Tough Minded and Tender Hearted
"Dr King was talking about our gullibility to advertising and marketing and to our unthinking acceptance of whatever the media tell us."
"At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 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! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”"
The use of the ‘F-word’ in our bible passage was intended to shock. It was an act of bravery. An expression of deep anger.
My parents made swearing an absolute taboo. We would get into trouble if we even said ‘Shut up!
I have no idea, what Mary and Joseph’s attitude to swearing was but it is possible that there were moments when the Holy Family was not as serene as we imagine.
Whilst my mother would not have countenanced swearing, she had a pent-up store of anger toward Winston Churchill. Her father had been wounded at Gallipoli in the First World War – a military disaster overseen by Churchill. And her brother was killed in the bombing raids on Dresden – some say that was a war crime ordered by the man we call a great war time leader.
Maybe there was the same residual anger in Jesus’ Nazareth home. The name Herod might well have might not have been mentioned in Jesus’ childhood home without resort to tough words and suppressed anger.
Mild mannered as his virgin mother may have been, she had been dragged into Egypt as a refugee because of Herod. She must have seen or heard of the massacre of tiny babies in Bethlehem at the orders of a usurper King. Might she, like my mother, have nursed a secret antipathy toward the name of the one who was responsible for her suffering.
So when Jesus is told that he needs to once again flee the King Herod – this time the son of the man who had caused his infant flight, he uses the ‘F-word’.
‘Go and tell that fox for me!’
Was there a residual anger in the tone that Jesus used? Tell that FOX.
Yes – the F Word
The message he gives the fox – Herod – is the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.
‘Listen’, he says. – ‘I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow I must be on my way because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.’
The challenge is direct, tough, brave, decisive.
Jesus has a message that today and tomorrow are days for healing, and for provoking evil forces into submission.
And one of those evil forces would be Herod himself.
There are a lot of foxes in London. You see them at night and in the daytime see the result of their night-time prowls in bin bags sprawled across gardens and bin stores.
For those trying to persuade Jesus to hide – to run away from the challenges – the word Fox would have raised more than an eyebrow.
In Rabbinic writings, foxes were seen as inferior. So, the royal status of Herod was being questioned.
Foxes are scavengers and brutal attackers of smaller animals as many a chicken keeper will know. The Galilean foxes and the so-called King Herod were blood stained.
Thirdly, foxes are known to be crafty, devious. So was Herod.
Jesus is resolute. He does not run away. He goes to Jerusalem, knowing he will be killed. But he is a prophet and that’s what happens to prophets.
This is the second of our Lent services on the theme, drawn from Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, of The Beloved Community.
King once preached a sermon called ‘A tough mind and a tender heart’. In it he called out his congregation for being soft minded.
I don’t know if that applies to us.
Dr King was talking about our gullibility to advertising and marketing and to our unthinking acceptance of whatever the media tell us.
About how we allow ourselves to give into irrational fears.
You know how a lot of hotels don’t have a 13th floor because it is unlucky. Quietly forgetting to remind their customers that the 14th floor is still the 13th!
The soft minded, often people of faith, fear change. We are nervous of question only seeing in scripture, the things which protect the status quo.
As Dr King put it ‘Blessed are the pure in ignorance for they shall see God’.
King said it is softmindedness that is at the heart of the deep-rooted problems of our world – especially racism. We can add homophobia, misogyny, neglect of the environment.
They are symptoms of softmindedness because they are irrational fears.
We have to be tough minded in order to break free. We need not be afraid of calling out the foxes of our own times and fearlessly unafraid of naming our own prophets or of being a prophetic community.
Jesus is the absolute model of tough mindedness. He was willing to die for his people. As was Dr King as he stepped out onto that Memphis balcony.
There is another animal in our Bible passage this morning.
Jesus contrasts Herod the Fox with himself.
He is a mother hen. He just wants to gather up the people of Jerusalem, living as they are in straightened times as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings.
The man who spat out the word Fox when speaking of a tyrant, speaks tenderly to Jerusalem’s population.
And he talks tenderly to us.
We are living through some very tough days and there is worse to come. Whilst it is lovely to feel more relaxed about meeting with each other, shopping and travelling around, there are still some who are justifiably fearful of the pandemic. There are countries where vaccines are simply not available, and we need to be aware of them as other global issues draw our attention.
We are all noticing the increase in prices. We should be fearful for so many people as fuel poverty increases, and food prices rise. Too many people are already dependent upon charity.
And of course the war in Ukraine continues to appal and to create anxiety, and compassion for its victims.
Another of Dr King’s sermons was entitled ‘Beyond good deeds.’ The toughminded don’t only ask how we can help, they also ask why we need to help. What is going wrong that people in a rich country can’t make ends meet.
Jesus knew that you need a tough mind and a tender heart.
That is the Christian way – prophetic and pastoral – outspoken when needed and soft spoken when compassionately responding to a brother or sister in need.
Foxes and hens don’t get on.
Foxes smell out the chicken.
And who among you would hold out a malicious thought about a hen. Although it would come as no surprise if there were people here who will happily tuck into one in the course of the day!
Today and tomorrow – Jesus says he will do two things.
He will heal the sick.
And he will cast out the demons.
To belong to the Beloved Community is to draw closer to each of us with our own necessities.
It is to invite in those who are challenged in society simply because of who they are.
It is to create space for refuge, be it refuge from war, from oppression, from discrimination, from abuse.
It is to find a collective voice – to do together what it is hard to do on our own.
It is to be the church of Jesus Christ. Toughminded and tender-hearted.
Jesus said that today and tomorrow he would show us the true nature of God. A God who heals the sick with mercy and gathers his children as a mother protects her young.
We are those who the psalmist said ‘live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the almighty and will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.’
Whatever is going on in your life, and in the world, know yourself to be beloved and to belong.
Today and tomorrow, Jesus is also casting out the demons – and that is our prophetic mission too. We call out the demons of corruption and violence, negligence, abuse, hatred war.
And we save the ‘F word for the foxes of our time.
There are three kings in our service this morning.
I have no idea whether that would help a poker player but these three Kings are all part of our game.
Martin Luther King Jnr – a prophet of our faith who paid the ultimate sacrifice and continues to have a profound influence on how we understand ourselves to be Christian in these times. I believe that is because he was so authentic in his understanding of who Jesus was and why Jesus was as he was.
Then there is the fox himself – King Herod. That cunning, blood stained, disrupter. The fox who today denies climate change, does not care when he spreads false stories of the effect of vaccines, steals resources from the poor, denies health care to the sick, uses violence to contain his people and shells and bombs and kills to get his own way.
And the third King –
Describes himself as a mother hen. Loving compassionate, tender-heartedly caring for each of us here and pleading for the poor, the hungry, the mourning and the persecuted.
This King was willing to die and did die for each and every one of us and all our tragic humanity.
Jesus said that after today and tomorrow, on the third day he would finish his work.
This King finished his work by doing more than swearing at the Herods of this world. He proved them all wrong by destroying their ultimate weapon – death itself.
For this King is our hope, our salvation, the promise of better days.
This King invites us to join his band of believers who trust in a risen Saviour and who know that the time is coming when together we will say ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’.
For he comes in every moment of sadness, despair, and tragedy with the wisdom we need, the comfort we long for and the hope which holds us fast.
 Psalm 91.1-2‹ back