Hen and Chicks
Rev. Michael A. Trask
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!
These are not words of anger; these are not words of judgement and condemnation; these are the words of lament; words of unrequited love. Yes love. If you ever wonder what God is really like inside, what his real motivation is, here it is: it’s love. Love for us. Love for the people of the earth. And it’s not as if he hasn’t revealed this to us. His favorite way of describing his church is to call us his bride; there’s no subtlety about that. And in this Gospel lesson, he points us to a a hen gathering her chicks under his wing and says…. I’m like that!
A lot people fancy themselves as God hunters. They like to talk about how they searched and searched and finally “found” God. As if God had been hiding out in the woods someplace; as if he had never declared his intentions to us; as if we had to coax the timid deity out of his hiding place by showing how dedicated we are to him. That’s how we arrogant humans like to describe it: we found God; we loved him first; we loved him more, but the reality is just the opposite. For God has loved us before the foundation of the world; loved us while we were yet sinners and were incapable of loving anyone. It is he who does the searching and the finding! If you know God, it is because he found you.
When Adam and Eve Sinned in the garden, they didn’t search for God, they hid from him. God went looking for them. And it wasn’t Abraham who approached God, saying, “tell you what God, you make my descendants as numerous as the stars, and I will follow you.” Nope God found him. God came to him. And Jacob did make a ladder up into heaven, climb it and demand that God bless him, God came down to him and blessed him. And furthermore it was God who pursued the descendants of Israel all through history. As Jesus intimated in the text , Prophet after prophet was sent, each one with the message “Turn back to your God....he loves you.” But they rejected the messengers and in so doing, they rejected God; rejected his love.
And it was all of this....this history of God seeking and loving his people that came to Jesus mind on this day when some pharisees, who were actually friendly, came to warn him about Herod. They told him Herod wanted to kill him. Jesus hinted that he would one day in the the not too distant future; under his own power, walk into Jerusalem and meet his death. And in that, God would communicate just how much he loves us, one last time. “Do you see?,” says God, “I’m willing to give my Son up to suffer the pains of hell, ” “That’s how much I love you.” To this day, Jesus on the cross stands as one of the most powerful statements of Love in the world. Billions adore it; but strangely enough, billions more abhor it.
Let’s personalize this a bit now. Actually that’s what God wants most of all, to get personal with you. You may have noticed that during your life, at various points that God has reached out to you. You may have thought that you were searching for God, that you were somehow wooing him with your prayers or offerings or service time or whatever, but really it has always been him searching of you.
If you had devout parents, you had them for a reason. God was reaching out for you through them. Or maybe for you it was some aunt or uncle or some Grandma or a Sunday School teacher you had. They were by no means perfect, they might even have been characters of a sort, but in spite of their imperfect humanity, God used them to introduce you to the idea that there is someone in heaven who loves you; someone in heaven who saves you; someone in heaven who wants to give you all that is is. Oh yeah, think now! Think back on your life. It was not by chance that you know God, it was God seeking you. It has always been God seeking you. At several points, he has given you opportunity to get closer.
So how have you responded? As the hen gathers her chicks, have you been willingly gathered? Well, your hear I guess… and that’ good. However there are sometimes when folks learn that God seeks them, their first impulse is to run away. They fear he might be too controlling. They don’t want to give up the freedom they perceive themselves to have.
So what is it exactly that you want to do, that causes you to skitter out from under his wing as he tries to gather you closer to himself? What is it that you that you fear to give up? What do you at this moment consider an expression of your freedom? Is it really your freedom? Or is it instead a form of slavery?
Think back now when you were a lot younger. If you are still young, you don’t have to think at all. What was an expression of freedom for you when you were younger. Was it staying out all night? Smoking? Heavy drinking? Drugs? illicit sexuality? As one who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s these things were always flagged as great articles of freedom. We have long since learned that such things were deep slavery. The point is, we talk about freedom a lot, but we have to admit that we often don’t know what it is. And just when we think we are expressing our freedom, we are actually giving ourselves over to slavery.
Let’s get back to the hen and her chicks. So why does a hen gather her chicks under her wings? To protect them! To protect them from the chicken hawk, to protect them from the wind and the rain and the cold. To protect them. Yes, she might use her wings to move them here and there a little bit, but it’s always so they won’t get eaten or trampled or pecked to death.
The hen does not get her kicks out of controlling her chicks. She gets her kicks out of seeing them live and grow and thrive and become fully-grown chickens with all their feathers. As dumb as chickens seem to be, the actually grieve over the loss of one of their little ones. I’ve seen it for myself. Our Lord is exactly the same, not dumb, but grieving over loss of one of his little ones. Not only that, but he want’s us to discover who we are and thereby make the most of the lives we’ve been given. Jesus said “I have come so that you may have life, and have to the full.” (john 10:10) He says also “If the Son of man shall set you free you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36) This is Jesus’ motivation. This is his goal. This is his heart revealed to you and to me. AMEN