A Mother Hen

Below is my sermon from March 17, 2019, the Second Sunday in Lent. This reading from Luke has always been a favorite of mine. I love the feminine imagery for God. Here’s one mosaic interpretation of this text, with my sermon following: Related image

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The summer that I was eleven, my family took a road trip to what seemed like every national park in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado. And after two weeks crammed into the minivan and motel rooms, my parents wisely realized we could all use something to shake us up.

And that is how the Tancredi family, not a particularly adventuresome group by any standards, ended up on a beginner level whitewater rafting trip in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. You had the choice of sitting in the middle of the raft, where you would just experience the ride, or you could straddle the side of the raft, have an oar and really get into it.

My mom chose to sit in the middle, but my dad, brother, and I all went for the side. Now, I’ve never been very gifted in the height arena, and at eleven, I was somewhere around four foot ten. I didn’t have a very good grip on this raft. I’m pretty sure my oar didn’t even reach the water. But I was bound and determined to at least do as well as my brother.

We approached the first rapid, which was called “Little Kahuna.” It was the practice rapid, meant to get our feet wet. Well, more than my feet got wet. I went flying out of the raft and into the Snake River. I followed directions and was back in the raft in no time.

As we came up to Big Kahuna, I told myself that on this rapid, I would redeem myself. I was not going to fall out. But as we entered the rapid, I felt myself falling. Only I was falling into the raft, not out of it. My mom had reached forward, grabbed the back of my life vest, and pulled me backwards into the safety of the raft.

I was so mad, and embarrassed. She had ruined my shot at redemption. Afterwards, we bought those pictures that the company takes of you, you know the ones. We never bought pictures like that, but these were just too good. There were a series of four photos, showing the approach, the rapid itself, and the aftermath.

So, you can still see to this day, on my parents’ living room wall, my mom go from fear to determination to relief as she keeps me safe. You can see me go from determination to shock to anger, as I realize what happened.  She did what she had to in order to keep me safe, and I couldn’t believe she thought I needed her help and protection in the first place.

God is like a mother hen, who wants nothing more than to gather her chicks in. To bring them close and safe in the shelter of her wings, to keep them from all harm. And her chicks aren’t so sure they need the help.

Jesus compares himself to that hen, and laments that his chicks aren’t interested in what he has to offer. He offers love and safety and protection, and they return apathy and rejection and hate. There’s so much to unpack in just five verses from Luke, but what really stood out to me was Jesus’ feelings.

Of course, we think of God as loving, as caring. But the anguish, the pain that Jesus feels aren’t usually the first emotions I associate with God. But of course, I don’t usually associate God with barnyard animals, either, and yet here we are.

Jesus is resolute and determined in this short piece of Luke. He’s warned by some Pharisees that Herod wants to kill him, and he should get out of town. The Pharisees are often portrayed as one-dimensional figures, as Jesus’ adversaries, but here we see them trying to help Jesus.

Jesus is determined, though. He knows that he is going to die, but he refuses to let this compromise his work, telling them that he is casting out demons and performing cures, and then he must go to Jerusalem.

Jesus knows that he is going to die, and yet his lament is not for himself. His lament, his pain and his anguish, are for those who would be glad at his death. All of his emotion is poured out for those who cannot accept the good news that he brings. For those who refuse the shelter of his wings. That’s what Jesus is most upset about. Not that he will die. But that he cannot enfold all the people in his loving care, because they will not let him.

It’s always tempting, when reading the stories of the Bible, to see those who oppose Jesus, or those who reject him and refuse him, to see them as the other people. It’s dangerous to do that, because not only might we miss the point but it can also lead to dangerous ways of thinking about our Jewish brothers and sisters.

When we read these stories and Jesus faces rejection or opposition, we ought to ask ourselves, “Is that me? How am I like that?” What are the ways that we refuse God’s offer of care, of mercy, of love? And why do we resist being gathered under God’s wings?

Maybe, like I resisted my mother’s protection through the rapids, we think that we don’t need it. That to admit we need help, we need love, we need forgiveness, is to admit to weakness. We don’t want to be chicks and rely on someone else.

Maybe it’s the gathering in. That’s certainly part of why Jesus was resisted long ago. He longed to gather all people together in his arms. He ate with sinners and tax collectors, he praised Samaritans. To be gathered together under the mother hen’s wings is to be gathered in close with our fellow chicks. There’s a lot of potential discomforts here, to be gathered in with those that we don’t like. That we disagree with. That we just plain old don’t want to spend time with. It’s enough to make most chicks wary. And we have seen this week the devastating effects of our refusal to be gathered together, in the terrorist attack on Muslims in New Zealand.

And maybe we don’t want to be gathered in because we just simply don’t like to think of God as a hen in the first place. Seriously, have you seen chickens? They can’t fly, they’re not too fast. This is how God is going to take care of us? But have you ever seen a mother hen gather her chicks when a predator approaches? I have, just once.

That bird swelled up with fear and courage. She stood her ground, prepared to face her death if she had to, her children tucked securely into her soft, vulnerable body. “How I have desired to gather my children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings!”

Jesus’ mission will not be stopped, just as that mother hen will do everything in power for her chicks. Jesus will not be stopped by Herod’s threats. Jesus will not be stopped by rejection and condemnation. Because the work of God is more powerful than any resistance on our part. Despite our fears or anxieties, despite our claims of self-sufficiency, our wary eye cast towards our fellow humans, the work of God is stronger than all these things.

Because the work of God is love. God covers us in the love of a mother hen, drawing us all in together. God’s deepest desire is to love us. We can fight it, we can think we’re ready to brave that rapid on our own. But that does not stop the protective Mother from reaching out and pulling us always into the heart of love, that there we may face whatever comes with God, and with our fellow chicks. Amen.

One thought on “A Mother Hen

  1. I loved your story about your whitewater rafting, especially since we did it on the Snake River too. Thank you for helping me gain new perspectives on stories I’ve heard before, but never thought of in such a way. For example, I never thought a lot about Jesus’ lament being for the people who would harm him, rather than for himself. And you continue to point out how the Pharisees weren’t all bad, since they warned Jesus that Herod wanted to harm him.


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