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The Fox and the Hen

Luke 13:31-35

Sermon delivered by Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones   

As Director of Studies at the United Theological College, Montreal,  I team-teach a  Preaching course for final year students. One of the questions we ask the students to address each time they read Scriptures in preparation for preaching in their congregations is this:

 “Where is Gospel  in this text for this people on this day?

Sometimes this is easy: some texts just gush forth their Good news. Some congregations find themselves on a given Sunday in a blessed state of well-being and grace. And then there are days, like today, and there are texts like this one. We have people in our congregation today whose journeys have taken them, unwillingly to the edge, to face some very ‘hard stuff.’  Stuff the like of which those of us who blithely planned  and titled this Lenten season “Journey to the edge” a few weeks ago could not have imagined.

And as for this text?! When Louise read it this morning, did it sound like Good News to you?

It reads more like a screenplay for a film noir, fox-like Herod, the killer of John the Baptist, lurking in the shadows, ‘plotting to kill’ Jesus. Jesus himself, responding with dismissive insult. And Luke the screenwriter setting the scene in the long shadow cast by Jerusalem,  the city where Jesus the prophet will himself face betrayal and death. When in this shadowed scene, Jesus himself comes into focus, we find him weeping, aching, yearning, crying.

Our eyes are drawn to the mosaic his tears created in the dust at his feet,of a mother hen, her wings outstretched, clucking, calling her scattered chicks to her, to gather them into the safety of her breast.[1]

Only, the tears tell us, these chicks were not willing.

They scrabble around the yard, pecking  the dirt,

oblivious of the cries and outstretched wings of their protective mother,

equally oblivious to the fox that prowls in the shadow,

plotting to scatter and kill.

If this is Gospel, it is Gospel in a minor key.

A Lenten Gospel, teetering on the edge, alarming, hard, and stark.

How is this Gospel for us, this people, this day?

Do you know what it’s like to love someone so much that you want to protect them from every possible harm? Of course you do. If you’ve been a parent you do. If you’ve loved anyone more than yourself you do. If you read the newspaper or watch the news of the latest earthquake, or tsunami, you do.

You want more than anything to save your child, your spouse, your friend, a colleague, the poor nation across the world, you long to somehow save them from those crash landings of growing up, or growing old.

you cry with them in the ache of failed relationships,

you feel with them the blight to self-worth when the job is lost,

you weep and abide with them through endless night of mental illness,

you grieve with them the diagnosis of terminal disease,

you stand helpless in the face of the hunger and devastation of natural or human-caused disaster.

You know the love-lamentation that tears your heart out.

It’s the love- lamentation of Jesus in this Gospel. Jesus, the mother hen, her wings outstretched,

her heart exposed, clucking for all she is worth to a brood that isn’t listening,or that cannot hear her above the din.

But, why a mother hen? Surely it would be better to be comforted with an image of the saving love of God, One powerful enough to vanquish our demons, strong enough to demand our attention even when we want to wander off in search of baubles in the dust. The Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus’ bible, were rich with other, stronger images of the Saving power of God:

God, the Stronghold of life, the fortress, the bulwark never failing.

God the rescuer from bondage, smiting armies with a crashing wave.

Wind and smoke, manna and quails through the desert sands.

Or God, the eagle who flies beneath her falling chicks and raises them on her back, up to the heights to soar again in a clear sky.

Or God, the Lion of Judah who vanquishes the enemy with a roar and a lashing claw.

But a mother hen? Not such a strong Gospel is it?And surely not the sort of promise that’s going to bring the chicks home to roost under her outstretched wings. But if hen is what Jesus chooses,

(and it’s clear he did,  as Matthew as well as Luke record this story), we had better give it our attention.

It’s actually rather typical of him; remember, Jesus is the one who compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, or to the leaven in a loaf of bread. Jesus= Gospel – the Good News of the power of God in our lives – is about ridiculous contrast:

the mighty overthrown by a homeless baby

a kin-dom of outcasts sitting at a banquet,

where the last worker hired gets paid first,

where the widow’s last nickel is worth more than a prince’s treasure,

where the sick are healed,

where the lame dance,

where the blind see,

where the prodigal is the welcome guest,

where power is expressed by love, not might

and where the dead rise again.

So, in Jesus’ name, why not a hen? A mother hen, whose only purpose, only intent is to protect her brood,  from the foxes that prowl hungrily around the coop. When you think about it, a mother hen is about as far as you can get in contrast to a fox, which makes the Jesus choice really clear;

“live by prowling, taking,  or live this God-gifted life, loving, loving, even when it hurts.

Which is just what he – Jesus – does in the end. Like a mother hen, wings outstretched,  heart exposed, calling her own to her breast. The ultimate posture of vulnerability, of love.

Steadfast. Cruciform. Gospel. For us. Today.

 


[1] See the CPUC blog www.cpuc.edublogs.org,  Lectionary Page for Lent 2, for images of a mother hen, including the Mosaic at the “Dominus Flevit” chapel in the Kidron Valley, overlooking Jerusalem.

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