A Sermon for Covenant
“Mother Hen Faces Fox”
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
Second Sunday of Lent
February 24, 2013
Kyndall Rae Renfro
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
Jesus has set his face like flint toward Jerusalem. He’s just finished telling the people, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last,” and if you can imagine, that was upsetting to a few folks, the Pharisees in particular. So they weasel up next to Jesus and pretend to be friends concerned for his wellbeing. They whisper slyly in his ear, “Oh Jesus, have you heard? Herod wants to kill you!” Then they shake their heads regrettably, they sigh deeply to one another, they wipe away a tear. “Leave this place and go somewhere else,” they warn Jesus. It will be so hard to see you go, they sniffle and sneer.
But to their dismay, Jesus stays calm, gets the glint of determination in his eye, and replies, “Go tell that fox, I will keep on . . .” He will not be swayed, that Jesus. He makes certain they know he will do things in his own time, and no threat from them or from Herod can stand in his way.
Nothing can deter him. Even though he’s headed for his death, even though he seems to know this isn’t going to end well, even still, he moves forward. Despite threats from Herod and others, despite rejection from his own people, despite certain death Jesus will go to Jerusalem. Jesus is one stubborn God.
God’s people are stubborn too, but in a different way. They have been rejecting God’s prophets for a long time, and they will reject this one too. Jesus already seems to know they will be unwilling to receive him, and this grieves him, for how he loves them so. He wants to gather them up in his arms like a hen gathering her chicks, but they spurn him.
It’s become a bit of a historical trademark of God’s people, hasn’t it, that they choose violence over embrace? God spreads out God’s wings, like a mother hen, while God’s people pick up stones and throw them. Instead of willingly being gathered together under the wings of God, we stave off the truth that’s come to save us.
We invent all kinds of ways we go to war with the prophets. Some draw swords while others close themselves off behind armor. Some throw stones, some throw language, spewing poison, words, or hatred. Some people build a mighty fortress where nothing at all can ever get in, even the love of God.
Whether it’s the threat of a prophet or the threat of real enemy, when we feel threatened, we retreat or we react, but we seldom calmly keep at it, do we? We tend to lack the quiet resolve and unshaken determination of our Lord. Instead, we might lash out in anger or we might stop our ears and pout. We try to bully those threats into silence.
By contrast, Jesus responds so differently than we do when he feels threatened. The Pharisees come to “prophesy” about Jesus’ impending death. He calmly and quietly, with only the faintest hint of cheek (“Go tell that fox”) he just keeps going. He keeps loving. He keeps mothering God’s people despite their cold rejection. God in flesh faces the heat with resolve and clarity and love. If he dies, so be it.
How does he do that?
What’s the difference between Jesus and us? Why can he stand in the face of opposition and frustration and discouragement and little reward and keep on keeping on? While we give up, give in, or give out? How does he keep at it, responding with integrity and compassion to every situation while we just react and retort or try to escape?
Does Jesus remain resolved because Jesus himself abides in the divine embrace? The three persons of the Trinity dwelling in constant harmony and love for one another—this is the reality out of which Jesus live and move and serves—it’s a sense of security not easily shaken. The stability of the relationship grants him license to love others magnanimously and even unrequited. The love in which he lives sets him free to live with love, unwavering.
Someone recently told me that love opens you up to where hurts can pass through. Love makes you like a big net with large holes—rejection and hurt come your way, and you feel the pain of it all right, but then you’re able to release it. It passes right through the holes and leaves you.
But if you close up your love, if you tighten up your love like a big knot, then you’re less like wide-open net and more like armor, a piece of chainmail. The hurt and rejection hits you, and the impact is hard because it’s got no passageway out of you. The pain of rejection bowls you over, and the pain stays with you.
But opening your heart, your wings, makes you expansive and hole-ey (full of holes, I mean) and that bad stuff can hit you and move on through. Maybe holy people are hole-ey people, if you know what I mean.
Jesus was a like a big open net that the storm passed right through, so porous with love even death couldn’t knock him over.
If only we could follow him right into the heart of the divine embrace, we wouldn’t need our suits of armor. This is the spiritual journey: returning to God’s embrace again and again and again. The divine embrace is always available to us.
Now the availability of God’s love can be frustrating to hear when you just can’t seem to get there sometimes. The embrace can seem beyond our grasp in the midst of the strain and stress and scurry of regular living. But it’s never about hunting down the divine embrace; it’s about recognizing what is already there. Beneath all our straining, there is a divine embraces that carries us through. It’s there. It’s inside of you. It’s been there all along—the arms of God open wide to gather you.
You might call it love, you might call it abiding or deep trust, a seed of peace or inner harmony, quiet wisdom or that still small voice, but whatever name you give it, it is not something you conjure up within yourself. It’s already there. The peace of God, the arms of God, they are a part of you, and for the rest of our little lives we will be about this simple task: relaxing into the love that was always there, learning to live from that center and that center alone.
Jesus was someone who stayed there—right in the throb of Trinitarian love and companionship. He never walked alone. He walked in the arms of God, and this powerful love gave him the strength and the courage to face many things, including death.
As we fumble with God’s love, trying to find it, trying to hold onto it, I find this analogy of a Mother Hen can be so wonderfully helpful, because sometimes the masculine language we use for God can get in the way of understanding God’s tender embrace. We all know God is neither male or female, but that both men and women were made in God’s image, both sexes a representation in some way of the divine image. Most often we think of God as a loving Father, and that is all well and good and right and Scriptural.
But that can prove to be a challenging metaphor if you haven’t had a good earthly father to compare to, or even if you have got a wonderful dad, sometimes, you just need Mom, right? Dad is good for some things; Mom is better for others. Sometimes we need a Heavenly Father; sometimes we need our Heavenly Mother. The Divine Parent is there to shelter you with wings of love, in the same way a Mother Hen gathers chicks. This is divine love: when a mother pulls her child into her lap in the rocking chair, cradling a soft warm heard, feeding, hugging, snuggling, singing, blessing, cherishing—that is what God’s love is like. The tenderness of a loving mother or a grandmother speak to us of God’s enduring love, do they not?
Why do we continue to choose violence in our lives instead of embrace? Maybe it is hard to believe that embrace is real or that the embrace is really meant for us. Maybe we feel we don’t deserve the love any longer, now that we are grown, now that we have lost our childlike innocence, now that our chubbiness has lost is cuteness, now that our silly babblings have lost their charm. We’ve just grown too big to fit in Mama’s lap, much as we might sometimes still want to.
But God’s lap is wide, and you always, always fit, and you’re always, always welcome. God loves us like a mother who always sees the good of her child, who always forgives, who patiently endures all things, who still loves you even after toddler tantrums and teenager tantrums. If you’ve had a good mother, you know exactly what I mean. If you’ve had a difficult mother, you know in your heart what you’ve been missing and longing for all these years, and yet here God is, ready to be Mother and Father to you if only you’d quit warring against love.
Oh children of God, put down your swords. Shed your armor. Come out from hiding. Still your battlegrounds, and look up at the expansiveness of the sky as if the west was God’s left arm, the east his right and you were smack in the center, near his heart. Climb into the lap of God and learn how to love from the one who loved you first.
And then you will find inside yourself that strong resolve to keep on keeping on, in spite of threats, in spite of rejection, even in the face of certain death. Because love is yours and love is stronger than death. Amen.