About hens and chickens

Text: Luke 13:31-35

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets, you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me! And so your Temple will be abandoned. I assure you that you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord.’ “

 About hens and chickens

A few years ago twin hippos were born in a zoo. A local celebrity was asked to name the two babies. The only hitch was that the mother hippo wouldn’t let anyone close enough to determine whether the babies were male or female – an important piece of information when it comes to giving names. The two 18 kilo babies paddled or walked just under their mother and no one wanted to upset the hippo mother. Mother hippos can get very agitated if there is any threat to their babies and no one was prepared to risk tangling with an animal built like a truck.

The mother hippo didn’t mind the crowds that gathered every day to view her babies so long as they were at a safe distance and on the other side of the fence.  She continued to care for her babies: feeding them, protecting them, keeping them close to herself and away from danger. And the babies, untroubled by their nameless state, didn’t stray from their mother. As young as they were, they still knew a good thing when they saw it – that good thing being the two ton grey creature that always seemed to provide for them just what they needed. Why should they stray?

Chickens don’t stray far from mother hen because they know that when danger menaces them, or a cold night threatens their lives there is no better place to be than under the protection of the hen’s wings. They know that mum provides food, protection, warmth, and nurture. They rely on their mum to watch over them while they are so small and helpless. This kind of protection and nurture is nature’s way of caring for the young. For a chicken to stray from the protection that the wings of mother hen would be counter to nature’s plan – counter to the way God planned to care for the young.

It’s like that throughout the animal world and it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about baby hippos, kittens, puppies, chickens or any other animal you’d care to mention, it seems that the young have sense enough to stay close to their mum. That also applies to human babies and toddlers. God created families so that offspring can receive protection and nurture.

But when it comes people and their heavenly parent – that’s another story. Only humans exhibit the unnatural behaviour of turning away from the love and protection of the God who made them. Offspring in the animal world know where their protection and nurture comes from and don’t stray far from their mothers, but it’s a different story when it comes to God and his children.

I believe that one of the most impassioned speeches of the New Testament are Jesus’ words that we find in our text today from Luke 13.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets, you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!”

These words remind me of a mother whose child has broken all ties with her and has ventured on his own into all kinds of danger and trouble. She pleads, “I want to help you and protect you, put my arms around you, but you won’t have anything to do with me.” Or a lover who is rejected, his/her love unreturned; who wants to hold the other person close, but is unwanted.

Each of these scenarios is packed with emotion, just as the scene in the Gospel does when Jesus is looking toward Jerusalem. He is looking at people who really need what he has to give. They’re caught up in a stressful world, filled with anxiety and despair, searching for meaning and purpose in life. He is offering them everything they need. And yet, says Jesus, the children have strayed: they have killed the prophets and stoned those sent to them. They rejected his love. John writes, “He came to his own country, but his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11).

As a mother hen spreads her wings over her brood, so God would spread protective wings over his people. What chickens and kittens would not do – could not do – God’s children have done: they have counted the love and protection of God as nothing, choosing instead to go their own way.

How could such a thing be? How could the children of Israel have been so foolish, so unnaturally rebellious as to turn away from the warm wings offered to them? Those wings had protected them from the dangers of the wilderness for 40 years. Those protecting wings saved them from one enemy after another. Those wings that came with a promise, “Even though a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you” (Is 49:15).

Hard questions these. But harder yet is this question: How could we do such a thing? How can we be so foolish or behave so unnaturally as to stray from the sheltering love of God? How many times has God said about us, “I wanted to put my arms around you, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!”

At times even the strongest among us desperately feel our lack of security, the absence of protective wings over us, the unnatural distance that seems to exist between ourselves and the calming presence of God.

What is it that leads us astray from our heavenly parent? What is it that causes us to leave the warmth and security of God’s protective wings, to say “no” to all that our heavenly Father wants to offer us? What is it that causes Jesus to say of us, “I wanted to put my arms around you but you would not let me!”

This text today tells us two things (amongst others).
Firstly, it reminds us of the power of sin. I know that this isn’t a popular subject for some and others are saying, “Oh no, here he goes again talking about sin.” But the reality of the fact is that it is our sinful nature that causes us to reject God’s love. Sin has the power to take control of our lives and distorts what is true and what is false. The people of Jerusalem had rejected the prophets, God’s messengers, because they could not see that they were speaking God’s Word to them. They had been blinded and become confused because of sin.

Some of you may recall the graphic scenes beamed from USA of riots, the beatings, wanton destruction, wholesale looting, people breaking into stores, stripping them bare of their merchandise, and laughing as they did it. And all the time reporters were there with TV cameras rolling, interviewing the looters.

One interview showed a man who had broken into a music shop. As he came out carrying a box, a reporter shoved a microphone in front of him and asked, “What did you take?” He answered, “I took gospel cassettes & CDs. I love Jesus. Praise the Lord!”

See how sin had blinded this man. He couldn’t see that he was sinning. Sin blinds us to the fact that God loves us ever so dearly. He wants to help us, protect us, guide us, and comfort us; he wants to be like a mother hen and fold his wings over us, but we won’t let him. Our stubbornness, our pride, our over inflated view of our own strength and ability blind us to the fact that we need God’s help.

The fact that we need God’s help is shown

  • when we toss and turn through a troubled night;
  • when a friendship turns sour;
  • when we are filled with dread at the thought of the death of someone close, or even our own death.

We need God’s help

  • when we are uneasy about our health and what the future will hold for us;
  • when we worry about the future of our children, our jobs, our finances and the hope of a secure retirement;
  • when we look in the mirror in the morning and are ashamed because of something we’ve said, or done; ashamed because of how we’ve hated, envied, lusted, or lied.

How often Jesus must say to us, “I wanted to put my arms around you, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!” This text reminds us that God speaks so clearly to us about his love for us, yet on a daily basis we are like a chicken who strays away from God and all that he can do for us.

The second thing that this text tells us is that Jesus loves us more than we can imagine. Otherwise why was he so upset over Jerusalem? Passionately Jesus lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How many times have I wanted…” How many times do you suppose Jesus looked at the crowds and saw them as sheep without a shepherd? How many times do you think he was filled with compassion as he saw their need for love, forgiveness, healing and purpose in life? “How many times…,” he said.

As God is unchangeable so also is his love for us. No matter how far we have wandered from him; no matter how deep our sin might be; no matter how far into the far country we have gone, Jesus loves us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He continues to love you and me even when we’re not very lovable.

Jesus doesn’t want us to go it alone. No self-made men and women. No individualists who don’t want anyone else’s strength, just there own. We are just a brood of helpless hatchlings, baby birds hidden under our Saviour’s protective wing. He calls us again and again to duck under his wing, to find shelter and safety under his outstretched arms.

Those arms were extended on the cross bearing your sin. They extended over you in your Baptism. They extend over you when the sign of the cross is made and the pastor declares God’s forgiveness for all your sin. His arms extend over you in Holy Communion as Jesus feeds you his own body and blood.

The baby bird that tries to go it alone, that stubbornly insists on doing its own thing away from its mother’s protective wing, will die. Jesus words in our text also contain a word of judgement for those who persistently reject God and his love and stray from his protection. Jesus gives this warning to help us realise that God is dead serious when he says he is our mother hen who wants to embrace us under his wings.

Let us join with the psalmists who sums everything up like this,
He will keep you safe from all hidden dangers …
He will cover you with his wings,
you will be safe in his care;
his faithfulness will protect and defend you. (Ps 91:3,4)
How precious, O God, is your constant love!
We find protection under the shadow of your wings. (Ps 36:7)

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

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