Sunday, February 21, 2016
See, your house is left to you
Scripture Lessons: Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18 and Luke 13: 31-35, p. 77 Sermon Title: See, your house is left to you I suppose that the one of the greatest challenges in preaching is maintaining the congregation’s attention. This is a big challenge for me, and sometimes I feel like I’ve succeeded, but at other times I know I’ve failed completely. I try hard at keeping your attention however, and my favorite preaching advice is said to come from the great comedian Groucho Marks, “That every sermon should begin with a joke and have a really good ending, and those two parts should be as close together as possible.” As I said before, certainly there are many times when I realize I’ve failed in the task of keep your attention, and sometimes I realize that I’ve failed in this task about midway in my sermon, in which case I’m tempted to stop talking right then and just call it a day. What will sometimes happen is that I’ll finish a paragraph only to realize that I’ve just made you suffer through sentences that should have been left out during editing, or even worse, I go on too long about some subject only to look out and recognize that I’ve droned and droned so much that I’ve put someone to sleep or inspired someone else to start working on their grocery list. The greatest sign of failure in this regard is to find a bulletin on Monday morning, left in the hymnal covered in tick-tack-toe games. But this is the challenge every preacher I suppose. We’ve all been called to speak a valuable message, to proclaim the Gospel, but to proclaim it in such a way that people actually hear it, which isn’t as easy as I once thought it would be. I’ve found that jokes help sometimes, and I’m probably guilty of trying to tell too many jokes in a sermon in the hopes of maintaining everyone’s attention, but better yet – the foolproof way to get just about any congregation’s attention, is to use feminine pronouns when referring to God. This is an interesting reality since we all know that God is not a man or a woman, but what we are used to is using the pronoun “He” when referring to the divine, so when the preacher employees the feminine, all at once everyone is listening, all at once the one who was sleeping is now awake and asking his wife, “Did he just say what I think he said?” Maybe his wife is thinking, “Well yes he did, and it’s about time.” Maybe, or maybe not, but regardless, what seems true to me is that while most often Scripture employees the masculine pronoun in reference to the divine, “He, him, king, or father” to mention just a few, there are examples right there in Scripture for anyone to see when God is described as like a mother bear who defends her cubs (Hosea 13: 8), like a nesting mother eagle who stirs up her nest and hovers over her young (Deuteronomy 32: 11), or better yet, here in the Gospel of Luke chapter 13, the Lord describes himself as a mother hen, who longs to gather her brood under her wings. We humans tend to speak of God using metaphors, and God as Father is the one that we hear of most, but thinking of God as a mother hen brings something new and describes something significant that I know many people might embrace. We think of God as a Father for many reasons, but maybe especially because traditionally this metaphor of Father speaks to the truth that we stand to inherit much – eternal life especially, but just as valid and just as true is to think of God as a Mother, and if we think of God as a mother hen we have a valuable and true metaphor that brings both a lesson on the nature of God and the realities of the world because according to this metaphor, on the one hand is God who, like a mother hen longs to gather us under her wings where we’ll be safe, but on the other hand, if the mother hen longs to gather us and protect us, implicit is the truth that there is much in this life that she longs to protect us from. “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!” I wonder if that sounds like your mother. In some ways it sounds like mine, very much like mine, because there were and still are so many things that she wants to protect me from. I remembered this past week how years ago she wanted to protect me from cigarettes, and not only was she on my case, but I am confident that she enlisted the help of my doctor who told me during an appointment when I was 13 or 14 years old that my asthma was so bad that if I ever so much as tried a puff of a cigarette I might just die there on the spot. Regardless of whether or not that was true, I don’t know because I’m still too scared to try. That’s not entirely true actually, I have tested the water, but she was successful overall. She kept me under those wings and away from smoking, but she couldn’t keep me completely away from my friends who did. The mother hen has her work cut out for her, because there comes a time when the chicks want to go out into the world and need the approval, not of their mother so much as their peers, so while Willie Nelson sings, “Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys,” what Willie doesn’t get at is the reality that Mama can try to “make them be doctors and lawyers and such” but they may not be willing. My mom couldn’t keep me from wanting the approval of my peers, and when it came to a number of other temptations I was unwilling to be gathered under her wings because I wanted not her protection but their acceptance. That’s what the metaphor employed by the Lord really says to me now – that while our God is like a mother hen who longs to protect us from danger, we are too often unwilling to go to her because the mother hen’s approval is not the only approval that we want or need. Do you remember how much it mattered to have the right clothes in high school? At my mom’s high school, the thing to have were these knee high plaid socks, and her parents weren’t the kind of people who put much stock in being trendy so she only had one pair, which she washed every night so she could wear them again the next day. And last Thursday in the comic strips you might have seen Blondie. The little neighbor kid comes by, Elmo is his name, and he pulls up to Blondie and Dagwood’s house on a hover board and reports, “I like my skateboard better, but I had to have one of these new hover boards.” “Why” Dagwood asks. “Cuz everybody else has one,” little Elmo Tuttle responds. In Europe, did you hear that those things were catching on fire? Something about the charger that you’d plug into the wall. You’d plug it in to charge the thing’s batteries and would end up setting your carpet on fire. And maybe you wonder why a parent would buy a child something that might set the carpet on fire, but then you’d be underestimating a child’s determination to fit in no matter how dangerous fitting in might be. You know that every 16-year-old wants a car that will go as fast as it possibly can. Not one of them wants the old beat up minivan, but it’s the muscle cars that they race down the interstate, and the mother hen longs to gather them under her wings, put those kids in a nice safe Volvo so that she can drive them all to the prom, but they will be unwilling. And of course they are – because what the chick knows is that he wants to fit in, but the what the mother hen knows is the danger that is out there. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you.” And how it was left. Many Bible scholars believe that here in Luke chapter 13, Jesus is speaking prophetically, alluding to the destruction of Jerusalem that would come at the hands of the Romans just a few years after his death. Here he is already mourning because he knows the tragedy that is coming, and like a mother, her knows the pain of watching the ones he loves keep on down the path to destruction rather than listen and be gathered under the wings of the Mother Hen. Rather than be gathered, they will keep to the ways that they know: the ways that gain them the acceptance of their peers the ways that made them respectable in the eyes of the powerful the ways that empowered the wealthy and dehumanized the poor the ways that made the Temple a den of money changers rather than a house of the Lord the ways that would stone the woman caught in adultery while calling the hypocrite a priest the ways that oppress the foreigner and silence the prophet the ways that will lead to death – and the Mother Hen calls to her children still, because destruction will come again and again and again, and the foolish will choose to huddle on the bandwagon that leads to doom. There are all kinds of things to do, and while everyone wants a little religion when the end comes, like every teenager of all time, we seem to be thinking that the end isn’t coming any time soon, so we don’t invest our time as we should, we so rarely stop and think about what truly matters. We wake up, go to work, come home, turn on the TV, eat some dinner, go to bed, and wake up the next day and do the same thing, which works out OK so long as nothing bad happens, but the mother hen knows that something bad will happen and she keeps telling us that we need to be getting ready for it now. Mr. Herold Lucas, he came to church here, ran Lucas Chevrolet and he told his children that when they moved to a new place they right away needed to find a doctor, a lawyer, a car salesman, and a church, because you never know when you’re going to need them, and it’s true. Dr. Henry Strock came here as a guest preacher and told us that roots are for the wind, so put them down because the winds are coming. Danger is on the way, so go to the Mother Hen, but how unwilling we all are – imagining that we have all the time in the world. You know already that this Thursday we’ll host an important meeting, to hear the history of the 1946 Columbia Race Riot. There have been meetings leading up to the event and Dr. Christa Martin, your vice-mayor, she says during one of those meetings: “we are getting together now, we are developing these friendships now, because we know that we are going to need them later.” I believe that she’s right about that, and after the racially motivated shooting in Charleston, South Carolina so many of the pastors of your community, so many of your elected officials – the city mayor, the county mayor, the sheriff – we’ve all been talking, getting to know each other, because of what the Mother Hen knows is true – that what happened 70 years ago here is happening again today – but Columbia, TN doesn’t have to be Ferguson, MS. To create a new future, we must listen and learn from the one who calls us out of our homes and our normal routines to challenge the life that we’ve all accepted as normal. He is like a Mother Hen, calling on you to take comfort under his wings, but to get there you have to leave so much behind. Amen.