March 18, 2019 Chickens and Foxes

More and more I’m convinced that we miss something vital to our faith when we insist on approaching God, solo, one by one. Our individual relationships with God are important, we devote the season of Lent to strengthening this relationship, but they do not make us the body of Christ.

It is our life together that makes us Christ’s Body, a mysterious organism that is much, much more than a collection of individuals. When we come to worship, we form a new being with a new name and an address, which has its own life and reputation. We call it the church -- not the building but the people -- a phenomenon that has been around longer than any of us. When you or I identify ourselves as members of the church, we get credit for things we did not do. We may also get blame for things we did not do, but the point is, the church is more than its individual members. We have a community identity and a community mandate. We stand for something---and the season of Lent is the perfect time us to prod us toward remembering all that entails. Do we as a Body (capital B) resemble Christ or have we taken on the characteristics of someone else?

In the 13th chapter of Luke you can hear the kind of anguish we cause Jesus when we do just that:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those that are sent to it,

He says. Listen – do you hear the pathos, His sorrow?

How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

The lament of one whose love has been scorned, whose protection has been rejected. At risk of his own life, Jesus has brought the precious kingdom of God within the reach of the beloved city of God but the city of God is not interested. Jerusalem has better things to do than to hide under the shelter of this mother hen’s wings. It has a fox as its head, who demands a great deal more respect. 

Consider the contrast: Jesus has disciples; Herod has soldiers.

Jesus serves; Herod rules.

Jesus prays for his enemies; Herod kills his.

In a contest between a fox and a chicken--- whom would you bet on?

Barbara Brown Taylor tells of a visit to the Holy Land some years ago. Small chapel on a hillside opposite Jerusalem. Tourist guides there hold to the tradition that this is the spot where Jesus wept for the city. A wall of glass behind the altar offers a breathtaking view of the Jerusalem skyline. Yet there’s another image that she says was as equally startling. Placed on the front of the altar is an image of a rooster. A bright fierce-looking bird made out of colored tiles with flock of little chicks under his wings. A rooster? Jesus did not say “rooster”. Jesus said:

How often have I desired to gather children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…

Taylor writes: Now the artist may have needed to use up a surplus of colored tiles but perhaps the artist took liberties with the text for another reason. A rooster can defend himself! He has sharp spikes on the back of his feet that work like stilettos on anyone who dares bother him! A rooster can peck pretty hard and he does not wait for you to peck first. And yet, Jesus did not liken himself to a rooster. He likened himself to a brooding mother hen, whose chief purpose in life is to protect her young with nothing much in the way  of  a beak and nothing at all in the way of talons. About all she can do is fluff herself up and sit on her chicks. She can also put herself between them and the fox, as ill equipped as she is. At the very least she can hope that she satisfies his appetite so that he leaves her babies alone. So what about THIS image of God? It works great in terms of comfort--- but in terms of protection? I’m beginning to understand why the artist created that feisty rooster for the altar.

When the foxes of this world start prowling around, snuffling right outside the door- then it would be nice to have a little bigger defense budget than the hen house. But then,  isn’t that about the same thing as rejecting his protection? Tell you what Jesus- you come packing a double gauge shot gun and I’ll just take cover over here in this blind I’ve made … go ahead- Blast em!!!

And Jesus replies: Go and tell that fox for me… He speaks to the parishioners of his day- the Pharisees. This is one of the places in Luke’s gospel where they’re not out to get Jesus---  they seem to have his best interest at heart.

Jesus says: GO and tell. He speaks the same words to those who will arrive at the empty tomb. Go and tell. It’s the same mandate, really, spoken to each one of us- members one another of this Body given for us. Go and tell… that the fox of fear will not have the last word. You may rightly expect that fox to appear, snuffling around the edges of our days and our nights bringing anxiety, worry, despair. We know this fox- he may trot in with that gorgeous red plume of a tail-  just out of reach, sniffing at the boundaries but he’s a fox all the same and although he would like us to think he’s an innocuous visitor, harmless  even, we know better.

And although the fox would have us believe that an old brooding hen is no match for his power and cunning- We know better.

We the Body remember.

WE the Body go and tell one another and all the other chicks and ugly ducklings gathered around the edges of the henhouse.

We can borrow this from the rooster- We have to crow!

The church, the Body of Christ is like a mother hen- A big and fluffed brooding hen, offering warmth and shelter to all kinds of chicks- including orphans, runts and those awkward ducklings. The church of Christ plants herself between the foxes of this world and the fragile-boned chicks, offering herself up to eaten before she will sacrifice one of her brood. The church of Christ stays true to whose body she is, by refusing to run from the foxes and most especially refusing to become one of them.

Who would have thought being a mother hen would offer such opportunities for courage? Maybe that is why the church is called “Mother Church”.  It is where we come to be fed and sheltered but it is also where we come to stand firm with those who need the same things from it. It is where we grow from chicks to chickens (and roosters) by giving what we have received, by teaching what we have been taught, and by loving the way we ourselves have been loved--- by a Mother Hen who would give his life to gather us under his wings.

3/18/2019 - Lent 2- Year C  - The Reverend Anne Bridgers

Barbara Brown Taylor, “Chicken and Foxes”, in Bread of Angels, pp.123, ff