Saturday, February 23, 2013

Under Jesus’ Wings

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Luke 13:31-35

What do you think about this ritual Abraham performed? How would you like to go to a house-closing where you use a ritual like this to finalize the agreement instead of signing your name on about a hundred pieces of paper?
In Abraham’s time, this was a common way to finalize a deal, to make a covenant between two families. One or more animals are sacrificed and cut in half. The two parties walk between the two halves, cook the meat, and share the meal. It takes a long time to seal a deal this way. Today, we still sometimes hear the phrase, “cut a covenant.” This is the source of the phrase.
Notice that Abraham does nothing more – God is the one who moves between the carcasses in the form of smoke and fire. It is God who makes the promises to Abraham: I give you this land, all this land.
Abraham was worried, because it didn’t look like the promises God had made a few years ago were going to be fulfilled. God had promised to give Abraham and Sarah land, and descendants, and fame. So, in this covenant-cutting ritual, God promises again to give Abraham and his direct descendants the land. Implied in the promise of land are children, and lots of grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren who will live on the land.
I find it interesting that God begins this vision with a word of reassurance. “Do not be afraid; I am your shield.” This shield does not prevent Abraham and Sarah from having misadventures along the way to giving birth to a child. Perhaps the shield is intended to simply be an image reminding Abraham that God is always present and powerful, and does fulfill the promises, though it may take a long time, God’s time.
Over time, although God’s people remember God’s promises, they don’t always remember the human part of the covenant – faithfulness to God, and care for the neighbor. Protecting the temple traditions and leadership, maintaining the status quo, with benefits especially for the one percent, or five percent (or however many there were) is seen as the best way to please God.
At this point in Luke’s story, Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem, and knows what will happen there. He has raised the intensity of accusation about injustice and self-centered leadership. What he is saying is getting a lot of attention, not all of it good.
Some Pharisees approach Jesus with a warning. “You’d better change your ways! Herod wants to kill you.” It’s possible that these Pharisees agreed with Jesus; they wanted to help keep him alive. It’s possible that they disagreed with Jesus but did not want him dead. It’s possible that they wanted to keep the peace within the Jewish community, so Rome would leave them alone. Jesus was getting too much attention and was disturbing the peace. They could all suffer because of him.
Whatever reason the Pharisees had for warning Jesus, he responds by calling Herod a name: that fox. The name in Jesus’ time meant just what it means now: sly, clever, cunning, tricky.
Jesus responds by telling them that he will continue to do exactly what he has been doing, just as he has planned.  He is headed toward Jerusalem, the city which kills prophets, and no one can stop him. Yet, even though he knows this is what he has come to do, there is still great sadness that such an extreme action – the crucifixion – is necessary.
In this moment of lament, Jesus grieves over the history of the people and their relationship with God. Jesus wants to be our mother hen who gathers us all under her wings for safety when danger comes. He wants to shield us from those who would lead us away from God.
When I was a child, I went occasionally to the farm of some family friends, Hattie and Gilman. They grew crops, but also had a variety of animals: pigs, milk cows, and chickens. A couple of times, we arrived in time to go and help Hattie gather eggs. Even though the hens were accustomed to people coming and taking their babies every day, they still fought to prevent it. Those hens used their wings and their beaks and their claws to keep me from taking their eggs. I was afraid of them.
Some eggs were allowed to grow into chicks, new hens for more eggs. The hen would gather her chicks under her wings to keep them warm and safe until they were old enough to take care of themselves. Then, the chicks would resist being drawn under her wings. They thought they knew better than momma.
That’s who we are – chicks who resist being drawn under the wings of our mother hen because we think we know better than our momma what is best for us. We don’t put God first in our lives unless it’s convenient for us to do so.  Like the Pharisees, we make rules for everyone to live by, even if it is not possible for some to uphold them. We do not love our neighbors as ourselves. We determine who is in and who is out. We ignore some injustices while challenging injustices that apply to us or to someone we love.
Even so, despite our rebellion, Jesus came to live and die for us. He allowed the fox to get into the hen house; he was the hen who gave her life protecting her chicks from those who would harm them.
 Every day, we have the opportunity either to be drawn under Jesus’ wings or to run away from him. We believe that we know better than he does what our life, our world is like. We pretend that he cannot hear us; that he cannot read our hearts; that he does not know what we are doing; that he does not care what we are up to next. But, Jesus is our mother hen, who does know where we are; who does know what we are doing; and who does know what we are thinking about. Even so, our mother hen wants to draw us back, into the safety of her wings, loved and forgiven despite our rebellion.
Let’s allow ourselves to be drawn in, sheltered, cared for, loved, under Jesus’ wings. Amen