Welcoming Those Who Don’t Want To Be Welcomed

Published: Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Hen

This sermon was given by Geoff Pound at the Ashburton Baptist Church on 21 February 2016. It is the second in the Lenten Series on the theme of ‘Welcome’. More about this study series can be found at this link. Specific questions for personal and group study for this second study can be found at this link. You can listen to the podcast for this sermon at this link.

Reading: Luke 13:31-35

I was a young boy and it was a Saturday morning. The doorbell rang and I opened the door to two visitors. Two strangers. A man and a woman.

They said, “Are your parents home?” I said “No but my grandparents are.”

When they asked to see one of them I went to the dining room and told my grandfather that there was a couple at the door. I followed him back down the hallway.

My grandfather took one look at them, grabbed the door handle and slammed the door in their face! And with that gracious act of Christian hospitality Grandpa went back to doing his crossword puzzle in the Saturday newspaper.

I was bewildered! This was a crossword puzzle all right! I said, “Who were they? Why did they deserve this harsh treatment? He explained that they were Jehovah Witnesses, that their teaching was twisted and that they didn’t deserve to be listened to.

In this season of Lent we’re looking at the practice of Welcome. Last week we heard about the call to Welcome the Stranger[1] - not just our neighbor who is like us but the stranger who is different.

In today’s passage we learn about the Welcome of God, how we relate to those who don’t want to be welcomed.

Luke begins in v31
13:31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you."

This is interesting. I thought the Pharisees were at loggerheads with Jesus. Most times in the Gospel story we see Pharisees arguing with Jesus about piddly points of the law. What you can and can’t do on the Sabbath. But here the Pharisees seem to be helping Jesus. Giving him the heads up about one who’s wanting to take his head off.

How do you cope with threatening news? I wonder, what is it that keeps you awake at night? Frightening news can consume us. It can tip us off balance. We can lose our composure. We can lose all focus.

Have you had anyone whose come to you with a word of warning but you’ve been left with a nagging thought. You wonder about their motives. Jesus here is neither affirming nor appreciative. He simply gives them a message to take back to who they came from.

13:32 He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

‘Go and tell that fox!’
What a way to address a king and a king that has you in his sights!

In response to the threats from the palace Jesus is tough and firm. Instead of cowering in a corner Jesus quotes from his job description. He’s not thinking about his own skin. He’s got people to set free. He has the sick to heal.

What an antidote to our fear—to be filling our minds with the people who need help, to restate our mission.

13:33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.'

In other words my diary is full—today, tomorrow and the next. Don’t you love his 3 day week!?[2] There’s no time for moping. He’s not going to be distracted. He doesn’t dignify their pathetic threats with his time. And what’s more ‘King Herod, at the moment I’m outside of your jurisdiction’.

There’s lots of grumbling going on in these Lenten Scriptures. We see religious folk spending most of their time grumbling about the welcome Jesus gives towards the riffraff of society.

As for the city of Jerusalem, it does more than grumble:
13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!

Someone said, “If we picked up this book in the bookshop not knowing anything about the passages we might wonder, ‘Who needs this!’ The stories are full of mischief makers, grumblers, and murderers. We might put it down and search the shelves for something more positive and inspiring.”[3]

Yet let’s hang on in here. There’s another side for us to discover in this passage.

In the Middle East you often see people with coloured prayer beads. They’re made of wood, amber, pearls or plastic. Christians and Muslims often use them.

One day I saw a man in a market place fingering his prayer beads, slowly going from one to the next and muttering some words under his breath.

When he stopped I asked: “What are these beads for?” Language was a barrier but he said, “There are 33 beads on this string and in my prayer as I touch each bead I remember another name of God.

I go through this three times because in my Scriptures there are 99 Names for God and then the final greatest name.[4] I slowly meditate upon them starting with:
No. 1: God the Most Compassionate (Ar-Rahman)
No. 2: God the most merciful (Ar-Rahim)
No. 3: God the King (Al-Malik)
No 4: God the Holy One (Al Quddus)
No 5: As salam God the peace.

99 beautiful names. So many are names of God in our Scriptures. How these names might expand our thinking and enrich our engagement with the nature of God!

Especially when our images of God get so dusty and musty it’s so important that we freshen up our relationship and in our prayer and worship, ‘bring many names’.[5]

In today’s reading we get a new image for Jesus and God—v34:

13:34 How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

This is a fresh picture of God but it’s familiar. Every eastern family would have their chicken coop but this image works just as well in our culture and in our time.

Think of the expressions that are part of our daily conversation: We say:
I’m no spring chicken
Some man is hen pecked.
We talk about a pecking order.
We say that someone is running around like a headless chook.

We talk about getting egg on our face, walking on eggshells, flying the coop and going to a hen’s party.

We hatch a plan, come home to roost, chicken out and we like to have something to crow about.

Think of all the poultry proverbs we use. Like:
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
Don’t put all your eggs in the one basket.
One day a prize rooster, the next day a feather duster.

These fowl images are familiar. We can see them! So try and visualize this picture:

13:34 How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

I hope this week we’ll take this image and meditate upon it like my friend did with the help of his prayer beads.

But for starters let’s note that this is a feminine image. Yes, Jesus told his class in Prayer 101, “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven.”

That doesn’t mean we always have to use masculine images of God and for some whose father has been unkind, abusive or absent such an image will impede their prayer.

‘Mother God’ for the same reasons may not work for other people. We need many images. Different images for different days and different conditions.

Picture God this week like the gathering hen with her brood. Sense her pain and sadness in these words: “and you were not willing!” Here is the powerless God. The protective God whose love is spurned.

Every parent knows this same powerlessness. Maybe right now you’re in such a situation of pain with some one. You could cry out these very words:
“How often have I desired to gather you together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

This cry of Jesus brings us close to the pain we feel for a son, a daughter, a partner, or a friend with whom we have become estranged.

There’s a lot to learn about parenting and welcoming from this picture of the divine hen.

A teenager once complained: "My mother hovers over me like a helicopter. I'm 15 years old and if I'm in the basement and I sneeze and she's upstairs, she turns into a sprinter and is by my side the next moment saying breathlessly: 'Are you catching a cold?'”

There was a time when such care was crucial to that child's survival but now a measure of distance is just as essential. Not total distance but the delicate feat is to step back without walking out.[6]

The picture here of God is not of a hovering parent that’s fretting and fussing and clucking. We’re learning something here about the nature of welcome which has desire but a healthy distance. A welcome that does not smother or suffocate but which grows patiently by time and presence and absence.

The picture of God the hen is set in contrast to Herod the fox.
The violence of Herod is in stark relief to the vulnerability of God.
Isn’t this such a different image to God as Lord—Almighty God?

These two themes of violence and vulnerability appear in the final verse—v35:

13:35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

When we hear this don’t our minds race toward that day when Jesus will enter Jerusalem and with palms and hosannas they will welcome him and say: “'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'" [7]

And the Pharisees will be in cahoots with the fox and with a little bit of help from their friend, Pontius Pilate, the King will have another head and the city will have silenced another prophet.

Our media outlets give us enough stories of conflicts, estrangement and bloody violence.

But the Bible gives us also a vision of a God whose grace and generosity are expansive enough to transform those threats, that mischief, that grumbling and the violence.

We are called to see Christ as the One who seeks to gather us as a hen gathers her brood.

We can face the rigors of our daily life because of this greater reality: the grace of God.

So let us brood this week on this image of God.
Let us listen in these days with the heart of faith.

If we reach down to the source of our life, to the One who has created us to this One who lovingly protects us we will no longer hear the threats or grumbling or acts of violence. Instead we will hear the faint flutter of holy wings.[8]

Prayer
Thank you loving God for the way you keep on revealing new facets of your character and fresh angles of your work.

Thank you for the grace we see in the person of Your Son as he wove his way through indifference, opposition and violence.

For the way he responded to threats, his commitment to his mission and his devotion to your will.

Save us from fright and cowardice.
Deliver us from living only for ourselves.
Open our eyes and enlist us for causes that are really worth living for.
Give us clarity about how we use our time and energies this week.

We confess that our prayer often gets stale and our words get sameish so open us up to new names about God, new insights about yourself that will surprise and challenge us and take us on new paths.

Enable us to be more adventurous in our relationship with you and so may your character become our character and your ways become our ways.

In a world full of barriers and blockages of pettiness and putdowns
Let us be people who become channels of your welcoming grace.

Like Jesus, Amen.

Blessing
As we scatter this week, may we experience the fulsome love of our divine mother and her fierce desire to gather, to protect and to shelter.

May we have the assurance to know and the ability to live out our callings. 

May we walk humbly but surely knowing that every grace that we need will unfold before us like all the mornings of our life.
AMEN

 


[1] Chris Turner speaking on the subject ‘By This They Shall Know’ at the launch of the Ashburton House of Hope.
     Link to podcast:
http://tinyurl.com/hzdcp8o, Link to Welcome series and study questions: http://tinyurl.com/j7l874j
[2] As distinct from Tim Ferriss and The 4-Hour Workweek.
[3] Thomas H Troeger, Sermon Sparks: 122 Ideas to Ignite Your Preaching.
[4] For more information see ‘Names of God in Islam’, Wikipedia.
[5] The name of the song by Brian Wren and his book, Bring Many Names.
[6] John R Claypool tells this story in his book, ‘Stages’.
[7] Luke 19: 38.
[8] These concluding thoughts are inspired by Troeger, Sermon Sparks.