“Are You Listening?”
(From Luke 13: 31-35)
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “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 outside of 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.'”
Ecclesiastes 3:1 teaches us that, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” The scriptures also reveal that Jesus came to dwell among us in the fullness of time. It was the appropriate time that God had set to fulfill the plan of salvation for the world through our Lord, Jesus. During his time on earth, as recorded in Luke Chapter 4 verses 18-19, Jesus described the nature of his ministry with these words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In the course of his ministry among us, Jesus healed those infirmed with many diseases, dined with sinners, and mercifully forgave sins. He also went about the Judean countryside preaching the good news that the kingdom of God was now at hand, calling the many people who listened to repent and believe this eternal life-giving good news.
Jesus often described the purpose and practice of his ministry, as well as truths about the kingdom of God and how it operates, with illustrations taken from practical, everyday life. For example, in Chapter 10 of the Gospel of John, Jesus shared the familiar illustration that he is the good shepherd who guards and protects his sheep from falling prey to wolves. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep,” Jesus proclaimed to the crowd gathered to hear him. It was his way of helping those who followed him to understand critical elements of God’s plan of salvation and life in God’s kingdom that would otherwise have eluded them. Jesus, like a good shepherd watching over his sheep, had come to offer himself in order to guard and protect all who would listen to him, believe his words, and follow him, from the preying “wolf” of sin.
Jesus used many other worldly illustrations to describe vital aspects of his mission and ministry when he was among us. Today’s Gospel lesson shares another, perhaps less famous and familiar, worldly illustration of Jesus’ heavenly purposes for his ministry. Jesus said, “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!” It was Jesus’ plan, as it had been the plan for generations, to gather God’s people together, as a hen gathers her brood, her chicks, safely under her wings. I, being the city girl I am, do not have a personal understanding of the motherhood behavior of a hen. So, I did a web search on mother hens, and I found that they are, indeed, very caring as well as fiercely protective of their young chicks. They teach their young certain calls to gather them in for feeding or when danger approaches. I even found an account of a protective mother hen who gave her life for her chicks. It seems that a fire broke out in the barn of a farm, and a hen was killed in the fire. When the farmer picked up the lifeless hen to bury her body, out popped 4 tiny chicks she had gathered under herself to protect them. This is another illustration from life that Jesus shared to explain his mission to those who had gathered to hear him speak.
Jesus had long “desired” to gather the Hebrew people together, to care for them and to protect them. Over many generations of the Hebrew nation, prophets were sent to Jerusalem to gather them into the kingdom of God, but instead, they were killed. Even now, Jesus knew, as our lesson for today reveals, that his own time among them was limited. Yet, as he also shared, he still had more work left to do. Like the prophets before him, Jesus would travel to Jerusalem, and it was there that he would fulfill God’s plan of salvation by giving up his life for our sin. But, it would be accomplished in his time, his season to complete the plan. Jesus spoke honestly of this timing to all who would listen. The time would soon come for Jesus and his Disciples and followers to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. It was there that the people would all gather around him shouting, as he foretold in our lesson this morning, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, nearly two thousand years later, Jesus is still calling us, still desiring to gather us together under the wings of his love and care; and we are not yet willing to gather in as one family. The violent overtaking of the Ukraine by Russian military forces is a prime example of our human unwillingness to both see and treat others as equals entitled to the same life and liberties of life in the kingdom that we ourselves enjoy. In our own nation, we have yet to value all people equally, regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, religious beliefs, wealth, power or social status. Even within our own United Methodist Church, disputes over issues of human sexuality threaten the integrity of our denominational unity. The General Conference date has been postponed until 2024 for safety and travel considerations. This, dear friends in Christ, provides us precious time for prayer and discernment of our denomination’s future—if only we are willing to listen. Methodism has a long history of welcoming a diversity of beliefs. John Wesley himself said, “Condemn no [man] one for not thinking as you think; let everyone enjoy the full and free liberty of thinking for himself. Let every [man] one use [his] their own judgement since every [man] one must give an account of [himself] themselves to God.” So, like the crowd on the first Palm Sunday, do we shout “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” only to soon become disenchanted with Jesus’ ways of building God’s kingdom? This very Lenten Season, Church, Jesus is still calling to us, calling to gather us together as a mother hen gathers her chicks under the wings of her love.
Jesus is calling—are you listening? Let God’s people respond, Amen!