Gathered Under Her Wings
Our gospel reading this morning is part of what is often called the “travel narrative” of Jesus, his final journey to Jerusalem. It starts when Jesus comes down from the Mountain of Transfiguration and he turns towards the city. He is under no illusions as to what he must face when he arrives there. The journey to Jerusalem which began at the top of a mountain will end up on a hill on a lonely cross and yet Jesus will not allow anything to get in the way of his destiny. This story in some ways reminds me of the words of Martin Luther King who once said:“If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.”
Jesus knows that he is going to be spurned but regardless, his love and his passion for the people of Jerusalem is absolute. He will embrace Jerusalem, even if the city and its people reject him. He says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets. You stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!”Along the way Jesus meets several Pharisees, who warn him that Herod will try to kill him. This is not an idle threat. Herod already killed Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist. In fact Jesus’ life has been in danger since the time of his birth when the Father of this Herod sought to kill him as an infant. But Jesus is used to being opposed. It was only a few weeks earlier that he was thrown out of Nazareth after preaching in the Synagogue. The experience of rejection and criticism has always been part and parcel of living and proclaiming the Gospel. It was the experience of the prophets, it was the experience of Jesus, and as we heard from Grace in her talk at the UCW meeting the other day, John Wesley and the early Methodists had to face angry mobs of people who were offended by what the Methodists were doing and proclaiming. In fact, if we do not run into any criticism as Christians at all, then we have to ask ourselves whether somewhere along the way, we have lost the plot of the Gospel. So Jesus tells the Pharisees “go and tell that fox: “I am driving out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I shall finish my work. Jesus words are a reminder that the clock to Calvary is ticking!
This story is about the clash of passion and prejudice. The passion and love of God through Jesus for his people, and the resistance and prejudice of the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has a long history of killing the prophets, which God has sent through the ages to call people to repentance and this is because it’s the prophets like Jeremiah, rather than the priests who directly challenge the established thinking and the status quo. So Jerusalem is not going to recognize Jesus for who he really is. They are looking at him with glasses that only let them see what they want to see because over many years the spiritual insight of the city has gone stale. Their connection with God and with each other is no longer life giving. Jerusalem is fenced in, insular behind its city walls and unable to see outside of its own prejudices
When I use the word “prejudice” I mean in its broadest sense, not just the racial prejudice which we have had to wrestle with in our society and in this church, but the general tendency we have to pre-judge others who are different from us before we have had the chance to really understand who that person is and to walk in their shoes. Like in the children’s story, we have this ingrained habit of looking at the world through a piece of colored glass, so that we can only see red or blue, and all the other colors of the light spectrum are blocked from our sight. Or it may be a collective prejudice which we hold about a situation where we are unable to see a different way of doing things, where we get stuck in a groove and can’t seem to get out. We can’t see the other colors and possibilities of the spectrum. Our bits of colored glass condition the way we see God as well and I would suggest that our childhood memories and experiences often contribute and even sometimes warp our understanding of who God is. We create a God who is a God of love yes but also (what a surprise) lets not forget a God of judgment and punishment, not unlike a parent. I loved my Mom dearly, and I know she loved me. She was one of those parents who you could really call a close friend, a “world’s best Mom”.But I also remember one day when I was about 4 or 5 and we were living in England, I wanted some candy in the shop, and she told me I couldn’t have it, I argued and she told me again No!
Well, guess what I did next? I kicked her! Let me tell you that was the first and last time I ever kicked my Mom, because I remember she spanked me all the way home! So that day was a bit of a bummer for me because instead of getting candy, I got a spanking. Oh! And I also probably got another a piece of colored glass which associated my child’s understanding of God with a child’s experience of parenthood. And the experiences we have of our parents and the reality of who God is are not the same thing.
Luke provides us a picture of God as the hen brooding over her chicks which is the image of a God who loves us and protects us unconditionally. It’s an unusual portrayal of God, particularly since God is being depicted here in feminine rather than masculine terms. The word “brood” carries the same meaning as in Genesis in that the Spirit of God Broods with her wings held protectively over the face of the waters. God loves us his people, and God loves creation with a deep and abiding passion which will go to any length to gather us under her wings. This story teaches us that God’s love knows no bounds. That even when like Jerusalem, we put our walls up because we don’t want to become the people or the church that we are called to be, it doesn’t matter, because that Mother hen is gonna keep coming anyway, trying to cover us with her wings even though we like little chicks are doing our best to run away, or even when we turn on the mother hen and try to kick her. God, will just keep trying to gather us in, she just keeps coming. We may turn from her, but God never turns away from us. So this picture of the hen running around the farmyard trying to gather her chicks under her wings would have challenged the established assumptions about God held by many of those in Jerusalem.
The other day Liz and I were talking about the book “The Shack” I don’t know how many of you may have read this story by Paul Young, but I highly recommend it. It’s a very moving story which is told in the form of a fictional novel how through faith Paul was able to come to terms with his own childhood trauma and abuse. Paul wrote the story for his children not even planning to publish it, it has since sold over 15 million copies. Paul’s experience of abuse as a child affected his whole understanding of who God is, and it left him with a concept of God which is wholly inconsistent with who Jesus is. Maybe you understand what I mean when I say that if you imagine you are in a room together with Jesus and God (the Father), we are fine with that, but if Jesus has to leave the room to take care of something, and we are left there alone with “God” the “Father” well we are suddenly not sure if we are on safe ground or not are we? In The Shack, the main character Mackenzie Allen Phillip’s, his youngest daughter Missy has been abducted during a family vacation, and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is discovered in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of Mackenzie’s “great sadness”, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that terrible shack for a weekend. When he gets to the shack there is no-one there, only the remains of a blood stain on the floor. In anguish he whispers “I’m done God, I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired of trying to find you in all of this”. He rushes out the door, but suddenly the shack turns into a cozy log cabin cottage surrounded by fragrant flowers and a white picket fence. As he lifts his fist to bang angrily on the door, the door opens and he is looking into the face of a large beaming African American woman. She rushes towards him engulfs him in her arms, lifting him clear off his feet and spinning him round like a little child, and all the while shouting his name, “Mackenzie Allen Phillips” with the love of someone seeing a long lost deeply loved relative. Paul Young’s portrayal of God the Father or as he calls her “Papa” as an African American woman shook up some theologians. They argued that to portray God as a woman was not scripturally correct, and they were particularly disturbed when in the story Papa shows Mack her flour covered hands (she has been baking) and he sees in her wrists the scars from the nails of the cross. What Paul Young is pointing out here is that somewhere along the way the church has lost part of the plot of the Gospel, because we have created this idea of a God who sends Jesus to die on the cross, in order to punish him instead of punishing us, Jesus gets the spanking instead of us. And I just have to tell you that is not what the early Christians believed.
The meaning of the Trinity in the oneness of God means that there is no other God behind the cross. There is only God on the cross the Papa, the Son and the Spirit. This is what is so startling about Christianity, even to some Christians, because the idea that the creator and lord of this universe would come to our world not just in Jesus, but “as” Jesus flies in the face of all that seems reasonable. It is an offense to some because it doesn’t fit our picture of the world that we have developed throughout our lives. It’s a major paradigm shift that we can only grasp through the glasses of faith in Jesus Christ
So I guess we still have this problem with these darn glasses which we find so difficult to get rid of. We need a new set of glasses we need Jesus glasses. You see we share our humanity with Jesus, and he shares that humanity with God. He died, was resurrected and ascended in his humanity so that we can share in the life of the Father, Son and Spirit, Jesus has lived the life that we live with all of its fragility and all of its temptation And we are now called to live our life through his continuing life and to see things through his eyes and when we see our world through his perspective, we see more clearly. So as Joan the other day said to me we should always ask ourselves what would Jesus do, but I think not only should we ask “what would Jesus do” but we should also ask ourselves what does Jesus see? The bible is of great help here because in it we discover not only what Jesus does and has done, but when we prayerfully encounter the Word in the Spirit we can grasp the mind and the thought of Jesus as well. And when we develop that “one day at a time” relationship with him we get our life back again. Not only that, we also get a new pair of glasses which help us to see our lives and the lives of others more clearly. It changes the answers that we receive and more importantly it changes the questions that we ask. As individuals, instead of asking what is best for me? We ask “in Christ” how do we live more for others? Instead of asking as an institution, “How do we form our mission and goals so that as a church we can survive into the future?” we come to realize that we are not the potter, God is!
We are the clay and all the resources of this community its buildings, its skills and finances are all clay in the potters hands. And so rather, we begin to ask the question how together as a “mission outpost of the gospel” in a post Christian era can we be formed by the potter into a fitting vessel on the road to Jerusalem, where in fact, we are not called to “survive” but as the body of Christ we are called to die with him there so that we might also experience his resurrection and truly live!