God will draw all creation under wings of death-defeating love. There’s no point in fighting it or rejecting others from it. So live in God’s embrace!
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Second Sunday in Lent, year C
Texts: Luke 13:31-35; Philippians 3:17 – 4:1
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Something doesn’t add up here.
Jesus’ grief that God’s people have rejected him is heartbreaking. But Jesus doesn’t say that the people rejected his teachings. Or his miracles. Or who he said he was. He says: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you were not willing!” Jesus mourns that Jerusalem – standing for all of Israel – has rejected Jesus’ maternal love, and therefore rejected God’s maternal love.
And that doesn’t make any sense. Who doesn’t want to be gathered under God’s wings, safe, beloved?
If we start by asking that of Jesus’ time, we see that it was for reasons he doesn’t mention here.
Jesus attracted lots of those he longed to draw under his wings. The crowds that followed him loved him. He had less success with the leaders of his people.
And they did reject his teachings. Like teaching that living in God’s love was more important than keeping one of God’s laws, if the two were in conflict. Or teaching that God was more interested in sinners who repented than folks who thought they were good enough they didn’t need repentance.
They rejected his behavior, especially his spending time with “sinful” people. Prostitutes. Tax collectors. Poor, uneducated people. Lepers. He even spoke with women publicly. These weren’t the “right” people.
They rejected his embrace because they rejected everything he stood for. If people followed his teachings, lived as he lived, believed what he believed, all their authority and power would be gone.
So even when they saw miracles right before their eyes, they opposed Jesus. He was too much of a threat for them to see clearly.
Now, this is becoming a nice little morality tale, and that’s exceedingly dangerous.
We comfortably talk about how bad the authorities were in Jesus’ time. Thinking, “what’s wrong with them,” happy that we’re different. End of story, end of sermon. Be wary of that conclusion.
Today, Paul cuts far too close to this line, too. There are “those people” whom Paul confidently says live as enemies of the cross, whose “god is the belly,” whose minds are set on earthly things. As we just did with the authorities, Paul has fallen into “we” and “they” language. He would have done better to include himself and the Philippians amongst those who sometimes get focused on earthly things over heavenly. So would we.
Such “we” and “they” language overpowers honesty about yourself and your life with lies. It keeps the truth at arm’s length, applied only to others, which might feel safe, but it’s a false security. Because we miss the truth about our own path, our own prejudice, our own reality. We miss the probability that we might be among those who reject the wings of Jesus’ embrace. And if we miss that, we miss everything.
Our problem is the same as these religious leaders. Notice the pattern in what they rejected:
It was the people Jesus embraced, more than anything else, that turned them away. Jesus’ proclamation of God’s love was unabashedly for all. Sinners. Broken people. People who didn’t darken the door of a synagogue. People who were unacceptable from birth: women; non-Jews; even the hated Romans. Jesus welcomed and embraced them all.
Jesus’ actions, his teachings, and most deeply, his death and resurrection, were his embrace, his enfolding of God’s wings around God’s people. And it’s pretty clear that some couldn’t handle just how broad the category “God’s people” really was.
Jesus would say to Paul here, “I know you think these others are wrong, that they’re focused on worldly things, that they even seem to be my enemies. But know this: I love them enough to die for them, too.”
And this exposes a sensitive nerve in us: how very anxious we are about who else is invited into the enfolding wings of God’s love, the embrace God the mother hen so longs to place around the world. We don’t want to share space under the wings with certain people any more than these authorities did.
Christians have always struggled with this.
The history of Jesus’ followers is littered with the bodies and lives of people Christians have deemed “those people,” people who don’t belong in God’s embrace. From the Crusades to the Inquistion, to Christian support of racism and slavery that still exists, Christians regularly oppose Christ and put people into groups, labelling them.
And once you do that, as Hitler taught us well, you can reject without much effort. If you think God hates Muslims, you can easily conclude that you don’t have to worry much about how they’re treated. If you think God can’t welcome people who do or think certain things that offend you, you can easily believe that you don’t have to have any compassion for them.
If Jesus were doing public ministry here in person, as he did 2,000 years ago, he’d welcome folks that some of us would be very uncomfortable with, maybe even people we know well. But when you close your heart to anyone, you close your heart to God. When you reject anyone God loves, you reject God.
Here’s an interesting truth about chickens.
Someone whose family had a farm once told me about how they’d use brood hens to nurture and care for baby chicks that arrived from the hatchery. But sometimes the hens wouldn’t accept the unknown chicks. They’d ignore them. Her father then would take the handle end of a hammer, and gently tap the hens on the head, stunning them. When they woke up, they’d see the same baby chicks and think they were their own. They’d bring them under their wings.
This flips the image from Jesus as hen to us as hen, but there’s an important truth here. Maybe the love and grace of Jesus is your tap on the head. Paul says people often have their minds on earthly things, worldly issues. Rejecting certain people because of who they are or what they do is certainly an earthly thing. The heavenly thing is to realize God’s love is so astonishingly broad it covers all creatures in an embrace. But something has to wake you up to see differently.
We often deny God’s love for others when we have difficulty believing we ourselves can be loved by God.
If you’ve faced the darkness of fear that you aren’t loved, if you don’t feel certain God really loves you, it’s hard to extend a love you don’t feel you have to people you don’t like or trust.
Well, God loves you infinitely. With a love that destroys death. A love that looks at all your failure and pain, all your sin and bad thoughts, all your things you wish no one knew about, and sees a beloved child of God who needs to be brought into God’s embrace.
Now, isn’t that a tap on the head? Does it change what you see in others?
Enjoy your place under God’s wings. They’re there to surround you and strengthen you for this hard world, and prepare you for the joy of the next. They’re a shelter in your storms, a comfort in your pain, a warmth when you’re cold.
But look around: sure enough, there are others under those wings you don’t like. Maybe they don’t like you, either. But the wings are for them as well as you. Can you see that? It’s part of the deal with God’s love.
And for that you can give eternal thanks.
In the name of Jesus. Amen