Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Close your eyes for a moment and picture Jesus in your mind. Go ahead, close them. What does Jesus look like to you? Does he have long flowing blond hair and blue eyes? Does he have dark skin and a beard? Does he have a piercing gaze or a strong jaw line?....
What is the Jesus in your mind wearing? Is he wearing a pristine white robe and blue sash? Or are his clothes stained and travel-worn, and unraveling a bit? Are his sandals falling apart, or are they the newest Nike flip flops?....
And what is the Jesus in your mind doing? Are his arms spread wide as he teaches a crowd of people? Are his hands open in welcome? Is he kneeling in prayer and looking up to heaven? Is he hugging a child or healing someone who is sick?...
And when he opens his mouth, what is Jesus saying? Does he say “blessed are the peacemakers?” or “Get behind me Satan?” Is he telling a parable or teaching his disciples? Is he praying or singing or saying anything at all?...
As you close your eyes and think about Jesus, who is Jesus for you?...
You can open your eyes now. Of course we can never REALLY know what Jesus looked or sounded like. There are as many pictures of Jesus as there are people in this room, as many images as there have ever been Christians on this planet. I’ve seen the blond-haired and blue-eyed Jesus pictured in central China, and I’ve also seen African-American Jesus with a big ‘fro in a church in a Catholic church in Chicago. For Leonardo Da Vinci, Jesus had long brown hair and wore a red and blue robe. And then there is that picture of Jesus that hung on your grandma’s wall, the one everyone has seen at one point or another – Jesus, serenely looking off to the side, long wavy hair shining from the mysterious glow that seems to be coming off of Jesus like a mist.
Of course Jesus always looked like this when he walked this earth, right? – placid, clean, and slightly radiating holiness? He’s never angry or frustrated, never rude to those with power and authority, never ever stubborn to a fault.
I’m really hoping that you’re catching my sarcasm here, because at this point you should be thinking about how Jesus was just all these things he’s not ‘supposed’ to be, just in these few verses from Luke today. If there is one thing we can know about Jesus, it should be that he is full of surprises, and surprising things are always happening when Jesus is involved, and our story today is no exception.
Surprise number one: there are some Pharisees that seem to care about Jesus’ welfare. Normally Pharisees tend to argue with Jesus, but these Pharisees instead give him a heads up that King Herod has a hit out on him.
Surprise number two: Jesus not only blows off their warning, but announces his resolution to continue his work, straight into the jaws of others who also want to kill him.
Surprise number three: Jesus describes himself as a chicken.
Of course Jesus is the very opposite of what we now think of as “a chicken.” In this story he shows he is not afraid of death, whether from the threat of murder from the king who killed John the Baptist, or from the city with a history of murdering God’s messengers. He is not afraid of what the powers of this world can do to him. He is not afraid of the consequences of his quest to gather all of his children into his loving care. He is not a chicken who is a coward, but a chicken who cares for her baby chicks.
As any mother would probably tell you, the desire to protect your children trumps any sort of physical danger you could possibly encounter. The power of a mother’s love is legendary, as are the lengths that mothers are willing to go for the health and happiness of their children.
Mary became the mother of Jesus even though she knew it would cost her status, perhaps her future marriage, or even her very life to follow God’s calling to be the mother of the Messiah. Another celebrated mother, Mother Theresa, never had children herself, but selflessly cared for the most ailing and most ignored of India’s poor. Every day, everywhere, mothers feed, clothe, and care for their children whether their children are naughty or nice, whether they are happy or sad, whether they will become the next president of the United States or the next in line at the unemployment office. A mother’s love for her children, biological or otherwise, is uncompromising and unconditional.
So it is only natural that so often in the Old Testament, God describes the love God has for us to be as powerful as the love a mother has for her child. God’s love for us is like a nursing mother for her baby, like a mother bear protecting her cubs at all costs, like a mother hen extending her wings of safety over her wayward young chicks. It is a beautifully tender image, marred only by the fact that these chicks do NOT want to be gathered under the wings of their mother hen. These chicks not only refuse the love offered to them, they seek to kill the very one who wants to protect them. But still, the mother hen continues to love her chicks, even her rebellious ones, whether they are from first century Jerusalem or twenty-first century East Windsor.
This indeed is a moving image, but it is not a complete one. In the end, Jesus is NOT the same as a mother hen caring for her chicks. Jesus is of course so much more than that. The most beautifully descriptive language could never fully express who Jesus is and what he has done for us. No portrait of Jesus we can paint could ever be exact. But we do have access to one portrait of Jesus that is COMPLETELY accurate, one image that we see nearly every day that fully captures Jesus better than any painting or description ever could. This comes not from the words that Jesus said, but comes from something that he transformed.
In the world of Jesus’ time, it was an instrument of execution, coarse and full of splinters and nails. Today, it is everywhere, often ornately decorated, made of fine gold or precious stones and put on jewelry or used as wall art. In a few weeks some of you will create them out of the palm fronds we use for Palm Sunday. But no matter what form it takes, adorned or in its uncovered horror, when we see a cross, we are witnessing the lengths that love will go for poor sinners like us. Do you really want to know, in all his fullness, what Jesus was like? Just look at the cross.
In today’s reading, in our journey through the season of Lent, Jesus is on his way to die. Jesus knows this, knows that the very people he came to save want to kill him, and he doesn’t even blink. Jesus knows his destiny, and knows that not Herod, not the Pharisees, not unwilling children, and not even the cross can keep him from his final goal, from the completion of his work. And Jesus will not stop until all of his children, every last one of us, are underneath his outstretched arms.
In our own journeys through the season of Lent, we remember that we too are on our way to die. But because we follow the crucified and risen Jesus, we can find hope in the face of suffering; we see life in a tool of death, and we encounter our own self-portraits in the rough wood of the cross. What was done on the cross needs never to be repeated, but today, tomorrow, and the next day we all continue the work that Jesus began. When the world tells us to leave the way because it is too hard, we can press on - because there are still demons to be cast out and cures to be given. There are Jerusalems to be saved and chicks to gather. And hopefully we will find that day by day we too are being transformed into instruments of life and hope. AMEN.