Sermon at Saint Matthias’ Church on Sunday, 4th March 2007
“How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing”. Luke 13:34
In the image of the hen and the chicks I find memories of childhood days when life was going to last forever and where the world was a very simple place.
My Granddad’s farm where I spent my early years was very old-fashioned, even in the early-1960s it. The memories there come from times before I was literally dragged to the village school, being lifted kicking and screaming onto the school bus each morning. If I could be sick during assembly I could escape the ogre that taught the infant class. Miss Todd, the headmistress, would ‘phone my grandmother; and my uncle who was at home on the farm would come and collect me in his green Morris Minor Van with its reassuring smells of straw and cattle feed.
The smell of straw always evokes reassuring memories. It brings to mind my uncle’s van. It brings to mind the warm smell of the dairy cows in their stalls on cold and dark winter evenings. It brings to mind the wheat and barley harvest during the month of August.
The arrival of the grain was a great time for the hens that my grandmother kept. They lived in wooden houses close to the farm house and spent their days scratching around the yard. The eggs were always a rich brown colour and my grandmother would wipe each one individually before placing them in trays that were collected by the egg man each week. Summer days were great for the hens. There was constant activity around the farm, no fox dare come near. If any Reynard was tempted, there was a 12 bore double barrelled shotgun inside the back door. Its barrels were a polished, dull black and the stock was a rich chestnut colour. The world was safe for the hens and there were rich pickings to be had in the grains of corn that fell to the ground as heavily-laden trailers rolled across the yard.
If the hens were well-protected, their chicks were even more so. At the first sign of danger from approaching tractors or small boys, the hens clucked loudly and the chicks came running to shelter under their wings.
This picture that Jesus uses, the picture of the hen and the chicks, is, for me, a picture of absolute security. It’s a picture of care and protection. It’s a picture that says all is well with the world. It is a picture of how deeply Jesus felt about those who had rejected him, those who had turned him away. It is a picture of great sadness. God sends his Son to his beloved people, God offers them his care and protection, and they are not willing.
Occasionally small boys, intent on catching chicks, can so position themselves as to block the chick’s path to safety. At this point the chick becomes frightened and panics. It runs this way and that cheeping loudly in fear. It will run anywhere to escape.
When, like the people of Jerusalem, we say “no to God, we become like one of those chicks separated from the hen. We say “no” and then we run frantically through our lives going this way and that desperately searching for security. If we have a particular job or a particular home or a particular car or a particular amount of money, or if we are friendly with particular people, or if we have a certain social standing – then we believe we will have happiness and contentment and security and all those things we are searching for. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because in the end we have to come to terms with our own mortality.
The chick only rests content when it finds security under the hen’s wings. We only rest content when we find security with God.
Jesus wanted to gather the people of Jerusalem, he wanted to hug them as his very own loved ones, but they didn’t want to know. They couldn’t accept a God who was gentle and humble and caring. They wanted a God who would give them what they wanted. They wanted a God who gave them power and control and dominance.
They were not willing to accept Jesus because he didn’t fit into their picture of God. I wonder what picture we have of God. Bolts of lightning? Armies of angels? Blinding lights? Astonishing events? If we had to describe God how many of us would ever use the picture of a mother hen? This is the picture that Jesus uses, a picture of a God who is gentle and warm and caring.
The people of Jerusalem didn’t want that sort of God. To turn to a God who was gentle and warm and caring meant you had to accept a need for such a God, it meant accepting that you were frail, that you had weaknesses; that you could not cope alone. They weren’t going to do that, they wanted a God who made them powerful.
What sort of God do we want? My English Protestant view of God has always been of a very stern character; a headmaster who kept an eye on you to make sure you worked hard and didn’t let the side down. Not the sort of God who is much use when you face questions of mortality.
When it comes to the crunch the God we need is the God that Jesus presents to us. But we have to make that choice. We can choose to live our lives like lost and frightened chicks. We might have everything, yet at the end we have nothing. Or we can choose to be like the chicks who find their way back to the mother hen. It means we don’t go our own way, we don’t do what we want, we go God’s way and we do what God wants, and we find peace and we find security.
The choice we have to make is between our pictures of God. To accept Jesus’ picture of God means accepting our own failing and our own sin and our own lostness; it is to accept the need for a God who is much more than someone we think about on a Sunday morning. To accept Jesus’ picture of God means repenting, turning around, and starting again.
“How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing”. The people of Jerusalem were not willing to change their picture of God. What about us?