Second Sunday in the Midst of Lent
TEXT: Luke 13:31-35
Guard me as the apple of your eye. Hide me under the shadow of your wings … (Psalm 17:8)
Here’s a question for the hikers amongst you—especially those who love the mountains. And maybe it’s not going to be a real concern until a bit later on in spring, but … If you’re out hiking in the wilderness, and you come across a bear cub … or two or three bear cubs … What does that tell you?
It tells you that you need bear spray! Because wherever the cubs are, you can be certain that their mother is nearby. And momma bear will not be happy to see you.
Female black bears give birth to two or three blind, helpless cubs in mid-winter and nurse them in the den until spring, when they all come out in search of food. The cubs will stay with their very protective mother for about two years.
Two years! That’s kind of a long time for young animals to stay with their mothers, isn’t it? It points to the fact that bear cubs take quite a while to … Well, to learn how to be bears! To learn how to be independent.
But that doesn’t mean they’re stupid. Far from it. They’re smart enough to know a good thing when they see it—that good thing being a 400-pound, fierce-looking creature who seems to always provide them with just exactly what they need. Why should they stray?
In some respects, bears, cats—and just about any other animal you’d care to mention—are brighter than people. The young, at least, have sense enough to stay close to momma—close to food, protection, warmth, and nurture.
You won’t find kittens turning away from the warm fur they know so well. Chicks do not wander from the protection of the hen’s wings. Such behaviour would run counter to their nature. It would go against the natural order God created.
Even the least intelligent animal offspring stay close to the one who gave them life. They cling to the one who nurtures and protects them.
But people? That’s another story. Human beings stray. All too often, we children of God exhibit the unnatural behaviour of turning away from the love and protection of the One who made us.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)
In those words of Jesus, we hear the voice of God lamenting. We hear the sound of God’s heart breaking.
God loves his children with the tender, fierce love of a mother bear. And yet, says Jesus, the children have strayed: they have killed the prophets and cast stones at the Lord’s messengers. As a mother hen spreads her wings over her brood, so would God—in times of trouble—spread protective wings over his people. But—unaccountably, unnaturally, unrepentantly—his people are not willing to let him.
What chicks and kittens and bear cubs would not do—could not do—the children of God have done: they have counted the love and protection of God as nothing, choosing instead to go their own way.
How could this be? How could the children of Israel have been so foolish—so unnaturally rebellious—as to turn away from the warm, protecting wings of the Lord? Especially when those wings had brought them safe through so many difficulties. Especially when, time and time again, God had delivered them from their enemies, and blessed them so richly.
These are hard questions. But harder still 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?
Yes, these hard questions turn back upon us. Because times of trouble do come. Sometimes even the strongest among us can feel desperately insecure. Perhaps most of our days are filled with anxiety. Looking up, we do not see protective wings spread over us—just a vast expanse of empty sky.
We know what that feels like, don’t we?
Who among us has never tossed and turned through a sleepless night, or felt the dread of death or of old age as it draws nearer? Who among us has not felt the fear of loneliness? Or worried about our children’s future? Or agonized over finances?
Who among us has not been ashamed to look in the mirror because of something we’ve said, or done? Who among us has never hated, or envied, or lusted, or lied? Who among us has not wandered? Wandered far, far away from God’s protective wings?
“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
God’s lamenting cry rings sharply in our ears because we, too, have not been willing. We have not been willing to hear the voice of comfort. We have stopped our ears against the call of invitation. We are unwilling to bring our worries, our pain—and especially, our sin—to the One who loves us.
Instead, we scratch around through life, pecking the ground, hoping to stumble upon some crumb that will fill our stomachs, numb our minds, and make us forget how far we have wandered from God’s parental care.
The story is told about a man whose marriage was in trouble. In desperation, he sought help from his pastor.
His pastor told him, “You must learn to listen to your wife.”
The man took this advice to heart.
A month later, he returned, saying that he had indeed learned to listen to every word his wife was saying.
“Good,” said the pastor. “Now, go home and listen to every word she isn’t saying.”
We do not need to feel anxious because of our daily troubles—the irritations, hassles, and problems of work and school.
We do not need to come home and anesthetize our minds with food and drink, household chores and television—anything and everything to keep from thinking about the damning distance—the strange silence—of God in our daily lives.
We do not need to do this because God is speaking to us. He is speaking to us in the words he does not say, as much as he speaks to us in the words that he does say.
Listen. Hear. The words of invitation are being spoken: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Even now, the Mother Hen would gather us in the shadow of her outstretched wings—warm and secure, next to the beating heart of God. Even now, God bids us to come—to trust, to rely on his protection and nurture and guidance.
And you know, this is not the first time God has called us.
When we have prospered, he has called to us—reminding us from whence all prosperity arises; to return to him and give thanks; to share with our brothers and sisters in holiness and righteousness.
In times of joy and certainty, God has called us to acknowledge his part in it—and to share with others the gift of hope.
When we have sinned, God has urged us to repentance—calling us to return to him in the confidence that we will be forgiven.
God has called to us many times: through the water of baptism; through the blood of Jesus; from the empty tomb. When we joined the church, we were made part of Christ’s body—and God welcomed us into his family, his flock, his holy brood. And he pledges to us the fierce devotion, love, and protection that we only see dimly mirrored in nature.
However—whereas animals can and will protect and care for their young only for a limited time—God pledges his love and his nurture for all eternity. This is true security we are being offered, my friends. This is solid protection.
Rather than some empty promise that nothing bad will ever happen to us, God’s promise assures us that—whatever happens, whatever problems may plague us, whatever fear may confront us, whatever sin may assail us—we will never find ourselves defenceless or forgotten; for we stand under the protection of God’s wings. We are shielded by God’s mercy, forgiven by God’s grace, and strengthened by the divine power with which we are fed.
Years ago, I heard a story about a woman who grew up in a farming community. On the day that the hen house burned down on her grandpa’s place, she arrived just in time to help put out the last of the fire. As she and her grandfather sorted through the wreckage, they came upon one hen lying dead. Her top feathers were singed by the fire’s heat. Her neck was limp.
The granddaughter bent down to pick up the dead hen. But as she did so, she felt movement. The hen’s four chicks came scurrying out from beneath her burnt body.
They had survived because they were insulated by the shelter of their mother’s wings—protected and saved, even as she died to protect them and save them.
“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings …”
This very day, Jesus Christ is calling—to you, and to me.
He calls us to the shelter of his protecting wings.
He calls us to the safety of his arms stretched out for us upon the cross.
He calls us to trust him—no matter what our fears, or hurts, or troubles.
He calls us to trust that his outstretched arms are strong enough—his wings broad enough—to keep us forever safe.
In the shadow of those wings, let us find our refuge. Amen.