Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
In our Hebrew Bible text God makes a covenant with Abraham. The ritual scene surrounding the making of the covenant sounds strange to our modern ears. Abraham cuts animals in half (interestingly the word to “make” a covenant in Hebrew is literally to “cut” a covenant). Then Abraham lays the butchered halves in two parallel lines forming a a path between them. God, in the form of a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, walks between the halves and promises loyalty to the covenant. That God walks through the slaughtered animals is an amazing and telling event. The normal covenant ceremony included the famous imprecatory oath “may what happened to these animals happen to me if I break this covenant.” The oath was usually reserved for the weaker party in the covenant bond to ritually recite. God assumes this role. In doing so God makes a strong statement to Abraham who has become worried that a son has yet to be born to him. In Abraham’s moment of desert weakness, when it appears the waiting has been too long, God walks through the slaughtered animals and promises his allegiance or else! Ironically God’s allegiance to covenant will not save the life of the Christ–who like the animals will be slaughtered. It is no surprise then that Jesus will declare at the institution of the Lord’s Supper, “this is the blood of the covenant that has been poured out for you.”
Psalm 27 is a psalm of trust. The psalmist continually repeats his/her belief that God will provide shelter and safety. It is particularly important to the psalmist that he/she feel the enduring presence of God. At the end of the psalm the psalmist tells us the reason for his/her writing. Apparently false witnesses have risen up against the psalmist and are “breathing out violence.” It could be that the psalmist’s life hangs in the balance of some judicial decision. In the midst of these circumstances the Psalmist affirms that he/she will “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Our epistle lection contrasts believers with those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” According to Paul the god of the enemies is found in their bellies. Their minds are set on earthly things and their glory is in their shame. In contrast the believer’s “body of
humiliation” will be transformed to the “body of his glory.” In this way the believer achieves real glory as a citizen of heaven.
Our gospel text this week is powerful and dangerous. It addresses touchy issues of church/state (Jesus/Herod) and prophet/religion (Jesus/Jerusalem) relations. That Herod wants to kill Jesus indicates that the governing powers perceived the “good news” to be a threat. That Jesus calls Herod a “fox” illustrates Jesus’ consistent negative appraisal of the governing powers. In much the same way we discover that Jerusalem wants the death of the prophets, and we discover that Jesus understands Jerusalem to also be corrupted. The interesting description of Herod as “fox” and the people of Jerusalem as a hen’s “brood” possibly indicates Jesus’ opinion that the Israelites were being oppressed by the Tetrarch put in place by Rome. The message of the gospel lection is found in a warning. Far too often we perceive the word of God as threatening. Far to often we are compromised by power and comfort. Far to often we fail to proclaim “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”–or if we do, we are like the fickle crowds on Palm Sunday (who shout this same phrase at the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem a few days before they call for his crucifixion.)
Celebration of Worship
God covenants with us. That is worth serious theological reflection. That God is the one to pass through the animals requires even greater theological reflection. That God is the one who becomes the covenant sacrifice should blow our theological minds! That we are the one’s who welcome this good news with suspicion and stone throwing is a humbling and maddening realty. Yet Jesus looks out at us and desires to gather us under his wings. When Jesus heard the sound of the shouts on Palm Sunday he knew them for what they were. Even today we often lift up praises in worship with hollow praise worshiping our idols more than God.
As you prepare your hearts, minds, hymns, and prayers for Sunday consider the God of the covenant, who provides not only the covenant promise but the covenant blood. Consider the long suffering of God, who abides with a people who kill the prophets. Consider the desire of Jesus to gather us together–and the understanding of Jesus that we are damaged by the power of sin and oppression (under the thumb of the Herod’s [the foxes] of the world).