Momma Hen vs. the Fox

A Sermon for 21 February 2016 – 2nd Sunday of Lent

A reading from the gospel of Luke 13:31-35.

“At that very hour 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! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ “”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

My thirteen year old niece loves animals. All kinds of them. Last winter a stray cat was wandering near their house. She was all worried that cat would freeze to death outside in the frigid temperatures of their Wisconsin winters. So after a few days, out on their front porch; she made it a warm, welcoming home. She even named the cat Shadow. Then to lure Shadow in to the little shelter, she put up a sign reading: “Shadow is Loved Here!” . . . She has this amazing compassion for all kinds of animals – and for people too – but especially for animals. Though she lives in Wisconsin with the rest of our family, she’s not on a farm. Nonetheless, for the past several years she has been wanting to raise chickens. She and my sister baby-chick-sat one spring for my sister’s friend who raises chickens and provides fresh eggs to all her family and friends. Ever since then, my niece has been set on having a few cute little chicks of her own. For whatever reason, my sister hasn’t given in to her pleas. Perhaps because they live in the woods on Lake Michigan and my sister knows all other sorts of animals are around. Things like that stray cat and raccoons and coyote. Once when my niece was really young and used to take off by herself through the woods over to grandpa and grandma’s house next door, my sister told her she couldn’t do that because what would happen if a bear was out there in the woods between their houses? My sister insisted she was too little to face a bear alone. Rarely have there ever been bear in those woods, but my sister really didn’t want anything to happen to her so she tried to reign in my niece’s precocious nature with the potential presence of a ferocious bear. It didn’t really work. But the point is: cute, cuddly little chickens most probably wouldn’t have a chance at their house with all the other predatory animals around.

The amazing preacher and Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor has a beautiful sermon about animals that is inspired by the gospel text for today. Barbara speaks firsthand. Because after too many grueling years trying to keep up with the daily grind of pastoring for a big urban church in Atlanta, she moved as far away from civilization as she could in order to be the priest for a little country church. Part of why she left the city was to live in the middle of nowhere on several acres of land. There she and her husband built a chicken coop, planted a huge garden, and even made a little cabin back in the woods were Barbara can go into the quiet to listen and write. Out there on the land, Barbara learned all about chickens. Along with various rhythms of the natural world – including lessons learned about lurking predatory animals like owls and weasels and fox.

Jesus was a man of the land – most subsistence cultures are. While some trade was taking place in his day, it is believed that many of the people of the Galilee, where he was raised, grew their own food and tended their own small animals. He likely had fig trees and some sort of grain. Perhaps his family had a goat and a donkey and chickens running all about. It was a daily part of life so that they knew the lessons of nature – what it took for crops to grow. How to catch a fish – if you lived right on the Sea of Galilee. And which animals could and could not live peaceably together. Like: Jesus would have known all about mother hens. Their fierce instinct to protect their young – though without the kinds of talons of roosters and with such small beaks, about all a momma hen can do is cluck around while flapping her wings – trying to get her little brood under her safety. If that doesn’t work, as Barbara Brown Taylor states, a mother hen just “puts herself between (her chicks) and the fox, as ill-equipped as she is. At the very least, she can hope that she satisfies his appetite so that (the fox) leaves her babies alone” (Bread of Angels, p. 125). If you are a keeper of chicks, about the last thing you want anywhere nearby is a fox.

It would appear that Jesus choose his words very carefully. How long had God been trying – tirelessly trying to gather God’s beloved brood: God’s precious little fluffy chicks called Israel? . . . A plethora of prophets were sent – Jerusalem ignored and at times even had them killed. You’d think exile in unknown lands might have gotten their attention. Or, if not that life-altering experience, then certainly the restoration thereafter would have. None of it works! . . . At this point in the story, John the Baptist already has been beheaded by Herod. Supposedly he didn’t much like the accusations John had made about Herod’s unacceptable taking of his wife. The fox has proven himself to be a predator of any speaking truth. Jesus is his next target. Some Pharisees come to warn him. Nonetheless, Jesus’ course is set on Jerusalem. He travels with firm resolve. No fox scares him. He knows he’s the embodiment of the hen. He’ll do anything to protect his beloved chicks. . . . Content at revealing a stronger power, Jesus simply says, “Go and tell that fox: he may think he’s got the ability to interrupt God’s plan. But listen: I am continuing my work of casting out demons, performing cures, and on the third day I’ll be done” (Luke 13:32). He weeps when he considers the way Jerusalem again and again behaves like a fox. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” He mourns. “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!” (Luke 13:34). Perhaps it’s just fuel for the fire in him that is determined to show a more excellent way: the way of laying down your life for the sake of another, so that all may live. Jesus is intent on showing that every time the way of the mother hen prevails against the fox.

Lent is a season for us to be reflecting upon which way we tend to live. Do we put our trust in the power of the mother hen, or do we acquiesce to the world’s way of the fox? Do we seek to shelter others who need protection, or do we seek first to satisfy our own appetites? Are we willing to lay down our lives for the sake of another, or do we devour one another as if other’s lives don’t matter beyond being prey to fill our own emptiness? Which nature more often rules in us: the way of the mother hen or the way of the hungry fox? . . . Pay attention little chicks, for we’re sheltered so that we too will live likewise. As intent as the mother hen in loving those about to be devoured. Refusing to run and vowing never to succumb to such destructive means. This is the path of our Savior, the path our mother hen invites us to follow each day. God grant us the courage to carry on for the sake of life for us all.

In the name of the Life-giving Father, the Life-redeeming Son, and the Life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

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