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Second Sunday in Lent, Feburary 21, 2016

When Evan was very young, he had night terrors. He would wake up screaming and I would rush into his room. I would put him on my lap and start a litany that told him who was asleep – the dogs and the cats, the birds and the butterflies, the elephants and giraffes. Everyone was asleep, and it was OK if he went back to sleep too. And I would rock him until I heard his gentle breathing again. Evan also didn’t like thunderstorms. He would sit, frozen, on the sofa, when one came through, and he needed me to be with him to assure him that he was OK and that the storm wouldn’t come inside. I felt great that I was the one who could make it all better.

But as Evan grew, there were times I couldn’t make it all better. Going through the divorce was so rough on him. There were things he wanted that he couldn’t have – somebody who didn’t want to be his friend, a turn as pitcher on his baseball team. Then inevitably came the time when my ministrations were rejected completely. He wouldn’t take my advice about doing his homework or waking up in time to go to class the first year of college, but he had to make his decisions himself,  and he finally did come to the realization that he needed to do better in school and graduated from college with honors.

Jesus wants to take care of Jerusalem the way I wanted to take care of Evan. He wanted to take care of everyone there as a mother hen cares for her chicks – to protect them and keep them safe, to give them room to grow and thrive. But Jerusalem – and basically most of Israel – rejected his efforts. In today’s gospel, we see what pain that brought Jesus and what judgment came on those he loved.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to suffer and die for love of his human brothers and sisters. He  goes from town to town teaching and proclaiming the gospel, healing and casting out demons. He is intent on accomplishing his mission and he and God are in control. The Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is out to kill him. Herod had killed John the Baptist because he was a nuisance, even though he was perplexed by him and now Herod wanted to kill Jesus, because his following was so large that Herod was threatened (Fred Craddock). Why the Pharisees warned Jesus, we don’t know. Perhaps these were some Pharisees who thought well of Jesus – they did not all agree on him – or perhaps they just wanted to get him off their patch, and his message given to others instead of people they controlled. But Jesus is not deterred by this warning. He has a purpose and he knows God will help him achieve it. Even though Herod is a predator – a wily, sly fox – he will not be able to kill Jesus because prophets don’t die anywhere besides Jerusalem. Jesus tells the Pharisees that even though his time is short – today and the next day and the third day – he will spend it healing his people and casting out demons. Perhaps he will find some in the crowds who will be chicks he can shelter and protect.

Jesus shows courage in his determination to go to Jerusalem, but he also becomes vulnerable because of it (David Lose). He becomes vulnerable to the people who will reject him. He becomes vulnerable to his feelings of regret and sadness. He becomes vulnerable to God’s plan for his death. Jesus did not have to go to Jerusalem, but he obeyed God’s plan, which led Jesus into a vulnerable situation for the sake of God’s people. In spite of Jerusalem’s reputation, Jesus’ purpose all along had been to bring his chicks under his wings to protect them by healing them and lifting them up out of marginality and oppression. He wanted spiritual growth for his flock of chicks and his purpose required going to Jerusalem and being killed to do it.

Jerusalem was the center of Israel. It was the home of kings and priests and a dangerous land for prophets. It was a city that wanted to believe David’s kingdom would win them the freedom they wanted and their part was to observe all the religious laws. They didn’t want some mother hen protecting them unless the hen wanted the same thing. And Jesus didn’t. He wanted them to live by the Law, as God had always called for in the covenant. He wanted them to depend on God, not on political power, for guidance and direction (Daniel Deffenbaugh).

Jesus is heart-broken that the city will not accept the love and caring he offers. He is devastated that instead they have killed prophets and will kill him because he makes them uncomfortable in their own self-constructed world. The mother hen is something the chicks don’t want, so they run out from under Jesus’ wings straight into trouble. Jesus tells them that their house is left to them – that they will be open to ruin and destruction, which ultimately happens. They will not see him again until they recognize that he is the one come from God and are ready to accept his love and care. But Jesus is still hoping for their salvation. The only other thing the mother hen knows to do is to die to protect her chicks, to save them from the ultimate tragedy of being separated from God, and that is what he does (Alice Ford).

What kind of community is Jesus calling Jerusalem and all who hear about the kingdom of God to be? First he is calling them to a kingdom of love (Karoline Lewis). His mothering love toward them when it is accepted will lead to healthy and whole relationships with God, with self and with others. God will be given the praise God deserves for salvation, especially for having to die for it. We will help our neighbors, as Jesus did, who are in need. We will take care of ourselves and learn to love and accept ourselves, flaws and all, as God does.

The mother hen with the chicks under her wings also signifies a community of belonging, where everyone is welcome, everyone gets what they need. St. John’s as a community needs to work on that and the vestry is working on a plan to accomplish it. We need St. John’s to make room for all kinds of people and to meet their needs in a way that encourages spiritual growth and community.

The close contact that the chicks have under the mother hen’s wings also implies a community of trust and honesty. Some people are certainly more approachable than others, but it is crucial for us to express concerns to the vestry or the rector or anyone you have a conflict with. I know this is hard, but it is part of being a chick of the mother hen. In this way tensions won’t rise to a fever pitch. Chicks will feel less pushed away by the flock, and more chicks will be drawn in.

We are all like the people in Jerusalem. There are lots of times when we refuse Jesus’ care and want to do things our own way. We rebel against God and we hurt God and others. When we turn down the mother hen’s tender care, we are left out in the open, unprotected from predators, even though the mother hen continually tries to draw us back.

Most of the time, we want to be a community of love, belonging and trust. Most of the time we want to be a chick under the hen’s protection because we can’t do it all ourselves. During Lent, make it a discipline to act on faith in God more than faith in ourselves. Jesus draws us to himself. Come to him.

AMEN

     -- Rev. Ann Barker

Works Cited:
Fred Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year – Year C (Harrisburg, PA, Trinity Press International, 1994), p. 147
David Lose, In the Meantime, Lent 2: Courage and Vulnerability, blog post, Feb. 17, 2016
Daniel Deffenbaugh, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 2, Theological Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 68
Alice Ford, Tuesday Morning, Vol. 18, No. 1, January-March 2016, p. 12
Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher: Love and Belonging, blog post, Feb. 15, 2016