Mother Hen

March 17, 2019

Series: March 2019

Category: Lent

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.’ 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! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Mother Hen

Some of you may have heard about Charles Blondin, a French tightrope walker who rose to fame in the mid-1800’s.  He is most well-known for being the first person to cross a tightrope stretched 11,000 feet across the Niagara Falls. And he didn’t just cross one time.  He crossed Niagara Falls on that tightrope multiple times – forward, backward, somersaulting, blindfolded.  Once he carried a stove with him and cooked an omelet in the middle of the rope.  It is estimated that Blondin crossed the Falls about 300 times in his career. 

On one crossing, he wheeled a wheelbarrow in front of him filled with a sack of potatoes.  When he reached the other side, the story goes that he stopped and asked the crowd who had gathered to watch him, “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?"

The crowd yelled, "Yes! Of course you can!  You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world!"

"Okay then," replied Blondin, "Who wants to get into the wheelbarrow?" And the crowd fell silent.  Though they believed he could do it, no one actually wanted to get in that wheelbarrow and cross the falls with him.[i]

I sometimes wonder if that’s a little bit what it is like with our faith lives.  Yes, we believe in God.  Yes, we know that God will be there with us in good times and bad.  But, when push comes to shove, when the going gets tough … how often do we find ourselves trying to go it alone?  Rather than relying on the one whom we say have faith in to bring light to the dark and hope to despair, we choose not to allow God to carry us through the difficult times, but instead try to figure it out all by ourselves.

Now I realize my metaphor falls apart a little bit, because Blondin was asking people to trust in him in order to risk their lives, while God asks us to trust in God in order to save our lives. But the underlying point remains the same … do our actions and behaviors support the words that we say?  While we say we trust in God, do we behave as if we trust in God?

Parker Palmer, who is a Quaker teacher and retreat leader, says that he has noticed so many people living with what he calls “functional atheism.”  He describes this as the “belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us.”  Not with God, but with me.  In the end, I have to solve my problems, I have to make my tough decisions, I have to move through this life depending only on me.  Palmer says he has noticed that this is a conviction held “even by people who talk a good game about God.”  How liberating it is, says Palmer, when we are able to realize that we “need not carry the whole load, but can share it. In fact, we sometimes are free to lay the load down altogether.”[ii]

In the passage we heard from Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus cries, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”  Jesus wants us to share our load.  To lay down our burdens.  To find shelter and comfort and rest and renewal under his mother hen wings.  To know that we do not move through this life alone.  But, as Jesus acknowledges in the very same sentence, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” And you were not willing! Why is it that we are not willing?

When you arrived this morning, you received a feather.  I want to invite you into a brief meditation as you hold that feather in your hand.  Take a few moments to look at the feather, and then, if you are comfortable close your eyes.  I will ask a series of questions, and after each question, we will have a few moments of silent reflection.

Imagine Jesus saying to you, “How I desire to gather you together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”  As you hear those words spoken to you, what do you feel?  How do you respond?

What is going on in your life right now that might make you seek shelter and refuge under God’s mother hen wings?

In your life right now, do you find yourself trusting in God, or are you seeking shelter and refuge in other places?

Hear again these words of Jesus, “How I desire to gather you together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”  What does it look like for you to take Jesus up on that offer?

I invite you to open your eyes and put that feather somewhere safe.  Take it home with you and put it somewhere that you will see it during the week.  As you see the feather throughout the week, remember Jesus’ words to you, or perhaps the Psalmists words, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  For God will hide me in God’s shelter in the day of trouble.”

Jesus certainly seemed to be taking these words of the Psalmist to heart.  The passage we heard today begins with a warning.  Some Pharisees come to him and tell him that Herod is trying to kill him.  They urge him to get away.  But Jesus knows that he has work to do, and he knows his work is calling him to Jerusalem.  He is not going to run away; he is not going to abandon his mission.  He is casting out demons and performing cures and he is not going to stop.  He has placed his trust in God.

How many times do we just want to run away from life … or at least from some part of our life?  A challenge, an enemy, a hardship – something that we just don’t think we can deal with.  In those times, do we run away?  Do we try to face it alone?  Or do we remember, The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  God will gather me under God’s wings.

Really, I should say, God will gather us under God’s wings.  I don’t think it is by mistake that Jesus says, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”  This is not one person being gathered, but many.  We are in this together.

Molly Baskette, who is a pastor over in Berkeley, recently offered this reflection, “One of the great sicknesses of the 21st century is our solitariness, our isolation from each other and from God. We are allergic to asking for help and have a pathological fear of being thought 'needy'. Some of us will walk in our own counsel right off a cliff rather than show our vulnerability to another human being, or turn to God in prayer.... Control freaks, perfectionists and fiercely independent types are not of much use to the God who made us to fit together, interlocking parts that hold the whole Creation in place.”[iii]

It is not just for our own benefit that we choose to place our trust in God and in each other, but for the benefit of all.  For the benefit of the entire Creation.  It is not easy … for many of us it is not even natural to rely on someone other than ourselves.  But it is necessary.  Let us know be in prayer together.

Soloist singing “Hold my hand”
O God, I have such fear about this journey. There is so much going on in my life right now! I don’t think I can take on a Lenten journey. There are people whose faith is so much stronger than mine is. How can I serve you? I don’t know what to do. I don’t have the fancy words that would bring comfort to the hearts of people who are troubled. I can’t even solve my own problems. You ask me to reach out and take your hand, O Jesus, but I fear that I may fall and falter. Hold my hand, precious Lord. Hold my hand.

Soloist singing “Stand by me”
I can’t do this, Lord. I can’t serve you. I can barely take care of myself. There are so many things which are burdening me right now. I can’t stand, or walk, or serve in the way you should be served. I fear that what I have to offer won’t be enough. I am sinking in my doubts. Lord, stand by me, please stand by me

Soloist “I’m your child”
I have heard it said, O God, that you have adopted us to be your own children. How can this be? Why would you want someone as lacking as me? I’m not sure what it means to be your child. I don’t know if I measure up - certainly I don’t measure up to Christ. Sometimes I feel hopeless, discouraged. I need your presence and your love. You have called me your child. You have given me the name “beloved” - I am your child, Lord, I am yours.

Soloist “Guide my feet”
There are too many times which I feel as though I am spinning around in circles. I am called to go here; to go there; to be this kind of person; to be that kind of person. You have reached out to me, one who is called beloved, and you have laid your claim on my heart. I feel your presence with me as you hold my hand, stand by me, and call me your own. Now, Lord, guide my feet. I place my trust and my life in your care. Amen.[iv]


[ii] Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, pp. 88-89.

[iii] Rev. Molly Phinney Baskette, UCC “God is Still Speaking” Writers' Group 

[iv] Nancy Townley,