My wife, Sarah, and I have good fun with our families. I’m from a German family, while she’s from a Norwegian family.
Now, truthfully, both Germans and Norwegians can be especially quiet, introverted, stoic people…but it just happens there are more jokes about Norwegians.
Have you heard the one about the Norwegian Farmer who loved his wife so much he almost told her?
My favorite is: What’s the difference between an introverted and an extroverted Norwegian?
When an introverted Norwegian talks to you, they look at their shoes. When an extroverted Norwegian talks to you, they look at your shoes.
Abram isn’t Norwegian, but he sure is good at looking down at his sandals.
God had promised Abram, who is childless at age seventy-five, he would have so many children that his name would be made great throughout the earth because his progeny would be so large they would constitute a new nation.
Now, in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, Abram has his head down, kicking the dust, feeling dismal because he doubts God will make good on his promise.
All of a sudden, the word of God appears to Abram in a vision and says, “Look up, Abram! Look up at the stars! Look up and try to count them! Your descendants will be as numerous as this sky full of burning suns, and just as this celestial canopy is over your head, so I will shelter you and be your shield.”
With these words, God renews his promise and reminds Abram: Eliezer of Damascus will not inherit his house and possessions, but his own flesh and blood will live on, extend his name through the generations, and carry a blessing from God, in order to be a blessing to all the families of the earth!
And so Abram does looks up. He sees the stars in constellation, and the swirling Milky Way, and he believes that a God could make the heavens in all their splendor, could also do something as wonderful as give him and his wife a child in their old age.
Abram believes God’s promise and God declares all is right in their relationship.
Martin Luther might have called Abram’s doubtful behavior “navel-gazing.” That was Luther’s phrase to describe the way in which we sometimes refuse to believe God’s promises because of thinking too much or too deeply about our selves, our own experience, and our own feelings.
In our confession we say: God we have been turned in on ourselves. We are guilty of navel-gazing, of looking for lent in our belly-buttons…of fixing our attention on our own small, insular world, and on our own needs, so that we’ve missed opportunities to look to Jesus for protection and shelter.
But hear God’s again word of forgiveness. God says, “Look up and see that you were dead, but now you’re alive, you were lost, but now you are found.”
In God’s forgiveness, in our daily baptism, in the holy supper, God comes to us, invites us to repentance, and reconciles us to himself.
God invites us to look not inward, but to look up and outward at the world he has created and loves. Like Abram, we are blessed to be a blessing.
And filled with forgiveness, God sends us to live for and tell about our gracious God who longs to shelter and shield not only us, but all of creation.
In our gospel we see Jesus standing outside Jerusalem, lamenting her faithlessness, and longing to reconcile her to God.
The text reads a lot like a children’s story, with its fox, hen, and chicks all running around.
The Pharisees have come to tell Jesus that the sky is falling on his new revolution. Herod wants to kill him and bring Jesus’ story to a premature ending.
It’s hard to say if these sometimes-opponents-of Jesus, the Pharisees, are genuinely trying to help, or whether they are planting a trap of some kind, but Jesus seems to suggest they’re in cahoots with Herod when he says, “Go tell that fox…he can try as he likes, but I have work to do that doesn’t involve him.”
Jesus’ plans are not going to be influenced by this small-time governor. As sly as Herod may be, he can’t out-fox Jesus, and keep him from going to Jerusalem, where God has special plans for him.
Jesus knows he will not be stopped short of God’s city, where – ironically — God’s prophets are killed; where messengers through the ages have come to call God’s people to repentance, and have only failed.
And so Jesus, stands at a distance and looks at Jerusalem and speaks for and with the Father, lamenting, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you were not willing.”
A mother hen fiercely loves and protects her chicks, sits with them through rain and storm, will give her life for the sake of the chicks, and so Jesus offers us refuge in his wings.
And so Jesus laments that we don’t always come to him for shelter and refuge.
On Thursday night a number of us gathered at Isley Brewery for Luther on Tap – a time to have conversation about faith and life out at a local brewery.
We played a card game called Solarium, in which there are 50 different cards, each with an evocative picture on it. One card has a bird in a man’s hand, one is of a bicycle without wheels, one is the close up of a woman’s eye, one is of an elderly couple walking together…each picture is unique.
Each of us were invited to pick a card and answer the question: “How does this picture describe my relationship with God right now?”
To a person, even though we had different pictures, almost everyone said we felt like we were having a hard time carving out quiet time to read Scripture, pray, and listen.
For the next round we spread the 50 picture-cards out over the table again and this time we were invited to pick a card that spoke to what we would LIKE our relationship with God to look like.
Again, we all picked cards with different pictures on them, but nearly every one of us shared something about wanting to be more intentional in making time for focusing on God – in a sense, we all said we felt we needed to look up and pay attention to God and accept the shelter that Jesus longs to give us.
Like little chicks, we have a mother hen who treasures us and who will protect us in her bosom.
If our time together at the brewery hadn’t been interrupted by Last Call, I would’ve asked, “Who in your life has been an example of faithfulness? Who has shown you how to trust God?”
Certainly, as we follow Jesus, we benefit from having people we can look up to in the faith.
Paul says as much to the church in Philippi: He writes, “Brothers and sisters, look up to me – imitate me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.”
Paul and his partners are Friends of the Cross of Christ; people who have found that the only shelter that can really shield and protect us is the love of God is Jesus Christ.
So, who in your life has shown you how to take shelter in Jesus?
And who might you invite to imitate you in learning to take shelter in Jesus?
Because God gathers us in community, where we find ourselves nestled together under the same wing of our mother hen, Jesus, who protects us from the foxes of the world.
Just as the mother hen stretches out her arms and gathers her chicks, so Jesus stretches out his arms on the cross gathering us and sheltering and shielding us in God’s mercy.
As a chick looks up her mother, so we are invited to look upon the cross and see God truly loves us.
If this all sounds like a children’s story – with the fox, the hen, and the chicks – maybe that’s because it is.
In Jesus Christ, God has made us his children and welcomes us into his remarkable story.
We are God’s children no matter what country or continent we’re from: Norwegians, Germans, Africans, Europeans, Asians, North and South Americans. We are his children whether we’re introverts or extroverts and no matter our personality type. We are his children whether we’re old as Abraham or young as baby Isaac crying in his wrinkled arms.
Amazingly, we are his children, EVEN whether we feel that we are close to or far from God.
God grace and mercy overshadow how we feel about him, mistakes we may have made, or how much good we may do.
God gives us salvation because of his goodness and mercy, which we see most clearly in Jesus Christ and his cross.
Sisters and brothers, look up to God in the highest heaven. Look up to the LORD. Take heart and look to one who shelters us with mercy.
[Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Phillipians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35]