Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Like a Mother Hen

There are lot of images that are used to describe God and Jesus throughout the Bible-- everything from the familiar things like Good Shepherd and Light of the World to those that aren't so well-known like Bridegroom and the Rose of Sharon.   In addition to these, God is described as a Consuming Fire, our Advocate, the King of Kings and Prince of Peace.

Each of these images gives us a unique glimpse into the character and nature of God, yet when you look at all of the ways God is described, you can't help noticing that not a whole lot of them are female in nature. 

That may seem obvious to some people, but for half of the population, this can also be troubling, because we are also told we are created in the image of God, and in order for that to be true, we have to be able to see a bit of ourselves in God's nature.  That's why our reading today from Luke can be helpful, because, in it, Jesus describes himself as a mother hen gathering and protecting her chicks.

I've been thinking a lot about this image over the past week, and my thoughts led me to think of all the children's books I am familiar with that feature a hen as the main character.  One of my favorites is The Little Red Hen, which I'm sure many of you know.

Then there are those that are less familiar, like Hattie and the Fox, and one of my other favorites, Hens Don't Crow.  In each these stories, the hen is a noteworthy character-- industrious, hard-working, and astute.  They are do-ers, problem solvers, and animals who get things done. 

These are all notable characteristics, but as I went through these books, it struck me that as worthy as these characteristics may be, none of them are the characteristic that Jesus lifted up when he used the image of a hen to describe how God relates to us.  Instead, Jesus focused on the way a mother hen looks out for her chicks—attentive to lurking dangers and willing to do anything she can to protect them from those threats.

Being a mom myself, this is something I can relate to.  Like the story books that praise the hard-working, industrious nature of a hen, those qualities are certainly helpful when it comes to being a mom.  The work never ends and the days can be long. 

It's hard raising kids with integrity, and it's even harder raising them in public.  There are plenty of days when I wonder how I'm going to make it through, days when I feel like I'm failing, and those when I am frustrated by my children's behavior.  But even on those days, I would still do absolutely anything to protect my kids from danger and to shield them from harm. 

And to me, that's why our reading today is so powerful.  Because yes, God is powerful and does important work like casting out demons and healing the sick.  And yes, there are times, when like chicks, we wander, try to chart our own course, and are oblivious to the ways the enemy is trying to lure us away. 

But our reading today also reminds us that God cares for us with the same diligence and tenacity that a mother hen has for her chicks.  It reminds us that no matter how far we stray, God is at the ready, to protect, guide, and comfort them.  And it reminds us that there is nothing God wouldn’t do to protect us from danger and shield us from harm—going so far as to send Jesus into our lives and to the cross so that we could be freed from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

It’s like the story of a young Nigerian boy named Olu who had a pet white chicken. They became great friends and inseparable companions.  One day the hen disappeared and Olu cried and cried.  Then after three weeks the white hen returned to the compound with seven beautiful white chicks. The Nigerian boy was overjoyed.  The mother took very good care of her chicks.  

Then one day, late in the dry season, the older boys set a ring of fire to the bush area outside the village.  Everyone stood outside the ring as the fire burned toward the center.  The purpose was to drive little animals such as rabbits out of the circle.  Then the boys claimed their prey. 

When the slaughter and the fire were over, Olu walked through the smoldering embers. He noticed a heap of charred feathers and smelled burned flesh. It looked like the remains of a bird that had not escaped from the fire.

Olu realized in horror that it was his beloved friend the white hen all black and burned to death.  But then came the sounds of chicks.  Olu realized the mother hen had covered them with her body and they were still alive and well.  The mother had given her life for her children. She died that they may live."

It’s this aspect of our reading today that reminds me not to get too sentimental about the idea of God caring for us like a mother hen caring for her chicks.  Because included in Jesus’ words is criticism of Herod and of the city of Jerusalem as a whole, as well as the reminder this his work included him dying so that we could live. 

Whereas Jerusalem had once been considered a safe chicken coup, a haven from the enemies of God’s people, to many of the prophets, Jerusalem had become the symbol of people under God’s judgment.  The social order was unjust; the city itself fed on the weak; those who came with the message of God’s reign were rejected.

Like a fox, Herod himself was sly and cunning in his ethical and political life.  Behind a public facade of concern he acted with evil and deceitful intent. He fed off the lives of the oppressed people he ruled and used his power to threaten and conquer. But at the end of the day, Herod was still merely a petty fox, afraid of those questioned his actions or who opposed his self-serving purposes.

And that’s how it is with the work of the enemy too.  At the end of the day, he doesn’t really have any power, but he will still try his darndest to make us believe otherwise.  And the truth is, when the Spirit is active in our lives, the devil also takes special notice.  That’s not something we necessarily talk about a lot, but it’s true. 

The last thing the enemy wants is for us to trust who we are in God, claim the gifts we are given through baptism, and use our gifts for the sake of the gospel.  So, like a cunning fox, he tries to catch us at a weak moment, chip away at our resolve a little here, and a little there, and make his voice sound sweet so that we don’t recognize it for what it is.

That’s why it’s so important to remember to whom we belong and to remind ourselves of the promises made at our baptism each and every day: I am a child of God.  I am forgiven and loved.  The evil one has no power over me.  God has given me a future with hope.  And that's why, when we sense the enemy lurking, we need to follow Jesus’ lead and tell him, “Get away from me you, fox.  Take a hike.  I am the Lord’s and I belong in his care.”

In our house, we often ask each other the question, "What was your favorite part about today?" and it's counterpart, "What was your least favorite part of the day?"  Sometimes we do it at supper, and other days we do it at bedtime.

But regardless of when we ask the question, and no matter what kind of day it had been, my favorite part of the day is almost always the same: As I cuddle with Esme before bed reading books, I tell her, "This is my favorite part of the day," and it is so true.  And when I snuggle with Reid, I tell him he is my favorite boy in the whole entire world.  Nothing could ever change that.”

I can't help but think that is God's favorite time with us too-- the times when we lay aside the day's troubles and just crawl up into his arms…those times when we allow him to shelter us from the storms of life and allow ourselves to enjoy the comfort of his loving care, as though we were his only child. 

Because the truth is, God would have sent Jesus if we were the only person to save, and God is especially fond, of each and every one of us.  It’s under the care of those wings that we are reminded who and whose we are, that we can drown out the voice of the enemy, and where we receive the strength and peace of God’s Spirit.

With that in mind, there’s an old song I came across a song the other day that captures this well, and I share it with you now, in closing.  It's called Under His Wings.
Under His Wings
Under His wings I am safely abiding,
Though the night deepens and tempests are wild,
Still I can trust Him; I know He will keep me,
He has redeemed me, and I am His child.

Under His wings, under His wings,
Who from His love can sever?
Under His wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever. 

In the name of Jesus, amen.

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