Rev. Sarah Buteux
March 13, 2022
Lent 2, Year C
“At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here,” FLEE! for Herod – powerful, paranoid, power-hungry, Herod, is out to get you. “He wants to kill you,” they said. Not one to back down, Jesus looked them in the eye and said “I don’t need a ride. I need ammunition.”
Oh wait, that wasn’t Jesus, was it? No, that was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – the hero of the free world. Zelensky, out gunned but not not out manned, (wink) who has chosen to remain in the heart of Ukraine and fight with his people against an unprovoked, unjust, and unnecessary invasion. Together they have mounted a fierce resistance that has captivated the world and captured our hearts.
On Monday, Zelensky broadcast – not from some undisclosed location underground, but from his office in Kiev – and declared, “I’m not hiding. I’m not afraid of anyone.” Go tell that Fox, Herod, he can threaten me all he wants, but I will not be deterred. I have a job to do and I’m going to see it through to the end even if it kills me.”
Oh wait, was that Zelensky or was that Jesus? Maybe that was Jesus. I don’t know anymore.
They’re getting a little confused in my mind: these two good men willing to take on the corrupt and merciless regimes of this world with nothing but the courage of their convictions, these two brave souls willing to die for the sake of their people, these two doomed men standing resolute before the jaws of fate.
And yet there is a difference between them too, and it does not sit easy with me.
Zelensky is a hero; a hero without question. He’s a scrappy underdog who could have just rolled over. He and his family could have been the first ones out of the country. He could have made a deal.
But instead, Zelensky has risked everything in defiance of Russia and, by his own example, encouraged his people to do the same. He has leveraged every one of his skills as an expert communicator to advocate for Ukraine on the world stage and encourage his people to defend their homeland.
And, God help me, I respect him for that. I find myself praying for Zelensky and Ukraine all day, everyday. I want them to win this war and repel the Russians and I want us to help…in any and every way we can. Which means I am torn.
I don’t believe that war is good. I don’t believe that violence is the answer. I think sanctions and boycotts and diplomacy are the wisest move, the only rational move, for our country in a nuclear age.
But I also hear the cries of my Ukrainian siblings as they try to stave off the invasion of a far greater power. I see the pictures of civilians caught in the crossfire. I hear Zelensky begging for NATO to impose a no fly zone even as his country is being reduced to rubble. And my heart goes out to them.
They didn’t start this. They didn’t ask for this. And they shouldn’t have to just take this. I can’t fault Zelensky or his people for taking up arms. Defending yourself and your children – with force if necessary – how is that not the right thing to do? Coming to the aid of your neighbor and their children – with force if necessary – isn’t that what a hero would do?
But then I look at Jesus, the one I claim to follow, and I pause. Jesus, who taught us to turn the other cheek. Jesus who taught us to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us. I look at Jesus and I feel caught between his ethic of non-violent resistance and his call to stand up for the suffering and oppressed.
War is so damned awful because in war it feels like we must choose between loving our neighbor and loving our enemy. I’m having trouble, right now, seeing a way forward that enables us to do both. And I know I’m not the first. And I know I’m not alone.
Which may be why, when God set out to save the world, that God didn’t send us another hero. What God sent us, was a savior. Someone with the wisdom to do things differently. Someone with the courage to expose the lie at the heart of all wars, the lie that peace can only be achieved through violence.
It’s a lie as old as the hills and yet we keep buying into it. I look at the pictures coming out of Ukraine and a part of me is ready to double down on that lie right now… even though I know, deep down, that violence only begets more violence.
Even though we tell ourselves, over and over, that if we go to war this time it will be for the last time… but it never is.
WWI was supposed to be the war that ended all wars, was it not? WWII turned out to be the exception that didn’t prove the rule. And WWIII, if ever it comes to pass, will most certainly be our last, not because we will have achieved peace, but because there will be no one left to fight.
From ancient Rome to modern day Russia, we have lied to ourselves over and over, convinced ourselves that if we can just amass enough power – enough weapons, enough money, enough allies – then we can keep the peace by keeping those who hate us at bay. But Jesus came to tell us that true peace, real peace, lasting peace, will only ever come when we make the courageous decision to just stop hating one another once and for all.
The hard part is that someone has to stop hating first and a lot can happen in the meantime. It’s so hard to follow Jesus because Jesus, out of his great love for us, laid himself bare and let it happen to him.
“Oh 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!”
Friends, this is not my first time preaching on this passage, and yet I still cannot believe that of all the animals Jesus could have chosen, he went with a hen! A hen! Are you kidding me?! It is a terrible image. Were Jesus a hero, he probably would have gone with a more fearsome animal; called himself the Lion of Judah or some such. But our savior chose instead to compare himself (sigh) to a chicken.
It’s a fervent, beautiful, intensely feminine image of unconditional love and heartbreaking vulnerability, and were things different in the world right now I’d probably love it. But in this moment, I really rather resent him for it.
I mean, think about it? Can a hen actually protect her chicks from the likes of a fox? No. But will she try anyway? Absolutely. A hen doesn’t have the wherewithal to force her babies to stay with her or the power to fend off an enemy should one show up.
But she will gather her chicks and stand her ground in the face of danger in spite of the fact that once they are sheltered beneath the shadow of her wings she will have nothing left with which to protect them but her own body, nothing but the sheer force of her love and her will. And what that means, realistically, 10 times out of 10, is that she will lose.
I hate that. Especially right now. I don’t want to lose to the likes of Putin and I don’t want the Ukrainians to lose either. I hate this image of Jesus as a mother hen as much as I hated the image I saw last Sunday in the NYT when I got home from church, the image of a mother and her children lying dead on the sidewalk, killed by an artillery shell as they tried to flee the town of Irpin.
How many of you saw that? That boy, still clutching a suitcase, was just two years older than George. That little girl could have been Genevieve. I hate that there was no way for that mother to protect her children and I hate that there was no one there to protect her.
But I think deep down, what I hate even more, is that she even needed to try. I hate the violence that plagues this world and as much as I resent Jesus for telling us the truth about it. I believe he shows us the only real way to break the cycle, and yet I’m having a really hard time believing him right now.
Were Jesus a hero, he could have countered the evils of his own time with brute force, raised up an army to take Herod down, given as good as he got. He could have rained down fire from heaven, not to mention hosts upon hosts of angels. That’s the sort of action most of us can understand and get behind. That’s the sort of action a part of me is longing for right now.
But Jesus knows that any kingdom built on violence will eventually be brought down by violence.
So instead, out of love for Herod – actual love for his enemy – love for the people of Jerusalem, indeed his love for all the peoples of the world, Jesus chose to show us another way. In an effort to save us, he chose the way of self sacrifice over self protection.
Rather than wield his power over his enemies and force them to submit to His will, He poured out His power for the sake of us all. He lets it spill from him freely, as freely as he let his love and forgiveness flow out and over all those who did him harm.
Like a mother hen before a fox, he allowed the Herods of this world to do their worst in the name of keeping the peace and exposed them for what they always are – tyrants and bullies – men so insecure in their pursuit of security that they will murder the innocent in as cruel and violent a fashion as possible, just to be safe.
And you all know, as well as I do, exactly what happened. Jesus suffered the consequences a hen inevitably suffers. It was a bloody awful way to lose. But his sacrifice was not in vain, was it? No. For in doing so he didn’t just die, he also – inexplicably – sowed the seeds for a better world.
Every now and then those seeds take root and we not only see the truth of his teachings but revere the ones with the courage to follow in his way.
We stand in awe of people like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the early Christian martyrs, in awe of Dorothy Day and Gandhi, in awe of the Amish and the Quakers and the Mennonites and so many people, even right here in our own congregation, people like Peter, David, Sue, John, and Sharon, so many who have worked tirelessly and risked their very lives for the sake of peace.
We stand in awe even as we wrestle with our lesser angels. We long for peace and yet we struggle in the meantime, this in between time, to understand the age old truth that there is no way to peace…peace is the way.
So thanks be to God, that Jesus sees us in our struggle and loves us still. I take some comfort in the fact that Jesus spoke these words of longing and love over the city of Jerusalem knowing full well that her people were still steeped in the ways of violence.
I take some comfort in the fact that he knew what that would mean for him, and yet he looked on them with love and mercy, anyway. Just as he looks upon wayward little chicks like me, in all my ambivalence, even now.
Friends, Jesus has not given up on us. He still longs to save us from the violence within us and around us, the violence we both trust in and abhor. Longs to save us so much that he was willing to die in order to show us the way out. Our Jesus. Not a fox but a hen. Not the hero we might long for, but the savior we most certainly need.
May God grant us the wisdom, the courage, and the faith to gather under his wings that we might finally know the things that make for peace. Amen