Jesus, the Mother Hen

“How often have I desired to gather you together

as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!”

On March 12, 1987, thirty-five years ago yesterday, the United States Congress passed a resolution designating the month of March as Women’s History Month. The opening clause of that resolution declared, “American women from every race, class, and ethnic background have made historical contributions to the growth and strength of our Nation in countless recorded and unrecorded ways.” The resolution goes on to say that the role of women in American history has “consistently been overlooked and undervalued.” And so, according to the 1987 congressional resolution Women’s History Month was established as a way to encourage “appropriate ceremonies and activities” to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of women. 

So, that’s a bit of our cultural history, but what about our religious history? Well, in many ways the same exact declarations could be made about the church. We acknowledge that throughout the history of the church women from every race, class, and ethnic background have made historical contributions to the growth and strength of the church in countless recorded and unrecorded ways,” and at the same time, the role of women in the church has been “consistently overlooked and undervalued.” This is true even in the Bible! Did you know that in the Bible, there are only 93 women who speak? Of those 93 women, only 49 are named and thereby given a public identity. And of all the tens of thousands of words in this book, only 14,056 words are spoken by women, which is just slightly over one percent of the entire Bible. 

So, why I am sharing all of this information about the role of women in our collective cultural, religious, and biblical histories? Because I believe against the backdrop of this cultural, religious, and biblical history, the image of Jesus as a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings is all the more surprising. In our gospel reading, Jesus is warned by the religious leaders that his very life might be in danger, that King Herod is plotting to kill him. In response to this warning, Jesus says, “Tell Herod, that old fox, to take a hike, because I fully intend to continue the ministry I came here to do.” Jesus is determined to continue his work of building for the kingdom of God. And as part of that determination, he turns his attention toward the city of Jerusalem, which he knows will be his final destination. Jesus turns his attention toward that most holy of cities, and he expresses God’s deep and abiding desire to gather God’s people together, to heal and to reconcile, to bring about God’s dream of a world renewed, restored, and made whole once again. How often have I desired to gather you together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.

Now, of course, there are many images of Jesus that we hold dear. Jesus the Good Shepherd. Jesus the Lamb of God. Jesus the Lion of Judah. But I’d be willing to guess that most of us don’t spend much time thinking about Jesus the Mother Hen. 

So, this morning, what do we make of this image? What does it tell us about the mission and ministry of Jesus? Well, first of all, we should note that the image of a Mother Hen sometimes comes with negative connotations. Sometimes in our contemporary context, a “mother hen” is someone who is overprotective and overbearing. Nobody really likes to be around a “mother hen.” Unless, of course, you’re the helpless baby chick in need to protection. Unless, of course, there is a dangerous predator on the prowl, like a fox! Unless you feel vulnerable and exposed and afraid. Unless you need to know the power of unconditional love. Those are the times you and I need to be in the presence of Jesus the Mother Hen. 

Over the course of this past week, as I reflected on the image of Jesus as Mother Hen, I looked back at an old picture I had taken years ago of a small mosaic on the front of an altar in a tiny chapel on the side of the Mount of Olives just outside the city of Jerusalem. The mosaic depicts a Mother Hen with her wings outstretched and several of her chicks in the safety of her embrace. Around the perimeter of the mosaic are the words of Jesus, “How often have I desired to gather you together.” Then at the bottom of the image are the words, “But you were not willing.”

Now, in the past when I looked at the picture of this mosaic, I saw primarily lamentation. I saw sadness and grief. I was focused on the separation between God and God’s people. I was focused on the words, “You were not willing.” But this week, when I took another look at this picture, instead of lamentation, I saw invitation. Instead of sadness and grief, I saw promise. Instead of separation, I saw community. Instead of focusing on the words, “You were not willing,” I focused on the words, “How often I have desired.” And I realized that from the very beginning of creation, God’s desire has been to gather us together. God’s desire has been a world characterized by peace and justice. God’s desire has been a world that is a reflection of the very goodness and glory of God. That is God’s desire. And even though time and again God’s people have rejected that vision,God’s invitation has never been rescinded. God’s promise has never been nullified. God’s desire has never wavered. And so, God stands with wings outstretched waiting for us to come home. Waiting to embrace us with unconditional love. Waiting to fulfill the vision of world healed, renewed, and restored.

My friends, this morning, on this Second Sunday in Lent, we need Jesus the Mother Hen. In a world torn apart by war and pestilence. In a world paralyzed by fear and suspicion. In a world marred by human pride and arrogance. We need to be reminded of God’s desire to gather us together, to embrace us with unconditional love, and to form us as a people who know what it means to walk by faith. And so, this morning, I would like to close with a prayer written almost a thousand years by Anselm, the 11th century Archbishop of Canterbury. 

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you; * 

you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.

Often you weep over our sins and our pride, * 

tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgment.

You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds, *

in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.

Jesus, by your dying, we are born to new life; *

by your anguish and labor we come forth in joy.

Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness; * 

through your gentleness, we find comfort in fear.

Your warmth gives life to the dead, * 

your touch makes sinners righteous.

Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us; *

in your love and tenderness, remake us.

In your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness, * 

for the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.

Rector’s Forum – Practicing Incarnation

Here are the PowerPoint slides from the Rector’s Forum held on Sunday, February 20. The first part of the presentation was led by Fr. Doug and focused on the spiritual discipline of practicing the presence of God, based on the book of the same title by Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk who sought greater intimacy in his relationship with God. The second part of the presentation was led by Fr. Derek and focused on the various prayers and liturgical resources that are available for us to use in our daily lives.

Seeing the World Right Side Up

The year 1896 was a landmark year, because that was the year that saw the development of the first pair of glasses that allowed a person to see the world upside-down. Now I’m sure that the scientific study of sight inversion is something you have always wanted to know more about, so, this morning, allow me to alleviate your curiosity. During the 1890’s at the University of California at Berkley, a team of researchers discovered a way to use lenses and mirrors to quite literally turn our visual perception upside-down. They then took those lenses and developed a pair of glasses, which were more like goggles that a person could wear and go through life seeing the world upside-down. And if you’re really interested, you can go online today and purchase your very own pair of inversion goggles for only $27.50.

No one in over 125 years has really found any practical or relevant use for this technology in our daily lives, but they have done experiments that have shown how quickly people adapt to seeing the world upside-down. In the 1950’s, there was an experiment conducted in which a participant wore these inversion goggles 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. At first, he couldn’t do anything. He fell over. He broke things. He couldn’t get dressed. He couldn’t feed himself. But after only about 10 days of this experiment, the participant became so accustomed to living in an upside-down world and he so quickly adapted to this new reality, that he began to live a rather normal life. He could read and write his name upside-down. He could pour a cup of tea up instead of down. He even got to the point where he could ride a motorcycle all while seeing the world upside down. His inverted view of the world became his reality! Now, part of the theory behind the study was that if we all wore inversion goggles, eventually we could all adapt to that new inverted reality and lead perfectly normal lives in the midst of an upside-down world. We would all come to think, “Well, that’s just the way the world is!”

On the one hand, all this sounds rather silly. But on the other hand, this points to something profoundly important about the way we live. Because the theory behind that study is exactly what happens in our human experience; except in the reality of our daily lives the lenses we wear are often invisible. The lenses we wear are the lenses of our own cultural and social realities through which we view the world. For example, our culture says, “Here, try these on! Put on the lenses of consumerism and materialism! Put on the lenses of individualism and secularism! Put on the lenses of our western, post-modern, twenty-first century worldview!” And the problem is that, just like the guy in the research experiment, when we put on these cultural and social lenses, it doesn’t take very long for us to become accustomed to that particular view of the world. We quickly adapt to that particular cultural and social reality. And we think to ourselves, “Well, that’s just the way the world is!” Of course, this is not a uniquely modern problem. This is a problem that has affected human nature and impacted human societies for thousands of years, including during the time of Jesus. And part of what is going on in today’s gospel reading is Jesus challenging his disciples to see the world differently. 

In our gospel, Jesus comes down to a level place and is surrounded by a great crowd of disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon. And in the midst of this vast crowd of people, Jesus would have seen fishermen, merchants, and craftsmen, those at the bottom of the first century social hierarchy. He would have seen the poor, the sick, and the homeless, those relegated to the margins of society. But the crowd that day almost certainly also included religious leaders, local landowners, and members of the regional aristocracy, who were all curious about this famous new teacher and healer from Nazareth. And it is into this context, that Jesus declares – 

Blessed are you who are poor. Woe to you who are rich.

Blessed are you who are hungry. Woe to you who are full.

Blessed are you who are weeping. Woe to you who are laughing.

Blessed are you when people revile you. 

Woe to you when people speak well of you.

Now these words of Jesus are shocking and unsettling. And they are shocking and unsettling precisely because they don’t align with the way we normally see the world. In almost every culture and society throughout human history, the prosperous and the influential have been the ones who were considered blessed. In fact, in the ancient world, the Greek word makarios, which is translated blessed, was used in reference to the gods, those who had achieved a state of ultimate happiness and contentment. But now Jesus says, “You who are poor and hungry and weeping; you are blessed.” And to those who are prosperous and influential and seemingly content, Jesus says, “Be careful. Things may not be as secure as you think they are.” 

My friends, Jesus came to show us a radically different way of seeing the world. Now I used to think that it was Jesus who saw the world upside-down. In other words, I use to think it was the Kingdom of God that was the inversion of this world. In fact, in seminary the title of my very first sermon was “The Kingdom of God is an Upside-Down Kingdom.” And I got an “A” on that sermon. But that’s not the way I see things anymore, because I’ve come to believe that Jesus is One who sees things right side up. The Kingdom of God is what is right side up. The Kingdom of God is a vision of the world as it should be, as God intended it to be. The Kingdom of God describes a world that is healed, restored, and reconciled. A world in which there is no more hatred or division. No more poverty. No more racism. No more injustice. No more sickness. No more brokenness of any kind. It is the Kingdom of God that reveals a world that is right side up. 

And therefore, the challenge lies with us. Because we are the ones who have grown accustomed to living in an upside-down world. We are the ones who have become attached to our “inversion goggles,” those lenses that our culture and the world around us have led us to believe we should wear. We are the ones who far too often look at the pain and brokenness and injustice all around us, and say, “Well, that’s just the way the world is!” But Jesus is calling us to radically reorient the way we see the world. The words of Jesus challenge us to “take off” the glasses that we wear in order that we might no longer see the world “just as it is,” but as it is intended to be by God. Jesus challenges us to see God’s blessing where the world sees only brokenness and pain. Can you imagine what would happen if people began to see a world saturated with the blessing of God in the most unlikely of places? Can you imagine if people began to catch a glimpse of a world turned right side up? Can you imagine if we, as followers of Jesus, had the vision to see that kind of world? A world healed and renewed. A world restored and reconciled. A world filled with the blessing of God. Rather than continue to say, “Well, that’s just the way the world is,” as followers of Jesus, we are called to proclaim that there is another way. Another way of seeing. Another way of being. Another way of living. 

Into the Deep

I was about seven years old. It was a cool summer morning in upstate New York on the shores of Lake Ontario. I was waking up just as the sun was rising. And although it had been storming most of the night, that particular morning I saw a ray of sunshine squeezing through the crack in the door. So, I sprang out of bed and flung open the curtains to see if the lake was calm, and indeed, it was. I rushed to the back of the cottage and knocked on my grandparent’s bedroom door, and I said, “Grandpa, the lake is just like glass; it’s time to go fishing!” My grandfather peeked his head out the door and groggily nodded in agreement. Before long we were loaded up in my grandfather’s boat, and headed out to our favorite spot just offshore from the “Big Rock,” which was a large boulder that served as a landmark for our favorite fishing location. Now we fished for quite a while, but all we caught was perch. And if you know anything about perch in Lake Ontario, you’ll know that they’re tasty, but tiny. In other words, if you’re hoping to have a proper fish fry that night, you need to catch a lot of perch! So, my grandfather turned to me and said, “Doug, if we want to catch bigger fish, we need to put out into deeper water.” If we want to catch bigger fish, we need to put out into deeper water. 

I can’t help but think about that day with my grandfather every time I hear today’s gospel reading from Luke. In our gospel reading, Jesus has begun his public ministry of preaching, teaching and healing. And he has already made quite a name for himself. Large crowds are already following Jesus wherever he goes. And so, in today’s reading, Jesus hops into a nearby boat in order to teach the massive crowd of people assembled on the shore. But it’s after he’s done teaching that Jesus turns to Simon Peter, whose been working on the boat all night, and he says, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

Now what follows next is nothing short of miraculous. Peter and his friends catch so many fish that their nets are beginning to break. Peter has a transformational, life-changing encounter with Jesus. The first disciples leave everything behind and follow Jesus, thereby inaugurating the “kingdom of God” movement that would ultimately change the world. But it all started because they were willing to venture into the deep water. For me, this instruction to move their boats into the deep water is a metaphor for the whole life and journey of a disciple of Jesus. 

Because, to put out into the deep water implies a letting go of what is familiar. When I was seven years old fishing with my grandfather just a few hundred yards offshore from the “Big Rock,” it felt familiar and comfortable. I could see the bottom of the lake. There were times when I could even see the fish nibbling the bait on the hook as I waited for my bobber to plunge beneath the surface. I could look down the shore and see the row of cottages where my grandmother was inside busily making the lunch we would enjoy after a long day on the water. It was familiar. It was safe. It was comfortable. But to put out to into deeper water meant leaving behind that which was safe and familiar. All of a sudden, the water became dark and ominous. We couldn’t fish with bobbers anymore. And our family cottages were just small dots on a distant shoreline that to a seven-year-old little boy appeared to be hundreds of miles away. To put out into deep water implies a letting go of what is familiar. 

But it also implies a letting go of what we think we can control. If you’ve ever been boating on the Great Lakes, you know that thunderstorms and windstorms can gather strength quickly and emerge on the horizon often without much warning. I remember times when we had to scramble to pull in our fishing lines, to pack up our gear, and to get the boat moving just as the sky behind us turned black and the tips of the waves all around us turned white. There isn’t much you can do when the lake gets angry. Unless, of course, you stay relatively close to the shore! Then you’re able to maintain a sense of control. You’re confident that you can get back home quickly. You know exactly what to do if a storm emerges on the horizon. But to put out into deep water means letting go of what we think we can control. Putting out into deep water requires surrendering to what we cannot see and what we don’t always understand. 

If we want to catch bigger fish, we need to put out into deeper water. I can’t think of a more appropriate metaphor for the life of discipleship. Putting out into deep water. Letting go of what is familiar. Letting go of what we think we can control. Letting go what we know for all that we don’t know. That is exactly what disciples are called to do over and over again.

But, if we’re honest, letting go of what is familiar and letting go of control, are two things that most of us are not very good at. And the reason, of course, is because letting go can be a scary thing to do. Our natural response to change is fear. Now for me, when I seven years old, what gave me courage and confidence was the presence of my grandfather, whom I trusted implicitly. For the disciples, what gave them courage and confidence was the presence of Jesus. Did you notice in our gospel reading this morning that Jesus is in the boat the whole time? Throughout the entire encounter; as Peter and his friends wrestle with doubt and confusion, with fear and anxiety. As they deal with own sense of inadequacy and their own insecurities. Jesus is there the whole time.

So, my friends, where is Jesus calling you to “put out into the deep water?”

It might be the deep water of a new sense of calling or vocation.

It might be the deep water of a broken relationship in need of healing and forgiveness.

It might be the deep water of opening yourself up and allowing yourself to be more vulnerable before God and others. 

It might be the deep water of speaking the truth even when nobody wants to listen. 

It might be the deep water of offering yourself for the work for reconciliation in the midst of our divided and fractured world.

Where is the Jesus calling you to “put out into the deep water?”

Whatever it is, it will require you to let go of some things that are familiar and comfortable. It will require you to let go of what you think you can control. But take heart. Jesus is in the boat with you. Jesus, who calls you by name, says, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus, who knew you before the foundation of the world, says, “Come, follow me…into the deep.”