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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Scorpions, Hens and Chicks: the Cosmic Hesed of God

Luke 13:31-35
There is a story of an old man who used to meditate early in the morning under a big tree on the bank of the Ganges River. One morning, after he had finished his meditation, the old man opened his eyes and saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the water.
As the scorpion was washed closer to the tree, the old man quickly stretched himself out on one of the long roots that branched out into the river and reached out to rescue the drowning creature. As soon as he touched it, the scorpion stung him. Instinctively the man withdrew his hand. A minute later, after he had regained his balance, he stretched himself out again on the roots to save the scorpion. This time the scorpion stung him so badly with its poisonous tail that his hand became swollen and bloody and his face contorted with pain.
At that moment, a passerby saw the old man stretched out on the roots struggling with the scorpion and shouted: “Hey, stupid old man, what’s wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature. Don’t you know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?”
The old man turned his head. Looking into the stranger’s eyes he said calmly, “My friend, just because it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save.”
Just because it is his nature to sting, that doesn’t change my nature to save. Doesn't that sound to you a lot like Jesus?
The lament of Jesus in our gospel today sounds an awful lot to me like the lament within the old man’s statement. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he cried out, and we can hear the sadness in his words, “….How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you did not want me!” (a literal translation of the Greek).
And yet, Jesus perseveres. From his birth to the cross, Jesus reaches out to the people of Jerusalem. Indeed, he gets stung again and again and again. Yet, even as he makes his final march toward that city, the Pharisees come to him to warn him away. Were they really looking out for Jesus or was their motive more sinister?
Jesus' response, of course, foreshadows what we know of as the Great Three Days of our salvation. Despite humanity’s nature to sin, despite the institutional rejection of Jesus by the Jewish leadership, despite his upcoming persecution, passion, and death at the hands of the Romans, Jesus perseveres in his walk of love, mercy and compassion. On the third day, through his resurrection, Jesus will indeed finish his salvific work on behalf of the stinging creature, humankind.  
How many times has God set out to establish equanimity with humankind, to show his love, to show us a better way of being at one with God and with our neighbor, and we would not follow, would not listen, would not obey God. No matter our nature to turn our backs on God, God’s nature to save continues.
As I met with other clergy in a text study on Wednesday, one of my colleagues remarked about how through the various readings we have before us this week, we really do get a vision of God that is one of cosmic nurturer. Isn’t that a beautiful way to picture God? As the one who nurtures the universe and all that is within it; as the one determined to save, regardless of the cost.
Abram and Sarai, his wife, have reached a point of hopelessness over ever being able to conceive a child of their own union. Yet, God promises and delivers not just a child but countless offspring through vast generations to come. As God so often does, God does not just meet the need but fills the desire with overflowing generosity.
See the heavens stretching out before you? [God asks Abram] Can you number the stars? They are more than you can count, aren’t they? And God promises to fill the cosmos with descendants in numbers as vast as the stars in the sky. And God keeps God’s promises.
A couple of months ago, Patti invited all of us to write our names on stars that she then hung from the ceiling in the hallway leading to the education wing.[If you didn't get a chance to put your name on one, we have them laid out again on the table with the nametags in the narthex).
Every time I pass through that hallway, I look up. All those stars suspended in the air overhead is heavenly. You can read some of the names…Mel, Pat, Ruth, Bob, Julia, London, Nazie, and so many more names; even my name is up there, somewhere. God’s generous answer to Abram’s need is a vast abundance that includes you and me.
While all Abram wanted was a single heir, God’s vision was so much bigger. It extends thousands of years and all around the globe. 
Today there are three major religions of the world,, known as the Abrahamic religions whose adherents worship this God who is so generous, so creative, and so masterful. We each have our own ways of understanding the nature of God and how God relates to us, but we all believe in the same God, one God, and the content of our stories and our scriptures overlap.
In Islam, God is rendered “Allah” in Arabic, literally “the God”. God is the absolute one, all powerful and all knowing ruler of the universe, and the creator of everything in existence. Islam emphasizes that God is strictly singular and unique, inherently One,  all-merciful and omnipotent.  Muslims consider God neither a material nor a spiritual being. According to the Quran and teachings of Islam, "No vision can grasp him, but His grasp is over all vision: He is above all comprehension, yet is acquainted with all things."
In Judaism, God has been conceived in a variety of ways. Primarily, Jews hold that Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the national god of the Israelites, delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and gave them the Law of Moses at Mount Sinai as described in the Torah, their holy book.
God is understood as the absolute one, indivisible, and incomparable supreme being who is the ultimate cause of all existence. Traditional interpretations of Judaism emphasize that God is personal yet also transcendent, while some modern interpretations of Judaism emphasize that God is a force or ideal.
The names of God used most often in the Hebrew Bible are the Tetragrammaton (YHWH Hebrew: יהוה) and Elohim, also, El Shaddai and Shekinah. Whatever name is used, there is but one God .
For Christians, God is one God in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three persons are indivisible – not three gods, but one God. As we state in our creed, we believe that God is the creator, all knowing and all powerful, who took on flesh and became human in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the savior, the incarnation of a god who is so in love with humanity that he will do anything to save us from our sinful, warring madness, even join us in our own suffering and die for us, to ensure our eternal life with him through the resurrection.
God continues to bless, sanctify and endow fill our spiritual needs through God’s Holy Spirit, who contains all the aspects of God within herself.
The heart of Christian belief is that indeed, God did not keep Jesus from receiving the final sting of death, but allowed it, that all might be brought to eternal life through the power of the resurrection.
It’s a lot of heady stuff, all pointing to one thing – that despite our differences, these three major world religions basically share the same main beliefs about God: that God is one, that God is the creator who engages with humanity in ways that are unique and mysterious and merciful. And this immensely interconnected, generous and creative God exists for us all, binding us together in one humanity.
That’s an important truth for us to grasp, especially today.
Human conventions have created ideologies around each of these religions, resulting in misunderstanding, creating factions of extremism within each, and producing conflict, war, and struggles for power.
We see the result of this in our world today. Sadly, we even saw such division used this week as one inspiration and justification for a horrible act of terrorism and hatred directed toward a religious community.
Mercifully, however, we have also seen an international and interreligious response of support for the Muslim community and condemnation for the cowardly and hate-filled act taken against them.
We are right to pray for and support our Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand and anywhere in the world where they face injustice, prejudice and hatred. Adherents of true Islam are indeed our friends, created in the image of God as are we, and deserving of our love and support. As worshipers of one true God, Christians, Jews and Muslims alike speak out against injustice and promote peaceful coexistence, and in so doing, have become easy marks for power-hungry, extremist, and hate-filled groups in the world, and we see attacks against all three groups with increasing regularity.
We all seek comfort and consolation from the brutality of the world from the same loving, merciful God. The image of God as a hen who desires to gather her brood under her wings, is the picture of an incredibly nurturing God.
The lament of Jesus and his true sorrow is that despite God’s nurturing nature, despite covenants offered and needs addressed, rejection of God’s love and mercy abound. And now, as the incarnation of God’s hesed – God’s abundant, steadfast love and mercy embodied in Jesus Christ, the scorpion stings – but the true nature of God persists.
Lamentation is Jesus’ response to the sting; the cross is God’s response to the rejection. Even now, Jesus is calling us all into loving relationship with him. Even now, God is providing for our salvation through the cross. Even now, God reigns supreme, regardless of the worldly reality of sin, hatred, violence and denial.
The thing is, it is the nature of God to continue nurturing the cosmos. For the same God who sent Jesus as love for love’s sake is with us still, washes us in the waters of baptism, feeds us through the holy sacraments, blesses and empowers us through the work of the Spirit.
Thanks be to God, mothering, fathering, blessing, loving, merciful creator and redeemer. Amen.

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