Anyone who says that politics and religion don’t mix haven’t spent much time with passages like the one from Luke’s Gospel today. Ideal or not, the political and religious powers of the day swirl together in a heap of agendas, of twisted help and threats, of shifting allegiances.

At first blush, the Pharisees seem to be watching out for Jesus, but their warning is suspect, at best. They’ve been wary of his ministry since the beginning, giving him trouble and pushing back when he teaches that the first will be last and the last will be first. After all, such claims call their own power and status into question. Now they warn him of Herod’s intentions, but Jesus would have already known this risk. So what are they doing?

They likely have ulterior motives, perhaps as simple as trying to get him out of town, to save themselves from the mess and debacle of it all. Or it could be that they’re more closely in cahoots with Herod, and want to push Jesus out of his territory, so that he’ll become Pilate’s problem to deal with instead of Herod’s. Regardless, we know they won’t have the courage to actually stand up for him when the time comes. Jesus sees through their strained display of help, making clear that they won’t distract him from his work.


The mess of politics and religion, of questionable promises and thinly veiled ulterior motives – this doesn’t sound too far off from our present reality, does it? Candidates churn up fear while pledging that they can offer us true protection. We watch, and maybe lament, as politicians attack each other ruthlessly while trying to maintain the image of innocent power. Sly like foxes.

Many of us get sucked in, don’t we? It becomes easy, even commonplace, to creep towards equating a person’s political choice with their value as a human being, or their compatibility as a friend. That’s not to say that there aren’t deeply troubling possibilities out there, given some of the candidates. Jesus, too, is quick to name Herod, this vicious, pompous leader, as a fox.

But this isn’t a sermon about the candidates — that would be illegal — or about the possible trajectories our country could be headed in. Rather, I’m curious about how we are present to the process, how we respond to this climate.

When we are glued to the political antics and mudslinging, steeping ourselves in the fear that pervades it all, it begins to shape us in this image. It’s contagious. We talk about our kids being sponges, but I think we all we soak up that which surrounds us. That’s not to say that we should avert our eyes and attention from the world’s problems – but rather, that we need to show up to the pain and trouble with care, and do it from a place of grounded and mature faith.

But that doesn’t happen accidentally, or overnight. It’s one of the reasons we keep coming back together, over and over.


Paul is aware of this dicey balance as he writes to the Christians in Philippi. It’s a major city and proud of its roman allegiance, meaning these disciples, still young in the faith, are surrounded by very different values and ways of life. He asks them to pay attention to where they place their commitment, how they form their identity.

Do they ground themselves as Roman citizens? Or as people of God, citizens of heaven? He seems to see them as mutually exclusive. Surrounded by the clamor of people living in contradiction to the way of Christ, Paul tells the church in Philippi to be imitators.

I’ll admit that on first hearing this call to imitation, it does not strike me as terribly inspiring, or even reasonable. What about the authenticity that Jesus keeps pushing for? Paul’s encouragement conjures up images of fake maple syrup, of knock off luxury items being hawked on the street, of kids using the timeless parrot technique to drive their older siblings batty.

This imitation business strikes me as counterfeit, annoying, as less-than. And yet here Paul is, offering this as a clear way forward.


As I’ve wrestled with it, my mind has kept wandering back to my experience with apprentices.

My children were all born at home with midwives. And each time, the midwives were shepherding apprentices. The apprentices were part of the whole journey. I watched them watch, as they memorized the way the experienced midwives moved, listened, charted, spoke. The women worked together, the apprentices at first tentative in trying to find the baby’s heartbeat or decipher its position. The apprentices asked endless questions, checking their work, sometimes slowing down the prenatal appointments enormously. But month by month, their work slowly shifted.

And it’s left me thinking – what if Paul’s call to imitation is about apprenticing to be Christians? He’s reminding us that we can’t hone this way of life except through being shepherded, by watching it modeled, in community. In a society that puts so much focus on the individual as supreme, the idea of becoming an apprentice is itself countercultural. An apprentice commits to a time of intentional learning, observing, practicing, to learn a craft, an art, a skill. They work alongside a master, someone who knows it through and through. The process necessarily involves humbling oneself, turning towards someone further down the path.


Returning to the gospel and Jesus in the midst of the growing political nightmare, we hear him explain himself with an image that resonates with this move towards apprenticing. In stark contrast with the Pharisees and foxes and powers that be, Jesus presents himself as a mother hen, both offering her care and lamenting these chicks who will not accept it.

Jesus broods over Jerusalem, trying to bring them all under the safety of his wings. He wants to gather them close, to nurture them, to guide them as they learn to live. And he offers this shelter to us, still.

How do we respond? Here’s one possibility. As we continue through Lent, I challenge you to explore becoming apprentices. Seek this kind of learning out with each other. Who do you look up to on this path? Who offers a life-giving antidote to the perilous political banter? Who leaves you curious as to how they live the way they do, practice the priorities they do, steady their faith through the storm? Who would that master be for you, right now?

Ask them. Trust that if they are living in such a way inspires you, they’ll welcome the question. Ask them if you can be their apprentice, so you can follow along, witness the art in action. Let them help you try your hand at it. Be a little pushy even, ask questions that someone more proper and less courageous might deem nosy. Ask what makes them tick, how they pick up again when they stumble, where they draw their strength. Listen, and watch. How do they move in the world?

Part of what Jesus is assuring us as he tells off that fox is that he is committed to offering this safe space for his disciples, his apprentices, to grow, no matter what. He will not be scared off, just as storms and foxes and even fires cannot make a hen leave her brood.

The protection of his wings extends to us, here. And this, in turn, is how we are called to live, as Christ’s body, gathered into this community. To be the safe space to learn, and practice, looking to one another for the models to imitate life in Christ. Hear and accept his invitation to draw close, to come in under his wings, into the shelter of his embrace. Christ, the mother hen, brooding over us. This is how we are to live together. This is where we learn to be disciples.


The most amazing thing about apprentices, in my mind, is that at some point, almost imperceptibly, they cease being apprentices. They stop imitating, and they simply become themselves, living their new life. Trained, practiced, grounded, ready. I don’t remember noticing a moment when the transformation had happened with my midwives’ apprentices.

It happened over time, as they lived more and more into their work. What I do remember, though is that when the day finally arrived for my sons to be born, it was the apprentices who caught them both. The midwives were close at hand, ready, guiding, their wings spread to protect. But the apprentices, having watched, imitated, practiced for so long – they were the ones to usher in new life. And there was nothing fake about it.

So again, I ask, who do you want to learn from? Who leaves you with a palpable, lingering sense of the Holy? In whom do you meet Christ?

Ask them. Imitate them. Apprentice with them. Let Christ, our mother hen, shelter us as we set to work. The fullness of this new life is waiting.