To Dwell In The House Of The Lord

By March 1, 2016 No Comments

The Second Sunday in Lent, Year C, 2016 – Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

Families are complicated. Think for a moment about who we consider to be our family, or our extended family; these are complex networks of personalities and relationships. In family we experience sorrow and disfunction along with comfort and immense joy. Each of us have vastly different experiences of family; experiences that have been good, bad and sometimes ugly or unpleasant.

Family is clearly important to God, as it is the way in which he brings about redemption for all peoples

Salvation for all comes through a particular group, God’s chosen people Israel, a family that started with the Lord choosing Abram.

Today in our Old Testament lesson we heard about the words of the Lord coming to Abram in a vision. Abram has already been promised by God that he will be the father of a great nation. Here he protests, reminding God that he and his wife Sarai are still childless. The Lord takes him outside to look at the stars, inviting Abram to count them, if he is able to. Then he says: “So shall your descendants be”. The Lord also promises Abram and his descendants a land to inhabit. God instructs Abram to bring animals to sacrifice as he establishes a covenant with him.

Many generations later in this same family we read of King David. David, being from the biological line of Abraham and Sarah understands that the head of this great family into which he has been born is none other than the Lord, as he writes,“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” In our psalm today we sang a prayer, also written by David: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” In other words, we prayed that we may live in the household or family of the Lord all the days of our lives, to behold his beauty.

And so we turn today to our Gospel reading from Luke, to behold our Lord Jesus Christ. And behold, we will, for we are twice implored to do so in our reading: “Behold! I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow,” and, “Behold! Your house is left to you.” What is it that we are meant to see in this exchange between Jesus and some Pharisees? Jesus is going through towns and villages on his way to Jerusalem. Luke has already made note of the fact that Jesus has set his face toward the city as the time drew nearer for him to be taken up. So it is while he is making his way towards Jerusalem that the Pharisees come to warn him that Herod wants to kill him, telling him: “get away from here.”

This is not the first time that Herod Antipas has been mentioned in Luke’s gospel. We have already read that he is tetrarch of the region of Galilee. He was the son of Herod the Great, whom the Romans had named “King of the Jews”, a title that Antipas was unsuccessful in acquiring when he sought to gain it. Luke recounts the opposition of John the Baptist to Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife Herodias, a rebuke that led to John’s imprisonment and eventually execution. Later when Herod hears about all that is taking place with Jesus and his followers, he is perplexed, saying: “John I beheaded: but who is this about whom I hear such things?”. Concerned that Jesus is John raised from the dead or an ancient prophet arisen, Herod tries to see him.

The death threat delivered to Jesus by the Pharisees is the next we hear of Herod. In Jesus’ response he refers to Herod as a fox, not as a lion, as one may expect for a ruler. In fact, ‘fox’ was a rabbinic term of derision for one who is habitually deceptive. It symbolizes slyness, or more often an insignificant or worthless person; one who is destructive. So this word, not arbitrarily chosen, indicates that Jesus is aware of Herod’s character; he is a deceiver.

Despite the deception and destruction of the one who rules over the area in which Jesus ministers, it is clear that the power of Herod is not what Jesus answers to, but rather the power of God. In obedience, Jesus continues this work.

Now Jesus’ rebuke of Herod and statement of his continued work quickly turns to a lament over Jerusalem…

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

This is a powerful image that Jesus is using: he is the hen that gathers his chicks under her wings…while the fox lurks about…while the deceiver is afoot.

And what happens when a fox is set among the chickens? What happens to the hen that gathers her chicks? She dies. She dies so that her chicks may live.

This image is one of sacrificial love, pointing towards Jerusalem and to Christ crucified.

I must admit to you this morning that when reading this passage through in preparation for today, I felt an objection rising up in me as I reflected on Christ’s lament; he states his longing to gather the children of Jerusalem together, to gather the children of God together in safety, but they were not willing… I object. Because, surely I am willing. Surely, this passage doesn’t refer to me, or to us. After all, we sang the psalm this morning: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life”. So this passage must speak only about Jerusalem, God’s people, during Jesus’ lifetime, because we do not reject him; we are willing to be gathered….aren’t we?

It seems to me that those who heard Jesus speak this lament might have tried to make a similar argument: ‘Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it’…that’s not us. The prophets were killed in days past, so he must not be speaking to us, right? That’s in the past.

In acknowledgement of these objections we must heed Jesus’ invitation to ‘behold’: “Behold, your house is left to you desolate”. His words recall those of the Lord spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place… if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.

When we behold, we recognize this desolation in the household of humankind. One need not look far to see wrong and violence done to the outsider, marginalized, and innocent blood shed. Humankind has rejected the rules of God’s house, to act justly and righteously, and consequently we behold the devastation.

This requires us to look again at our own objections to Jesus’ lament: that Jerusalem was not willing.

I suspect that we too reject being gathered up. Perhaps this rejection is so subtle that we fail to notice it without intentional and prayerful self-examination.

Lent is the season set-apart to do so; to reflect on what we allow in our hearts and lives that functionally rejects being gathered up. During Lent we notice what prevents our nearness to God and prayerfully ask to be refined, so that these things can be rooted out.

Maybe we reject being gathered up because this requires an acknowledgment of our vulnerability; we are like chicks. Or perhaps we run away, not so much from the hen, but from others in the brood who we can’t stand to be gathered with. Maybe we find it difficult to accept the image of the hen altogether. We want to be gathered to one who kills the fox without it coming near the children of the house. We struggle with this image of the hen having to die for her children.

But Jesus does die. He longs to gather up the children of Jerusalem like the hen who is killed to protect her young.

In his death we see the heart of God the Father; a Father who longs to gather up his children in Christ, so that they may live by his death.

We behold God who does not want his children to remain in a house that is desolate, even when we have rejected being gathered. Jesus died for those who rejected him, for us who reject him now.

When we pray Psalm 27, desiring to speak these words in sincerity, we must not despair in noticing that we often fail to do so. We must not despair when we long to be gatherered up like a brood to the hen, but notice our rejection of this; that we do not want it. We must not despair because when we pray to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our lives, we do no pray alone, but with Christ and in Christ. He died so that we may live, without fear of the fox, in the household of the Lord, where we behold his beauty.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.


Sermon was preached by Sarah Jackson at St. Matthew’s Riverdale on the Second Sunday in Lent, February 21st, 2016.