Love, Under His Wings

“Love, Under His Wings”

Luke 13-34 under His wings, mosaic

Luke 13:31-35 – February 21, 2016

During this season of Lent, our focus is on love.

When we think of the animal kingdom—and let’s broaden that to all birds and beasts, all creatures great and small—how does love fit into the picture? Picture this. A mama cat or dog, licking and cleaning her little ones. A mama horse or elephant or dolphin, feeding her baby. A mother hen on her nest, spreading out her feathers, her wings, to keep her chicks warm and safe at night. All loving and caring pictures. All maternal. Motherly.

When we think about God and God’s actions, maternal and motherly images are not necessarily the first things that pop into a person’s mind. `

Let’s turn to Jesus. The Rabbi Jesus has His disciples and other followers around Him. They are in Jerusalem—as they periodically are, since Jesus is an itinerant rabbi. Traveling round about Judea, Galilee, and all places in between. Jesus is speaking to and teaching a group of people. What does today’s reading from Luke tell us? Some Pharisees actually warn Jesus!

This might seem odd, or out of character. Imagine, Jesus is almost always fighting with the Pharisees! And here, we find several of them going out of their way to warn Rabbi Jesus: “Go somewhere else—far away! Herod wants to kill you!”

Oh, my! This is the puppet king that the Roman Empire installed as supposed king of Judea. Plus, Herod was the king who executed John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin. Jesus may even have been knowledgeable about Herod and his plots. No surprise here. What else is new?

It doesn’t particularly matter whether the Pharisees who hurried up and visited Jesus were doing this in all seriousness, or whether they were just kidding around. After all, Pharisees were among the foremost Jewish teachers of the Law. As one of the commentaries I consulted said, Pharisees were “community leaders, [who] actively opposed the ministry of Jesus. They were scared of His miracles. Perplexed at His teachings. Most of all, they were angry – angry and shocked – that so many people were drawn to this carpenter turned Rabbi.” [1]

Jesus had a fascinating response to that warning from the Pharisees: “’Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!’”

This is important stuff! Yes, Jesus identifies Himself as a rabbi. But, there is more. Much more! Jesus also embraces His role as a prophet. It says so, right here!

There are so many fascinating directions to go. I could write several sermons from this one short passage, each on a different topic. However—our topic for this morning is love. Remember? This whole service this morning is brought to you by the word “love!”

True, Jesus wants Herod to know that He is not afraid of Herod’s threats and muscle. True, Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem. He is going forward to reach that goal, that journey to the Cross. Eugene Peterson has a marvelous translation of Jesus’s response: “Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now…I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick.”
Question: why did Jesus call Herod a fox? I return to my commentator, Drew McIntyre, who says, “Did Herod have red fur and a bushy tail? No. A fox had a reputation for cunning, for sneakiness, and trickery. Today, we might say, ‘a weasel.’ Throughout most of human history foxes have been regarded as clever creatures – animals that the wise farmer would not turn their back on for an instant.” [2]
The next moment, Jesus compares Himself to a hen. A hen!

I am not aware of exact practices of the keeping of chickens in Israel. I know there must have been some chicken coops in the area. Just think of Peter denying his Lord three times before the rooster crowed. But, let’s assume chicken coops were fairly common.

Jesus says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” Using His vivid skill in drawing pictures with words, Jesus continues: “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Jesus just got done telling people He was a prophet, and He was going to continue doing His work of healing people, body and soul. The next words out of His mouth contain this warm, nurturing word picture. Can you think of anything more caring and comforting than to be drawn under the wings of a mother hen? To rest amid that soft, feathery embrace? I can’t.
Let’s transfer this situation fraught with tension to the modern day. We all know how wonderful it is to be wanted, to be welcomed and loved. This is exactly what Jesus offers us. This is what He wishes to do for us; to welcome us, and love us. Just like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings.

Yet, there is the tension of Herod, looking to kill Jesus. Jesus is in danger, and we are following Him. What kinds of images come to our minds, in that case?

Yes, we hear about the mother hen who gathers her chicks under her protective wings in dangerous situations. It can be at the eruption of the volcano at Mt. Saint Helens, or at a sudden fire in the barnyard. Yet, the hen is sacrificed to save her chicks. Stories are repeated that tell of a hen dying, showing sacrificial love towards her chicks. Her live chicks are found unharmed, safely beneath her protective wings.

Jesus is telling us exactly that. He is the protective mother hen. We are the defenseless, helpless chicks that need protection.

Here we have a feminine image of God! This is so rarely seen in the Bible, in either the Old or the New Testaments. One commentator I consulted talks about the theological rationale of women’s gender and their bodies. I remind you that women are made in the image of God just as much as men!

Speaking of her talk at a women’s retreat, Karoline Lewis says, “If [we] rarely, if ever, hear about God’s femininity, female images for God, or female characteristics of God, then even that biblical truth will be hard to believe. And, if God is mostly assumed to be male, referred to with male pronouns, and described as male, then it will be more difficult and take more energy to imagine God in female categories — and to believe that you have a place in the kingdom of God.” [3]

Yes, of course God has male attributes and characteristics. God also has female attributes and characteristics. As we can see from this motherly image or word picture that Jesus uses!

Jesus welcomes us into His embrace, into His community of love and caring. Just as a lost little chick who finally finds the way home into the nest, into his or her mother hen’s warm feathery embrace, so we can find our way into a community of caring, love, nourishing and belonging. I hope our church community extends that caring and loving welcome to everyone. Jesus wants us to know that we are welcome with Him, always.

Are you still searching for that community of belonging? That warm, caring place? I pray that we all may find it. Not only here, in this community, but especially in the embrace of Jesus.

Amen.

[1] http://drewbmcintyre.com/2010/03/01/luke-1331-35-the-fox-and-the-hen-lent-2/

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4530 “Love and Belonging,” Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, 2016.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

Generous with Our Forgiveness

“Generous with Our Forgiveness” – April 3, 2015

Jesus Christ crown of thorns and nail

Luke 23:33-34 and John 19:28-37

Have you ever had someone say something or do something to you that was really unkind? I mean, downright awful? I can think of other descriptive words, too. Mean, nasty, despicable, evil. There are people like that in the world. In the world today, as well as throughout history. People who act and speak in a thoughtless manner, yes, but also people who act and speak in a deliberate way intended to hurt and to cause all manner of evil.

Tonight, we remember the events of that Passion Week, Thursday night through Friday afternoon, two thousand years ago. We will consider how unkind many people were to Jesus, our Lord. People who acted and spoke to Him in a deliberate way intended to hurt, and to cause all manner of evil. Imagine!

But first, let’s back up. Go back to the Upper Room, where the Rabbi Jesus and His disciples gathered together. They ate a Passover dinner, a Seder. Remembering that night so long ago when the Passover lamb was slain for the redemption of each Jewish household in Egypt. Remembering so long ago, as the head of each house smeared the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of each house so that the Angel of Death would pass over that house in the final plague on the people of Egypt. Remembering as the Jewish people fled from Egypt in such a hurry they were unable to allow their bread to rise. So they ate matzoh, or unleavened bread.

This Passover dinner in the Upper Room celebrated and commemorated the deliverance of the Jewish people from their slavery in Egypt. Jesus and His disciples remembered all of that. They came together to eat, to remember why that time, that night was different from all other nights. But Jesus added a whole new dimension to why that night was different. He instituted the Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist. We will remember this after the sermon, tonight.

The Passion narrative does not stop there. After dinner, after the bread and cup were shared by everyone present, Jesus went out to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed so earnestly and with such agonizing intensity! Yet, His friends, His disciples could not keep watch with Him. They were too exhausted. Imagine.

Judas, one of Jesus’ disciples, slipped out during the Seder dinner. He went to the house of the Chief Priest and told them he would betray Jesus. With a kiss, a common greeting between two friends at the time. Imagine.

As we follow Jesus through the events of that night and on into early Friday morning, Jesus is led through several trials. He is scorned, mocked, tortured, and ultimately stands before Pilate. Jesus is sentenced to death. Death by crucifixion.

This kind of death is particularly horrible. A criminal’s death.

I am going to pause here, and take a moment to tell you what this service is not. It is not a service where we consider Jesus’ Seven Last Words on the cross. I have attended such services. Where there are a series of recitations of each Word, followed by a short message interpreting each one. Some churches commemorate Good Friday with the observance of the last day of our Lord’s life. They retrace the scenes, or the Stations of the Cross. These show that final journey of Jesus, to the cross. Emotionally moving, graphically illustrating the sights, sounds and feelings of those surrounding the cross, as well as Jesus, on that horrific day.

All over the world, today, people are remembering that awful journey. There are some who, just a few hours ago, walked that journey. Along the same roads where Jesus walked, through the old city of Jerusalem. Yes, it is incredibly sad to remember that our Lord was condemned to death, even death on a cross. A criminal’s death. People beat their breasts, and commemorate that agonizing journey. The stations of the Cross.

Instead, we will zero in on one particular word that Jesus spoke from the cross. We come to the end of our Lenten series of generosity. By looking at this word spoken by Jesus, I would like us to reflect on the magnitude of the generosity of our Lord. “Father, forgive them. For they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus is so generous that He forgives those who kill Him. Torture Him. Despise Him. Imagine what a kind, generous, God-sized heart Jesus had! Imagine.

I suggest to you tonight that you—that I—that we all consider how wide and deep Jesus’ forgiveness must be! Consider, with our friends at #40acts, who have given me these wonderful Lenten sermon ideas.

It is not easy to forgive! God knows, I have been wronged, I have had some awful things done to me. I’ve been wounded and in pain, and I bet you have, too! Others might mistreat us, even abuse us in a myriad of ways. Do you think it’s easy to put aside bitterness and resentment? Let me tell you. I know from experience. It is not easy.

Yet, that is exactly what Jesus does here. On the cross, no less! That diabolical device of torture, devised by the Romans to be a horrific instrument of death. If Jesus could forgive His killers and those responsible for His death, what does that mean for us, today?

I know what it means for me. I know that I have been moved to forgive those who have hurt me. God has urged me to forgive those who I have resented deeply, for years.

We can look at this tremendous act of forgiveness—all forgiveness begins at the cross. Jesus models for us what forgiveness ought to be like. What forgiveness can be. We are only able to forgive each other if we know what God’s forgiveness is like. Imagine.

Thank God that God has given us the promise that is faithful and true. Each Sunday, we proclaim God’s forgiveness of our sins. Each Sunday after our confession of sins, I make the statement, “Believe the good news of the Gospel—in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven!”

Can you believe the good news that Jesus proclaims to us from the cross? He proclaims forgiveness. Jesus, struggling for breath on the cross, uses the last of His remaining breath and strength to speak. What does He say? He speaks forgiveness. Can we do any less?

Praise God. Jesus loves us this much. What love. What generosity. What forgiveness. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions and notes for Lent 2015. #40acts Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)