Jesus said, ‘Indeed today I cast out demons and heal sick people and tomorrow and on the third day I will be perfected...how often I would have gathered your children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings but you were unwilling’. Luke 13:32,34
The terrible murder of 50 innocent people at two mosques in Christchurch New Zealand on Friday and the others injured was an act of terrorism that has been rightly condemned. The Queen’s reaction was impressively quick and her message of sympathy was accompanied by her promise to pray for all the people of New Zealand. Surely all reasonable people abhor such an act and would want to add their thoughts and prayers to hers for the victims and their families.
The history of Christchurch in New Zealand is very interesting. It was part of a colonial enterprise sponsored by the Church of England in the 1850s. Part of the idea was to create a society that followed the beliefs of the Church of England and leading churchmen had a big part in the planning. The name Canterbury Pilgrims was applied to the first wave of settlers from the Canterbury Association that sponsored the colony. The beautiful name Christchurch evokes so many associations with our Christian history and just adds to the sadness that we feel.
The tender feelings that Jesus spoke of when he said he longed to the draw the people round him help us understand what God is like. He shares in our sorrows. He wants to draw us to himself. He undoubtedly is saddened by evil acts.
The words of affection and protectiveness towards the people around him that Jesus spoke about is typical of the care and concern he demonstrated towards the troubled and the sick. He is the same today.
He wishes to protect those who are in danger, just as a mother hen guards her young.
Jesus was warned about Herod Antipas, the Roman governor and his evil intentions. But Jesus did not make his own safety his number one concern. He had an important work to do, and that would come with a cost and he was resolute that he would not be diverted, from relieving suffering, or the greater work of going to the cross.
Jesus spoke of even his disciples taking up their cross and following him. He saw dangers for them ahead. He spoke of the prospect of himself being rejected by the chief priests and the elders; and put to death; but also that he would rise again on the third day.
Here in this passage Jesus spoke of the typical fate of the prophets of the Lord: Jerusalem had a history of stoning and killing those who spoke out. them. Zechariah the son of Jehoida the priest was one from Israel’s history. He was persecuted and killed in the holy city. Jesus knew that he too would suffer. But before that he would continue his work of healing the sick and setting free the captives; and he would be perfected on the third day. The details in between are not clear: the focus is on his final vindication.
Jesus spoke of his desire to protect his people: we can think of that as a proof of his care for us. He knows us and sees us in our weakness and he longs to draw us to himself. So we should remember that comparison to a bird gathering her young; with her wings outstretched.
When I am out for my walks at some of the places I go to I look out for hens in their hen runs but I never see their young. I remember my Kirkcaldy grandmother telling me that she once knitted little boots for the baby chicks that hatched. The henhouse was a good protection against foxes. Keeping hens and hatching eggs is quite a task but no doubt rewarding not least of all for the supply of fresh eggs.
There’s a little church or chapel in Jerusalem called Dominus Flevit, the Lord weeps. The chapel itself is in the shape of a teardrop. It looks over the Temple Mount. Inside is a mosaic based on this saying of Jesus that depicts a mother hen with her wings spread out. There beneath here are the chicks that she is sheltering.
The bird with wings outstretched is not particularly beautiful. But the point is not beauty but that Jesus used his body to protect us and provide for us.
His body was broken on the cross, for us.
The Lord Weeps, Dominus Flevit is because Jesus wept over Jerusalem after his triumphal entry. What he saw there and what made him sad was the people’s slowness to believe, their hardness of heart, their refusal to listen to what he was saying and teaching. It too teaches us of the grieving heart of God who feels sorrow when he looks upon his suffering people. He wants us to come to him that we would experience more of his peace and his love. He wants us to turn to him when we are feeling sadness and sorrow.
If we trust him unreservedly he will lead us safely through the dark times.
The atrocities in Christchurch is a reminder of the violence in modern society that is due to race hatred or by other forms of ideology. There is also the problems of a gun culture. Just last week was the anniversary of Dunblane. Allied to that in our country, is a knife culture. When people are intent on inflicting harm there are many opportunities to inflict injury.
Addiction to violence is sadly nothing new. Part of life in imperial Rome was the gladiatorial contests that involved animals being used and there was much bloodshed. Violence was a feature of life in Judea and Jerusalem in the days of the Roman occupation. Jesus prayed in Gethsemane where and told his disciples to pray that they would not fall victim to hard testing. Men armed with clubs and spears arrived to arrest him. Jesus did not intend his disciples to fight back. He told Peter to put his sword away.
The Christchurch attack on people in those two mosques does invite us to think, what should be the Christian response. We may wonder, how do we relate to suffering people who belong to other faiths and cultures. Surely the answer is that the Christian response is to be in solidarity, sympathy, compassion and care. The Christian community should reach out to bereaved and suffering Muslims.
As Christians we stand for something different; we stand for peace and goodness, love and welcome. We offer this, whereas in society there are people who stand for hatred and intolerance of those they dislike.
In that other passage we have read Paul was making his appeal to people not to be led astray by those who are enemies of the gospel. We will always face challenges from those who do not share the faith and who have very different ideas and values, and some of these ideas are dangerous.
Paul was constantly hounded and buffeted by those who opposed his Christianity. He was determined to remain faithful, just as Jesus was determined he would not be put off course by Herod’s threats.
There was something Paul was aiming at, above all, which was to be found complete in Christ, to be perfectly conformed to him, to become like Jesus and to made like unto his glorious body. And all that is for us too.
Our bodies are frail and they suffer decline and disease; but God’s plan is ultimately to give us a new body and for us to be reshaped into the beauty of Christ’s character. All that is the work of the Holy Spirit in us: it is an ongoing work but requiring our co-operation. If we open our hearts to God day by day he can achieve it. We can come to him and ask him to continue this renewing work in us.
We may feel that we are getting older and frailer but with God’s renewing mercies we can be growing younger.
Paul imagined a race, an athletic contest and he was striving towards the victor’s prize. The idea of keeping going to the finishing line is one way of thinking about the Christian life.
One type of race is a spring. But another type of race is an obstacle race. Perhaps you have memories of this at Sunday school parties or with cubs or brownies. I used to find it great fun to set up a course where the youngsters had to navigate around obstacles or climb over a bench. Perhaps that is also a picture of the Christian experience.
There are things that happen that make life difficult: serious worries, or life events or people that might cause us to stop being committed to Christ. It would be easy to stop trying to overcome and sort of become the victim. But we can think of the example Jesus gives us of continuing despite the threats. He knew he had a work to do.
We too have a task, as individuals as the church. We all have responsibilities to live up to and face up to; and God will give us the strength to fulfil them. We have a task to grow in Christian grace, to gain in Christian virtues, and that is possible only as we take strength from our ongoing relationship with God. As a church we have a task, that is about being faithful to the gospel. Our weekly worship allows us to focus on the task and together we are being drawn to the outstretched arms of God who longs to draw us close and keep us under his protection.
There is a hope, a promise, a future that is offered to us; and the challenge is to take up the call to a Christian life, to learn God’s ways, and accept the Christian’s duty of obedience.
Our commonwealth is in heaven: our citizenship: New Zealand is one of the commonwealth countries. The Commonwealth is an association of 53 countries mostly former colonies of the British Empire, and the Queen is Head.
The shock of the recent attack hits home because of our shared cultural roots and our connection.
The word commonwealth comes from the idea of a common weal, it means well-being.
We belong together: we share in the joys and in the worries that afflict us. That is particularly true of the church: it is a family and we remember each other and feel deeply when we become aware that some are going through troubles.
But let’s also remember that as Christians we are part of a yet greater commonwealth, citizens of heaven and that is our abiding status as we await the coming of Christ. Our names are written on the roll of heaven, we are already citizens of heaven and we must act now as if we were already there. One day we will be there and though we will be transformed we will still recognizably be the same.
But for now we must keep on working towards and hurrying towards that final goal of being found complete in Christ. It is about offering ourselves to the Lord that he might be formed in us: the goal of the Christian life is to be made like him, and to that end our first duty is to worship and obey him.
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