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Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Gathered Brood

God desires to gather us together like a hen gathers a brood under her wings. Gathering here opens us up to further opportunities for healing, forgiveness, and love. To be a part of a brood invites us to see those gathered with us as living examples of faith.

Vicar Anna Helgen
   The Second Sunday in Lent, year C
   texts: Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you and peace, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I grew up in a suburb, so I’ve not seen first-hand how mother hens interact with their chicks. I know--I’m missing out. And it’s unfortunate that this vivid agrarian imagery is lost on me in this modern age of factory farms. Thankfully though, we do live in the age of the internet where we can look up anything in a matter of seconds. And since I’ll jump on any opportunity to look up videos of cute baby animals, I went to youtube to watch videos of mother hens and their chicks. Here’s what I noticed as I watched one of those videos:

As the mother hen pecks and scratches in the dirt for insects and seeds, her chicks are scattered about her, some venturing off farther than others, some staying close by. But each chick is aware of its mother; and the hen is always aware of her chicks. At the first sign of danger or uncertainty the chicks race to the mother hen, who opens her wings gently—almost like an embrace—and gathering the chicks close to her for security, they nestle in the warmth and familiarity of her wings.

There is a straggler chick though, who seems unsure--or perhaps unwilling--to nestle under its mother’s wings with its brothers and sisters. And so the mother hen goes out of her way to make sure the straggler chick knows where she is. Eventually, this chick too finds its place under the shelter of her wings.

What a powerful image of God’s love for us. God desires to gather us together--you and me, our neighbors down the street, the presidential candidates who fill the airwaves with mean-spiritedness--all of us. God desires to gather us together much like a hen gathers a brood under her wings. But often we are not willing. Often we’re like that chick that goes off on its own, who leaves the brood behind in search of a more succulent insect or a plumper kernel of grain.

What if we took seriously Jesus’ lament--and God’s longing for us--and imagined what it might be like to actually go there--to be gathered together under God’s wings? It’s worth asking the question why. Why does God want us to be gathered together? What is so special about our being with one another that Jesus would compare himself to a mother hen and us to baby chicks?

God wants us gathered together because here is a safe place where God offers protection and warmth. A place where we can settle in and rest. We can practice living as our best selves, but trust that when we don’t have all the answers, when we make a mistake, or when we wander off, God loves us unconditionally. The gathered brood is a place of love and forgiveness.

God wants us gathered together because here we will be brought into relationship with the stragglers and the strangers. The brood isn’t about our self-interests; it’s about the community. The gathered brood is diverse and being a part of it means that we’ll get to know people that we don’t know and we’ll come to appreciate those we maybe don’t like. But with this comes further exploration of how we live as God’s people in community with one another. We get to struggle together with the reality of practicing faith. The gathered brood is a community of faith.

God wants us gathered together because here we will get a foretaste of God’s goodness in the land of the living. The gathered brood is a sign of the new creation where all, even our enemies, are brought under God’s wings. Where what once divided us, now unites us. Where we live authentically with one another--with all the messiness and complexity that relationships bring. The gathered brood is a glimpse of God’s eternal kingdom.

God longs for us to be gathered together as a community because the brood matters--the people in our communities matter. Paul understands this, too. In his letter to the Philippians, he writes, “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.” Paul writes to a community that struggles, like he does, with how to live for the sake of the gospel in the face of persecution. Paul’s hope is in Christ and the power of his resurrection, and this is what enables him to rejoice even in the midst of difficult circumstances. But living this way, with this hope, requires community.

And so Paul invites the Philippians to be like him--to imitate Paul’s own example. To be of the same mind of Christ, but to follow the example of Paul and others like him, those who recognize that struggle is a part of what it means to live in community. Paul is one example of many who has followed Christ, struggled over the meaning of the gospel, and tried his best to live out authentic faith. He’s a wonderful example for us, too, but he’s not the only one.

And so we, too, are invited to look to those in our own community--those in this brood--as living examples of faith. People we can learn from. People who have gone through their own challenges as they seek to live as the people God created them to be. People who have screwed up and started again. People who model for us what authentic faith looks like at all stages of life. People who teach us that the way to the cross is a way of surprise, a way of redemption, a way of promise.

Who comes to mind for you? I think of my confirmation mentor, Jean Sprague, one of the first people who gently pestered me to go to seminary. Her generous support and willingness to share the joys and sorrows from her own life taught me the importance of living in community. That we need each other to be reminded of God’s grace and goodness. That we need each other for inspiration and encouragement. That we need each other in midst of all that life brings us. Who is your Jean Sprague?
Take a minute to get cozy, take a deep breath, and settle into your pew. Imagine that God’s wings are wrapped around you, around all of us. Now take a look around at this brood gathered here today. Seriously: look around. This is your brood. This community is for you. This is a safe place. A place of unconditional love.

Gathering here means we open ourselves up to further possibilities for healing, forgiveness, and protection.

Gathering here means we build deeper relationships with God and each other.

Gathering here means we have the opportunity to learn from one another, to see each other as imperfect, yet beautiful examples of living faith.

Gathering here means living in deep expectation of what is to come.

 “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.”

Thanks be to God.


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