2 Lent C—2/21/16
Genesis 15:1-12,17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
Pr. Scott Kramer
You may recall that Sunday readings for the season of Lent began last week with the story of Jesus’ temptations. We were reminded that the temptations Jesus experienced during his life were much like those that we face: very ordinary, very every-day.
One of the greatest of these ordinary temptations is the desire to create a God in our own image. You may remember from the Book of Genesis that in the beginning, God created human beings in God’s own image. But ever since, we have been tempted to spend less energy imitating the example of our creator and more energy setting our own course and finding ways to make God fit into our world!
How we need flesh-and-blood examples to follow! “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us!” Paul writes to the Philippians. Study, ponder, and practice whatever you see that is faithful to the example we have of God’s love in Jesus!
The chances are good, though, that we—God’s own people—will not imitate Jesus but even without realizing it set our own rules and standards: 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!
We are tempted to hear in this lament words of comfort and assurance from the mother hen who is eager to protect us, her beloved brood, from danger and harm!
The mother hen does offer protection from danger and harm! But we are tempted to imagine that the primary threat is “out there” somewhere. In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus speaks of King Herod as a “fox,” and there are certainly plenty of foxes–and coyotes and hawks and other predators!–ready to pounce on the hen’s vulnerable chicks.
But if you think about it, the mother hen’s job is not really to fend off predators–how on earth could a chicken fight off a fox? The mother hen’s primary job is to keep the chicks from wandering off on their own. The power of the mother hen is greatest, not in saving the chicks from predators, but in saving the chicks from themselves. “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…and you were not willing!”
Still, it is not the wayward nature of the chicks that is the point of this story. It is the love and compassion of the mother hen to which Jesus calls our attention, as an example for us to follow!
This past week Pope Francis kicked up a stir, didn’t he, in describing one of the leading presidential candidates as “un-Christian.” But what may be most remarkable is that the Pope’s comments were seen by some as controversial. Love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness are the hallmarks of Christian faith. This is the example Jesus set for his followers to practice! Where love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness are missing in the lives of politicians who call themselves Christian, why would it be strange for any disciple of Jesus–including the Pope!–to say so?
While it’s important to point out where Jesus’ example is not being followed, it’s also important to celebrate where it is! Garrison Keillor was in town this past week. Those who have been fans of his Prairie Home Companion radio show for the past 42 years know that finally, at age 73, he’s retiring from the show. In an interview this past week Keillor was asked how our country has changed during that time. Interesting question! His reply: I grew up in a country where racism was openly tolerated, where women were clearly subservient, where jingoism was blatant and open…What I see around me is a people who are kinder, more various, more knowledgeable than when I was young.
We Christians are inclined to emphasize the importance of being Christian. There was a time, however, when Jesus spoke not of chickens but of sheep, when he said to his followers, I have sheep that are not of this fold. What if Christians were known as those who know the mother hen so well that our highest priority is not doctrine or affiliation but the ability to recognize and celebrate love in our nation and in our world… wherever it shows up?
And, what if the chicks were less interested in their own safety and well-being, and more interested in imitating the welcome embrace of the mother hen, whose brood is vast and whose wingspan is able to cover anyone and everyone.
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. In this season of Lent we remember that imitating the mother hen is not as easy as following our own way. It means following the way of the cross, as Jesus did, a path of consequences but a path freely chosen.
The temptations we face each day are both very ordinary and very great. But Christ the mother hen desires to save us, and all people—especially, to save us from ourselves, and the small worlds we create for ourselves. She gathers us in as an example of love…for us to imitate!