The Second Sunday in Lent
The Very Reverend Nicolette Papanek, Interim Dean
Luke 13:31-35

May my words be your Word and my heart rest in you as I speak, O Lord. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

“Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! …And I tell, you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Jesus uses a fascinating metaphor in this morning’s Gospel. His metaphor is an intensely feminine picture of him. It is good to remember that often it is not just what is being said, but how it is being said that gives scripture it’s substance. The “how” in this case is a metaphor.

Human language is full of metaphors. I’m sure you can think of several. I’ve been a little under the weather. You could have knocked me down with a feather. He came like a thief in the night. It’s raining cats and dogs. S/He has a heart of gold. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. I could go on, but I’ll spare you the more colorful metaphors.

What metaphors like this can do for us is to open us to different ways of encountering whatever it is. Biblical metaphors give us different ways of imagining God.

Lest you think this is the only image of God that is feminine, there are many others, and they are throughout both the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and the New Testament and Gospels Here are four metaphors that spark our imaginations from the Hebrew Scriptures. God as a protective mother eagle. God as a fierce mother bear. God as a mother in the act of birth. God as a mother breastfeeding her child. Jesus used multiple metaphors to describe both himself and God.

How about Jesus the bread of life? Jesus the light of the world. Jesus the vine. Jesus the gate, the way, the truth, the life. Jesus the living water. Jesus the new creation. Jesus the resurrection and the life. Jesus the Good Shepherd. Jesus the Lamb of God.

So this morning in describing himself as a mother hen, Jesus appeals to our imaginations. To become a new creation ourselves we use our imaginations, we enter a world of images and sounds, smells and touch, and even taste. All these things are stored in our imaginations; all these things are part of how we imagine God.

All this is to say that when we only describe God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit in one way, we risk limiting our imaginations. We cut ourselves off from the wide array of pictures and sounds, smells, and touches, and tastes that reveal God to us every day.

I have a favorite newspaper story about God, and yes, I realize I should be able to say I found it on the Internet. Remember those single use cameras? They contained enough film for 12, 24, or 36 photos; you used up the film, had the prints made and threw the camera away. Each child in this story was given a camera like that and told to use it to photograph God. The variety of images was stunning. The ones I remember were a glorious sunset, a child wearing a bib in front of a plate of spaghetti twirling pasta on his plate, a group of people hugging and laughing, a butterfly in mid wing flap, and an enormous ocean wave curling in to shore. Each photograph was wildly different.

So Jesus as a mother hen and Herod as a fox may sound a bit strange to our ears, but these Biblical metaphors are ways of opening our imaginations to the presence of God.

What we encounter this morning is the three faces of compassion Jesus shows. They are tenderness, fierceness, and mischievousness. In this Gospel reading we get to see all three.

The tenderness for the people of Jerusalem, the fierceness with which Jesus describes his mission, and the mischievousness with which he undermines Herod and his power by calling him a fox.

All the ways of imagining Jesus are right, even those that may seem a bit odd to others. The test of our imagination of God is to look for what would happen. If God is love, how do we show that here? What does it look like? If God is light, what would that mean? What would that look like? If God were a vine, what would the vine do and what fruit would it bear?

If you’re a little shy about how you picture or hear, or smell, or touch, or taste God, be comfortable with it! It is yours. It is how you imagine God. None of us can fully imagine God. Imagining together though, can get us closer and closer to who God is and what God wants for us now at Grace and in the future of Grace.

The Very Rev Nicolette Papanek

1 Deuteronomy 32:10-11
2 Hosea 13:8
3 Isaiah 42:14
4 Isaiah 49:15
5 I’m indebted to both the Rev Dr Rob Voyle & psychologist Milton Erickson for their work with the three faces of compassion.