|Text: Luke 13:34-35
(Jesus said,) "Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets, you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me! And so your Temple will be abandoned. I assure you that you will not see me until the time comes when you say, "God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord.' "
Heidi was in love. The boy who had won her affection was the captain of the football team. Quite a catch since every other girl she knew was trying to get his attention. Each day Heidi would ring her best friend and tell her how much she loved Kevin ... how she stayed home at night waiting for him to call Ö how she bought him nice gifts for no other reason than she loved him. Then one day when she met with her best friend at MacDonaldís she sat down without saying a word. When asked if anything was wrong, she quietly said, "Kevin broke up with me last night." Then between sobs she said, "I loved him Ö I did everything for him. Why would he do this to me? Why doesnít he love me? The pain of rejected love is an awful pain.
You can see the pain in the face of a woman who has been married for twenty odd years, who sacrificed her life and career for her marriage only to have her husband fall in love with a blonde girl 15 years younger. After all her years of loving, giving, and sacrifice she stands there with her three kids alone, and she hurts. The pain of rejected love.
You can see the pain on the face of a little boy who simply idolises his dad. For weeks his dad has promised that at the weekend, he would come and watch him play football. At the end of another football game when his dad didnít show up, he says to his mother with tears falling down his cheeks, "Why doesnít my dad like me?" The pain of rejected love cuts very deep.
You can see the pain in the gospel reading today as Jesus grieves over the city of Jerusalem. God loved his people so deeply. He had sent messenger after messenger to tell them how hurt he was. The people he had created and rescued from Egyptian slavery had so defiantly turned their back on him. The pain of rejected love is an awful pain. In fact, the greater the love, the deeper the pain.
Jesus explains the hurt that rejected love has caused him to suffer when he says, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets, you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!"
You can feel the pain and anguish that is in Jesusí heart
as he says these words. These words remind me of a mother whose child has broken
all ties with her and has ventured out on his own into all kinds of danger and
trouble. She pleads, "I want to help you and protect you, put my arms around
you, but you wonít have anything to do with me."
Jesus felt the pain of rejected his love so much more because he knew the people were waiting for a Deliverer, the Messiah. From the time they were small children this expectation had become a part of their soul, a part of their fundamental belief in a God. And now when the One they had been waiting for was staring them in the face, they rejected him. Here was the One whom their fathers and grandfathers had talked about with such eager longing, and soon they will capture him like a guilty criminal, beat him, laugh at him, call out for his death and shake their heads with approval as the Romans nail him to a cross. Itís no wonder Jesus sheds tears over the city of Jerusalem.
Jesus uses the picture of a hen gathering her chickens under her warm and safe wings. As a mother hen spreads her wings over her brood, so God's love would spread protective wings over his people. What chickens would not do - could not do Ė Godís children have done: they have counted the love and protection of God as nothing, choosing instead to go their own way. Hear the pain in Jesusí voices as he says, "How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!"
How could such a thing be? How could the children of Israel have been so foolish, so unnaturally rebellious as to turn away from the warm wings offered to them? Those wings had protected them from the dangers of the wilderness for 40 years. Those protecting wings saved them from one enemy after another. Those wings that came with a promise, "Even though a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you" (Is 49:15).
I wonder sometimes whether Jesus doesnít feel that same kind of sadness over us. Itís true that we donít openly reject Jesusí love in the same way that it was rejected the first Good Friday. But isnít it true that he offers to embrace us in all kinds of situations and sometimes, perhaps more often than we dare admit, we shrink back from his embrace?
An example. I wonder how often Jesus is saddened when he sees us blundering along our own way Ė hurting, struggling, carrying enormous burdens, refusing to let go and let him carry them for us. We hold on so tightly to those worries, we like to be in control, even when things get out of control. Too often we let things get really bad before we let go and let God embrace us, comfort us, reassure us of his love and empower us to change what we can change and to leave the rest in his loving hands.
Some further examples. We know that Jesus offers forgiveness. We acknowledge our guilt and receive his forgiveness, on the outside anyway, but we still carry around a load of guilt as if the forgiveness Jesus gives means nothing, as if his death on the cross was not enough to free us from the burden of that sin brings us.
Or how often must Jesus weep over us, baptised members of his family, people who claim to belong to him whose death and resurrection has given us new life and new way of living. Yet sometimes we act and speak like people who donít know him at all.
We believe that Jesus loves us and can bring us healing; we believe that Jesus has everything under his control and yet we act as though he has nothing to offer us that will make a difference.
We believe that Jesus loves us unconditionally and is ready to use his power to answer our prayers, but how slack we are when it comes to spending a few moments with God every day in prayer.
We believe that Jesusí sacrificial death was the greatest thing that anyone could possibly do for us, yet our worship lacks sincerity, too often is a chore, and far too often drowned in constant discussions about styles of music and liturgy.
There are times, perhaps more than we care to admit, when Jesus must look at us with sadness because he holds his arms outstretched to us, but we refuse to be embraced by his gift of love.
The way we reject God's loving embrace is far more subtle than the people of Jesusí time. We donít go around calling out "Crucify him". But without a doubt we have our own ways of turning our back on what God wants to offer us. And we should know better. We come here Sunday after Sunday and hear about God's love, and yet the way we fail to let that love become a reality in our lives and omit God from the equation when dealing with the troubles and traumas of every day life, this must leave God sad and frustrated. O (and add your name here) I want to put my arms around you, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you wonít let me!"
But here is the surprising thing. We can turn our backs,
we can refuse his embrace, we can leave God out of our lives and become selfish
and self-centred, but God is always the same. The Bible tells us this over and
Jesusí story about the son who left home to live a riotous life, reminds us of the constant and unfailing love of his father.
The shepherd who goes out looking for the one lost sheep reminds of God's persistent love when it comes to finding the straying and the lost.
Isaiah reminds us that God who will never forget us; in fact, our names are engraved on his hands.
And today this picture of a mother hen. God doesnít rest until weíre safe and warm under the warm wings of his embrace. He searches for us, he fusses over us, he reaches out to us, he gets agitated if we wander too far. He has made a promise to be our God. Heís given us Jesus who has embraced us with arms that were once nailed to a cross. Nothing can change the way God is. He is committed to us. Thatís why we come here each Sunday Ė to worship our amazing God.
Jesusí words sadly talk about rejection and the judgement of God on those who refuse his love and decide that they have no need for a fussing mother hen. But there is also hope, a promise, in Jesusí words. Like a caring mother hen, he keeps on gathering us close to him, sheltering us under his protective care because his love for us is bottomless.
As we progress through this Lenten season, letís call to
mind how often and how easily we forget that God's love is at our disposal to
help us through every day. Letís repent of the times we leave God sad and
frustrated by the way we have treated his offer to embrace us with his love and
we would not let him.
Letís rejoice in the knowledge that God is dead serious when he says he is our mother hen who wants to embrace us under his wings.
Letís ask him to develop in us the same kind of mother hen attitude toward others.
Today Jesus invites you to run under his wings of safety and warmth.
© Pastor Vince
7th March, 2004