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Lent 3. The Mother Hen and her naughty Chickens

Jesus was not a theologian. He knew the Jewish Scriptures well and could discuss them with the learned scribes and Pharisees, but he never tried to tell people all the facts about God. Instead, he told stories, which we call the parables, and he used images. Jesus never says who or what God is; rather Jesus tells us what God is like and what God does.

Luke reports that one of Jesus’ favourite introductions is, “The kingdom of God is like…” The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed sown in a garden which grows into a tree for the birds to nest in. The kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. The kingdom of God is like the owner of a house who opens the door to those he knows. The kingdom of God is like a marriage feast or a shepherd and sheep, or like a woman who has lost a coin, or a father who welcomes his prodigal son home again. God is like a growing tree, or a baker woman, or like a guest house owner. God is like a dinner host, a searching woman or a loving parent.

The Pharisees might have been upset by these homely images. I don’t know. They were certainly used to comparing God to other things. God is my rock, my fortress, my heart, my shield and defender, my judge, my king – all these were familiar to the Pharisees.

But when we look at today’s gospel, it must have made some people stare when God was compared to a hen and her chickens!

But the image is a beautiful one and well worth thinking about. Jesus, like the old prophets and those whom God sent to Jerusalem wants to bring them the love of God. God wants to gather his people together as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings. Under there the chickens are warm and safe. They can feel their mother’s heart beating and her breathing. They can rest their tired legs and even sleep until they are strong enough to face the world again.

In the same way, God wants to renew our lives. When we are worn out with our sins and foolishness, when we have lost our way and God seems very far away, we can either try to find our own way out of our troubles, or we can turn to God and to the people of God and find among them the help we need. This is called repentance, because repentance means finding our way home. And the warmth and the closeness of God, the beating of God’s heart and the sound of God’s breathing; I call that forgiveness.

And salvation? This is when we have learnt from the mother hen enough wisdom and strength and self confidence to realize that our true life is to stay with God and not to wander off on our own.

Jesus reveals what they should already know, God wants to draw all people to himself. The mother hen will not be content until she has all her chickens safe. I don’t know if you have watched a hen and chickens, but you will see the chickens diving in and out of her wings and feathers. Sometimes their little heads stick out; sometimes it’s their feet you can see or a little feathery wing. The mother hen will not rest until all the chickens are gathered in and totally safe under her feathers. It doesn’t matter how many she has in her brood, not one must be missing.

The other thing I’ve noticed about chickens is that they will try and be a mother to any offspring whom they have hatched. Farmers used to put duck’s eggs under broody chickens because the chooks were more reliable sitters. The hen never bothered with the difference between her own chickens and the baby ducks. For her there was just one thing – all those whom she has hatched belong under her feathers.

From the hen we learn that all God’s creation belongs in the love and care of God. Chickens or ducks, it doesn’t matter, our differences mean nothing to God. Repentance does not mean that we must change before God will love us and care for us. Repentance is the simple act of running under God’s feathers when we are called. Forgiveness is God’s expectation that we will run to him

The tragedy of Jerusalem is that she has consistently refused the offer of forgiveness and salvation. God has sent prophets and wise people again and again to call God’s people home, and time and again they have misunderstood. In the days of the prophets the people followed strange gods and the rich and powerful oppressed the poor and weak. In Jesus’ day the religious leaders were concerned more about the outward observance of religious life than about what religion was all about. Religion is about bringing people together – not just the people who are like us or people who are good or people who people who will fit in. Religion is like the hen’s feathers – designed to include all the chickens or ducks or swans or whatever.

The tragedy of humankind today is that we seem to refuse the gracious offer of God to be included in God’s plan for salvation. Atheists refuse to believe in anything and some Christians demand that we believe too much. Atheists refuse to believe that God exists or that each of us is dearly loved and vitally important for the future of all that is. Some Christians insist that the door is narrow and that only those who want to go in must believe the right things and say the right things and behave in the right way.

The God I believe in is a God who will welcome all who turn to him in faith, all those who repent, in other words. It is enough to raise our heads and look for God, for God will come running to meet us with forgiveness for the sins of the whole world. I believe in a God who will not rest until all creation is gathered under her wings. I believe in a God who will hold us and care for us and change our fear into joy, our pain into health and our loneliness into belonging.

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