Second Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2016
Last weekend I was at my lake cabin. One of my projects there was building a Wood Duck house as Bill had actually encouraged me to do some weeks ago. As I was assembling this house, I was imagining the Wood Duck hen entering the house and making her nest, incubating her eggs and caring for her young.
And I couldn’t help but think of today’s Gospel lesson. It speaks of the love and care that a mother bird gives in order to preserve and strengthen the life that she has brought into the world.
Jesus says, in today’s Gospel lesson: “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 is beautiful and powerful for me. I’ll tell you why. I have many birdhouses in my yard, and since 2007, I have observed there about 400 baby birds hatch, grow to maturity and fly away healthy and strong into the big, wide world.
It is absolutely amazing to see how these small 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 patient consistency that they are to be envied by the human race.
Everything they do is 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. For all our intelligence, we can’t begin to match the consistent, bold and attentive care of birds for their young.
Human beings are the only creature in the world whose greatest threat to their well-being comes not from forces outside us, though there are those as well.… Our greatest threat is ourselves. We are the only creature in the world that constantly thinks and acts in ways that unravel our own lives. We are the absolute masters of short-sighted behavior and living self-destructively.
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, having the intelligence, will or tenacity to naturally 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. Jesus addresses those who refuse to be gathered under God’s wings with these words: “See, your house is left to you.”
Jesus is saying that when we shut God out of our lives, what we get is a world of our own making… and that isn’t going to be pretty. And it isn’t going to be fun. It’s a painful mess. An honest look at our world and our own lives… and we know that 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 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.
As birds care for their young, it’s all about physical presence and contact. The mother is always touching, warming, guiding, nurturing… feeding through 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, or pretend that we are, 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 guided and shaped by God’s loving touch. We need the Holy Spirit to move and be 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.
These things happen in various ways. One important way is through scripture, which we come to hear and reflect on 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 sacraments of holy 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 gathers her brood under her wings. Through God’s “loving touch” we are able to grow into the people we are meant to be. We learn to love; we learn how to live. We grow rich in the gifts of life that lead to well-being, true community and justice.
It’s 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 — and not our rebelliousness — will be the final word over 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 for us all will be recognition. In the end, everyone… even those who have been 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.