Luke 13:31-35 (NRSV) ?At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”??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.??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.’??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!?
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.’
Why is it that so many of my favorite hymns have this theme of our oh-so human tendency to wander away from God; and the goodness of finding our way back: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” one of my favorites, that we sang at the start of today’s service. The words I know best to that song say, “Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee; Prone to Wander, Lord, I feel it; Prone to leave the God I love.” Then there’s that song that kept coming to my mind as I was reading this scripture passage and Jesus’ Lament for his scattered, lost chicks. That old-time Revival lullaby, “Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling. Calling for you and for me. There at the portals, He’s waiting and watching; watching for you and for me. Come home; come home. Ye who are weary come home.” That song was perhaps most famously sung at the memorial service at Ebenezer Baptist Church for another prophet killed by the powers opposing his ministry: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr; but it was written as an invitational hymn for the living to return back to the arms – or in our case today, the feathery wings – of God.
“Come Home, Come home!” Today we see Jesus like a bereaved and lamenting mother, looking out over Jerusalem, her beloved city with so much potential, that is colliding and giving way to the darkest powers of the day – her children, like chicks, running around and vulnerable inside; attaching themselves to whatever power and sense of safety they can find. “Come Home! Ye who are weary and lost and scared – Come home!”
Let’s Pray: God we pray that today you would open our ears to your call to us to come home; may the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts direct us back towards the shelter of your wings. Our strength and our redeemer. Amen
In our passage today, Jesus is making his way from his home turf in Galilee, south to Jerusalem. He’s not in a hurry; he’s walking with intention, taking his time to stop in towns and homes; to eat with unexpected people; to heal even on the Sabbath; to teach; to tell stories about Mustard seeds and fig trees and how they relate to the Kingdom of God. The crowds gather to hear him and his vision of a new kind of hope for the world.
It is a journey with a destination. He seems to know already; it is a journey that will include his death. He seems to know already that God has a plan for his life and body that will strike right at the heart of the corrupt powers of the time – of all time. This is an especially important theme in the gospel of Luke: Jesus turning the idea of power on its head. ‘How the rich will be poor and the poor will be rich; How the first will be last, and the last first.’ Jesus is actually in the middle of that exact lesson, saying those words to a crowd of listeners, when, “at that very hour” as our passage says, these seemingly friendly Pharisees, run up to where he is sitting, push their way through the crowd, and breathlessly say, Jesus “we just found out… Herod wants to kill you! You should get out of here!”
Jesus’ feathers aren’t too ruffled this unsurprising news. He knows there’s a fox prowling around; He knows Herod is going to come after him sooner or later. He’s all too aware that so many of his beloved, lost and scattered, are vulnerable to the wiles and threats of that fox. But he also knows that his final stand-off with that fox and the other powers-that-be; isn’t going down on the side of some nameless country road, or in some out-of-the-way village. It’s going to go down in right in the heart of God’s promised land, where these corrupt forces are trying to take root. “Tell that fox for me, I’ve got work to do first; I’ll meet him in Jerusalem.”
And then, if we had any doubt that Jesus offers us a different kind of power, the image he gives to counter that image of the sleek, cunning fox, is the image of himself as a mother hen –lamenting, like Rachel, for her lost and vulnerable chicks. Leave it to Jesus to turn calling someone a chicken, into the greatest statement of courage and strength and LOVE.
The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor writes beautifully about this passage: “If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed — but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.
She goes on to say, “Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first; which he does, as it turns out.
She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her — wings spread, breast exposed — without a single chick beneath her feathers.”
This is the hope of Jesus. The hope of a Lent that ends in Easter. This is the hope of Our Faith – that when we are out there vulnerable and exposed in the big wide world we can look to a different kind of power. The HOPE the gospel offers us is that this self-less, loving, gathering-in, life-giving kind of power; will always, in the end, win out over the type of power that rules with fear, hatred, death.
This isn’t always an easy message to believe when you’re a chick. Life feels so fragile when we recognize we are that tiny and ultimately defenseless on our own. So it’s natural, that when given a choice between teeth and claws on one side, and feathery wings on the other, that we might think twice about which is the wiser option to stand behind.
As chicks we look around at this big world we live in we see foxes prowling about and even devouring the vulnerable in so many places of our world. It can seem that we catch glimpses of the so often in the news of our time.
There are the foxes even closer to home – foxes fighting for control of our very selves and lives. Being a chick – being human – can be an anxious place to be.
That call from the doctor that knocks our feet out from under us; the nervous moment of looking at our check books at the end of the month; another note home from our child’s teacher; a relationship we can’t believe is beyond repair; the loss of a loved one; uncertainty with what the future will bring – it is so easy to want to look around and grab onto and follow whatever power will ease our fear and comfort our anxiety. “Prone to wander Lord, I feel it! Prone to leave the God I love!”
Maybe our fox is that voice inside that says we can do it all on our own and don’t need God; maybe our fox looks more like the false hope of material gain; or the cunning promise of escape offered by addiction.
With all those sorts of foxes prowling around outside and within us, it can be hard to hear, remember and heed the call, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, “a white hen, across the valley, with a gold halo around her head… clucking for all she is worth.” Come Home, Come Home!
One of the gifts of Lent is the opportunity to be aware of our wandering. It’s a season that offers us the time to observe, not only the wilderness landscape we find ourselves in, (as we discussed last week) but to make sure we are following the right voice out of the wilderness. Lent is a time of Repentance – It’s a word with some cultural baggage, but at its essence it is the call to change our heart and turn ourselves back toward God – and those open feathery wings. Come Home!
The place of the fox is always a place that is untrustworthy, a place of fear, a place where the threat of death looms. It may seem safer in the short term, but it never stays that way. But under the strength and safety of those wings, we can live with a new kind of courage — knowing that Jesus will stand between us and whatever power threatens us – even the power of death. Under those wings, we can find the courage to live with Hope and Act with Love. Under the shelter and strength of those wings, we might even dare to emulate the posture and life of that mother hen herself.
“Softly and Tenderly Jesus is calling.” As I mentioned, this was the song sung at the service for Martin Luther King Jr as he went to his heavenly home. He is man whose life and ministry has been on my heart this month, as a man who lived out the Loving Power of this passage today. There are few who lived more fully under the wings of God, or who emulated that breast-exposed posture of placing his own body and life in between the powers of the day and the most vulnerable. In that position, he spoke words about the Powers described in today’s scripture passage: “One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
“Power at its best is Love.” Love like that of a Mother Hen – the type of Love that we as individuals and as the church — the body of Christ – are ultimately called to emulate. Opening wide our wings, patiently calling out, gathering in, being a place of warmth, love and safety against the powers of our day that threaten to lead us astray. Our wings wide enough to welcome all; our faith bold enough that when we need to we can place our own selves between the vulnerable and the fox.
Being a wandering chick in this uncertain world not easy – but this Lent, as we walk the path to Jerusalem, we can know that Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is calling. We can open our ears to that maybe distant voice that is the Hope of our Faith. “Come Home, Come Home.” No matter how overwhelming it feels, how appealing or threatening the jaws and claws of the fox may seem; “Come Home, Come Home.” Come Home to the comfort, and strength, and Power of a Love that is always greater than death and fear. “Calling to you and to me, Come Home.”