Wrapping Her Arms Around Us, sermon by Rev. Kinsey
I’m pretty sure this gospel lesson was chosen this week, because of International Women’s Day, but it just so happens that this Mother Hen image, is the most full-throated feminist metaphor for Christ we have!
Jesus, almost casually, but with clear intention, labels Herod, as, a crafty old fox. And then, proceeds to identify his own prophetic mission, to gather and protect his followers, as akin to a Mother Hen who gathers her brood under her wings.
And, the “protecting mother” is, apparently, a thing! “New [scientific] findings indicate that levels of a specific peptide in the brain, may answer the question of what makes a mother willing to lay down her life for her offspring [researchers find]. We've known for a long time that [normal] fear and anxiety [responses] decrease [when a mother is nursing her new born], … it's this [chemical] decrease that allows mothers to [take more bold and risky action for their children, in] a situation that normally would evoke a fear response.” (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/hormone-found-linked-to-m/ )
Jesus, of course, could have chosen lots of different animals to portray himself. What about the mighty eagle in the book of Exodus? Or Hosea’s stealthy leopard? What about the proud lion of Judah, mowing down his enemies with a roar? Biblical examples abound. But never before, or since, has the hen and her brood, been chosen!
!There is the image, that John of Patmos chooses, in Revelation, that is similar! Amidst all the violent images in Revelation, when it comes to opposing and conquering the Beast, with the mark of the Devil, John says, the Savior Jesus comes as, Lamb-y! A little lamb, will redeem the world. Like the Mother Hen, Revelation reveals the apocalyptic Coming One, as a vulnerable sacrificial Lamb.
But as defenseless as the Lamb and Mother Hen are, this is just the point. Jesus assures Herod in this passage, and us, that he will not flee the opponents who are against him. And he will protect his brood under his wings, and finally go to Jerusalem where he has already predicted his own death. But he never advocates power in a violent way, for power’s sake. His way, is love and forgiveness, in a fierce and strategic mode, that never gives up or gives in.
When Jesus is told that Herod is seeking to kill him, we don’t know what Herod’s plan is. But, Jesus is pretty confident, he does! Even though Jesus and the disciples are still in Galilee -where Herod also is- Jesus says that it’s impossible for prophets like himself to be killed outside of Jerusalem – in other words, not in Galilee. Jesus is going about his business, he says, working his mission of casting out demons and performing cures, and of preaching his prophetic word, today and tomorrow, and only on the third day, does he finish his work – another passion prediction in the gospels, of his suffering, death, and resurrection. Everything, is going according to plan.
Jesus is in control, and taking the offensive – as, a proud Mothering Hen! Jesus is not just on his way to die, at any old time and place. He doesn’t have a death wish. He is the opposite of careless or reckless. When Jesus is threatened by his own family and friends in his hometown of Nazareth, for instance, the day they tried to throw him off the edge of the cliff, Jesus knew it wasn’t the right time, and he walked through the midst of them, and out of danger.
Jesus is almost calm, about his journey to Jerusalem, and what he knows lies ahead for him in Holy Week. And perhaps that’s because, it’s what God is calling him to reveal, that propels him. It is the breaking up, and the breaking through, that centers him for the mission. Like old and new wineskins.
He knows Jerusalem is unwilling to receive his gathering-together of them. “I desired to gather your children as a hen gathers her brood,” he says, “and you were not willing!” Even his own followers will scatter when he needs them most. But that’s why he’s also content to work in Galilee, first, to establish his mission for all to see, that at the right time, afterwards, they will begin to remember (and a light, like tongues of fire, will reignite them into his mission). Because only after Jerusalem, only after the scattering, only after the cross and resurrection, will the picture come into focus for his followers, at last. Jesus does not want to die. But as God’s chosen Son, he knows it is God’s will, for the healing of the nation, and the sake of the world.
Herod ‘desires’ to kill Jesus. Jesus ‘desires’ to gather his brood, his followers, under his wings, to protect and guide them. Jesus knows too, they are not willing. Even his followers will act like, and with, all of Jerusalem. Except for Mary and John, all will desert him at the cross.
Jesus sees all this, and yet he continues on, knowing it will also ignite a new world, and new era, with a renewed Spirit of God. God’s grace and love and redemption, will dawn in the one single act, of cross and resurrection. Jesus’ sacrifice as the Lamb of God, and as the Mothering Hen, will reveal once and for all, the possibility of forgiveness, in place of the inevitability of sacred-state-violence. The lynching of Jesus, will not only be outlawed, but will bring shame on the heads of all, and reveal that Supremacy, is a power originating from the lair of the Fox. The ugliness of the cross, will become the beauty and power, of love over hate, love over scapegoating, love over othering, and love over racism.
Jesus knows that none of them will get it -understand- until afterwards. That takes a lot of trust and faith! “And I tell you,” says Jesus, “you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” This is the refrain, of course, of the procession on Palm Sunday. But at that moment, as they follow him, marching to Jerusalem, it is much more of a militaristic chant, and only after the cross, is the refrain understood as worshipful – worshipful of the Redeemer of the whole world.
Barbara Brown Taylor says that the image of a Mothering Hen gathering her brood, “is the most vulnerable posture in the world – wings spread, breast exposed!” She doesn’t have a chance against the fox! But that doesn’t stop her from proudly taking that pose, that risk, for those she loves.
How many thousands of times has that pose been struck in the last two weeks in Ukraine, as mothers wrap their arms around their children, as their husbands and sons enlist in the army, and the Mothering Hen boards a train with her brood, headed for the border, hoping to find shelter in Poland or Germany or Slovakia? How many mothers from Central America came, wings spread, breast exposed, to the border of Mexico and the Unites States, seeking shelter? How many mothers from Somalia, fleeing the terror of a brutal war, at the hand of the Saudi’s, risk immigrating here, or, wings spread, breast exposed, just hoping to survive the famine that threatens their everyday existence, and their ability to protect their young ones?
Jesus is like a mothering hen, for all those most vulnerable ones. Jesus, spreads his wings and exposes his body, on the cross, for the sake of the world. Jesus, the Mothering Hen, shows us how to, not just survive, but to thrive, as a community of followers.
Instead of gathering around the sacrificial victim at the cross, to gawk and give thanks that it isn’t us, Jesus shows us the way of sacrificial love that conquers all evils.
And because a Mothering Hen is not afraid of the fox, let us gather around the cross to worship – worship the Savior of the world, who also wraps her wings around us, that Christ may be our strength and safety, and enfold us, now and forever.