God’s Loving Touch

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In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus describes the behavior of a bird in
order to explain something about the relationship between God and his
people:  “How often have I desired to gather [you] together as a hen
gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”


Second Sunday in Lent

February 24, 2013         

Luke 13:31-35   

Peder Stenslie       

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus describes the behavior of a bird in
order to explain something about the relationship between God and his
people:  “How often have I desired to gather [you] together as a hen
gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

The image of God as a great bird gathering her chicks under her
wings… probably seems funny to some; but it’s beautiful… and powerful
for me.  Since 2007, I have observed, in my yard, about 300 baby birds
hatch, grow to maturity and fly away healthy and strong into the big,
wide world. 

I find it absolutely amazing to see how these creatures care for
their little ones.  It is a long and very labor-intensive process, full
of mortal dangers.  Yet the birds go at it with such energy and
consistency that they are to be envied by the human race.

Everything is done for the singular purpose of strengthening the life
they bring into the world.  In the correct order, they establish a
place to raise their young… then, with great care, they build a nest. 
After that essential foundation is in place, they mate and lay their
eggs. 

Then, with incredible focus, dedication and patience, they incubate
and care for the eggs and protect the nest.  When the nestlings hatch,
the parents tirelessly feed the young and give them warmth and
protection until they’re ready to leave the nest and become young
adults.  At that point they give them encouragement and instruction so
that they might take wing and join them, strong and healthy, in the
skies.

How fascinating to compare that to the parenting behaviors of
people.  As a teacher, I have a ringside seat to the parenting skills of
the human race.  For all our intelligence, we can’t begin to match the
consistent and bold care of birds for their young.

And the contrast isn’t limited to just parenting skills….  It relates
to basic living skills as well.  Birds and other creatures simply know
how to live.  Their lives are filled with danger, yet they possess the
knowledge, the energy and the will to respond to the situations and
hazards in their lives in ways that lead to life.

Human beings, on the other hand, are the only creature in this world
whose greatest threat to their livelihood comes not from forces outside
us, though there are those as well.…  Our greatest threat is ourselves. 
We are the only creatures in this world that constantly think and act
in ways that unravel our own lives.  We are the absolute masters of
short-sighted behavior and living self-destructively.

Every year I deal with kids at school who repeatedly choose behavior
that brings them unhappiness and trouble.  They just can’t figure out
that negative behaviors bring negative consequences just as surely as
day follows night, even though past experience, wise advice from people
who care about them and simple logic all point to that same basic
truth. 

I see the same behavior pattern outside of school.  It is one of the
most consistence hallmarks of the human race.  History, the news, our
community and family lives are full of examples of persistent human
behavior that ruins life and joy.

One has to ask:  Why are we like that?  Why are we human beings so
bent on turning our world into a living hell?  Why do we ruin our
bodies, our relationships, our communities… our environment with selfish
and destructive choices?

Why are we not more like the birds and other creatures?  Why do we
not have the intelligence, will or tenacity to respond to the trials and
hardships of life in healthy ways?

It is that tendency in human beings that Jesus addresses in today’s
Gospel lesson.  It is chilling to note the warning that Jesus gives to
those who refuse to be gathered under God’s wings.  The consequence of
their rejection is expressed in these words:  “See, your house is left
to you.” 

In other words… when we shut God out of our lives, what we get is a
world of our own making… and it won’t be pretty.  It won’t be fun.  It
will be a painful mess.  An honest look at our world and our own lives…
and we know that is true.

But the central message of the season of Lent is that even in the
midst of our persistent rejection, God calls us back to him.  Like the
birds of the air and other creatures of the earth, God doesn’t rest or
give up, but keeps fighting for us… for our health and well-being. 

The image of the hen, enclosing her wings around her young ones and
drawing them close for protection and warmth, reminds us how intimate
our contact with God needs to be. 

When birds care for their young, physical presence and contact is
very important.  The mother is always touching, warming, guiding,
nurturing… feeding by direct physical contact.  Through that “loving
touch,” the nestlings grow strong and learn how to live.

And that’s what we require.  It’s not enough for us to imagine God’s
love.  It’s not enough for us to wish that we could be healthy and
strong.  It’s not enough to go through the motions of faithful living. 
It’s not enough for us to be smart and clever and make big plans.

We need to be made and remade by God’s touch.  We need the Holy
Spirit to be always active in our hearts.  We need to be strengthened by
the warmth of God’s love and nourished by Living Water and the Bread of
Life.  We need to be guided by God’s hand.

These things happen in various ways.  One important way is through
scripture, which we come to hear and reflect upon in church.  Scripture
can be hard to understand.  That’s why community is so important. 
Together, we encourage each other to read, study and ponder… and through
these activities… God touches us, feeds us, guides us. 

God touches us when we sing hymns together and receive the Holy
Sacraments of baptism and communion.  God touches us when we open our
hearts in prayer.  God lays his hands on us when we appreciate and
cherish his gifts in creation and when we cherish and show care for one
another.

Through all of these activities, God comes into direct, intimate
contact with us, just like the mother bird that cares for and
strengthens her young.  Through God’s “loving touch” we are able to grow
into the lives we were meant to have as children of God.  We learn to
love, we learn how to live.  We grow rich in the gifts of life that lead
to compassion and well-being, true community and justice.

It is true.  We are a rebellious and self-destructive
people.  That’s why our lives have a tendency to unravel and become full
of pain and unhappiness.  But the good news we receive during this
season of Lent is that God never gives up on us.  And one way or
another… sooner or later… God’s love will shape our lives. 

That is what we were created for, that is where we are headed… and
that is the meaning of the closing verse of our Gospel lesson today. 
Take a look at verse 35.  To those who reject God’s loving call and
touch, he promises:  “You will not see me until the time comes when you
say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

It’s actually a beautiful promise that follows his dire warning.  We
may be a rebellious people, but the final experience of us all will be
recognition.  In the end, even those who were rebellious will say,
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”  In the end all
will be transformed.  For us, may that touch and that healing… may that
transformation… begin now.
7-23-07 (CommonNighthawk2--Kristian)

Amen.