Abram has gotten rich in livestock, and silver, and gold. He has a wife. He recently has successfully won a major battle.
But God’s promise to give him children hasn’t been fulfilled all these years.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, teaching, healing, and prophesying as he goes. It is the “hour” or time for these things and not yet the hour, or time, for his death, which is how he may refer to as his glorification.
Ambiguity is a big word for meaning something is unclear. Not as a simple as black and white. For example we all agree there is a left and right to this church, yeah? But is that Terrie’s left and right, my left and right, your left and right, the kids’ left and right… All of these directions are different compass points, even through we all agreed there IS such a thing as left and right to the church!
We’re pretty ambiguous about chickens. It is an insult to call someone a chicken, but a complement to call them a chick (if they’re a woman.) We complain chicken is the cheapest meat, but complement food by saying it tastes like chicken. We praise someone for being an egg head, or a smart egg… but insult them by calling them a bird brain. Ambiguity. It’s not really clear how we actually feel about chickens.
Religion is an ambiguous thing to me. Religion has inspired some of the greatest people on Earth to do the greatest acts of love. For religious reasons, Mother Theresa served the poorest of India. Religion inspired the foundation of most hospitals – which began as charities. And many universities, schools, food pantries and material assistance around the world.
Religion has also inspired some of the most horrific acts. The Spanish Inquisition murdering Jews and Rroma; the Crusades murdering Muslims; the drowning of Anabaptist by other Christians for their belief in adult baptism and the giving of small pox laced blankets to First Peoples who refused to convert to Christianity.
Religion is pretty ambiguous. Not a simple thing of all good or all bad.
Simplifying our conversation to just Christianity, to just the scriptures we all have today in our hands… things are still muddled.
How many angels were in Jesus’ tomb? Zero? Two? Three? The gospels don’t agree.
Does God have a wife? In Genesis, God speaks in the plural. In Kings, there is the comment that the ancient Israelites set up places to worship YHWH and “His Asheroth.” Asheroth is the name that other ancient religions used to describe the lives of various gods… such as El… which is a name sometimes given to YHWH in the Bible.
It is ambiguous. Not clear. Thousands of thousands of years and writings and rewriting and new encounters with the ever living God have occluded, muddled, the story. But it looks like once, all our ancestors were not monotheists. And our scripture, handed down generation after countless generation, from ancient Abram to now, has little hints of this time still in it.
Luke’s gospel isn’t as old as the stories of Genesis and Kings… but its still not clear. Consider – Are the Pharisees good guys or bad guys of the Bible? Sometimes they are plotting to kill Jesus… and yet, today, we hear they WARN Jesus not to come to Jerusalem because Herod wants to kill Jesus. They are the people Jesus preaches against as hypocrites for being outwardly pious but inwardly not… and yet they join Jesus’ disciples and invite Jesus into their homes for dinner.
The Pharisees are… rather ambiguous. Grey. Neither good nor bad.
Jesus seems to embrace ambiguity.
He faces Jerusalem today and just calls out what a mixed place it is. It’s the place where God had chosen to make God’s home on earth – a holy city on several hills. It was also the place where the tetrarch Herod (the junior Herod) ruled and kept the land in subservience to Rome. Jerusalem was full of holy sites and holy people… and a city complete with all the things a city normally has: crime and cesspools and the valley known as Gehenna – where the Romans cremated their dead.
Jerusalem kills the prophets and stones the people God sends to it… and yet, God wants to gather the city together protectively and lovingly like a mother hen gathers her chicks. Jerusalem is ambiguous. The city isn’t clearly sinful nor godly.
Jesus loves to speak in “parables” and parables are anything but clear. They’re like a kaleidoscope that let us see things in new ways. As soon as we solve a parable, we think of a new something that makes us review it again.
Just like Jesus tells the Pharisees to return to Tetriarch Herod and tell him that Jesus is going to keep doing the work of healing and casting out demons today, tomorrow, and then finish on the third day.
Like – seriously – Jesus does not work for two days, then sleep on the third. He continues going around for some time healing and preaching and casting out demons. When he enters Jerusalem, it takes more than 3 days for him to “finish” the work.
If this refers to the three days for the resurrection… where was Jesus healing and casting out demons while dead?
If this refers to the fullness of God here on Earth… why hasn’t it happened, yet? Why did Jesus say none of us would perish before he returned?
Ambiguities! Riddles! No easy answers.
I’m… kinda glad scripture doesn’t hand us easy answers. Because life sure doesn’t.
I try to be ethical when grocery shopping. Right now, a dozen white generic eggs are 88 cents. Cage free brown eggs are 3.50. Cage free organic eggs are 4.50 And cage free, organic, vegetarian eggs are 5.50. Which is the most ethical choice?
I happen to be a bird person. I love birds and chickens of all kinds. I’ve been to LaRue and seen the factory egg farms. I know those 88 cent eggs come from birds that have their beaks clipped too short, never see sunlight, can barely turn around in pens, and will be killed for bone meal in 2 years. It’s incredibly inhumane.
But if I get those cheap eggs, then I have more money to get fruits and vegetables for my daughter – and help out her life.
But then I support the cruelty in LaRue and Croton.
So I look at the far end. Organic. Cool. No chemicals. Free range. Well, factory free range means they’re not in cages… but they’re not running around all over the yard like their picture shows. Still better. Maybe. Vegetarian-fed.
Now, if you’ve ever been around chickens, you know… they LOVE meat. I’ve seen them catch mice and eat them. Maybe the good is that these chickens didn’t eat any other chickens who were turned into bone meal… but, speaking for all the birds I’ve ever raised, chickens LOVE to eat chicken, too.
There’s a reason baby birds are given red brooder lights. Its so they don’t eat each other.
The ethics on just selecting my eggs are hard. Ambiguous. Now, that is just getting eggs. All of life is this complicated and ambiguous.
Thank God that God has come to us and shared our common lot. Thank God that God knows how confusing it is to be human. Thank God that God doesn’t relate to us in all or nothing, black and white, simple ways.
God is complex.
Scripture is complex.
And we are complex.
During Lent, we deal with one of the most complex and ambiguous stories of the Bible: the scandal of the crucifixion of Jesus. We’ve been struggling to understand the death of Jesus for 2000 years, and we’re going to keep struggling until Jesus returns. Even then, I think Jesus will likely explain it in more parables and ambiguities… because simple answers just aren’t satisfying.
As soon as we say Jesus died to forgive our sins… then who is God that God couldn’t forgive sins without murder?
As soon as we say we killed Jesus with our desire for violence and earthly power… then why does Jesus predict his death and say this is God’s will?
As soon as we say the cross was destined… why did Jesus pray for the cup to pass?
As soon as we say the cross was not destined… what more could Jesus have done if he still lived bodily to a ripe old age?
There’s no easy answers. There’s no single answer. There’s ambiguities and confusion. There’s complexity. Because we need a faith that is full of depth. Full of different meanings for different times of our lives. We need a God who is like a mother hen.
Mother hens are both the image of sweetness and terror on two legs. On one hand, I picture the sweet image of little baby chicks with their fluff peering out from under their mother’s feathers. But on the other hand, a mother hen is an insane little berserkers. I’ve watched a silkie mother tear into a squirrel who deigned to step into HER chicken run like she was a hawk. All claws and pecks and calls of “BWAAAAAA!”
No animal has had the nerve to go back into my chicken run. They’re terrified of that 4 pound silkie. People say hen’s teeth are rare… I think if they had teeth we’d never let these little monsters into our barnyards.
Anyways, I think of God like that – loving and mild and frightfully, ferociously protective of us.
But ambiguously, scripture also presents God as jealous, as one who orders Moses to have the Israelites kill all who worshiped the Golden Calf. As a god who turned a woman into a salt pillar.
God is… complex.
And we are complex.
Sometimes we need God to be a warrior and sometimes to be a comforter.
Some of us need God to be fire and brimstone. Some of us need God to be shepherds and rainbows.
And who we need in our parent God changes over our lives.
Much as who we needed our earthly parents changed over our lives. Sometimes we needed them to change our diapers and keep us from killing ourselves. Sometimes we needed a mom. Or a dad. Or a friend. Or a counselor. Or a prayer leader. And others of us needed space! Our relationships on earth change.
Our relationships with God change.
Lent gives us time to reflect on ourselves and our relationship with God. Who is God to you right now? Who did God used to be? Who might God be to you in the future?
Lent gives us time to embrace the ambiguities in life, and ourselves, and be okay with our journey and sitting with our questions.