Repent and Return to the Lord
Lent, the season we are in now, is the most solemn season in the Christian year. We began on Ash Wednesday with a reminder of our mortality. Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, Terry preached about our struggles with temptation. Throughout this season, we will hear calls to acknowledge our sin, to repent, and to return to the Lord. You’re about to hear one of those calls right now.
But all that can seem a little discouraging. So, before hearing yet another invitation to repent, we need to spend some time thinking about why we repent, and about our image of God.
A common option is to picture God as an old man sitting in heaven on a giant throne, looking down on us, and keeping a list of everything we do wrong. God is up there watching us, and getting more and more angry with every sin we commit.
On the way to Church last Sunday, I had an experience a little bit like that. A police car followed me for a couple of miles in West Springfield. When I first saw him, I was speeding, of course. I slowed down and went to my best driving behavior. But when I saw a traffic light turn yellow, my instincts kicked in. Without thinking, I gunned the car through the light.
Immediately I realized I had made a mistake. I checked my mirrors, and the police car was still right behind me. That means he had run a red light to stay with me. My heart sank. I pictured myself, threatened with tickets for speeding and running a light, trying to explain that I was a priest on my way to Church, hoping that would help, and cursing myself for not having put on my collar. In the meantime, I slowed down even more. When I saw another yellow light, I stopped WELL before the intersection.
Ironically, stopping at the second light may have irritated the officer because, when the light changed and I eased forward, he turned right. All was well. I happily resumed my speeding.
But I think about how I felt, driving along with the police car right behind me, knowing I had violated a traffic law and anxious about what the policeman would do.
A lot of people live like that, worried about what the big policeman in the sky is planning as he watches us do wrong.
But with God it’s a lot worse. God cares about what we should have done, but fail to do. God knows what we’re thinking. We’re all doomed!
At least we would be doomed if that were how God is.
Thankfully, Jesus teaches us otherwise. Jesus teaches us about God’s love and mercy. Jesus directs his ministry especially to sinners and outcasts. And then Jesus dies on the cross as the ultimate example of God’s willingness to do anything to bring us into right relationship with God and with each other.
We get a beautiful statement of that divine love in our Gospel reading for this morning.
The reading begins ominously. Pharisees, not normally a group very friendly to Jesus, warn him that Herod is looking for him. But Jesus isn’t worried about Herod. Jesus is thinking about Jerusalem.
And what Jesus is thinking is that Jerusalem is the place where prophets get killed, the place where Jesus and his disciples are headed at that very moment, the place where Jesus himself will be killed soon after their arrival. Given all that, it seems like Jesus would be pretty angry with the people of Jerusalem.
But what Jesus says is this: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”
Now, chickens have not been a big part of my life. I had to look up the whole gathering the brood under her wings thing.
I found a description of it online by a woman named Peggy Joyce Ruth, who has an old hen with chicks. One afternoon, she writes, a hawk flew by overhead. Those chicks were in danger. But the hen didn’t panic. She knew what to do. She raised her wings and called her chicks. They knew what to do, too. They scurried over, and she covered them so the hawk couldn’t get to them without going through her.
Jesus approaches the people of Jerusalem like that hen does her chicks. Jesus longed to take them, the people who were resisting his mission and would soon kill him, Jesus longed to take them under his wing, to protect them from danger, to keep them safe.
That’s a beautiful image of Christ’s love, for them and also for us. Christ is not like a policeman watching us to see when we do bad so that he can nail us. Christ is like a mother hen watching over us to make sure we are all right.
We can take this image of Christ’s love one step farther. What happens to the hen who shields her brood from a hawk? I looked that up too. Sometimes the hawk takes the hen. The hen protects her chicks by dying in their place. That’s how Christ loves us.
God calling us to repent is like that hen calling her chicks to safety. God calling us to repent is God’s way of alerting us to the dangers and temptations all around us, dangers and temptations which lead us astray. The temptations come from outside and from within. And either way, whenever we succumb, whenever we give in to temptation, our soul shrivels just a little bit. A little bit of our spirit dies.
Because death is not God’s will for us, God calls us to repent. God calls us to repent as an act of love.
And we repent, at least we should repent, not because we are afraid of what God might do to us otherwise. Repentance is how we respond to God’s danger signal. Repentance is how we draw near to the One who keeps us safe when the danger is too great for us to handle on our own. We repent because we know that, without God, we are dangerously exposed. We repent because we know we can trust God’s love and protection.
And what happens when we refuse? Well, what happens to chicks if they don’t take shelter under their mother’s wings? The hawk gets them.
That’s the people of Jerusalem. They were unwilling to be gathered under Christ’s wings. They didn’t want shelter. They wanted to run free. They preferred to take their chances in the world, with all its temptations and dangers. That never ends well.
The same is true for us. God calls us. God invites us repent. And often we are unwilling to be gathered under Christ’s wings.
But who does that hurt? When we refuse to hear God’s call to repentance, it doesn’t hurt God. How could it? But it hurts us. When we sin, we hurt ourselves, and sometimes the people around us.
And so, God calls us back, and God keeps calling us. God invites us to take shelter in God’s presence, God longs to protect us, who are not strong on our own, but who are safe with God, from our own worst impulses.
And so, on this second Sunday of Lent, I invite you to spend some time this week in self-examination and repentance. I invite you to take shelter from the temptations that beset you. I invite you to draw near to the God who loves you always.
And I invite you in Christ’s name. Amen.
 The address of the site is: https://www.peggyjoyceruth.org/how-a-mother-hen-protectors-her-baby-chicks---psalm-91/how-a-mother-hen-protectors-her-baby-chicks-psalm-91
3/17/2022 06:43:24 pm
What a great analogy, Christ as the hen that calls its chicks to the protection of its wings. And, I appreciate your definition of repentance. I find this to be a very positive way to look at the need for repentance in our lives. Thank you.
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Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan