Message preached March 11,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Luke 13:31-35
Order of Worship
I call still hear my fatherís voice, though my remembrance of it has dimmed somewhat over the years. "Peter, Peter," he would say, with sadness in his voice, when I had done something disappointingly typical of a teenager. I wish I had more of his patience, his ability to listen first - talk later, though I must confess that his words of quiet disapproval could cut as deep as if he had yelled at me full force. My Dad was one of those who said, as he applied his hand to my rear when I was a child, "this hurts me more than it hurts you." And it was true, for the tears were in his voice, even if not on his face.
When I hear Jesus grieve over the city of Godís peace, "Jeru-shalem, Jeru-shalem," the tears within speak louder than the words themselves. Later on, when our Lord came within sight of this city, "he wept over it, saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." (Luke 19:41-42) Those words could be spoken even today, as this place of Shalom, this "Jeru-shalem," seems as far from peace as it ever was. Yes, the tears within speak louder than the words themselves.
But weíre getting ahead of ourselves. Last week, I encouraged you to approach this season of Lent from the perspective of a map, rather than from a calendar. Along the way of these days leading up to Easter, our travel guide will be - for most of the journey - the gospel storyteller, Luke. As I indicated a week ago, Luke, though he was a physician by trade, must have had a love for geography, for his story reads like a travelogue. Thatís especially true starting with the end of the ninth chapter of the gospel. Every step taken is aimed in one direction - Jerusalem. Mind you, it isnít a straight path. It meanders all over the place. The destination, however, is abundantly clear.
Biblical storyteller Luke, in fact, seems to have Jerusalem on the brain. In the two writings we attribute to his pen (the gospel and the Acts of the Apostles), this city is mentioned 90 times. Thatís almost twice as many times as it is mentioned in the rest of the New Testament combined (49 times). Jerusalem occupies a pivotal position, not only in the story leading to there (as in the gospel) and then moving forward from there (as in Acts), but also in the spiritual location it inhabits in the journey of faith we all travel.
Please understand, when I speak of Jerusalem, like my forebearers in the faith I look beyond the brick and mortar of that still-conflicted city in Palestine. Its troubles, as well as the vision of its rebirth - the "New Jerusalem" (Revelation 3:11-13, 21:1-4) - transcend the soil of that dusty land. "Would that you knew the things that lead to peace," are grief-filled words that are spoken to the human heart, which is to be the real dwelling place of Godís Holy Spirit. With tears in his voice, we can still hear Jesus cry, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem." Along the way, however, in that name, we also hear the echo of another - "Peter, Peter."
Dare I challenge you to insert your own name here? How about it? If you are willing right now, take a moment to consider how you and I fall short of the glory God has created us to be. Ponder how you/we resist God in your life/our life together as a people. Think about how you close your ears to what the Lord longs to say to you. Contemplate how you shut the door to your heart. Reflect upon how you fail to respond to Godís call in your life. Examine how you turn away from the One who loves you more passionately than any earthly father or mother. Mull over how you - yes, you as well as me, all of us - grieve God. (see Luke 13:22-30 for Jesusí challenge)... Now, if you are able, I invite you to listen to the words of Jesus in a whole new way. Listen as if it were his voice speaking directly to you. Just now, close your eyes and say your own name twice.
"_________, ___________," "how often I have desired to gather (you) together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing...." Allow that marvelous image from Jesus to take root in your imagination for a moment. What an odd metaphor for him to use! A chicken, of all things! A female chicken, mind you. Is there room in your heart for this bird? There better be, hadnít there? For the wings of the good news arrive on her feathers.... If you havenít already, maybe youíd better open your eyes before you fall asleep... Now, as Isaiah invited, "Come, let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18).
Jesus, in his cry for Jerusalem, in his cry for you and me, was and is speaking for God. So then, this hen is a stand in for the "Lion of Judah" (Genesis 49:9, Numbers 24:8-9, Jeremiah 49:18-19, Hosea 5:14-6:3, 11:10, Amos 3:7-8). Jesus had a habit of turning things upside down like that, in his own "last shall be first, first shall be last" (Luke 13:30) fashion. How Luke tells the story, though, while it is very serious, itís almost humorous. Allow the laugh, if it does tickle your funny bone, to open your door to the good news.
Did you hear the story as we received it from Luke this morning? Some Pharisees came to Jesus with a warning about King Herod, how Herod was worried about Jesus perhaps being another John the Baptist, and was making plans to get rid of our Lord as he got rid of the Baptist. Thereís no reason to believe these Pharisees here were any more than concerned voices passing on what theyíd heard through the grapevine. The warning was that the road ahead was getting more dangerous, but then - Jesus already knew that. You donít suppose he told the story of the Good Samaritan for nothing did you? (Luke 10:30-37) There are thieves and robbers along the way. Some commit their crime before the fact, some after. The journey calls for loving neighbors, even if they donít fit into our preconceived notions of what a neighbor is.
Speaking of preconceived notions, how many persons in those days would have thought of King Herod as a "fox?" Some may have considered him a pig (a really nasty comment for a Jew). Others may have been nicer, perhaps - depending upon where they stood in the order of things - likening him to the "Lion" often associated with the nation of Israel. In reality, he wasnít much more than a puppet, a minor underling next to the king of Rome, Caesar. I wonder if, when Jesus called Herod a fox, if a collective chuckle erupted among those who heard.
Weíre not talking big game here, more like small fry. Foxes can be nuisances, but hardly grave danger. Unless, of course, you happen to be a chicken. Do you now know where this is going? This tale about Herod being a fox, according to Jesus, is found only here in the gospel stories. And itís right after this that Luke recalls Jesus talking about Jerusalem, and a hen gathering her brood of chicks under her wings.
Now, all metaphors have their limitations. Think of the one we use all the time - shepherds and sheep. There is something very comforting and challenging about considering the Lord our "shepherd," but if we press it too far, we can make ourselves into a bunch of dumb sheep, munching on grass, running from wolves, walking around with a "baa, baa" here and a "baa, baa" there, and providing wool and meat for our master. Granted, we arenít that much smarter than sheep at times, but run with that image too long, and you find yourself off sheepishly wandering in some distant field and not where God wants you to be.
The same is true of this metaphor. Through this lens weíre all a bunch of little yellow peepers, which gives a whole new meaning to what some folks do with the things around Easter time. However, there is One who cares about us because we came from her. She gave us birth, and will do whatever she can to protect us from harm.
What an image for Jesus to use! And those of us who know the rest of the story realize where heís going with this one. We know the danger that lays ahead for him in Jerusalem. With an earth shattering awareness, we see that his face is set on going there, and the awesome reality of "why?" slowly starts to dawn upon us. Jesus is like that mother hen. And, for the sake of her brood, she is going to step between her chicks and the predator who means to do them harm.
Are you listening? This hen has no
fangs. She has no claws. She has no muscled legs that can leap upon and capture
its prey. "All she has is a willingness to shield her babies with her own
body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first."
(Thanks to Barbara Brown Taylor for her imaginative portrayal in
"As a Hen Gathers Her Brood," Christian Century, 2/25/86, p. 201.)
And you and I know the story, donít we? Thatís exactly what Jesus did when he got to Jerusalem. "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." **... "Jerusalem, Jerusalem!" ... "How I long to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings." ... "Peter, Peter!" ... "_________, ________!" Are we listening? Do we hear?
Last week, I drew your attention to the cover of your bulletin. This weekís cover continues the series of paintings by Paul Grout, from his "Stations of the Resurrection." Here is our "hen," if you will, or to shift metaphors again, the "lamb of God" who was killed to protect us, to save us. Upon the cross, you could say, we see the wings of the hen outstretched - gathering in Godís children.
Please now turn to the back of the
bulletin, and letís pray in unison the prayer found there.
I surrender all to you.
In the shadow of your wings.
(prayer written by Paul Grout)
[Bulletin cover art by Paul Grout.
From Church of the Brethren Living Word Bulletin series,
copyright 2001. Used by permission of Paul Grout.]
**What might happen if some of the "hen's peepers" even today in Jerusalem and Israel did as the "hen" did long ago? Is this the way of peace for the city of peace? Well, some are - though you won't read much about their actions in the media, absorbed as it is in battles between Palestinians and Jews. If you're interested, read more about Christian Peace Teams in Hebron (a town outside of Jerusalem on the West Bank).
©2001 Peter L. Haynes
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