“Love, Under His Wings”
Luke 13:31-35 – February 21, 2016
During this season of Lent, our focus is on love.
When we think of the animal kingdom—and let’s broaden that to all birds and beasts, all creatures great and small—how does love fit into the picture? Picture this. A mama cat or dog, licking and cleaning her little ones. A mama horse or elephant or dolphin, feeding her baby. A mother hen on her nest, spreading out her feathers, her wings, to keep her chicks warm and safe at night. All loving and caring pictures. All maternal. Motherly.
When we think about God and God’s actions, maternal and motherly images are not necessarily the first things that pop into a person’s mind. `
Let’s turn to Jesus. The Rabbi Jesus has His disciples and other followers around Him. They are in Jerusalem—as they periodically are, since Jesus is an itinerant rabbi. Traveling round about Judea, Galilee, and all places in between. Jesus is speaking to and teaching a group of people. What does today’s reading from Luke tell us? Some Pharisees actually warn Jesus!
This might seem odd, or out of character. Imagine, Jesus is almost always fighting with the Pharisees! And here, we find several of them going out of their way to warn Rabbi Jesus: “Go somewhere else—far away! Herod wants to kill you!”
Oh, my! This is the puppet king that the Roman Empire installed as supposed king of Judea. Plus, Herod was the king who executed John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin. Jesus may even have been knowledgeable about Herod and his plots. No surprise here. What else is new?
It doesn’t particularly matter whether the Pharisees who hurried up and visited Jesus were doing this in all seriousness, or whether they were just kidding around. After all, Pharisees were among the foremost Jewish teachers of the Law. As one of the commentaries I consulted said, Pharisees were “community leaders, [who] actively opposed the ministry of Jesus. They were scared of His miracles. Perplexed at His teachings. Most of all, they were angry – angry and shocked – that so many people were drawn to this carpenter turned Rabbi.” 
Jesus had a fascinating response to that warning from the Pharisees: “’Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!’”
This is important stuff! Yes, Jesus identifies Himself as a rabbi. But, there is more. Much more! Jesus also embraces His role as a prophet. It says so, right here!
There are so many fascinating directions to go. I could write several sermons from this one short passage, each on a different topic. However—our topic for this morning is love. Remember? This whole service this morning is brought to you by the word “love!”
True, Jesus wants Herod to know that He is not afraid of Herod’s threats and muscle. True, Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem. He is going forward to reach that goal, that journey to the Cross. Eugene Peterson has a marvelous translation of Jesus’s response: “Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now…I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick.”
Question: why did Jesus call Herod a fox? I return to my commentator, Drew McIntyre, who says, “Did Herod have red fur and a bushy tail? No. A fox had a reputation for cunning, for sneakiness, and trickery. Today, we might say, ‘a weasel.’ Throughout most of human history foxes have been regarded as clever creatures – animals that the wise farmer would not turn their back on for an instant.” 
The next moment, Jesus compares Himself to a hen. A hen!
I am not aware of exact practices of the keeping of chickens in Israel. I know there must have been some chicken coops in the area. Just think of Peter denying his Lord three times before the rooster crowed. But, let’s assume chicken coops were fairly common.
Jesus says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” Using His vivid skill in drawing pictures with words, Jesus continues: “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Jesus just got done telling people He was a prophet, and He was going to continue doing His work of healing people, body and soul. The next words out of His mouth contain this warm, nurturing word picture. Can you think of anything more caring and comforting than to be drawn under the wings of a mother hen? To rest amid that soft, feathery embrace? I can’t.
Let’s transfer this situation fraught with tension to the modern day. We all know how wonderful it is to be wanted, to be welcomed and loved. This is exactly what Jesus offers us. This is what He wishes to do for us; to welcome us, and love us. Just like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings.
Yet, there is the tension of Herod, looking to kill Jesus. Jesus is in danger, and we are following Him. What kinds of images come to our minds, in that case?
Yes, we hear about the mother hen who gathers her chicks under her protective wings in dangerous situations. It can be at the eruption of the volcano at Mt. Saint Helens, or at a sudden fire in the barnyard. Yet, the hen is sacrificed to save her chicks. Stories are repeated that tell of a hen dying, showing sacrificial love towards her chicks. Her live chicks are found unharmed, safely beneath her protective wings.
Jesus is telling us exactly that. He is the protective mother hen. We are the defenseless, helpless chicks that need protection.
Here we have a feminine image of God! This is so rarely seen in the Bible, in either the Old or the New Testaments. One commentator I consulted talks about the theological rationale of women’s gender and their bodies. I remind you that women are made in the image of God just as much as men!
Speaking of her talk at a women’s retreat, Karoline Lewis says, “If [we] rarely, if ever, hear about God’s femininity, female images for God, or female characteristics of God, then even that biblical truth will be hard to believe. And, if God is mostly assumed to be male, referred to with male pronouns, and described as male, then it will be more difficult and take more energy to imagine God in female categories — and to believe that you have a place in the kingdom of God.” 
Yes, of course God has male attributes and characteristics. God also has female attributes and characteristics. As we can see from this motherly image or word picture that Jesus uses!
Jesus welcomes us into His embrace, into His community of love and caring. Just as a lost little chick who finally finds the way home into the nest, into his or her mother hen’s warm feathery embrace, so we can find our way into a community of caring, love, nourishing and belonging. I hope our church community extends that caring and loving welcome to everyone. Jesus wants us to know that we are welcome with Him, always.
Are you still searching for that community of belonging? That warm, caring place? I pray that we all may find it. Not only here, in this community, but especially in the embrace of Jesus.
 http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4530 “Love and Belonging,” Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, 2016.