Posted by: smstrouse | March 16, 2019

Holy Heartbreak under Holy Wings

broken-154245_960_720A Sermon for Lent 2
The saying goes that preachers should speak with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I guess today’s version of that might be “with Kindle version of the Bible in one hand and iPhone news app in the other.” Same idea, updated for today’s technology. Same dilemma: what do we, as followers of Jesus, have to say about the state of our world and what can we do about it?

Last week, I began with the words “Holy chaos!” as we entered the introspective season of Lent in the midst of political and societal upheaval. Today, I begin with the words “Holy heartbreak.” Another mass shooting at a house of prayer. Fifty dead at last count, with more in critical condition, and a community left in shock, grief, and fear. 

Paraphrasing today’s gospel, “The fox, indeed, is in the henhouse.” As Jesus rightly understood, there are violent forces loose in the world, some of it concentrated in seats 28354466876_703961c187_bof power. He knew that by continuing to speak truth to power, he was poking at the bear, knowing that the bear would eventually strike back. Unlike the foolish woman who crossed a barrier in a zoo to take a selfie with a jaguar and was shocked when the animal took a swipe at her, Jesus was fully aware of what he was doing – and the consequences. He has now “set his face for Jerusalem,” the center of political and religious power. When a friendly Pharisee tries to warn him off, saying, “Herod is going to kill you,” Jesus isn’t surprised. He is intentionally crossing the line, not to take a selfie, but a self-less approach to confronting the powers-that-be.

His response to the Pharisee is curious: “Go tell that fox.” I’m not a keeper of chickens, so I’m trusting the wisdom of a colleague who tells me that a fox won’t kill just one chicken because it’s hungry. It will attack the entire flock, leaving behind dead, injured, and traumatized birds.Comparing the ruler of Judea to a fox would, in effect, be calling him a predator, a killer, a sower of chaos and trauma. Herod thought his troubles were over with the elimination of that rabble-rouser, John the Baptist. But now, here comes Jesus. And not only was Jesus not running away from Herod’s hate, fear-mongering and murderous violence, he was very clearly rejecting this way of governing, this way of being.

The fox is in our henhouse; of that there is no doubt. When people believe the lie that one race, color, religion, status, gender, ability, or whatever is better than another and stir up hatred in others, when they use social media to foment actions of verbal abuse and physical violence, they have joined the cult of Herod. The people of Christchurch, New Zealand are dealing with their devastated henhouse, as are we, because we really are all in this together.

53224173_10157234634578713_8070610274966568960_nJesus offers us a different way. After his exposure of Herod as a fox, he paints another word picture: “O Jerusalem. How I have wanted to gather you together like a mother hen collects her brood under her wings – and you were not willing.” The  heartbreak in his words is palpable.

When I heard the news from Christchurch, my heart broke. I have no doubt that God’s heart broke as well. To be honest, I wanted to literally crawl under those holy wings and hide, to be held and comforted. Who wouldn’t be willing to have a safe shelter from the raging of Herod? But while those wings do offer shelter and comfort, they do not guarantee our protection from the fox, nor do they take away our responsibility to grow and move out into the world to be mother hen to others. Remember from last week: our calling to be little Christs to one another? Funny to think about being a mother hen. We usually talk about someone being a mother hen when they’re overly protective, fussy, even interfering – not something we aspire to be. Yet here’s Jesus with this rather unusual way of describing himself.

It’s a charming image, but really, wouldn’t you expect Jesus to come up with something a little more – tough?  Wouldn’t other images of God from the Old Testament, like an eagle, a lion, a shield, a rock, a mighty fortress have been more reassuring to the people of Jerusalem looking for a champion or a messiah?

Instead we get Jesus as a chicken. But he didn’t just pull that out of thin air. In this image, he reminded his hearers of passages from the prophets, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah; and from I Kings and Deuteronomy; and from the Psalms which speak about God as a mother and as a protective bird. The image of Israel finding shelter under God’s ‘wings’ occurs frequently in the Old Testament, so this cry of anguish from Jesus would have been startlingly familiar to those who heard it.

We lost some of the power of that imagery somewhere along the way. I remember how revolutionary it was when the book Biblical Affirmations of Woman came out in 1979. I think I wore that book out, discovering the positive biblical references about women. The ordination of women in the Lutheran church had been happening only since 1970, and by the time I hit seminary in 1982, it was still unusual to lift up female imagery for God. In fact, I remember quite clearly the woman in a former congregation who, in her resistance to any imagery beyond God the Father, warned me, “And don’t give me that line about Jesus being a mother hen, either!”

Around that same time in the 90s, there was a women’s theological conference called reImagining500-1“Re-imaging.” It’s sometimes referred to a “Re-Imagining,” but it doesn’t matter because use of either word stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy.  The objections were primarily the insistence that the words for God, Christ and the church were so settled that invocations of ‘Sophia’ or any feminine imagery for God was at the least beyond the pale and at the worst downright heretical.

One critic wrote: “Sadly, the Re-Imaging movement is not an innocent, feminist adaptation of the Christian message to modern times. It is an assault on the foundations of Christianity in order to displace it with neo-paganism. Official statements were, not surprisingly, filled with blasphemy and irreverence as these misguided women gloried in their own sexuality and vain wisdom in their attempt to make a goddess in their own image.” 

We’ve come a long way since then. How appropriate that this gospel reading appears in the middle of Women’s History Month?!

If we take this picture of the mother hen and sit with it an icon for our Lenten reflection, we may come to new insights and understandings of ourselves and of this God who broods over us. That’s brooding in the Genesis 1 sense of the Spirit of God (sometimes translated ‘moving’ or ‘hovering,’ but often-times ‘brooding’ over the primordial waters of chaos. Are you comforted by a mothering God not just moving over you, not just hovering nearby, but brooding over you? Leaning near, listening, watching, thinking about you; covering, protecting, providing and guiding – a mother hen, in the best sense of the phrase?

I wrote in a blog once about being a chick for Jesus, even though I don’t usually like being referred to as a chick. But if it means that I take this mother hen business seriously, then that’s what I want to be. And before the guys start to feel left out, let me explain that this gender-bending image of the man Jesus as Lady Wisdom, Sophia means that being a chick isn’t gender-specific. More important is the question: what does it mean to be a chick for Jesus? Your answers may be quite different as you reflect upon this icon. For me, it means:

  • That I see the Divine One as both fiercely tender and protective of who I am and the person I am becoming under these holy wings;
  • That I have a ‘mother hen’ who not only adores me, but also challenges me to do what is right and true and challenging to the foxy maneuvering of the powers-that-be;
  • That I strive to live under the guidance of Wisdom, not as a structure of rules, but as a way of being; both following in the way of Jesus of Nazareth and being open to the Christpower within me;
  • Most of all (and maybe this is just because it’s what I need right now), it’s feeling the enveloping warmth, pulsing heartbeat, womb-like peace of this place beneath God’s breast.

I would add: when a tragedy like Christchurch happens, our need to be that place for project-24178-united_for_christchurch_mosque_shootings_LG-Banner-NZ-R2B-700x525others becomes even more obvious. This weekend it means being in solidarity with the Muslim community. I can’t help thinking about how many of the speakers at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in November remembered those killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue just days before and spoke against the bigotry that had caused it. Christians, Muslims, and those of other religions came together to offer support and protection to synagogues in their communities. This weekend, Christians, Jews, and others are doing the same for our Muslim siblings.

In 2015, when at least eight predominantly African-American churches in the South were damaged by fire – probably arson – acoalition of Muslim groups launched an online fundraiser to help them rebuild. On their crowdfunding page, it said, “It’s Ramadan, and we are experiencing firsthand the beauty and sanctity of our mosques during this holy month. All houses of worship are sanctuaries, a place where all should feel safe.”

We should all feel a holy heart break at those words. The fox is, indeed, in the henhouse. But go tell that fox that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Tell him that his ways of death and destruction are limited. And we will not be stopped by his murderous threats and actions. In fact, we will be emboldened – from our secure place beneath the holy wings of Jesus – to challenge his power, to confront those who believe his lies, and to care for those harmed by his unholy intentions.

In closing, I offer this prayer from blogger Tammerie Day . . .

Our Mothering Hen
who art brooding over us
hallowed be thy sheltering wings.
Forgive our unwillingness to
come into your embrace.
And gather us in, reluctance and all.
Free us from fear of foxes
and the sharp bite of anything that separates us from you.
Open our eyes
to the plenty around us.
Open our hearts
that our plenty be shared.
Lead us not into contention
but into the dance of connection.
For thine is the grace that wakes us each new day
And thine is the mercy that puts our souls at ease
And thine is the love that sets our hearts alight.
For ever and ever, amen.


Luke 13:31-35
Just then, some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “You need to get out of town, and fast. Herod is trying to kill you.”
Jesus replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘Today and tomorrow, I will be casting out demons and healing people, and on the third day I will each my goal.’ Even with all that, I will need to continue on my journey today, tomorrow, and day after that, since no prophet can be allowed to die anywhere except Jerusalem.’

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a mother bird collects her babies under her wings – yet you refuse me! So take note: your house will be left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the One who comes in the name of our God!'”


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