A Sermon for Sunday, March 17, 2019, Second Sunday of Lent, Deut. 32:11-12a, Ruth 2:12 and Luke 13:31-35
For Lent, we are exploring the theme “Cultivating and Letting Go”through curriculum created by A Sanctified Art—a team of artists who provide interactive resources for churches.
In the introductory materials, the team explains the theme by defining the two powerful verbs they’ve chosen to inspire people during the season:
Cultivate (verb): to prepare and use for the raising of crops; to foster the growth of; to improve by labor, care, or study; to refine; to further; to encourage.
Let go (verb): relinquish one’s grip on someone or something.
Then they expound further:
“Lent is a season of spiritual gardening, of inviting God to unearth in us what lies fallow, what needs to be tended, and what needs to die for new life to emerge. This Lent, we’re embracing the literal and spiritual practices of cultivating and letting go.”
As we continue the journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, I’d like to invite you to keep reflecting on this concept of cultivatingand letting go. On Ash Wednesday, some of you wrote what you’d like to cultivateand let goon pieces of paper and nailed them to the chancel cross. If you haven’t had the opportunity, I encourage you to select a slip of purple paper (located in the hymnals and Bibles at the ends of your pews) and scribble your goals for cultivatingand letting go. Then take them home and put on the fridge or bathroom mirror or computer, etc., to have a visual reminder of your goal for Lent.
Last Sunday, we heard Luke’s Gospel account of when the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, and how Jesus cultivatedfaithfulness in God’s provision and let goof the temptation to use power for personal gain.
This morning’s text, Luke 13:31-35, now finds Jesus in the middle of full-time ministry. According to earlier verses, Jesus is going “through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.” And he has been telling the townspeople “people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Soon thereafter (and this is where today’s story begins) a group of Pharisees approach him, saying, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you,” as if he was some dog or… hen … to shoo away.
Jesus passionately responds:
“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! … 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.’”
If there was any doubt about the purpose of Jesus’ ministry prior to this encounter, his proclamation in front of the Pharisees, the disciples and townspeople makes it abundantly clear:
Jesus is not running away from the cunning King Herod or avoiding the city of Jerusalem where Herod rules under the auspices of the oppressive Roman Empire. Jesus is going straight to them and nothing can stop him. He is cultivating resilience and courage and letting goof fear—the fear of harm and death.
Lutheran pastor, Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade, puts it this way in a blog post about Jesus’ message to Herod:
Jesus is not afraid of dying, and he sends a message back with Pharisees that Herod doesn’t even have to come after Jesus. Jesus will go to him, right to Jerusalem. Because that’s what a prophet does – goes bravely into the spaces of danger to confront evil.
One might wonder that if Jesus is ready to face evil head on, why would he describe himself as a mother hen instead of a lion or a bear? Why would Jesus choose to be a fox’s prey instead of its predator?
Lauren Wright Pittman, a member of A Sanctified Art, who created the art piece used for today’s bulletin cover, says this about her painting entitled “Mother Hen”:
The image of Christ as a mother hen is revolutionary. Instead of using a hypermasculine, militaristic, menacing image in response to Herod’s death threats, Jesus upends the expected posture of violence and chooses to identify with the nurturing, protective, feminine image of a mother hen. He explains his love for Jerusalem as a mother hen who desperately desires to lovingly shelter her young. This image drips of rejection, however, because the chicks are unwilling to be protected. In Jesus’ attempt to love the world he meets unwillingness, distrust, mockery, and violence.
Jesus’ use of this simile is wonderfully subversive because at first it seems like a harmless, warm, and fuzzy kind of reference—a cuddly, plump mother hen wanting to snuggle her young—but mother hens will protect their young at all cost. A mother hen will put her whole body on the line to keep her chicks safe; if danger nears, she will meet it head on … Jesus wants that fox (Herod) to know that death threats will not keep him from fiercely bringing healing and restoration to the world.
While preparing this sermon, I searched for videos of mother hens protecting their young, and learned that they are not harmless, warm and fuzzy birds. Mother hens are overprotective, intrusive, fussy and overbearing; they cackle and peck and are always attentive. Studies show that mother hens have good memory recall and are emotionally intelligent, meaning that they empathize when their chicks are distressed.
Mother hens stand their ground with cats, dogs, and hawks as well as foxes. They will always protect the chicks, even if it kills them. The same is true of Jesus: he will always protect God’s children, even knowing his actions will result in state-sanctioned execution.
And yet in this moment, Jesus laments that the people will only realize they need God’s steadfast love and protection after death on the cross. The prophets of old spoke out against cruel and corrupt authorities and called upon the people of Jerusalem to love God and neighbor, but their words mostly fell on deaf ears.
Similarly, Jesus is having little success convincing Jerusalem to embrace a kingdom of God that is vastly different from Herod and Caesar’s.
The people aren’t willing to be gathered under God’s parenting wings. They desire to cultivate resilience and courage to devote themselves entirely to God and to live out God’s commands. But they can’t seem to let go of their fears of what the government might do to them and their families if they pledge allegiance to anyone else. Even the disciples, who have witnessed God’s power to love, heal and restore, are unable to let goof the fear of uncertainty and thus, they abandon Jesus in his darkest hour. Simon-Peter goes so far as to deny he ever knew Jesus. Neither the disciples nor the citizens of Jerusalem care for the folks in charge, but they figure it’s better to be safe than to be dead by going against the system.
Thus, Jesus laments that Jerusalem won’t come to God on their own despite God’s deep desire to be in a covenantal relationship with them. And yet God in Christ continues toward the city, arms stretched out in love for a people who don’t want to receive it.
Renown author and pastor, Barbara Brown Taylor, offers this insight on the situation:
“If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world—wings spread, breast exposed—but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand…
Jesus won’t be the king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first; which he does, as it turns out. He slides upon her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep.
When her cry wakens them, they scatter. She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her—wings spread, breast exposed—without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart…but if you mean what you say, this is how you stand.”
As Christians, we don’t look for danger and death, of course. We’re not fatalistic for Jesus. However, we do follow in the way of the loving, merciful and non-violent Jesus, and to serve others knowing that there are those who won’t like what we’re doing and who might try to harm us as a result.
We are mother hens who are called to protect the most vulnerable and marginalized—the sick, the lonely, the broken, the poor, the stranger, the foreigner, the outcast—in a world where foxes roam about.
We are the flawed, wonderfully made and gifted people who are invited by God to cultivatethe resilience and courage needed to share Christ’s love. We are the servant leaders, kingdom builders and dream shapers who are summoned by God to let goof the fear of uncertainty—failure, harm and yes, even death. …like,
*David Deutchman, known fondly as the “ICU Grandpa,” who for 12 years has visited the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta hospital twice a week to hold preemie babies in the pediatric and neonatal ICUs. 
*(or) The White Helmets–an unarmed, neutral organization of more than 3,000 volunteer rescue workers who have been operating in opposition-held areas of Syria over the last five years. 
*(or) Felicia Sanders, one of three survivors of the Charleston mass shooting at Emmanuel AME in 2015, who quickly pulled her 11-year-old granddaughter to the floor, shielded her with her body and whispered, “play dead, play dead.”
*(or) Anthony Borges, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who during last year’s mass shooting was shot five times while holding a classroom door closed so his classmates could hide.
*(or) 4-year-old Austin Perine who dons a superhero’s cape and then, with assistance from his dad, walks the streets of downtown Birmingham in the mid-afternoon handing chicken sandwiches to homeless men and women.
*Or the members of this congregation who prepare and serve a meal to the men of Clifton Sanctuary Ministries, collect food for Decatur Emergency Assistance, participate annually in the MLK Day of Service and offer care in a variety of ways.
*Or the churches in New Zealand who are opening their doors to the families of Christchurch Mosque where 49 people died after a white supremacist opened fire as Muslims were praying and worshipping. 
*Or this church who will once again invite our siblings in the Muslim communities of Atlanta to join us on Saturday as we make meal bags for CHOA to help out parents who can’t afford to eat as their child lays in a hospital bed.
Blessed be all those who yesterday, today and tomorrow continue to cultivate courage and resilience and let goof fear—the mother hens, the servant leaders, the kingdom builders and the dream shapers.
Blessed be the ones who seek comfort together and who stretch out their arms to enfold others in God’s love. Blessed be the ones who are lost and need help and mercy.
And blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord and gather us each and everyone one of us under his wings.