“How often I’ve longed to gather your children, gather your children like a hen, her brood safe under her wings-but you refused and turned away!” [Luke 13:34 from The Message] Jesus feels the rejection of his contemporaries but he is also speaking of the rejection of God through the ages. As we say each week in our Eucharistic prayer, God reached out to humankind over and over. God tried to help us walk in love for one another and we kept running away. We kept using and abusing others for our own personal gain.
Jesus was passionate about loving others, about pointing out and alleviating inequities in his society. And, I agree with The Reverend Martin Smith as he stated in Sojourners this month: “Are our Sunday liturgies, with their upbeat, heartwarming tones, strong enough to contain the passion in Jesus’ tragic vision of human self-destructiveness and the desperate tenderness of a compassionate, rejected Creator? Sometimes the scriptures sear us with a sense that we have so domesticated and trivialized our acts of worship that they can’t act as a crucible for handling the red-heat of God’s suffering love.”
That hen who tries to gather her brood under her wings who exhibits sacrificial love-she is willing to place herself in danger to protect her little chicks. How can we reject what such a creator offers?
I went over to Opal Glassworks on Thursday afternoon. You can’t stop working glass midstream because a customer walks in the door so I was invited to watch the firing and shaping of a goblet. The glassblower told me a goblet is one of the hardest items to make. I watched him return the glass to the fire so he could continue to work it. Also, he couldn’t work alone-an assistant is needed to transfer the glass from one rod to the next so shaping can be done from each end and so the final piece can be removed and placed in the annealing furnace.
It is always fascinating to watch this dance between the creator and the assistant. And, it gets hot and uncomfortable and can be dangerous for both of them. I wonder when we come to church if we consider we might feel the heat of Christ’s passion for us, if we might get fired up to go out and love people with abandon-no matter who they are, or if we might go out and live passionately to protect our world from degradation and to protect the helpless from exploitation.
Are we sitting here in an annealing furnace so we are strong enough to carry Christ out into the world? The passion of Christ’s love into the world?
I’m not saying we each need to do it alone nor am I saying that we can set the world completely right working together. But we can do our part to do the best we can with whatever task is at hand. We can practice loving others, by acting in a loving manner even if we can’t conjure up the actual love to go with it. As G. K. Chesterton said, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” Now that is heat!
In the Genesis reading, we hear about whiny Abram-oh, boo hoo, my slave is my heir. And, God does something remarkable-God walks between the halves of the sacrificed animals and takes the oath that what happened to the animals will happen to God if the promise is not kept. Abram will have children of his own flesh and countless descendants. Abram believed God and God was pleased. God is willing to be like a mother hen.
In the Gospel the Pharisees seem to be helping Jesus. I’m not sure of their motives-when Herod had the opportunity to execute Jesus, he chose not to. To these Pharisees Jesus was too disruptive. Walter Brueggemann would say they were too comfortable with the Roman Empire.
Jesus tells them he will continue to be there until his work is done-or he is killed for being a prophet. And he paints this visual with his words: “I’ve longed to gather your children, gather your children like a hen, her brood safe under her wings-but you refused and turned away!” He wants to protect them-to sacrifice himself for them but they refuse the gift.
They can’t stand the heat of his passion for the people of Israel. They don’t want to help the poor or point out the oppression under the Romans-they want to continue living and practicing their liturgies and making money. Jesus is offering them abundance-the abundance of God’s love, the abundance of sharing, the abundance of caring about the world and the other people in it. Like Chesterton’s idea that religion should not be a theory but a love affair.
And that is the deal, that searing heat of the crucible. The searing heat of the glass furnace produces beauty. The searing heat of Christ’s passion for those in need can fire us up to love with abandon-no matter the consequences.
That passion can open our eyes to the beauty in the world. The beauty of hands worn by labor. The beauty of unwashed bodies and wrinkled faces. The beauty of eyes that are deep with wisdom, eyes that are open wide in innocence, and eyes that are filled with tears of disappointment. We must be fired up to determine what Jesus would be passionate about today and take on that passion for ourselves. In reality, we are the Pharisees. We are comfortable in our homes and our church. Who are we running away from? Who are we called to love outside our doors? Who is looking to us for help?
How can we turn away from a God who would pledge to die, rather than break a promise made? We are dust-stardust, really-we come from fire and we will return to the fire where we will be made beautiful beyond imagining. Let’s imagine that we are in the fire now-hot with compassion for our fellow humans. Let’s ask God to open our eyes so we can see who needs this compassion in our community. Let’s get fired up!
Let us pray. We struggle to understand how in a world of plenty there are some who have so much [while] others have so little. Help us, O God, to ensure that everyone in our world has enough. Help us to learn ways to lift others up, to provide dignity and respect to those for whom [dignity and respect] are in short supply. Forgive those to whom much has been given, and yet far too little is shared. Help us, O God, to live as you called us to live. Amen. [Sojourners Voice and Verse]