Sunday, October 30, 2005

Matthew 23:37-39 - “Jesus the Chicken”

Reformation Day (Gospel reading for 24th Sunday after Pentecost - LCMS Readings Year A)
Saturday, October 29, and Sunday, October 30, 2005

[Jesus said,] “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

It’s hard for me to quite get the right passion in my voice when reading these words of Jesus. Jesus knows the history of God’s people, how often God has sent them prophets with messages of judgment and grace, law and gospel, but how often those prophets were rejected, imprisoned, or killed. Jesus has come to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the whole world, but He also knows that the very people that He has come to save are the people who will hand Him over to be killed. Jesus wants to take all of His people in, bring them to God the Father, bring them close like a hen protecting her chicks, but many will not. They will reject Him, and the passion and intense sorrow build in His voice.

It’s an intensity that I’m not very good at conveying, so I’m going to let the obscure, 60’s folk rock singer Simon Finn do it. Finn captures that intense sorrow in this song called “Jerusalem,” and while you may find Finn’s voice and song to be strange, the reason I want you to hear a bit of it is because I haven’t found any other example of trying to show how Jesus is very much broken-hearted when He cries over Jerusalem.

Simon Finn
“And I’m yelling all I can
Can’t you see He’s the Christ?
Oh, no, no.
And they don’t understand a single word I say,
But I’m crying just the same,
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, oh, no, no.”

That’s the sorrow, passion, and frantic feeling that Jesus had as He looked at Jerusalem, saw the chosen people of God rejecting Him, their Savior. As the insert in your bulletin shows, the title of this sermon is “Jesus the Chicken.” I’m not saying that Jesus is chicken, meaning he’s afraid to do something. No, rather, Jesus describes Himself here as a hen, a female bird, a chicken perhaps. It’s one of the few times that the Bible uses a feminine image for God, but when it comes to that passionate sorrow, there’s not a better image than a hen, a chicken.

The picture of a chicken taking her chicks under her wings is an intimate, motherly, protective image, but here in the words of Jesus, the image is of a chicken, a hen, chasing after her chicks, wanting to protect them, wanting the chicks to be under her wings, but the chicks run and run and run. Foxes come threatening to steal those chicks away, but still the chicks will not seek the protection of their mother hen. As those foxes get closer to her chicks, the hen gets frantic, squawking, throwing up her wings, going after the chicks while also facing off with the foxes. She may even lose her life to a fox rather than letting her chicks be taken. It’s a scene of squawking sorrow, and it’s an image that gives us a glimpse into what Jesus has done for us.

Jesus the Chicken has done everything He can to protect and save us, His chicks. Even when we run away from Him, He continues to fight the evil foxes who threaten to steal us from the true faith. He fought to protect us, fought all the way to the cross where He took the death blows in our place. Jesus the Chicken offering to take us under His wings is an intimate, motherly, protective image for what it means that Jesus has taken us to be His own.

Dominus Flevit Church
On the bulletin insert you have a picture of the Dominus Flevit Church on the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. This church was built near the spot traditionally said to be where Jesus cried over Jerusalem. The church’s name in Latin means “the Lord cried.”

Hen & Chicks
The reason I found out about this church was because I was searching on the Internet for a picture of a hen with her chicks. You’ve got that picture here. It’s actually part of the mosaic inside the Dominus Flevit church. The mosaic shows a hen putting her wings around her chicks. What is striking, although a little hard to see in black and white, is that there’s a halo around the head of the hen. Paintings and artwork, especially from the Middle Ages, often placed those halos around Christ and the saints of the Church. Here the halo is given to the hen. It’s a clear reminder that Jesus compared Himself to a chicken; it’s an image that jumps out, reminding us that Jesus reaches out to take us under His protection like a hen.

I hope one day to see that mosaic in person, because this image reminds us that Jesus really hopes to take us under His care. No matter how often I’ve run away, He’s still reaching out with His wings, wanting to protect me from the foxes of this world, protect me from sin, death, and the devil. For all of my running around, trying to take care of things on my own, I’ve got this passionate, motherly, protective Lord right behind me, chasing off more foxes than I can know.

Recently, my Tuesday morning Bible studies have been looking at biblical imagery. We’ve talked about a lot of words that are metaphors, comparing the things of God to things from daily life. Why would Jesus compare Himself to something as humble as a chicken? Isn’t that kind of degrading, putting Jesus down to compare Him to the farmyard bird pecking away in the dust? It’s not the grand idea we might have of Jesus, but Jesus uses images like the hen in order to help us understand spiritual truths. He uses things from our world to understand the things that are out of this world. I’ve seen chickens; I’ve never seen Jesus. I’ve seen chickens protecting their chicks; I’ve never seen how God protects me. Jesus gives us a visual for something that’s invisible. Jesus wants to teach us about His love and protection, and He’s not afraid to compare Himself to a chicken in order to make His point.

But now today we celebrate Reformation Sunday, commemorating the beginning of Martin Luther’s effort to reform the Church starting in 1517. Luther had found that the Roman Catholic Church was not teaching the whole truth of God’s Word. The Gospel, the Good News, the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus, was a message that was mainly forgotten. It was a Church built around a message of fear and judgment, of trying to do enough good works in order to get right with God. Luther wanted the Church to realize this and begin sharing the whole message with God’s people. What started as His hope to reform the Church eventually led to a division within the Church. Rome excommunicated Luther and his followers, forcing them to begin their own church. However, that was never Luther’s intention. He was the Chicken like Jesus the Chicken. He stood looking at the Church, crying with intense sorrow that the Church wasn’t teaching the truth about Jesus.

On the back of your bulletin insert, you have a quote from Luther explaining his hope for the Church. This quote shows that Luther was acting like Jesus. Luther wanted to bring the people to the truth of forgiveness, wanted to take people under his pastoral care like a hen takes her chicks under her wings, but the Church refused. Luther says,

That is why I would let everyone who wants to do so, keep the papal and human laws, wherever it is possible for faith and God’s word not to be crowded out by them. But I will not keep silent when fear and despair are created with them and all those who do not obey them are accused of being damned heretics even if they keep all the other articles of faith.(1)

Luther is saying he would’ve been fine with the pope and Church laws as long as those things didn’t change the faith. He didn’t come to do violence to the Church. He came like a hen, wanting to bring the Church back under the protection of the Gospel. Just as Jerusalem rejected Christ, Luther was watching the Church reject Jesus. It is with intense sorrow that Luther sees the Church ignore the truth of God’s Word.

That’s why Luther goes on to say that there’s no other choice when the Church tries to scare him into being quiet. There’s no other choice but to go outside the Roman Catholic Church if they are not going to let him teach that we are forgiven through faith alone. The Church was calling Luther a heretic, saying that Luther was teaching false doctrines. The Church damned Luther to hell. Luther was convinced that he wasn’t teaching falsely, that the forgiveness of sins through Jesus is something taught by God’s Word. Luther was convinced that he wasn’t a heretic, and so are we. That’s why we’re here. We believe that Luther was teaching the Word of God correctly, pointing to forgiveness for our sins through Jesus.

Jesus cried over the people of Jerusalem who rejected God’s love. Luther cried over the Church who rejected the Gospel, but Luther didn’t always understand the Gospel message. Luther was also the chick, the chick who sometimes ran away from the truth of God’s Word. Luther spent many years being a chick chased by Jesus the mother hen.

In another quote on your bulletin insert, Luther remembers how his friend Pomeranus helped him to see that he was running away from God’s forgiveness, acting sort of like a chick running away from the hen. Luther says,

Pomeranus sometimes consoled me when I was sad by saying, ‘No doubt God is thinking: What more can I do with this man? I have given him so many excellent gifts, and yet he despairs of my grace!’ These words were a great comfort to me. As a voice from heaven they struck me in my heart, although I think Pomeranus did not realize at the time what he had said and that it was so well said.(2)

Pomeranus points out God’s frustration with Luther. Luther had spent many years as a monk trying to perfect himself, trying to punish himself enough for his sins, trying to earn God’s righteousness on his own. Surely God is frustrated when we do this, because God has already promised us forgiveness, salvation from punishment and death, and already made us righteous, holy, and innocent through Christ. God was chasing Luther like a hen chasing her chick, and eventually, God caught Luther.

And Luther saw the protection of the Gospel for what it is. Luther realized that the Gospel was what he needed all along. Luther had been so afraid of God, so afraid of judgment and death and hell, so afraid because of his sins. Luther ran and ran and ran, until God finally helped him to see that Luther could come and find protection under God’s own wings.

When are you the chick? When do you realize that you need to be under the wings of Jesus? When you realize you’re sinful, when you’re aware of the devil’s evil plan to bring you to eternal death, when you confess your sins to God, that’s when you are the chick. That’s when you’ve humbled yourself before your God. When you realize that you’re just a helpless chick, that’s when it’s good to know that Jesus is your mother hen. That’s when it is good to feel those wings of the Gospel reaching to draw you close.

When are you the chick that runs away from the hen? Are there times in your life when you’re so afraid of God, feeling like you can’t dare approach God because of your sins? If you’ve felt that fear, than remember the mosaic from the Dominus Flevit Church, remember how Jesus offers to take you under His wings. There’s no need to keep running and running around the barnyard. There’s no need to keep scratching in the dust. Just calm down. Rest. Let Jesus cover you with His wings of grace and mercy and love and forgiveness.

You are little chicks in this big world of ours, especially when it comes to the big spiritual world. You’re not big enough to go out on your own. None of us are. We are little chicks who need their mother hen. Jesus has offered to be your mother hen, so don’t turn it down. Let those wings wrap right around you now.

You will always be chicks, the little ones of Jesus, but there are times when God calls you to be the chicken too. Jesus the Chicken wants to protect His people the chicks. Luther the Chicken wanted to protect the people the chicks. We the Chickens want to offer people that same protection of the Gospel. God will use us to offer His wings of protection, His message of hope and love.

Just as Luther was sorrowful over the Church rejecting the truth of God’s Word, we, too, celebrate Reformation Day with sorrow not cockiness. We do not mention the error in the teaching of other denominations in order to brag. We cry as chickens wishing to take people under the protective wings of the Gospel. If someone is in a church where they are not taught that our sins are completely forgiven by what Jesus did for us on the cross, then they do not know the true freedom and hope and peace of Christ. We stand with sorrow, crying out for those who don’t know this truth. We are the chickens, calling others to come under the protection of the Gospel.

And so in the words of Jesus, we realize we are the chicks who run away, the chicks under wing, and the chicken. We are all three at different times and even at the same time. We are the chicks who run away, the sinners who reject Jesus, the sinners who shake off His protection trying to go out on our own. We are the chicks under wing, the objects of His love, the faithful ones who realize we need His protection. And we are the Chickens who match the heart of Jesus, who cry with sorrow for those who run away from God while offering the wings of the Gospel to those who need it. Jesus cried over your sin of faithlessness, called you to faith through the Holy Spirit, and now sends you to be hen in the world. The chick who ran away became the chick under wing became the chicken who was sent to offer protection to other chicks. Jesus, your mother hen, has called you and He is faithful.

(1) Luther, M. (1999, c1967). Vol. 54: Luther's works, vol. 54 : Table Talk (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Vol. 54, Page 15-16). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

(2) Luther, M. (1999, c1970). Vol. 39: Luther's works, vol. 39 : Church and Ministry I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Vol. 39, Page 171-172). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Philippians 4:8-9 - "Our Motto"

21st Sunday after Pentecost (Year A - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, October 8, and Sunday, October 9, 2005

(End of Children’s Message on Matthew 22:1-14. . .)

One last question for the children before you go back to your seats. Why do I wear this robe?

This robe reminds us that we are forgiven, clean in God’s sight. God has taken away our sins, made us like clean and white robes. You can go back to your seats, but as I start my sermon, I’m going to keep talking about this robe.

(As children go back, take off robe and hang it up).

There’s one more thing I want everyone to understand about that parable that Jesus told in the Gospel of Matthew, and it’s sort of like refusing to wear my pastoral robe. The king gathers in all of these people off the streets, invites them to the big wedding celebration, but then he find one person who isn’t wearing wedding clothes. He kicks this guy out, and it seems quite harsh. I mean, maybe the guy couldn’t afford wedding clothes.

Except a normal part of a big wedding celebration at the time of Jesus was that the host would provide wedding clothes, especially for people who couldn’t afford them. So when the king spots this guy not wearing wedding clothes, he knows that it’s because this guy refused the gift of wedding clothes. So the king kicked him out.

Now if the king is God the Father who has invited everyone to come to His big wedding celebration in eternity, then the wedding clothes are like the righteousness that He gives us. God the Father gives us forgiveness, innocence, holiness, makes us clean and white in His sight, gives us wedding clothes to wear, gives us white robes to wear.

And if we refuse His gift of forgiveness and righteousness, then we’re rejecting His invitation to the party. If we reject God the Father’s gift of forgiveness, then He will kick us out, sending us to hell for eternity.

Refusing to wear the wedding clothes, refusing God’s gift of righteousness, that’d be like me taking off my robe. The robe a pastor wears is supposed to be a reminder that we are all forgiven and holy in God’s sight because of Jesus. It reminds you that when I speak God’s Word, it is not me that speaks but rather God. It reminds me that I don’t come on my own with my own words; I come to preach clothed by God’s holiness.

If I say, “Oh, I don’t need God’s righteousness, I don’t need God’s help, I want people to see me not that silly robe. I refuse to wear a robe that might make it look like I need God to make me good enough to be a pastor,” well, then, I’m rejecting the truth, I’m going to get kicked out of the party, I’m refusing God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life.

(while putting on the robe again) I know I can’t do this on my own. I know that I can’t make myself right in God’s eyes. I know that I need God’s forgiveness, so I’ll keep this robe on today, this symbol of the forgiveness that covers us all.

You see, the parable of Jesus isn’t about clothes. We can’t use this parable to say, “See, all of those people that don’t wear suits and ties or long, pretty dresses shouldn’t be allowed in church.” That’s not what this is about at all. It’s about refusing God’s gift of righteousness, holiness, and forgiveness in Jesus. It’s about refusing to see that we need God to make us right. It’s about refusing the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy Gospel of Jesus.

Hopefully that list of words sounds a little familiar, and for those of you keeping track at home, you know that these weeks we have been preaching about Philippians. This is our last week on Philippians, and I haven’t talked about Philippians today. . .until now. Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” When the guy refuses the king’s gift of wedding clothes, or if we refused God’s gift of forgiveness, that’s a huge rejection of the excellent things of God.

What Paul is saying is “if there is excellence, and you believe there is, then strive for this excellence” (Hawthorne). Paul is talking to Christians who know that there is truth and excellence in the world because of God. He’s urging them to think about these things, instead of getting caught up in all of the junk that’s around them. That’s a pretty good reminder for us, too—because even when you know God’s truth is the only truth, and even when you remember Paul’s words, it’s easy to start letting other things become more important than the praiseworthy things of God.

Philippians 4 verse 8 is the motto of Northwestern University where Susan and I went to college. Northwestern was started by Methodist Church in 1851. For years it was a school of higher education that also kept faith at its core. The excellence of God’s Word sent the founders of the school to study the excellence in God’s world around them.

Over the years, though, the excellence of the world became more and more important than the excellence of God. When Susan and I got there in the 90’s, the school motto was still Philippians 4:8, but it was hard at times to remain focused on God at a school where many professors rejected the faith—and sometimes even rejected students who believed in Christ. Faith was sometimes even kept out of discussions in the Religion Department.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my alma mater, the school where I got my bachelor’s degree. I love Northwestern, and when I sing the “Alma Mater,”

“Alma Mater”

Hail to Alma Mater,
We will sing thy praise forever.
All thy sons and daughters
Pledge thee victory and honor.

Alma mater, praise be thine,
May thy colors ever shine,
Hail to purple,
Hail to white,
Hail to thee, Northwestern.

TUNE: VARIATIONS ON ST. ANTHONY’S CHORALE BY HAYDN, Brahms; arranged by Peter Lutkin (1917)
TEXT: “Alma Mater” – Thomas Tyra (1958)

when I sing this song, I still get goosebumps. Northwestern is my alma mater, which literally means “founding mother.” Northwestern is the founding mother of my higher education, an incredible four years of learning.

Yet, my own school’s motto didn’t urge me to make my school the most important thing in my life. It didn’t make me limit my study to the excellence of the world. Instead, my school that has drifted away from its founding faith has a motto that reminds me to seek God’s truth above all things. God has given us the gift of His truth, and I don’t want to reject it.

So a few years ago I heard Sally Miller was playing “St. Anthoy’s Chorale” during offering, which is what Northwestern’s “Alma Mater” is based on. As I was sitting up front here, I found myself singing to my school. That didn’t seem right. First of all, it made me suddenly have flashbacks of being at a football game, and secondly, while I really love my school, being here is about worshipping God not a school.

So I decided I should rewrite Northwestern’s “Alma Mater” so that we could use it here for worship of the true things of God. Since “alma mater” means “founding mother,” I’ve called my new words “Alma Pater,” founding father, because God the Father is the founder of our faith, the One who begins faith in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

It sounds like this. . .

"Alma Pater"

Hail to God the Father,
We will sing Thy praise forever.
All Thy sons and daughters
Pledge Thee victory and honor.

God the Father, praise be Thine,
May Thy Name forever shine,
Hail to Father,
Hail to Son,
Hail to Holy Spirit.

TUNE: adapted by Stephanie Bowman
TEXT: “Alma Pater” – Benjamin C. Squires (2005)

More than singing praise to my school, I want to sing God’s praises forever. More than pledging victory to my school, I honor the victory of Jesus on the cross who saves us from death. More than my school colors of purple and white waving high above the football stadium, God’s Name will forever shine.

But where did Northwestern make its mistake—when it started to teach about the world instead of just teaching religion classes? Where do we make the same mistake—when we start to enjoy the world around us instead of just coming to church? No. Remember I said that Northwestern started because the founders knew the excellence of God’s Word which led them to study the excellence of God’s world. The mistake wasn’t enjoying the world; the mistake was forgetting that it is God’s world.

S-ame with us, we can make this mistake when we forget that the good things around us come from God. It’s OK to recognize excellence in the world until you start to make the world more important than God, until you sing with all of your heart for your school, your team, your family, making anything more important than God.

When Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” it’s like a pair of goggles that we use to see the world. We see the world with God’s eyes. We spot the excellent, praiseworthy, truthful things around us, knowing that they come from God.

There are a lot of excellent things in this world, but it’s important to remember that the excellent things come from God. Sometimes it might be hard to spot those excellent things around us, though, what with crime, immorality, war, terror, hatred, all of that around us. Yet, Paul’s not telling us to run away from all of it, to go hide in a cave.

Instead, when you find it hard to see anything good in the world around you, maybe think about it as “sheep in wolves’ clothing.” Did you catch that? Sheep in wolves’ clothing. There’s a lot of wolves around us, a lot of things that threaten to tear us apart, to lead us astray, to destroy our faith. Yet, behind even the most sinful places and people, there’s something that’s true and excellent. The wolves have taken those excellent things and distorted them, messed them up, but it all started with something excellent.

For instance, when you see someone who is clearly neck-deep in sin, living a life that is full of crime or hatred, all that you might see is that they are a wolf. However, what’s beneath that wolf’s clothing? A sheep. An excellent creation of God. A person loved by God. A person whom God wants to call back into His flock.

Take another example: you hear some song on the radio, see some movie, read some book that only seems to be about sinful passions. However, what’s beneath that wolf’s clothing? A sheep. An excellent creativity that’s a gift of God. A creativity that might be used in the wrong direction, but it’s a skill that comes from God. Maybe it’s a message that goes against God’s Word, but is there a search for truth, a desire to find God? That search has gone in the wrong direction, but the search, the need for hope, peace, comfort, or love, that search is an excellent, praiseworthy thing of God.

Knowing that there’s a lot of sheep in wolves’ clothing around us helps us to realize that there’s a lot of things the world uses for bad purposes but that God means us for us to use for good purposes. For instance, today is LWML Sunday, the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, who support mission projects throughout the world. They raise money to help spread God’s Word. They use the Internet to promote their efforts. They fly in planes or drive cars to go to conventions. Now money, the Internet, planes, and cars can all be used for evil purposes, but like the LWML Pledge says, “We dedicate ourselves to God with all that we are and have.” They pledge to use everything they have for the purpose of God. They will find the sheep in wolves’ clothing, finding that things are made by God in excellent ways to use for His purpose of telling the world about Jesus.

Wear your goggles, then, and start to see the praiseworthy things around you. You know God’s Word. You know that God loves us and forgives us because of Jesus. You know that God made this world to be different than it ended up, that He didn’t mean for us to sin and go against Him, so put your goggles on and start to see the true, noble, admirable things around you.

And when you spot them, praise your Father in heaven for them. I found excellent things at Northwestern, but I’m going praise God the Father for those excellent things. You’ve probably found excellent things in your family, your school, your work, your hobby, your backyard, but sing praise to God for those excellent things. God the Father is the founder of the excellent things in this world.

So will you try singing the “Alma Pater” with me? We’re praising God with this song for all of the excellent things around us—for God’s Word of truth, for God’s world that He made, for the people around us, for the eternal life that He will give us. So let’s sing. Please stand.

Hail to God the Father,
We will sing Thy praise forever.
All Thy sons and daughters
Pledge Thee victory and honor.

God the Father, praise be Thine,
May Thy Name forever shine,
Hail to Father,
Hail to Son,
Hail to Holy Spirit.