Click bait. The title for in the bulletin was “Chicken”. It was still fun to tell the worship committee that, “Mother Clucker” was the working title. The organist got a good laugh out of it at least.
One of the resources I used for this sermon was the Women’s Bible Commentary (link on the resource page) which I recommend if you are looking for a feminist view of scriptures. I was hoping to explore “the mother hen” as an image of God, and from the feedback I received from the congregation they seemed happy to explore this imagery even though it was unfamiliar to most of them.
Scripture: Luke 13:31-35
So here it is:
Being called “chicken” is never a compliment. In fact, it usually means that whatever happens next is going to involve something really dumb to prove bravery or tenacity. The character, Marty McFly in the back to the future movies gets called chicken in each of the three movies and each time, someone, usually Marty ends up bleeding. In back to the future two, his son is called chicken and in back to the future three a distant McFly relative from the wild west is called chicken and both of them react in a way that Marty would react. It’s a pattern, a family trait; it’s a flaw they all share. They probably all have hand writing like chicken scratch too.
Chicken is a game that children play. Two kids run towards each other as fast as they can and the one to dart out of the way is the chicken. Older teens play this with cars or trains. The bravest, the least chicken, will stand in the face of danger the longest. The chicken runs away. Maybe that’s why the chicken crossed the road.
All of the chicken metaphors involve something gruesome. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch means you can’t count on something that isn’t realized yet, and it literally means that not all eggs end up as chickens. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off is a graphic way to tell someone they seem frantic and wild and aren’t getting anything accomplished that way. I mean we all have problems, if it’s not the chicken it’s the feathers. And I hate to henpeck at him, but Jesus even a spring chick knows that foxes are bad news for a mother hen. Herod seems like a real threat, a cunning fox left guarding the hen house, a protector that has his own interests first, not those he’s protecting. What I want to hear Jesus say is that foxes don’t bother him because he’s not a chicken. Or at least, I want him to say he’s going to Jerusalem to avoid the fox, but that’s not what Jesus is doing. He is traveling to Jerusalem not to jump out of the way of danger but to face it and to die. Jesus is a chicken. Jesus is going to die like a chicken. Like a mother hen dies for those she loves.
Like Marty McFly, Jesus comes from a long line of Chickens. And by that, I mean, that the image of a mother bird as the image of a loving God appears frequently in scripture, but for whatever reason isn’t an image we explore often.
Deuteronomy 32 recalls God leading the people out of Egypt like an eagle. And as an American, the image of an Eagle is that of freedom, strength, and power. But the scripture also uses the images that we might not immediately associate with eagles. Those of sheltering the young in her wings. The same mighty God that lead people out of Egypt also fed them and provided shelter in the wilderness. Most of the imagery in this passage about how God cared for Israel or Jacob leads me to think more of a mother bird than a father. (Deuteronomy 32: 10- 11 NRSV) “He sustained him in a desert land, in a howling wilderness waste; he shielded him, cared for him, guarded him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirs up its nest and hovers over its young; as it spreads its wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on its pinions”.
In the second chapter of Ruth, Boaz praises her and blesses her with these words, “May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” Remember that Ruth is a Moabite, a foreigner, whose devotion to her mother-in-law included worshiping her God and finding shelter in her care.
Isaiah 31:5 “Like birds hovering overhead, so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem; he will protect and deliver it, he will spare and rescue it.”
Many of the Psalms have this imagery also:
17:8 “Guard me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings”
36:7 “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”
61:4 “he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge”
91:4 “he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge”
Just to mention a few…
The Women’s Bible Commentary talks about this winged god imagery in the psalms and interestingly says, “Images of winged gods and goddesses are found throughout the ancient Near East. The goddess Isis is depicted with wings outstretched to protect her husband Osiris in an Egyptian statue that dates to the 26th dynasty. In a carved relief of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II from Clakh, the king is flanked by two winged deities. The ark of the covenant is described in 1 Kings as being underneath the wings of the cherubim: “for the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim make a covering above the ark” (1Kings 8:7). Protective wings bring to mind the image of a mother hen caring for her young, keeping them warm, providing shelter, and warding off predators (Matt 23:37).” This commentary also sites Matthew 23:37-39, the passage is similar to the passage in Luke we read today only in Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem, he says, “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 desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”.
The New Interpreter’s bible commentary reminds us that Jesus is part of the same God that created the universe, that spoke through the prophets, and is the wings that the psalmists sing about. “Jesus, perhaps speaking as the Wisdom of God, has repeatedly offered Israel, God’s people, his motherly love and protection, but they would not receive him.” And the Women’s Bible Commentary reminds us too that the wisdom of God is often depicted as a woman. All this is to say, that Jesus has always been a mother hen.
And God’s people, sometimes called Israel, sometimes called Jerusalem, sometimes called Third Church, have always been the apple of God’s eye, the little chicks. Chicks are stupid. Don’t get me wrong, God thinks we are cute as can be and God loves us very much, but we seem to continue to have the same problems.
Jerusalem, the center of worship, continues to kill prophets and continues to lose sight of true worship. God’s people continue to choose false gods, power, control, convenience, and selfishness, just to name a few. And we worship these false gods by exploiting our friends and neighbors. And worse, we do this at the cost of the marginalized, the weak, the poor, the sick, and those imprisoned. We pollute the earth, destroy habitats, and kill off any living thing in our way. We hurt others and we hurt ourselves and we hurt all of creation.
Sometimes I wonder why people didn’t understand who Jesus was when it seems so obvious now in retrospect. And yet, maybe it isn’t so obvious. I think we have the same difficulty recognizing God in our midst today.
We expect God to behave how we behave or at least how we think gods should behave.
We expect God to look and think like us.
We expect God to love us because we are perfect after all.
We expect God to defeat our enemies by eliminating them.
But none of that is true.
We are just stupid little chicks. Scratching and pecking out an existence of self-centeredness. And when a fox appears, we run and dart and think only of ourselves and not of the mother hen who is thinking only of us. Because we think everyone is self-centered and self-preserving. And we forget that God doesn’t behave that way and has called us to not behave that way too.
We are just stupid little chicks. Being perfect and cute is everything to us. But we fool ourselves if we think God loves us because we are perfect and cute, because we are neither. We hurt ourselves when we think God doesn’t love us because we aren’t perfect or cute. The truth is that God loves us just the way we are.
We are just stupid little chicks. We expect God to be white and fluffy like us, but we were created in God’s image and should be careful not to create a god in our own image. When we limit God to one image or metaphor we miss out on the diversity and depth of God’s love. Sometimes the image of conquering king of kings has to give way to the mother hen. The image of defeating our enemies with fang and claw must give way to the image of loving our enemies and calling everyone we meet brother. Or sister. And seeing all of humanity as children of God.
This was preached on the second Sunday in Lent, year C on March 17th at Third Presbyterian Church. Below are other elements used for worship that day.
Call to worship Psalm 27:1-6,13
L: The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
P: The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
L: When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh– my adversaries and foes– they shall stumble and fall.
P: Though an army encamp against me, my heart
shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
L: One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
P: For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
L: Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
P: I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Prayer of confession (I think this is from the Book of Common Worship):
God of mercy, you went Jesus Christ to seek and save the
lost. We confess that we have strayed
from you and turned aside from your way.
We are misled by pride, for we see ourselves pure when we are stained,
and great when we are small. We have
failed in love, neglected justice, and ignored your truth. Have mercy, O God, and forgive our sin. Return us to paths of righteousness through
Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.
#83 O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High
#186 Thy Mercy and Thy Truth, O Lord
#424 O Jesus Christ May Grateful Hymns Be Rising
 Miller, Patrick D. Deuteronomy Interpretation: A bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching page 228
 Women’s Bible Commentary page 225
 New Interpreters Bible Commentary Luke page 282
 Women’s Bible Commentary page 225