+ A sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent (Year C) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on March 17, 2019 +
Texts: Luke 13:31-35
Sometimes we can just feel overwhelmed.
Sometimes the world can just feel like too much to handle.
Maybe it’s a sick family member or the death of a loved one.
Maybe it’s financial stress or looming difficult decisions.
Maybe it’s toxic rhetoric in our political atmosphere or the news of yet another mass shooting.
Or maybe it’s something good and exciting – a new house, getting ready for a new baby, or a new phase in your career.
Whatever it may be, it may make us anxious, irritable, and stressed.
In these times, I find that there are few things better than a hug from a loved one.
The embrace of your spouse, or your friend, or your parent.
It may only last a few seconds, and it may not magically change anything, but it reminds you that you are loved, that this person cares for you and is with you, and that maybe everything will be ok.
Today, we hear Jesus tell of his desire to gather all his people essentially into a big hug.
He tells us that he wants to bring them in like a Mother Hen embraces her chicks.
And in some ways, this is what he has been doing for so much of his ministry – reaching out to those on the margins who have been forgotten or rejected by the world, and giving them an assurance of God’s love for them.
Through healing and feeding, teaching and preaching, Jesus is trying to gather his people together to rest in the love of God.
And even when he hears that his life is under threat, that King Herod wants to end this ministry, Jesus rejects the threats and says he will continue doing what he’s been doing all along.
Rather than getting side tracked by fear and intimidation, he defiantly continues on, confident in his mission to share the love of God with all people.
Jesus rejects the powers of the world that oppose him.
He rejects the tyranny of Herod, the jealous leader who would quash anyone that would challenge his reign.
He rejects the politics of fear that makes us hoard what we have and look out for only ourselves.
He rejects the shortsightedness of nationalism that seeks to divide the people and all that sets them against each other by fooling us into thinking that some people are better than others and that outsiders should be feared.
Instead, Jesus boldly proclaims that his gospel is stronger than these lies, that the work of God is mightier than the forces that would threaten him, that love will always overcome hate.
He labels these systems and lies the ways of the fox, embodied by Herod who would seek to end his ministry.
And instead, he depicts himself as a Mother Hen who wants to bring all people under her wings.
He proclaims a new world, the in-breaking kingdom of God, that we glimpse under those wings.
Jesus is not bound by the brokenness of our political regimes, but looks instead to the new reality he brings.
He is not overwhelmed by the tyrants and oppressors but dwells instead in the radical love of God.
He is not captivated by fear’s power but relies instead on the even greater power of God.
He does not preach exclusivism or nationalism but instead longs to gather his people into his loving embrace, like a mother hen gathering her brood under her wings.
To bring all people into this new world he is bringing.
Because in the meantime, while the ways of the fox still dominate so much of the world, while God’s kingdom is still breaking in and not yet fully realized, sometimes we are overwhelmed and need to be assured by our God that we can keep going, that things will get better, that we are loved.
And yet, Jesus laments, we are not willing.
We are not willing to live into this new world.
We are not willing to live into the embrace of our Mother Hen.
We still allow ourselves to wander away from the refuge of her wings and instead actively or passively take part in the ways of the fox, the ways that deal in fear and division and death.
We still allow the evils of nationalism to continue to take innocent lives.
We still allow violence to be the way of this world.
We still preach scarcity and hoard what we have.
We still succumb to doubt and don’t allow ourselves to fully trust in God’s promises.
During this season of Lent, we take this opportunity to examine our lives.
Use confession to repent of our participation in the fox’s ways – either willingly taking part or by our association.
And in this time of taking stock, we see how we have fallen short of the vision God has for us and our world, we see how we have wandered away from the embrace with which our Mother God has tried to gather us.
We see how our God has put everything on the line for us, even her own life, to protect us from the evil foxy ways.
So we hear Jesus lament today.
Lament that his people will not embrace the life that he is bringing, that refuse to live into the new world that he is proclaiming, that we still choose the fox over the hen.
If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, you can understand Jesus’ lament.
If you’ve ever watched helplessly as a loved one engages in self-destructive behavior be it drugs, or crime, or alcohol, or any number of things, you can feel the echo of Jesus’ cry.
Sometimes all you can do is stand there with open arms standing open and ready, full of love, and wait for them to come into your embrace.
Now I admit that on its face, Jesus as a Mother Hen may not seem like much to rely on.
What kind of security do we have in a hen?
What kind of strength does she have in which we could put our trust?
Of all the animals to pick, Jesus chooses a hen?
Why not a lion or an eagle or even the fox that torments him?
Why not something that radiates strength and confidence, a symbol of power and might?
Why not an animal worthy of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?
Instead, he picks a lowly hen…and the chicks scatter.
Perhaps it’s really no wonder that they do—the hen does not inspire much confidence when compared to any of these stronger options.
The chicks look for strength, for easier answers, for the seeming assurance that brute force provides.
They start to follow the fox, to trust in military might and the power of force, they succumb to the fears of xenophobia and racism, they allow themselves to be blinded to the love that would unite all people into one.
But while a hen may seem no match against the fox, she has a weapon he can never equal—a love that cannot be overcome.
Farmers will tell you when a fox gets into a henhouse the hen is obviously defenseless; her beak is useless against the fangs and claws of the fox.
But even still, she will gather her chicks under her wings and defiantly face the fox, breast puffed up with sacrificial love, ready to shield her babies with her own body.
She stands resolute, a strong, defiant, fearless, and protective mother.
And while the hen rarely makes it through this confrontation, she gives her children a chance to survive.
It reminds me of the seminal book and film series of my childhood: Harry Potter.
As we learn in the first installment, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the evil wizard Voldemort wanted to kill Harry when he was a baby, but was stopped when Harry’s mother, Lily, put her body between Voldemort and her son.
Determined to get to Harry, Voldemort murders Lily.
But when he tries to kill Harry, his curse somehow rebounds back on him sparing the baby and defeating Voldemort.
Later in the book, it is discovered that the dark wizard can’t even touch Harry.
Harry asked his wise headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, how all of this happened. “It was because of your mother,” he said. “She sacrificed herself for you, and that kind of act leaves a mark… This kind of mark cannot be seen. It lives in your very skin…[it’s] love, Harry. Love.”
As we journey together during this season of Lent, we travel together toward the cross of Good Friday, our stark reminder of exactly how far God’s love for us will go, that Jesus will stop at nothing to protect us, her children, from the foxes.
And there, at the end of this journey, we behold this cross where we see our mother hen’s wings stretched wide, breast exposed, defying the forces that would seek to end her and us, proclaiming her love for us.
But as we journey together toward the great feast of Easter, we also have this season of Lent to remember or prepare for our baptism—that time when God gathers us at the water, brings us under her wings, and proclaims that we are a beloved child of God.
During our baptism, we receive a mark of this sacrificial love as a cross is etched on our forehead, a cross we may not see but that lives in and on our skin cementing our identity.
A mark of this love that cannot be washed away.
A reminder that we have been gathered by our Mother Hen, embraced in her love, and brought into a new life that cannot be overcome by any fox.
Because even though it may seem that the forces of this world defeated her on that cross, we know that she burst through the bonds of death and that loved triumphed over the fox’s ways.
And through our baptism, we are joined in that resurrection and are assured that the forces of evil need not have any power over us anymore.
We have a place for us, nestled securely under the wings of our loving Mother Hen, confident in her unlikely power and able to let go of the things that would drive us from her.
And yet, Jesus laments, we still scatter.
Because while it would be easy for us to sit here this morning and declare that we are the ones who have gathered under our Mother Hen’s wings, to assure ourselves that we would never listen to the wily fox and all his empty promises, we know that is not always true.
Especially in this season of Lent, as we have this opportunity to engage in self-examination and take stock of how we are relating with our God and our neighbors.
During our confession this morning, we acknowledge all the ways that we wander from our God’s loving wings to follow the fox’s call.
We confess the sin that brings us harm, the harm that we do to others, and our participation in systemic sins that keep our fellow chicks from feeling God’s loving embrace:
our self-centered living …
our longing to have what is not ours …
the jealousies that divide families and nations ….
our reluctance in sharing the gifts of God …
the hurtful words that condemn and the angry deeds that harm.
We admit that these are not just someone else’s fault, but our own.
That we too have wandered from the love with which Jesus would enfold us.
But as we heard this morning, we are never abandoned.
We are never left alone in our wandering.
That even though we have strayed, Jesus calls us again to come back and nestle under those inviting wings.
To reject the forces in this world that would seek to divide us.
We are invited by our Mother Hen to come again and receive the love of God.
To hear it in the words of forgiveness, to feel it in the embrace of our siblings in Christ, to touch it in the waters of our baptism, and to taste it at this table where Jesus welcomes us.
Even my chasuble—which is the garment I wear when we celebrate communion—can help us remember this welcoming embrace.
As I open my arms in welcome, see how the abundant fabric looks like the wings of a hen welcoming home her brood, of our Mother welcoming us home at this table.
She calls us again to this place, to this word of forgiveness and this meal of life, to gather in her embrace.
She calls us to glimpse the world as it could be and will be.
And while our time here may not magically fix everything, while we may still feel overwhelmed by the world and the challenges we will face when we walk out the doors, we have this chance to be assured of the abiding love of God in which we can find refuge.
The love that surpasses all of our doubts and fears and worries, that enfolds us like a mother gathering her children into her arms.