This Second Sunday in Lent goes by the name Reminiscere which is Latin for remember. It gets it name from the first word in the historic Introit: "Remember, O Lord your great mercy and love." We pray for Him to remember them that we might never forget them.
Our text gives us fitting things to remember. Remember Jesus came into this world to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks. Remember this figure is used throughout the Psalms. For example, "Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings" "Children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings." "In the shadow of Thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be past." "I will trust in the shelter of Thy wings;" "In the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice." "He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shall you trust."
What a beautiful picture, but remember Jesus was warned about gathering you. In our text we find out that the King Herod who had already beheaded John the Baptist wanted Jesus dead too. We also learn that Jerusalem would kill Him and that people He was dying to gather would reject Him. It happens that a hen protecting her brood will die to keep the chicks safe under her wings. In grass fires that roar across open prairies too fast for flightless chicks to run from, the mother hen will gather her young under her wings so that the fire burns her but spares the chicks.
This is Jesus. Jesus is warned that Herod wants Him dead. Jesus knows that to go to Jerusalem means certain death. Jesus knows that the little chicks He longs to gather aren't running to Him for safety and salvation. Yet, Jesus keeps on going. He neither speeds up nor slows down as the horror of the cross grows ever nearer. The fox wants to put fear into the Hen, but the Hen won't run or change its course.
You all know what it means to have something before you that you dread; you probably even use the word dread.' Well, Jesus is 3 months before the cross. He knows He will be rejected not only by Jerusalem but by His own disciples. He knows that He will be beaten, whipped, and tortured; He will be mocked, ridiculed and totally humiliated. Moreover, He knows that to gathers sinners, He gathers their sins too. The prairie fire of God's wrath against sins is going to roar over Him.
Remember Jesus knows full well whom He is gathering and the cost of gathering you. He sees the physical and spiritual torture that lies ahead, and Jesus doesn't turn away from it. Remember that when your sins overwhelm you, when you don't see yourself as a cute little Easter chick but as a stinking, ugly vulture. Remember that Jesus knows what you are; knows what you have done; knew what it costs to redeem you, not just His blood, sweat, and tears but pain, hell, and damnation, and He does it anyway.
Remember Jesus was warned about gathering you under His wings, and He did it anyway. And remember that Jerusalem was warned about refusing to be gathered. Jesus came to Jerusalem in grace, mercy, and peace. He had been there many times before. The only wrath He had ever shown was in driving out the money changers from His temple. Other than that He called out to the labored and heavy laden that He would give them rest. He called out to those in darkness that He was the Light of the world. He called out to the hungry that He was the Bread of life. He called out the thirsty that He was the Water of life. To those certain they were locked out of heaven, He declared that He was the Door. To the sheep without a shepherd He proclaimed Himself to be the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.
And what had Jerusalem done? First remember Jesus wasn't the first prophet to go to Jerusalem. Jesus was not the first to try to gather sinners under the sheltering wings of God. Read your Old Testament. You will find God saying in several places that He had sent prophet after prophet and they rejected them all. Read your New Testament. Jesus tells of the Father sending several servants to His vineyard before He sent His only Son. Some they beat; some they whipped; all they rejected, and then they killed the Son.
Now the common people were drawn to this Hen with stretched out wings, but the Church leaders constantly denounced Jesus. They said He was insane, a hated, heretical Samaritan, and had a demon. Even during the last week of Jesus' life, the people were gladly hearing Him. But in the end, remember how it went? Persuaded by the leaders of the church the people asked for Barabbas, not Jesus. They took the one guilty of rioting and murder, and rejected the innocent, Jesus. They took a bird of prey rather than a gentle hen.
Remember this text is 3 months before that happens. Jesus is warning them that you reject Me and you reject the One who sent Me. Jesus says, "Your house is left to you." The word "desolate" that's in our insert is not in the text. By rejecting Jesus' attempts to gather them, the temple would no longer be Jehovah's house at all but their house. Remember that the Old Testament prophesied that Jehovah would come suddenly to His temple. Well, He had come in the Person of Jesus Christ, and they said no thanks.
Jesus spoke these words of gloom and doom around 30 A.D. Jesus went on speaking them in the Gospel Luke wrote from then on. These words of Jesus were preached by Peter, James, John, Paul, and other apostles right in Jerusalem for 40 more years. They called people to come under the wings of Jesus; here is shelter from the storm; here is safety from God's wrath; here is the place to be forgiven. Some did come, but then the judgment Jesus here predicted fell. The eagle of the Roman army swooped down on Jerusalem in 70 AD and slaughtered, devoured, and destroyed the little chicks that refused to be gathered by Jesus.
Remember Jesus is still gathering little chicks today. Remember how the ancient Collect described God. "O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy." Do not create God in your image. Do not think God can only be as forgiving as you can be. Don't think God can only forgive sins that you can manage to forgive. Try as we may, we can't get such words as "deserve," "merit," "worthy," out of our vocabulary of forgiveness. Don't you see how this, far from protecting the grace of God, demeans, diminishes, and all but denies the Blood of Jesus? The mercy of God flows from the blood of Jesus. God can be merciful to sinners because Jesus shed His blood to cover all sins. God can be merciful to stinking, ugly vultures because even vultures can fit under the outstretched wings of Jesus' cross.
The problem is it feels pious to say, "O no, no God can't be merciful to me." It feels devout to mourn under the load of your sins. It feels deeply religious to claim you're such a sinful ugly duckling that you wouldn't dare seek shelter from the storm under the beckoning wings of Jesus. But it's not pious to deny God's mercy toward you no matter how sinful you may be. It's robbing God of His glory of always having mercy. It's not devout to mourn under the load of your sins; it's denying that Jesus carried those sins already to the cross. It's not deeply religious to look in the mirror and see a duckling too ugly for Jesus to gather; it's rejecting the plain words of Jesus.
Remember, though He left that house, Jesus has not left this House. No matter how many times you leave it or how far you go from it, Jesus is still here calling out to baby chicks, ugly ducklings, and stinking vultures. St. Paul teaches that Jesus is the Head of the Church which is His Body. Though Jesus ascended into heaven, His Body, the Church remains here, doing what Jesus did when He bodily walked this earth: suffering with sinners, calling sinners, forgiving sinners, healing sinners, feeding sinners, freeing sinners from death and the devil.
But like its Head, the Church, looks weak and powerless in the world. The Church isn't an eagle, a hawk, or even an osprey. The Church is a mother hen. What child hasn't chased a hen around a barnyard? What adult is afraid of a hen? A rooster maybe, but a hen? Now it's true; Jesus doesn't use the word for a female chicken but for any female bird. But the only birds I know that gather their young under them and will suffer and die rather then leave them are birds like chickens, grouse, ducks, and geese, not the birds of prey. No, those birds fly off the nest and come after you. Even a mockingbird is more aggressive than a mother hen type.
Remember as goes the Head so goes the Body. Jesus was regarded as weak in the world, so is the Church. She is a mighty army to the eyes of faith but to the eyes of the world she is as powerless as an old mother hen. But, and this is important, how does a mother hen look to her chicks? Those outstretched wings are safety, hope, peace, shelter.
Jesus Himself points to this fact in our text. He tells the Jerusalem that killed the prophets and stoned those sent to her; He tells the Jerusalem that He longed to gather but who were not willing: "You will not see Me again until you say, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." What? Didn't they see Jesus for 3 more months? Didn't He ride into Jerusalem before them all? Didn't He suffer and die before their very eyes on the cross? But all they saw was a loser, a dead, helpless chicken nailed to a piece of wood, a Man as weak and worthless to men as a mother hen.
Remember a hen looks different to her chicks than it does to the world. To the gathered sinner, Jesus is not a loser, a weak Man, or dead. He is alive and well protecting and prospering His Church. Gathered sinners see Him as powerful in Water. They hear His living voice forgiving their sins by the mouth of a man, and they adore His saving presence in Bread and Wine as they chant, "Blessed is He; Blessed is He; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." They remember when they chant these words that Jesus said when they did they would see Him again. And see Him we do. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Second Sunday in Lent (20070304); Luke 13: 31-35