Sunday, February 21, 2016

"Lions, Tigers, and Hens" (Luke 13:31-35)

Do you ever wonder how sports teams get their nicknames?
In Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers... For the Broncos, in 1960, the owner of the yet-unnamed team held a “name-the-team” contest. Someone submitted the name “Broncos,” which was a throwback to a minor league baseball team that had that name in the 1920s.
The Panthers, meanwhile, were given their name by owner Jerry Richardson’s son, Mark, when the team was formed in 1993.
Both names seem appropriate for a sports team. Both broncos and panthers are strong and fast. That seems to be how it is for most team mascots, particularly in the NFL. We want mascots that are fearsome. Think: lions, tigers, and bears!
In baseball, we have here in our area the Dodgers and the Angels. The Dodgers are originally from New York as most of you know, and in the late 1800s, horse-drawn trolleys were being replaced by new electric trolleys. Now if you were a pedestrian and you stepped in front of a horse-drawn trolley, the horse would just stop; but an electric trolley would just run you over. You had to be quick. You had to dodge the trolley, or get run over.
The Dodgers got their name from the people who dodged the trolleys. In fact, people originally called them the Trolley Dodgers, although that name was soon shortened to just Dodgers. And Dodgers seems like a good name, because players running the bases need to be quick to dodge the tag.
The Angels got their name because when they first started, they played in Los Angeles, the City of the Angels. Today the team is known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, which, if you translate the Spanish, means “The Angels Angels of Anaheim…”
Yeah, I’ll just leave that there.
Some team names seem a little less intimidating, a little less fearsome, than others.
The Jackrabbits, for example.
In 1918, rabbits began invading the playing fields at Long Beach Polytechnic High School. This led the track team to start calling itself the jackrabbits, and eventually, that became the official mascot.
OK, that makes sense. It’s a little unusual for a mascot, but it makes sense.
Now, two years ago at VBS, our theme was “Weird Animals.” And our Bible buddies included an axolotl, a leafy seadragon, a star-nosed mole, a tenrec, and a frilled lizard.
I’ve never heard of any team using one of those animals as a mascot!
I mean, if we’re going to associate ourselves with an animal, we want it to be cool
Like the moose in the movie Brother Bear who pretends he’s a wolverine…
Like Donkey in the movie Shrek, who likes to be thought of as a noble steed…
And then there’s Jesus…
Who compares himself to…
A hen.
I’ve never heard of a sports team called The Hens.  Or even, the Chickens. I mean really!
I’ve heard of Horned Frogs and Anteaters and Banana Slugs…
But I’ve never heard of a team wanting to be called The Hens. At least, not until I started searching the internet in preparation for this sermon. It turns out there is one – the University of Delaware – and their mascot got its name from Captain John Caldwell who, back before the American Revolution, owned a strain of chickens known as the Kent County Blue Hens. So in this case, the mascot was chosen to honor history, and not because hens are particularly strong or intimidating.
Meanwhile, Herod is the fox. Foxes are cunning, shrewd, strong, fierce, and willing to kill. That would be a good team mascot.
Exodus talks about a mighty eagle. That sounds cool.
Hosea mentions a stealthy leopard. Scripture even mentions lions and bears, but not tigers; there aren’t any tigers mentioned in the Bible. However, Psalm 74 mentions dragons, and Leviathan, and who wouldn’t want to play for a team called Leviathan?
But no. Jesus chooses the hen.
A hen is neither fearsome nor ferocious. A hen is neither strong nor quick. A hen will not put up much of a fight.
Who wants a Savior who doesn’t even put up a fight?
When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, one of his disciples pulled out his sword, thinking this is it, that the time to fight had come at last; but Jesus tells him to put away the sword. There would be no battle. Like a hen, he would not put up a fight.
This image of Jesus is hard to accept. The writer of Revelation had a hard time accepting it. The writer of Revelation re-imagines Jesus as a mighty conqueror riding in on a white horse, making war, leading the armies of heaven.
It makes one wonder if the writer of Revelation was even familiar with the Jesus of the gospels.
The apostle Paul was familiar with the Jesus who would not put up a fight.
According to Paul, Jesus “was in the form of God, [but] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” [Philippians 2:6-8].
Like a hen, Jesus protects the ones he loves not by putting up a fight, but by offering himself as a sacrifice.
Paul also described how the followers of Jesus should act. He said they should act with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” [Galatians 5:22]. These, we know as the “fruits of the Spirit.”
But these descriptions of Jesus and his followers are not very appealing.
For a long time, kindness seemed to me the weakest of virtues. If you want to be on the winning team, you work on your strength, you work on your speed, you work on excellence… but you don’t work on kindness. You don’t work on love. You don’t work on gentleness… and you don’t humble yourself…
But that is exactly what Jesus does, and what he calls us to do.
Needless to say, these images of Jesus have been – and remain – difficult to accept. We want a Jesus of power, strength, and might, just like the writer of Revelation. But – except for Revelation – that’s not what we get.
What we get is a hen. What we get is a weeping savior, weeping and lamenting over Jerusalem.
Why does he weep?
Because Jerusalem is obsessed with power and strength…
And Jesus knows that being obsessed with power and strength does not lead to peace.
Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor says this about Jesus: “Jesus won't be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first.”
And strangely enough, there is power in that. It’s hard to see, but in fact, it is a power that is greater than any other power on earth.
It is the power of love.
J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, got it right. In the end, the power of love overcomes all other powers. In the end, the power of love is victorious.
Think about the people in the past century who have used the power of love… Dorothy Day… Gandhi… Martin Luther King, Jr… Oscar Romero… Mother Teresa…
And now, we have people like William Barber.
If you don’t know who William Barber is, you should – and not just because it is African American history month. William Barber is a Disciples of Christ minister in North Carolina, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, and a leader in the NAACP.
He is not a strong man. At the age of 30, he was temporarily paralyzed by a severe form of arthritis. When he did begin to walk again, he could only do so with a walker. For twelve years he used that walker. Now, at age 52, he still must use a cane to get around.
His body is weak. He is certainly not a person who anyone would want on their football team. He doesn’t have the strength, the speed, the agility…
But he has the power of love.
He has led movements and marches. He has spoken out against North Carolina’s atrocious lack of voting rights. He has inspired people all over the country to take a stand for justice and equality for people of all races, all classes, all sexual orientations.
And he can barely walk up to the pulpit when it’s time to give a sermon.
But when he does, look out.
The first time I heard him speak was at the 2013 General Assembly in Orlando. He wasn’t even scheduled to speak. He spent most of his time at the NAACP convention which was taking place next door. But his impromptu comments were so powerful that the Assembly went wild.
And I felt sorry for the scheduled preacher who then had to follow him.
William Barber is filled with the power and the strength of the Spirit, the power that so often manifests itself in weakness.
He is, I believe, the closest thing we have to Martin Luther King today.
The media don’t pay William Barber a whole lot of attention.
Because what he does isn’t cool.
The Super Bowl – that’s cool.
Football, pickup trucks, rock concerts… all these things are cool. Lions and tigers and bears… their strength and power make them cool.
Following Jesus will never be cool like that.
We try to make it cool. We have rock music in worship, and that’s cool. We have awesome camps for youth, and that’s cool.
But when you get right down to it, committing your life to following a man who compares himself to a hen… I don’t know that it’s possible to make that cool, no matter how hard you try.
But we’re not called to be cool.
We’re not called to worship what’s powerful and what’s strong.
We worship a savior whose true power manifests itself in weakness.
Our God is mighty not because of the power of force or strength, but because of the power of love.

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