March 13, 2022
Rev. Scott Landis
Outside the city walls of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives is a lovely little chapel called Dominus Flavit which literally means, “Our Lord Wept.” Here is the place referred to two times in the gospel of Luke (including today’s lesson) where Jesus stood, pondered, and lamented the lack of response to his message by those he so desperately wanted to reach.
The chapel architecture is quite remarkable. It is fashioned in the form of a tear drop. Made of stone, its primary window faces the Holy City with a gorgeous view of the Dome of the Rock in all of its golden splendor and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. When you stand in front of the altar (and the church only holds about 50 people to the best of my recollection) you see the city of Jerusalem through the stained-glass and clear-paned window and a heart-warming mosaic on the floor in front of you – the picture of which I had printed on your bulletin cover. You may want to pull it out for reference. [Pause]
The words that encircle the image of the protective mother hen shielding her 7 chicks are those included in our gospel lesson today:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem the city that kills the prophets.
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’s a powerful image, and one that demonstrates vulnerability and sacrifice. And it’s one that spoke deeply to me after our highly emotional service of last Sunday. And that in light of the disturbing issues that we currently also face in our community, nation, and world. We’ll get to all that in a few minutes. [Pause]
Another reason this image of Jesus as a mother hen spoke so deeply to me was the whole idea of God – often conceived of in human form – being described as something very different than what we might expect. [Pause]
I don’t know about you but my “go-to” concept of God – formed early in my childhood – has been that of an old man, with white hair and a long beard – oh, and of course, “HE” was white. While this idea has been re-envisioned over the years through education and personal struggle – that default is DEEPLY ingrained – predicated, I am sure, on the preponderance of men in my life who held ALL the positions of religious authority – while the women were the Sunday school teachers and worked the kitchen. I’m sure this had an effect on how I understood God.
I wonder how you envision God. It might be interesting for you to ponder that for a while – as well as where that vision or concept originated in your life. [Pause]
When I rēad this story in Luke, I’m reminded of a very different view of God. It’s one that demonstrates the feminine side of this “Holy Other.” And one who is willing to sacrifice her life to save her chicks even as they seem much more willing to follow “That ‘Fox’” than be shielded by her protective wings.
It’s the reason why I wanted us to sing that powerful hymn (and one of my favorites) by contemporary composer Brian Wren just a few moments ago – “Bring Many Names.” This hymn may be new to you, but I hope you found yourself intrigued by the MULTIPLE images of God the composer invites us to consider. Perhaps you even find yourself relating more closely to:
Strong mother God – working night and day – planning all the wonders of creation
Warm father God – hugging every child – feeling all the strains of human living
Old aching God – grey with endless care – calmly piercing evil’s new disguises
Young growing God – eager on the move – crying out for justice – giving all you have
Great living God – never fully known – joyful darkness far beyond our seeing – closer yet than breathing – everlasting home.
Hail and Hosanna – Bring many names.
And these are just a few suggested by the writer. Not even mentioned are other biblical concepts including the Eagle of the Exodus, or Hosea’s stealthy leopard, and the Lion of Judah, as well the idea of God as El Shaddai – the mountain among many others.
While our default may have been that of an old man with a beard – the possibilities of our understanding are limitless because God IS all and is IN all things – alpha and omega – from beginning to end – within and all around. No one view, concept, or understanding can capture the great “I am” because God is being itself.
Our human brain longs for succinct descriptors to try and capture – THEE correct image – but the longer I live and the more I engage in the diversity of our world – the more convinced I am that any ONE image cannot possibly capture what we refer to as God. Instead, we try to formulate an image of God based on our life experience – an image that is always changing as God reaches out to us based on our needs at any given moment.
So, let’s return to the Luke’s image in this passage because, I think, it may be what we need today.
If you were here last Sunday for worship, you experienced quite an emotional moment in the life of our church as we bid farewell to two pillars of our congregation – one being our pianist of over 25 years. I left the service feeling emotionally drained and longing for the protective shelter of a mother hen (to use Luke’s image). During the giving of lei, Auntie Judi Pasco came up to me and opened her arms to give me a hug. She could see I was hurting, and she knew exactly what to do. I told her she felt like my mother as I fell apart in her arms. In that moment she was God – or at the very least she was channeling the Holy – open and vulnerable – giving of her love as she embraced some of the pain I was feeling in that moment.
I’m sure many of you had similar experiences as you witnessed and participated in the farewell.
But there was and is so much MORE going on in our lives in addition. We live not in a vacuum but aware of multiple sources of pain as we live and move and have our being in this very precarious time. Whether it’s the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, a looming climate crisis that is our constant backdrop, and for one in our ‘ohana – a fire that has nearly taken everything.
I don’t think I have to convince you – we are all in need of the comfort of a loving God or a “mothering God” as suggested by this image from Luke. The hen must stretch out her wings in a posture of complete vulnerability in order to provide space for the chicks to seek shelter, protection, and care. But they must decide whether they will respond to her gesture of love.
Some think this is precisely what Jesus was modeling as he offered himself to those in Jerusalem. I suppose that might be true, but that doesn’t really speak to me. What does is the fact that God will make God’s Self known to me in different ways - at different times - for different situations in my life - through the most surprising ways.
So, I invite you simply to notice the variety of manifestations of God that are being revealed all around you - today - and every day. Which may offer you a whole new way to sense the presence of grace, compassion, aloha in your life today.