March 17, 2019
Jim is a man in his late sixties. He still works hard at his job, and worries about the ebb and flow of money that comes in. It causes him to have many sleepless nights.
But what really causes Jim to worry is his grown daughter and her children. His daughter is in and out of drug treatment programs, and long ago she left her three children with Jim and his wife. Now that his wife has passed away, it’s only Jim. His daughter calls about twice a year. His daughter’s oldest girl, Sarah, is around sixteen…and she’s beginning to remind Jim of her mother.
One night, Sarah is about to leave the house on a date with her older boyfriend.
Jim and Sarah have been arguing again. And Jim has been worrying about her, not knowing exactly what to do. He would do anything for her…anything to keep her from winding up with the same problems as her mother.
Then, a car is honking its horn out front. Jim is slumped down in his chair, exhausted from a fourteen hour day. Before Sarah steps through the screen door, Jim says, “Remember—you must be home by 12 o’clock!” His granddaughter stops at the far end of the living room, turns, and says with a face that is half sneer, half smile, “You can't make me!!!” The screen door slams behind her and Jim knows she is right. He is powerless to make her do much of anything anymore.
How many of us have been in similar situations? Powerless to make our children toe the line? Or powerless to make our spouse act the way we think they should? Can we make our neighbors be quiet in the middle of the night? Park their cars in their garage instead of the front yard? Can we make others treat us with kindness or respect? There are many things we can't make others do.
Today's gospel has a lot of parts to it. We start with the Pharisees...remember they are the bad guys in the gospel stories, but here they come to Jesus as the good guys, warning him about Herod plan to have him killed. Herod is the king who killed John the Baptist. There was no love from any Israelites for Herod; he was not a Jew and was king only by the decree of the Romans. So the Pharisees protecting Jesus from Herod reminds me of the saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We don't know the motives behind the Pharisees warning Jesus, but I think it makes sense that they were against anything Herod was in favor of. There is a fox and a chicken in this short discourse from Jesus. He hints at his upcoming passion... “on the third day I finish my work.” And you may have recognized the last line from our communion liturgy, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'
He went in many directions here, but I want to focus on the hen. When I was a kid on the farm, Dad and Mom always ordered one hundred day old baby chicks in the spring of the year. Now we couldn't just let 100 baby chicks go unsupervised, so Dad always kept a close eye out for a hen that was setting. Then he would set her in the midst of those chicks. Barbara Brown Taylor describes what this matching looked like in her experience, “Then I placed the hen inside the coop. Both she and the baby chicks froze. The babies cheeped. The hen did not move a feather. The babies cheeped again. The hen stayed right where she was. Some babies took a few steps toward her. I held my breath. The gray hen lifted her wings. The chicks scooted right into that open door.” She described a gray hen, for many years at our farm, there was one black banty hen that would adopt those chicks. Banties, as you may know, are quite small. So here was this little hen with 100 babies underneath her wings, climbing on her back, pushing and shoving to get close to mommy chicken. Those chicks were her babies, no doubt about it. And she was their mother. When she clucked, calling them to eat, they came running. When she clucked, warning that hawk was flying over, they scrambled for cover. And at bed time, she'd give a different cluck and they burrowed under her wings for warmth, cover, and protection. (bulletin cover)
It was quite humorous, but quite a picture when we see it in our minds eye the way Jesus used the picture, “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.”
The great desire of Jesus was to give the people of Jerusalem the love, warmth, protection a mother hen gives her chicks. Jesus loved the people of his Jewish heritage. That love hasn't ended, for them or for us, the children of God. Jesus loves us. And that love drove him to go to Jerusalem, to fulfill the redemption of the world.
By this point in Luke's gospel, Jesus is getting close to reaching Jerusalem for the final time in his earthly life. And it wasn't by accident that he was going there. We read in Luke's account 4 chapters earlier, “Jesus steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
Luke 13: 22 introduced today's reading, “And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.” He is still some way from the city, but his intention was clear. Later on in Luke, we read of his arrival at Jerusalem, and the Palm Sunday entrance. But again, Jesus expressed his love for the holy city, the city of his ancestors, “As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it.”
I don't believe it was just the city he was weeping over, but the general refusal of the people to recognize God in their midst; and it remains so today. Jesus came seeking reconciliation. Jesus was fully God and fully human and came to demonstrate God's great love for us. And I believe he longs to gather us in under his wings as the hen does the chicks. He wants to protect us from the wages of sin; which is eternal death. He came to bring us life.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, anti-apartheid and human rights activist, reminds us of Romans 5:8, “'While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.' This is the good news of the gospel. Jesus lived a perfect life and died to finish the work of salvation for sinners like you and me. And because we are now united to Christ by faith we do not have to worry about what others think about us or say to us. Like our Savior, we serve one master and it is wonderfully liberating.”
Back to the hen and her chicks, because they were obedient to the clucks of their mother, it didn't make them less free; it made them more free to roam the area knowing that they were guarded under her watchful eye. As we allow the Lord to lead us, as we serve him as our master, we find freedom from the fears that can paralyze us, freedom from sin, freedom to be all we can be.
As I said last week, Jesus knew his scriptures. And this illustration with the hen reflects several passages from the book of Psalms which he would know well:
• Psalm 36:7: How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
• Psalm 61:4: Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!
• Psalm 63:7: For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
• Psalm 91:4: He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge;
The Lord offers refuge, safety, joy, peace under the shelter of his wings. As I said earlier, we have the understanding that the Lord can do anything; he walked on water, he fed 5000 with a few loaves and a couple of fish, he raised Lazarus from the dead! Jesus can do anything. But there is something that Jesus won't do, Jesus will not force us to love him; will not force us under his wings. God created us with free will and Jesus will not overrule our own choice to love him... or not. Jesus showed that in today's passage, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” They were not willing and Jesus did not force them. We are given the choice, love and follow Jesus, or go our own way. Which will you choose, or better, which have you chosen?
We will soon celebrate Easter, the celebration of the victory of Jesus over sin and death. Jesus went to the cross. Jesus had the nails pounded into his flesh. He hung on the cross until dead. He was buried in a new tomb. A large stone was placed over the entrance, it was sealed with the mark of the Roman governor, the Roman army guarded that tomb. None of those things stopped Jesus from walking out of that tomb. There was no barrier that he couldn't overcome. But in his wisdom, he has given us the free will to choose the path we will take. He opened the tomb, but won't force the door to our hearts open. He spread his arms wide on the cross, inviting us to the saving shelter of his “wings”. He calls us to hear his voice, and follow. You know his desire, that we each run to him, that he be allowed to “ gather you... together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” It is not that he couldn't make us...but we are created with free will which means we are free to recognize and respond to the call of Jesus in our lives. But we are also free to ignore it. He won't make us follow him.
The good news is that when we decide to follow him, he accepts us just as we are. We don't need to make a sacred journey to find him. We don't need to pay a fee to join his church. We don't need to be free of sin, or extra holy or ultra-generous or have a righteousness that exceeds others. We come to Jesus just as we are. Jesus bids us come to him, to receive the life he offers. All we need do is come. We celebrate that as the family of God, we do find refuge, protection and peace in the shelter of the wings of the savior! And all God's people said—Amen!
Hymn: Just As I Am, Without One Plea 370 PH