Recently, I’ve spent some time binge watching some of my television shows that I got behind on in recent weeks. I know that it’s Lent, and I should probably have considered giving up the time I spend watching television to do something more useful. However, I confess to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have a reality television habit. And I didn’t want to give up 60 Days In in the middle of the season.
Have you seen this show? Regular people volunteer to be incarcerated for a couple of months in an effort to help the jail improve the way that it does things. The undercover prisoners work toward figuring out how things work from the inside and report back on drug use, violence, racism, and other problems.
After watching this show for several seasons, I’ve started to see some common themes. First, doing time i never as easy as people think it will be. Second, the undercover inmates always create relationships and attachments with the people they meet. Finally, they all grapple with figuring out the balance of successfully surviving the environment they find themselves in and maintaining the standards and beliefs that they live by in their regular lives.
As with many reality shows, I find myself thinking “I could never do that.” (and then I fill in the sentence with whatever is being asked of these participants—marrying a stranger, being stranded in a jungle for weeks with no supplies, or traveling at a breakneck pace around the globe). At the same time, when I read this morning’s Gospel lesson, I found myself secretly wondering if, when we took at the baptismal covenant, if that wasn’t exactly what each of us has agreed to when we decided to follow Jesus: to agree to live for some period of time in a world that holds very different standards than we understand that God has for us and figure out how we can, each in our own way, make a difference in the face of senseless evil.
We live in a world where bad stuff sometimes happens. This weekend 50 people were killed by a lone gunman in Christchurch, New Zealand. The shootings, which occurred at two different mosques, left three dozen more people injured. The 28-year-old man who held the semiautomatic weapon was convinced that being Muslim made these people unworthy of life.
Here in the United States, we’ve had 58 events already in 2019 that are characterized as mass shootings (which for the purposes of this list can be defined as an incident where four or more people are shot at a single location at the same time).
It is easy to get mired in these headlines and the violent realities that they represent. We are called, though, to stand up for different reality—one that questions the current assumptions, power structures, and stated truths that the world presents to us.
Assuming that worldly reality is the only possible truth has the potential to erode our hope. But, as Paul wrote to the people of Phillipi, we are citizens of heaven and we know that God wants something more for creation than what we currently have.
This morning, we heard God make a promise to Abram that his descendants would be as plentiful as the stars in the sky. The worldly reality were, that before this promise was fulfilled, that he and his wife Sarah would be too old to have children. And yet they would. God works differently than the world does.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a framework and process for following God when we find ourselves locked into a reality that is counter to the kingdom of God. Those in power came to Jesus and said “You need to leave, because Herod wants to kill you.” They weren’t trying to help him or save him from harm. Already in the previous chapters of the Gospel, the Pharisees had denounced Jesus and he had denounced them. They were trying to scare him—and make him stop what they were doing. Jesus’ answer, in addition to calling Herod a fox, is simple “God has given me a job to do and that’s what I’m going to do until I’m done.”
Jesus had a lot to do. He was finding and binding up the brokenness of the world. He was speaking to evil that he found and banishing it from those being crippled by it. He was healing those who needed it the most.
Once the job was done, Jesus said he would go to Jerusalem—a place that kills prophets. And yet, Jesus proclaims God’s continuing love for Jerusalem and for God’s people Israel. And it’s clear that Jesus knows that he is going to Jerusalem to bring the story to its critical juncture.
This Gospel asks us to make a choice: the fox or the hen? With which will we align? In our own place in the world, do we want to be the fox or the hen? The fox is sly, cunning, and voraciously destructive. The hen has an inviting wing span that makes room for all of her helpless and vulnerable children. And it goes without saying that the favorite meal of the fox is chicken. What hasn’t been said, but what our faith tells us, though, is that the wingspan of the hen is broader than the jaws of the fox.
Like the participants of 60 Days In, we find ourselves in a world where unexpected and even terrible things happen. We are here until we are paroled into a better world. During our time, we can align ourselves with the cynical and violent powers of the world in which we find ourselves or we can look beyond the walls to a bigger truth. We may hear, for example, that our race defines us and that some people are more important than others. We know that all of God’s creatures, human and animal, are worthy of regard. We may be told that physical strength and a willingness to do violence will prevail. We know that love is stronger than hate. And we know that the spread of God’s care welcomes everyone.
Preached by the Rev. Hailey McKeefry Delmas on Sunday, March 17, 2019, at Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in San Mateo, CA.