God's Commitment to Us - Luke 13:31-34
I recently read a story online about something that happened during a forest fire at Yellowstone National Park. After one particular fire, forest rangers began their trek up a mountain to assess the fire’s damage. One ranger found a dead bird covered in ashes on the ground at the base of a tree. Somewhat sickened by the sight, he knocked over the bird with a stick. When he pushed it, three tiny chicks scurried from under their dead mother’s wings. The loving mother, keenly aware of impending disaster, had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and had gathered them under her wings, instinctively knowing that the toxic smoke would rise. She could have flown to safety but had refused to abandon her babies. When the blaze arrived and the heat came, the mother bird remained steadfast. And because she had been willing to die, those under the cover of her wings would live.
This story wondrously reflects God’s love for us and shows why Jesus would use the image of a mother hen for God. That motherly instinct so present in the animal kingdom, teaches us something important about the love of God. And this loving parental instinct is what Jesus will eventually embody when he enters Jerusalem and dies on the cross to save the world.
In Lent we remember Jesus’ road to Jerusalem, the journey he took for the salvation of the world. The commitment he made to save humanity. This journey, God’s salvation story for the world, started thousands of years earlier with the story of God’s commitment to Abraham. God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah for descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. And this commitment God made flows through the history of the people of Israel, through the Exodus from Egypt and Exile to Babylon, and culminates with coming of Jesus into the world.
In the Old Testament reading this morning, God reiterated His promise to Abraham to give him an entire nation of descendants and to bless the world through him. The passage we read this morning describes the ancient equivalent of signing a contract. The ancient tradition of agreeing to a contract in some cultures was done by killing animals and making a walkway out of their blood and bodies. Then a person would walk through the path. And the implication was: if I don’t live up to my end of the bargain, may I end up like these animals. And in the reading, we heard this morning, Abraham has a vision at night where he sees God doing just that. A smoking pot and a flaming torch pass, apparently representing God, pass through the torn animals. By doing so, God promises to Abraham and swears with God’s own life that He will fulfill His commitment (or covenant) made to Abraham.
Fast forward two thousand years to the time of Jesus. God has fulfilled His promises to give Abraham children, make his descendants into a great nation, give them the promised land, and make Abraham’s name famous. And now, in Jesus, the last promise of blessing the world through Abraham is about to be accomplished. God, in Jesus, is still just as committed as ever to the promises made to Abraham and Sarah.
And yet, as committed as God is to humanity, Jesus laments over humanity’s unwillingness to return that commitment to God. Jesus laments over the city: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it.” Jerusalem, perhaps the most holy city in the world, had a history of rejecting prophets and failing to live up to God’s covenant. But this statement is not just about Jerusalem. It’s representative of every city, of the whole world. Jesus may be lamenting first century Jerusalem in particular, but what he says about it applies to all cities and all human civilizations of all times and places. The problem isn’t just in Jerusalem, it’s in all of us. All people reject Jesus’ call to discipleship. All people ignore his call to dedicate our lives to the kingdom of God. All people live for ourselves rather than surrender to the divine will. All people are trapped in sin and selfishness. Jesus is not just calling out Jerusalem here, he’s talking about all of us.
We see humanity’s lack of commitment to following God’s way throughout world history. We see it in all the ways people reject compassion and instead seek to take advantage of others to bring themselves glory and power. We see it in the way we horde wealth and resist changing inequitable systems. We see it both in our own personal sin and selfishness, and in the terror and violence and war on the world stage. We see humanity’s lack of commitment to following God’s way wherever we look.
And yet, God has remained steadfastly committed to the promises God made to Abraham and the promises God made to each one of us in Baptism. The promise of God’s love and grace. The promise of God’s forgiveness and mercy. The promise of God to be our Mother Hen. The promise of God’s Spirit taking root in us, sanctifying us—making us holy and transforming us into fully grown children of God who reflect the divine image. Because no matter how many times we fail, God’s promises never fail. And God promises to transform us and to transform the world into a realm that manifests the kingdom of God. God has promised to bring about a new creation, a peaceable kingdom, a vision of shalom. God’s dream for the world will come true. Because God remains completely committed to humanity and God remains completely committed to each one of us. Personally committed to each one of us.
Despite humanity’s lack of commitment to God. Despite the fact that human beings even killed the Son of God, God remains committed to all of His promises. Not because of anything we’ve done, not because we’ve remained faithful to the covenant or earned forgiveness or mercy—but because God is faithful and merciful and abounding in steadfast love.
God made this clear in God’s promises to Abraham. God made this clear in God’s guidance of Israel with the law and the prophets. God made this clear in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And God continues to make this clear in His faithfulness to us, to the church, and to the whole human family.
Thanks be to God for the tremendous gift of God’s promises. And for God’s commitment to accomplishing them all for the world and in each of us. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 3/13/22