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God as mother hen protects all

Notes & Transcripts

Theme: God as mother hen protects all

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, we give you thanks for your loving concern for us: help us follow your example in providing loving care for others, protecting them as a hen protects her chicks, through our mother hen, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Just after Jesus preaches the Parable of the Narrow Door, some Pharisees arrive. These Pharisees came to warn Jesus to flee, because Herod is going to find him and kill him. The Pharisees as group were also not fond of Jesus. So, did they make up this threat to get Jesus to shut up or did they have a genuine concern? I might also note that at least some of these people will later vote for Jesus’ execution.

This Herod is the son of Herod the Great who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth. The younger Herod who wants to kill Jesus was not allowed by the Roman emperor to succeed his father as king of Judea and was given the area around Galilee to govern. It is this Herod who executed John the Baptist. Herod seeks unrivaled power. Jesus is a threat.

Jesus calls Herod a fox. It is not a compliment. It is like calling Herod a weasel. Since these Pharisees are now messengers, Jesus gives them another errand. He tells them to tell Herod that today and tomorrow Jesus is casting out demons and healing people. Jesus’ business is making people whole as signs of the kingdom of God.

Jesus continues that on the third day Jesus will finish his work. The Pharisees must have been overjoyed. Jesus is going to quit in three days! Jesus’ ministry will end! Instead, Jesus is foretelling his resurrection. But today, tomorrow, and the next day, Jesus will be traveling, for a prophet cannot be killed outside of Jerusalem.

Jesus then begins a lament for Jerusalem. Jerusalem fears Jesus. Jerusalem’s power would be stripped if Jesus’ mission is successful. Jerusalem conspires with Herod for Jesus’ life.

Jerusalem is where God’s messengers, the prophets, are killed. But Jesus loves Jerusalem. Jesus will not be deterred from his mission. Threats on his life will not make him change course.

Jesus compares himself to a hen. Almost everyone who heard him knows how a hen protects her chicks from predators. Have you ever seen a chicken hawk go after its prey? The old mother hen is often aware of the presence of the hawk in time to gather her chicks under her wing. With a furious fuss she squawks till her brood is safe by her side. She fluffs out her wings and protects them with her own body.

The chicken hawk dives and the old hen turns her body toward him and cocks a wary eye without moving from her children. The predator comes in again for the kill and the mother spreads her wings even wider. A third time he dives only to be thwarted by the determined self-sacrifice of the mother hen. She is too big to be a target and the chicks are too safe to be seized so he flies away.

Jesus has the same care and fierce determination to protect Jerusalem. A common predator of hens and chicks are foxes. Jesus wants to protect Jerusalem from Herod. But Jerusalem rejects Jesus and favors Herod the fox.

Even in the face of that rejection, the people of Jerusalem will welcome Jesus into the city waving palms and rejoicing at Jesus’ entry. We know what happens five days after that joyful entry into the city – Jesus’ execution. Jesus is warned about his death, but Jesus continues anyway. He will not avoid his execution.

Jesus says that your (presumably the Pharisees’) house is abandoned or forsaken – a better translation than what we read in the NRSV translation. What is their house? It’s probably the temple in Jerusalem. Who abandoned the temple? God. The temple was God’s home. But even God has left the temple and them.

Jesus is like the desert ascetics who test themselves by doing without food and water. Jesus is like the prophet-preacher who preaches the truth from a Birmingham jail. Jesus is like the doctor who leaves an Ivy League school to cure an epidemic in a third-world country.

Jesus is like the ultimate mother hen. He is going to take on the authorities. He is going to move toward conflict. Jesus is the mother hen who will pursue her child through thick and thin; through good days and bad days; through stupid moves and violent outbursts; he folds down the bed and puffs up the pillow while saying, “Don’t let me ever catch you doing that again.” Jesus calls us to task in love.

In England in the 1940s a young woman entered Oxford University with little focus. She had no idea what to do with her life. But she soon came under the influence of a colorful professor of English, a writer with a gift, named C.S. Lewis. She became a Christian through much of his influence. She left Oxford, against the advice of friends and family, and began to study nursing. After five more years of rigorous training, she was certified as a nurse.

But her story doesn't end there, for her questing, Christian spirit would not let her rest with the way things were. You see, she ended up working on a cancer ward in a London hospital. Gradually, she came to realize that most of the doctors ignored the patients who were deemed terminally ill. As a result she watched many of them die virtually alone.

Greatly troubled she felt that Christian compassion needed to be expressed to these patients in a visible way. She approached the hospital administration with an idea she had for surrounding those dying of cancer with friends and loved ones during their last days, rather than isolating them in sterile rooms with strangers.

Her radical ideas were quickly rejected. But undaunted, she decided to enroll in medical school to try to make a difference even though she was already 33 years old and would not graduate until she was 39. This she did and later a movement soon grew around the ideas that made it possible for dying patients to live their days in a setting of love and support.

The hospice movement came into existence. Cicely Saunders, out of Christian compassion and a sense of calling to help in a specific way, began this movement in England in the 1950s. It later moved to the Americas and is now used everywhere and in every town. It is called the Hospice Movement, and it draws its inspiration from Jesus’ own passion and compassion for his children – “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”

Our prayer is that God will continually come to us in new ways and in fresh images, so that more Cicely Saunderses among us can be moved and inspired to take risks to join in God's compassion for his children.

We hear again today Luke’s central theme: there is plenty of room for everybody in God’s kingdom. For Jesus, God’s passionate dream, compassionate desire, and bold determination is to gather God’s human children closer and closer in God’s embrace and love. That mission and commitment is at the center of Jesus’ work. Like a mother hen, God seeks to draw, embrace, include, and welcome God’s children into the family of humanity that God has intended from the dawn of Eden itself. There is plenty of room in God’s kingdom.

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gift of compassion: through which we act with empathy towards others in their greet needs, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Text: Luke 13:31–35 (NRSV)

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 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! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

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