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Archive for February 28th, 2010

Second Sunday in Lent

When Dan and I are preaching on the same text we often try to write the sermon together.  This week our writing schedules did not allow for this.  Plus we both were inspired by a different part of the text.  I was drawn to the beauty of Jesus’ lament.  Dan was inspired to preach a more prophetic message.  What follows is my sermon from this Second Sunday in Lent.  But if you haven’t done so already, take some time to read Dan’s excellent sermon entitled, “Why We Kill Prophets.”  His sermon provides a thought-provoking and timely challenge to us all during this season of ‘self-examination and penitence.’

“A Hen and Her Brood”

Luke 13: 31-35

Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott

February 28th, 2010

On the western slope of the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem, sits a small chapel called the Dominus Flevit.  According to tradition, it was here that Jesus wept over the city that had refused his prophetic ministry.

Inside the chapel, the altar is centered in front of a high arched window that overlooks the city of Jerusalem.  Down below, on the front of the altar, is a picture representing what never happened there.  It is a mosaic of a white hen with a golden halo around her head.  Her red comb resembles a crown, and her wings are spread wide to shelter the pale yellow chicks that crowd around her feet.  There are seven of them, with black dots for eyes and orange dots for beaks.  They look happy to be there.  The hen looks ready to spit fire if anyone comes near her babies.

But like I said, it never happened, and the picture does not pretend that it did.  The mosaic is rimmed with red words in Latin.  Translated into English they read, “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!” The last phrase is set outside of the mosaic, in a pool of red underneath the chicks’ feet: you were not willing.[1]

For me, the beauty of this scripture passage lies in the picture it conjures of Jesus standing on a hill outside of Jerusalem with tears rolling down his cheeks as he considers its people.  If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament here.  He is the mother hen crying out to her babies.  But the chicks have wandered far away, lost their sense of direction, and come under the influence of a wily-old fox.  And no matter how loudly that mother hen stands and clucks her babies cannot or will not hear her.

Have you ever stopped to think about mistakes you have made in your past and wondered what it must have been like for your parents to watch you making those mistakes?  I dated a man in college whom my father didn’t approve of.  He didn’t approve because he had seen this man break my heart over and over again and he was sure the relationship wasn’t going to work out.  But I wasn’t going to let Dad’s lack of approval stop me.  I mean what did he know?  I was in love!  This was the real deal!  My father didn’t know my boyfriend like I knew him.  So I kept right on dating him.  And he kept right on breaking my heart.  Looking back now I imagine that this mistake, as well as many others I made in my young life, was perhaps harder on my parents than it was on me. I imagine there may be no deeper grief than to watch someone whom you love and desire with all of your heart to protect head down a road that you know will lead to pain and heartbreak.

This is the grief Christ must bear every day of our lives.  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! The words of Jesus’ lament are not just meant for the inhabitants of this ancient holy city, but for us as well.   Jesus’ lament is meant for us when we choose to seek comfort in our things rather than under the shelter of his wings.  Jesus’ lament is for us when we turn away from his Kingdom in order to build kingdoms of our own.  Jesus’ lament is for us when we turn from his way of peace, and truth, and justice and become enamored with the fox’s way of violence, and manipulation, and oppression.  Jesus’ lament is for us when in our ignorance and in our arrogance we think we know better and we think we can do better and so we turn our backs on the one who is our life and our love.

But even in the midst of this betrayal, even in the midst of his lament, Jesus carries on.  Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today, tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’ Like any good parent, Jesus will not be deterred from his mission.  He will not let his chicks’ mistakes alter his course.  He will not compromise on what he knows to be right.  So he carries on, even though he knows that the deepest mistake, the deepest betrayal is still to come.

I have been warned that at some point in every parent’s life her children will turn on her.  It will happen in the midst of a tense, heated moment when the child wants his way but the parent says, “No.”  A battle of wills ensues and tempers flare, the child seeking greater independence and freedom, the parent trying desperately to protect and parent wisely.  The argument escalates until the child finally shouts, “I hate you!” or says it with the look in his eyes.  And the regrettable choice of the child’s words makes the parent die a little on the inside.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! Jesus’ lament is deepened by his knowledge that his chicks will not only make mistakes from which he cannot protect them, but also that they will eventually turn on him and kill him.  Jesus knows that when he sets foot in Jerusalem he will be killed.  He knows it is a city that kills its prophets.  He knows that his babies don’t want to hear what he has to say.  He knows that his babies are young, and vulnerable and impressionable and that the fox has led them astray.  He knows that he is the enemy in their eyes when all he really wants to do is love them well, when all he wants to do is save them.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the fire that consumed a small farm and many of its animals.  While cleaning up after the fire, the farmers made an incredible and poignant discovery.  They found a dead mother hen, her body all scorched and blackened by the fire that had taken her life.  But underneath her wings lay five baby chicks all alive and well and chirping away thanks to their mother’s incredible, sacrificial love.

As I paused to consider this story in relation to today’s text I wondered to myself what it took for the mother hen to get those babies under her wings.  Were her chicks more willing to accept her love and protection as the fire raged around them?  Or did their fear blind them to their only hope of salvation in the midst of the fire?  Were they running around wildly still looking for the fox?  Or did they finally wise up and accept their mother’s offer of help?

Whatever the case, I imagine this mother hen doing whatever was necessary to gather her chicks and save them.  I imagine her grabbing them and plucking them, pushing and nudging them, screaming and hollering at them, begging and pleading with them, if they would only, only gather themselves under her wings.  If they would only allow her to do what her heart was calling her to do.  If they would only allow her to love them as a mother loves her brood.

What wondrous love is this, o my soul, o my soul, what wondrous love is this, o my soul!  What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the heavy cross for my soul, for my soul, to bear the heavy cross for my soul!

Thanks be to God for the wondrous love of Jesus Christ our Lord who loves us and saves us even when we are unwilling.

Now to the great God of grace, be all honor and glory, thanksgiving and power, now and forevermore.  Amen.


[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, As a Hen Gathers Her Brood, The Christian Century, February 25, 1986, pg 201.  Found on http://www.textweek.com.

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