Carolyn’s Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent – 2/24/13

Sermon Lent 2

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

Today’s gospel story is about a mother hen and a fox.  It reminds me of a children’s fable that goes like this:

Once upon a time, there was a little red hen who lived by herself in the wood.  And over the hill, in a hole in the rocks, lived a sly, crafty, old fox.  Now this crafty old fox would lie awake at night and prowl slyly during the day, trying to find a way to capture the little red hen.

You see, he wanted to capture her and boil her for his supper.  But the wise little hen never left her house without locking her door and putting the key in her pocket.

So the old fox watched and prowled and stayed awake at night until he grew pale and thin.  But he still could not find a way to get the little red hen.

One morning he slung a bag over his shoulder and told his wife to have the pot boiling because when he got home he would be bringing the hen for supper.

Away he went over the hill and through the wood to the little red hen’s house.  Suddenly, out came the little red hen to pick up sticks for her fire.  The fox saw his chance.  He slipped in and hid behind her door.

Soon she finished picking up her pile of sticks.  She went in her home, locked the door, and put the key in her pocket. When she saw the fox, she dropped her sticks and flew up with a great flutter to the beam across the house under the roof.

Ah, said the sly fox.  I’ll bring you down. And he began to whirl around and around and around, faster and faster and faster, chasing his big bushy tail. The little red hen looked down at him until she got so dizzy she fell off the beam to the floor.

The fox caught her, stuffed her into his bag, and headed for home.  She thought she was a goner! But, after a little while, the fox realized he was tired from all that running around and he laid down to rest. He quickly fell asleep.

Coming to her wits, the hen put her hand into her pocket and pulled out a pair of scissors.  With them she snipped a hole in the bag and leaped out.  She quickly grabbed a big stone and put it in the bag. Then she ran home as quickly as her little legs could carry her.

When the fox woke up, he started again with his bag over his shoulders thinking, “how heavy is this little red hen I am about to have for supper?”

When he arrived, his wife was waiting for him at the door of their den. “Is the pot boiling,” he asked her.  “Yes, it certainly is,” she said. “And do you have the red hen?” “Yes, here in my bag. Lift the lid, and let me put her in,” said the fox.

The fox untied the bag and held it over the boiling water and shook it.  The heavy stone fell out with a splash that went up over the fox and his wife and scalded them.  And the little red hen lived safely in her house in the woods.

By the time of today’s gospel lesson, Jesus was heading for Jerusalem. The Pharisees have warned him that Herod is after him.

Our initial reaction may be that they were trying to get rid of him, get him out of town.  It is hard to know what their motivation was.  We usually hear of Pharisees and remember they were always arguing with Jesus.  They felt he threatened their religion. They may have wanted to get him to go back to Galilee, stay around the small towns, where he would be less noticeable, less trouble.

The Pharisees may have been trying to help him though.  The book of Acts tells us that many Pharisees were among the first Christians.  They knew what kind of person Herod was.  They knew Herod was dangerous.

Jesus knew Herod was dangerous, too.  Herod’s father had tried to kill Jesus when he was an infant.

This Herod had recently imprisoned John the Baptist and had him beheaded.  He had even killed two of his own sons because he felt they threatened his power.  Herod was truly a dangerous man.  Jesus called him a fox.

A fox is not only dangerous, he is sly.  He will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Jesus calls himself the mother hen.   He talks about gathering his chicks under his wing.

The trouble is, the chicks keep running around.  They don’t seem to sense the danger.  They won’t take safety under their mother’s wing.  Jesus, the mother hen, is very saddened by their behavior.

Does it bother you that Jesus calls himself a mother hen?  And by extension, says God is like a mother hen?  I hope not.  There are many images for God in the Bible.  When we only use the typical male images for God such as “Lord, and King, and Father” we limit our understanding and our imagination.

God is certainly neither male nor female.  Genesis 1 tells us that male and female are both created in the image and likeness of God.

Several times in the Old Testament, God is described as a mother comforting or nursing her children.  God is also described as a mother eagle, and even as a mother bear, protecting her cubs. (http://www.womensordination.org/content/view/234/).

We like these comforting images of God.  It is nice to think of Jesus sheltering us.  It is beautiful to think of God spreading her wings over us, protecting us.

The trouble is, if you are a little chick, you are worried that hiding under your mother hen’s wings is not going to keep you safe when the fox gets in the hen house.  You are afraid of being a chicken nugget before long. It is hard to keep the faith when times are scary and dangerous.

Embroidered Cross on the Lenten nurse at St. Mark's.

Embroidered Cross on the Lenten nurse at St. Mark’s.

Noted preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story.  What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm.  She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles.  All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body.  If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first; which he does, as it turns out.”

Our Lenten journey leaves us dependent on that self-sacrificing mother hen, Jesus.  And, like the little red hen, Jesus outsmarts that sly fox. Herod thinks he has him in the bag.  Yes, he does raise him up on a cross, a sign of what foxes do to hens.

But Jesus is like that little red hen in the story.  He cuts a hole in that black sack of death and he conquers it.  He moves a heavy stone, too.  His sacrifice and victory save the little chicks – us.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

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