Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Psalm 27 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35
Hiding under the wings and body of mother hen is a safe refuge. It is closing the door on the world. It is feeling the warmth of that protector’s body. It is knowing love.
Pulling the covers over our heads on a very cold night – especially when the alarm rings and we want to escape our entrance into the world since the bed is warm and the body’s motor wants to remain dormant – is similar to being gathered under a mother hen.
Being a wobbly new robin in a nest in the tree, to where mother brings bug after bug, worm after worm, is to be loved. But beware. The day will come when mother knows by instinct that showing love now means pushing baby bird out of the nest. Are you feeling the hurt, the reluctance of mother bird when she needs to push that little, still somewhat weak, junior bird from that nest which is not sitting on the ground. It seems worse than coaxing a person to jump from an airplane with a parachute on his or her back. The little bird does not appear to have a parachute. But, wait! What are those things flapping up and down in a flurry? Nothing less than the bird’s natural parachute. They open and they flap; they work!
We can find and claim this protection, this love, this warmth, this pushing us from our nest, in the Lord. When life tumbles upon us we can feel God arms around us, being gathered into His bosom. This could be called imagination but it can be more if we believe. The person of God who came to earth in human form took children into his arms. I am guessing that he took adults into his arms. But this Jesus person of God is not here on earth now. However, remembering his promise to send the Holy Spirit to be our advocate and comforter, we are not alone. We can feel a warm, safe blanket of presence around us, better even than our warm bed covers. If we prefer a refreshing coolness rather than warmth, the Holy Spirit can do that. Our feverish anxiety can subside. We can feel calm and peaceful.
This idea of being under the wings of a mother hen, or the safety of having a parachute or the wrap-around and in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, takes us past adversities, lifts us from the quicksand which draws us into smothering death. Even if death be our lot, the love, the protection, the calmness continues and even increases.
Our passage in Luke 13:31-35, tells of the sorrow of Jesus when he was approaching Jerusalem for the final time before his death. His sorrow was not just because of his impending death. His sorrow is for the people of Jerusalem who would not be gathered into the arms of Jesus as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Jesus wants to gather all people under his wings. Are you and I resisting?
In our Philippians 3:17-4:1 passage, Paul is saying, in 4:1, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” We know that Paul started many churches in his life of travels. We also know that he could not make continuous circular trips to visit these churches. He had to write. He had to hear the news the slow way; the news traveled by mouth as travelers came and went and shared the news or they brought written letters. Paul longed to be with each church – either to encourage them in their faithfulness or to encourage them to leave their unfaithfulness and disobedience. He longed to spread his wings over them, not in pretend mode or by imagination, but in reality. He longed to be with them face-to-face.
Long-distance relationships are very difficult to maintain and to be satisfactory – not impossible, just challenging. Most human beings cannot schedule a need for closeness by the calendar or by the clock. The leader, the care-giver needs to have a signal-receiving device like an antenna, to know when contact and love needs to be heavy and immediate. Thinking of today when our communication around the world is instantaneous, we can barely comprehend how it was in the days of Jesus and of Paul.
It may be better to be part of a slower world. There are pockets of civilization even in our world today where time is not important. Life does not have this pressure of immediacy. But do we want to revert. Could we handle this slowness? A retreat center may be as close as some of us will come to leaving the world to take care of itself while we feel the strong closeness of God; while we feel as though we are tucked safely and lovingly under the wings of God.
As we think of having safe places, I wonder why the account of Abram is our Hebrew scripture for today. It is Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18. God has brought Abram to the land which will later be given to his descendants after Abram wanders where God directs Abram to wander. This is the passage in which Abram believes and God considers that as righteousness. Think about this: believing is righteousness. Was that just true for Abram or is it true today? Where does “belief and trust” end and “being good” start?
The part of this passage which startles me is that after Abram obeys God concerning what kind of sacrifice to prepare, Abram goes into a deep sleep which turns into a deep and terrifying darkness. Why is that passage included when we are focused on leaders and God wanting the best for us. Why would Abram go into this troubling kind of sleep? Are you thinking that we can’t comprehend the depth of safety and warmth and love if we have not experienced fear – even terror. Maybe so. This would be a good topic for discussion among us.
Psalm 27 uses the idea of fear turning into safety; turning into light; yes, even turning into salvation. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? … Though an army encamp against me, my heart will not fear. … Though war rise up against me, my trust will not be shaken. … For in the day of trouble God will give me shelter, hide me in the hidden places of the sanctuary, and raise me high upon a rock. … This will I believe – that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!”
Yes, in the land of the living; here on earth in the kingdom of God that is partially complete, we can see the goodness of the Lord and feel his presence, his safety, his guidance, his protection. Judith and John had a baby who needed to stay in an incubator. They longed to gather that baby into their arms, to pass protection and warmth and love but to do so would take the baby from the lifeline in the incubator which is God’s provision; God’s wings so to speak. The way that Judith and John could pass their love was to gently place their hands through a special opening and to hold those tiny little hands, to assure this little one of their presence and love. They could pray, “Hear my voice, O Lord, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me.” They heard, “Wait for the Lord and be strong. Take heart and wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27)
Gradually, this baby’s body became strong and was functioning well enough to find itself in the arms of mother and father. They claimed this verse from Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
Then baby was baby no longer. Off to kindergarten this child went. Once again, being under the actual wings of mother and father did not work. Mother and Father prayed. The wings of prayer were covering this child. God was there as unseen presence. At the end of the school day, child returned to the protective and loving wings of Mother and Father.
Then child becomes young adult going to college. Oh my! No daily homecoming! Prayers stronger than ever, cell phone calls, text messages, Skype – as much as young adult can stand or more. This is the time of pushing the little bird from the nest. Actually, with some young adults, they can’t leave the nest fast enough but sooner or later, the longing for the soft feathers and the soft, warm body of safety and love seem to overcome the desire for independence.
Now where did you leave this story. Are you still back at the birth and your baby never left the incubator to feel your soft love? Maybe you are thinking that you neglected the “coming home each day from school” time of warmth and welcome and love. Maybe your son or daughter did not have a nice, neat progression that we call “normal.” Maybe your young one got caught by the enemies of the world. This was a time of praying that seemed endless; praying that seemed to be unheard, unanswered. Soft wings were rejected as the enemy pulled and twisted and mutilated. But, God is stronger than all the enemies in the world; stronger than Satan – always! “When evildoers close in against me to devour my flesh, they, my foes and my enemies, will stumble and fall.” (Psalm 27)
You may be saying, “Wait. You do not know the agony of an awful ending. You do not know what happens when the enemy pulls so hard that death arrives before healing.” You are right. I have not had to be pulled blindly through that tunnel of darkness. I have just had very strong disappointments. At these awful times we are invited to crawl under the wings of God where it can be soft and warm and loving if we allow these comforts to flow over us.
When we think of the kingdom of God being here already, partially complete, we have this healing and hope already begun. Our hearts can become whole; eliminating hurt, fear, brokenness, guilt. We are invited to tuck our weary bodies under the “Healer of every ill, Light of each tomorrow, who will give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow.” (Haugen) Amen.