Stand Firm: Spiritual Practice
2016/02/21 Christ Church, Mountain Top; Lent 2
Call to Worship, Psalm 27
Children, Genesis 15.1-18
Additional reading, Philippians 3.17-4.1
Message, Luke 13.31-35
Great Brain and the Tug-of-War
Stand firm, hold fast
Our cultural focus on strength, whether the underdog or top dog
Douglas MacArthur, “I shall return”
Theme for the day: Stand firm (Php 4.1), Hold fast (Php 3.17)
It can become a trap for us. We may stand firm all day long, but in reality we are rigid and irrational.
Popcorn on the throat
Rigid traps when the focus is all wrong
- Assumptions (inaccurate ones): “I’ve made up my mind. Don’t confuse me with the facts.”
- Perceptions (imagined ones): “If I … then I’ll look weak/strong to my friends”
- Adversaries: Allowing our adversaries to control us by letting them define the terms of our conflict
“Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you” (13.31). And Jesus responds that he’ll stay for a while and then head off to Jerusalem, “because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside Jerusalem” (13.33).
In reading this passage, I have always been blinded by the confrontational language and our cultural heritage, and perhaps by my own rigid reaction to conflict. “I never start a fight, but I sure as heck finish one.”
Jesus, as this story takes place, is in Galilee, a province in northern Palestine, and he is preparing to head to Jerusalem to die. Herod (this Herod – there are several in the family) is not the ruler of Jerusalem. He rules Galilee. And Jesus is leaving.
Jesus will be leaving town, on his schedule, and leaving the jurisdiction of a man who wants him dead. He makes clear, however, that Herod has no impact on his ministry, that Jesus is pursuing his own destiny, his own “ends” (13.32, “finish my work”, telos).
Furthermore, Jesus shows no concern for the perception issue, for appearing weak, or for responding to Herod’s power with power of his own. He calls Herod a fox, but doesn’t label himself a wolf or lion. Jesus calls himself a chicken! No, not a “sky is falling” Chicken Little, but a hen that is desperate to shelter her unruly young. That makes no difference. Once a fox is in the henhouse, they’re all dead.
For Jesus to stand up to Herod, to stay in Galilee and organize a resistance, would have been “standing firm”, for sure. But it would be a rigid trap, keeping Jesus from his destiny.
For Jesus to respond to threatened power with threatened power of his own, to play into the perception game of intimidation, would certainly be “standing firm”. But it would be a rigid trap, keeping Jesus from his own purpose in the world.
A side note: There are large sections of the church in North America that pay attention to changes in society and conclude – erroneously, I believe – that we are being persecuted. Taking the assumption, for a moment, that we are under persecution, I believe that all attempts to respond to power with power only keep us from our destiny and deny our call as followers of Jesus, who responded to strength with weakness.
What does Paul say in his section on “hold fast” and “stand firm”? “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; … I tell you even with tears” (Php 3.18). Just because they are enemies of the cross of Christ, don’t make them your enemies. Weep for them, pray for them, and stand firm in what Paul calls our “body of humiliation” (3.21).
We are called to stand firm. Like the wilderness experience we discussed last week, standing firm can be dangerous. We can stand firm in all the wrong ways, with inaccurate assumptions, imagined perceptions, and adversaries that we’d do best to ignore – at least when it comes to our own calling and identity.
As followers of Jesus, what matters is standing firm in the right place. And today’s text invites us to do so in weakness, not in power. Today’s text invites us to stand firm under the wings of the Chicken, to take refuge under the outstretched wings of Jesus our Lord.
Joseph A. Fitzmyer. The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV. Anchor Bible Commentaries 28A. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. 1985.