Desire - longing - this is what is at the heart of the spiritual journey; of the relationship between any one of us, and God. This is what it is all about. This is why we have our Lenten programs, and our great festivals and our Eucharist.
God desires us. God longs for us and for every living thing that God has made. God longs for us with passion and intensity and single focus. But much, if not most of the time, we live as though that were not the case. The great Saint Teresa of Avila was spot on when she wrote, "All difficulties in prayer can be traced to one cause; praying as if God were absent."
God longs for us to spend time in silence and stillness and presence. God longs to gather us, to protect us, to nurture us as a mother hen gathers her chicks. Now when we hear that beautiful feminine image for God, two things happen. The first is that we reject it out of hand, because we are so used to hearing God talked about in exclusively masculine terms, that even today we still tend to brush the picture aside. The second thing that happens is that we tend to think, 'oh how sweet. We are like little fluffy chicks and God is mothering us and looking after us and it's all really lovely." Well yes - and if you have never thought of yourself as a little vulnerable fluffy thing in need of God's tenderest care then that is the challenge of that picture for you to take away and pray with this week. But there is yet more to that image...
' a hen is what Jesus chooses,which - if you think about it- is pretty typical of him. He is always turning things upside down, so that children and peasants wind up on top while kings and scholars land on the bottom. He is always wrecking our expectations of how things should turn out by giving prizes to losers and paying the last first. So of course he chooses a chicken, which is about as far from a fox as you can get. That way the options become very clear: you can live by licking your chops, or you can die protecting the chicks."
I wonder what you know about hens defending their chicks. I understand that a mother hen can be pretty fierce when her chicks are under attack, opening her chest and flapping her wings. She will also shelter them no matter what. The story is told of how a barn burnt down. When the farmer returned to survey the damage he found the charred remains of a mother hen and under her wings her brood of chicks still alive, protected from the flames by her total self giving sacrifice.
The picture of the mother hen and her chicks is not a fluffy, pretty picture, but it is absolutely the right picture as we move with Jesus towards Jerusalem and his crucifixion.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem , how often have I desired to gather your children together ....and you were not willing
Why is it that they, and now we, are not willing I wonder? What keeps us from gathering under his wings? What prevents us from responding to God's constant desire for us with an answering longing for God?
There are many possible answers to those questions, but here are a couple to ponder. Sometimes I think we just like to do things our own way and to believe that we are in charge. At other times I think the resistance has to do with a fear of intimacy with God, of being overwhelmed by a love we cannot match. Whatever the reasons, our own reluctance and unwillingness can disempower even God, for God will not act in our lives without our willing consent. Such is God's courtesy towards us.
Today at our AGM we gather to consider our life together as a parish community and to elect office bearers who will take forward that life in the coming year. As we choose and commission those servants among us, we need to ask only this of them. Are you willing to open yourself to God's desire for your life and the life of this parish? Are you willing to be gathered under the wings of the great mother hen and to encourage others to shelter there also? For today as always Christ longs to gather us again in the shelter of his wings, in the warmth of this parish and the friendships we foster, in the compassion that we share with those in most need. Are you willing once again to embrace his invitation?
It is an invitation in this Lenten time to choose ways that are life giving. And so I invite you now to spend a few minutes of quiet reflection as we watch a short video that reminds us of our calling in this Season of Lent.
Penny Jones for Lent 3 Year C, Sunday 28 February 2016