical rhetoric and the art of storytelling in the ancient Greek and Roman world. Teachers, lectors and even rabbis were given a fable of Aesop to retell and to embellish as if it was their own. So, it should be no surprise that Jesus, walking at the crossroads the ancient world along the Sea of Galilee was acquainted with Aesop’s Fable, his characters and the morals the fable taught. While Aesop preferred to tell fables with animals, Jesus preferred to tell parables with people. But every once in a while animals did sneak into Jesus teaching and the crowds listening understood fully the moral and the meaning. Perhaps that is why Jesus could refer to Herod as the sly fox, and himself as the clever, but vulnerable hen, and that Jesus could still be the victor. Aesop has already written that fable,- and so it goes.
“One bright evening as the sun was sinking on a glorious world a wise old hen flew into a tree to roost. Before she composed herself to rest, she flapped her wings three times and clucked loudly. But just as she was about to put her head under her wing, her beady eyes caught a flash of red and a glimpse of a long pointed nose, and there just below her stood Master Fox. “Have you heard the wonderful news?” cried the Fox in a very joyful and excited manner.
“What news?” asked the hen very calmly. But she had a fluttery feeling inside her, for she was very much afraid of the Fox.
“Your family and mine and all other animals have agreed to forget their differences and live in peace and friendship from now on forever. Just think of it! I simply cannot wait to embrace you! Do come down, dear friend, and let us celebrate the joyful event.”
“How grand!” said the hen. “I certainly am delighted at the news.” But she spoke in an absent way, and stretching up on tiptoes, seemed to be looking at something afar off.
“What is it you see?” asked the Fox a little anxiously.
“Why, it looks to me like a couple of dogs coming this way. They must have heard the good news and—” But the Fox did not wait to hear more. Off he started on a run.
“Wait,” cried the hen. “Why do you run? The Dogs are friends of yours now!”
“Yes,” answered the Fox. “But they might not have heard the news. Besides, I have a very important errand that I had almost forgotten about.”
The Hen smiled as she buried her head in his feathers and went to sleep, for she had succeeded in outwitting a very crafty enemy.
And the moral of the story: Beware of enemies becoming friends too quickly. Surprisingly, that same moral is true for our gospel. Beware of becoming friends with your foes and enemies foes too quickly, lest you lose your soul.
Our gospel lesson speaks clearly of Jesus’ clever courage and determination. The Pharisees warned Jesus that King Herod wanted to kill him. We don’t know why. Herod had already killed Jesus’ his kin John the Baptist, and there were rumors that Jesus was John the Baptist back from the dead. Perhaps that was the reason. Jesus was still a far distance off from Jerusalem, yet he responded to the Pharisees boldly. “Listen, I am casting out demons today and tomorrow I have a purpose and I am not going to be distracted from any threat and enemies.” Jesus knew why he came into the world and what he needed to do. There was no way he would abandon his work and go into hiding. He had set his face toward Jerusalem and nothing would deter Him.
My friends, in this morning’s gospel lesson, Jesus is challenging us to reflect and imitate his own example by living our lives with a similar courage and resolve. But it will not be easy. As Martin Luther once said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.” The world today needs men and women who are willing to live courageously, and Jesus is calling you and me to follow.
But I wonder if this challenge to the Church and to Jesus’ followers serves any real purpose? Are we truly daring enough as Jesus’ followers to do anything that could possibly incur the wrath or displeasure of someone in authority? Most of us shuffle along in the shadows of life, unassuming and without provoking anyone. If you and I were on trial with the charge of being Christian – would there be enough evidence to convict us?
Of course, it is vitally important for us to have a personal faith in God and in Jesus Christ, and to rest beneath Christ’s sheltering wings. Jesus longed for his followers to come to him, to be comforted by the embrace of the Church, and to receive the encouraging word and strength of the Holy Word and the Lord’s Table. Our faith is deepened only when we are a part of the body of Christ. That is the truth that lies behind the classic doctrine that there is no salvation outside of the Church. It is not that the Church controls the keys to the kingdom, but rather it is the only way we truly become alive spiritually. Anything else is merely self-delusion.
Mind you, Jesus also taught that we should be risk takers. His disciples were to be wise as serpents and as peaceful as doves. There was a justified sense of fear and urgency as these well-meaning Pharisees came to warn Jesus. The sympathetic Pharisees encouraged him to find a little hole and hide away there for a while. But the idea of hiding from King Herod infuriated Jesus. He was making enemies. Well, truthfully, I’d say, that all Jesus’ followers should have at least one enemy. No one lives and speaks the truth in this world without offending someone –even a good and well intentioned pastor.
Jesus’ words remind us that all his followers need to rediscover their inner courage and their ultimate source of strength and comfort, for if they don’t, they will be as valuable to the world as the hen making friends with the fox. Believe me, the world needs a strong voice of hope and resistance against the King Herods of the world who are persecuting those who speak out against them and trying to silence them. But it’s not going to be easy, and it may be costly.
The Russian-American comedian Yakov Smirnoff once described his experience of when he first came from Russia to the United States, and how he wasn’t prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He said, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk–you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice–you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to my self, what a country!”
Somewhere along the way, individualism and Christian privilege and have convinced Jesus’ followers that that Christianity is ‘easy’. Just add water and ‘wala – instant Christianity”. All you have to do is go to Church once in a while, or walk by it, say a few prayers, read your bible from time to time, and then, you are good to go. You can even go on living with your own goals and ambitions and avoid trouble, simply heed the counsel of well-intentioned Pharisees when they say to lay low. But is that what Jesus intended of you and your life? There is a difference between those who follow Christ for loaves and fishes, and those who follow Christ with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. The faith of those who chase after the next meal is worth nothing. Christ wants more from you.
In the spring of 1945 a 30-German pastor Dietrich Bonhoffer awaited execution in a Nazi concentration camp. Bonhoffer had spent two years imprisoned, yet he published letters on spiritual wisdom, delivered Sunday sermons and shared the Gospel with his prison mates and prison guards. Even in prison he was focused on others’ redemption. In The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. The cross is laid on every Christian. (Like the sheltering wings of a mothering hen.) The cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.”
My friends, we must be as clever as the hen, but we must also be aware of the cost of discipleship. So let us strive to be people of good courage, resting beneath the outstretched arms of Christ. And in so doing, let us confront wrong wherever we find it, always determined to live as citizens of God’s kingdom now and in the age to come. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.