Sermon: Birds of a Different Feather

Right after Jesus told the people that those who are first will be last and those who are last will be first, “some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 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 Old Testament is a book of soaring images of God. Deuteronomy says that God is like an eagle that “flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions.” And Luke was writing for a church that trusted and even cherished this image. So what are we to make of Jesus identifying with a mother hen in the face of Herod’s determination to undo him? She couldn’t even get off the ground.

At the same time, Jesus’ friends in high places warned him to get out of there as fast as possible because that fox Herod was lurking with bad intentions. But what about those friends? Do their voices remind you any of the voice of temptation in the desert? Back then, the temptations were about hunger, security and authority. But here, the appeal is sly and the temptation is not to listen to voices outside of him. This time the temptation is to surrender to a very normal and primal fear inside him – the real human fear for his life in the face of his ever strengthening sense of doom. “Get away from here and save yourself. Forget this madness and live a long and peaceful life like Abraham did.”

And he answered these voices with this odd counter image – “Jerusalem, Jerusalem – how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” It seems to create two options: you can get through the days by tiptoeing around in fear of the fox or you can die protecting the chicks. And in setting up these options, it highlights empathy  – and courage.

Many in our world live by tiptoeing around the fox. We live in an age of anxiety. Whether the particulars concern violence or economic crisis, we are a people who listens daily to the message that everything might fall apart at any given moment.

The messengers could be right. But, we’ve become so accustomed to the daily recitation of what might destroy us that we don’t even notice how the negative impulses seep into our consciousness as we double lock our doors, type in our passwords and never let our loved ones out of reach.

It sometimes feels safer that way. But if Jesus’ life is our model, we dare not imagine that the safe path is always the faithful one. And this is what the little red hen tells us that the mighty eagle can’t – no matter how cunning or powerful the fox, he cannot kill her courage. He cannot end her loving her chicks every single moment of her life.

If you have ever tried to kiss a hurt from a crying child or tried to dry the tears of a family facing the unbearable  – if you have ever loved someone you could not protect – you understand Jesus’ cry. You know first-hand that all you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. You cannot keep anyone from slipping through them. You cannot keep tragedy outside them.

But you can choose to be there with your arms wide open. You can choose to add the reality of your empathy to mingle with – and ease another’s pain.  Jesus says that’s how God is.      Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton

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