New Images of God
This week Jesus gives us a wonderful image of himself as a mother hen.
Mother hens (as many of you know) will protect their chicks from predators with their own body. She spreads her wings out in a great tent-like fashion to cover her brood. This image got me to thinking about Jesus and God and tents…
The tent is another image that we have for housing the dwelling place of God (the arc of the covenant). The arc traveled with the Israelites through the desert in a tent, so to always be in the midst of the people. God did not want to be set apart from us.
If we extend the metaphor of Jesus as a tent drawing us into his protection, then it ensures a double meaning: The people he is protecting are also meant to be the very dwelling place of God. God is in our midst. There is a requisite mutuality here in covenant. We are in relationship! That is what Jesus is always trying to teach us about God and one another.
The designation of God the “Father” was a significant way for Jesus to explain that we have an intimate relationship with God. The Judeo-Christian religion is unique in this way… (This type of monotheism); that we had developed a sense of reciprocity with God (Not simply a God or Gods that we had to appease, but one God that longed to be in relationship).
And Jesus refers to God as “God the Father”…someone very near to us. But Jesus never meant to constrict us with one notion of who God is and can be. God was never meant to solely be conceived of as a male figure. God is a shepherd, a potter, a rock, an eagle, and shield, God is like a mother bear and a lion. Jesus is a hen, and a lamb, and the light, the bread of life, the vine, the Alpha and the Omega. The bible uses metaphors to help us point to what we ultimately can’t describe …beyond unending, everlasting Love.
In our outline of faith we state that Jesus came to teach us that the nature of God is love. And we are always searching for how to describe it, name it, encounter it!
The Psalm today has one of my favorite passages:
You speak in my heart and say, "Seek my face." *
Your face, Lord, will I seek.
Covenants require at least two parties in mutual relationship. Seeking one another…
We as God’s people are promised to God and God is promised to us.
In the Gospel today we hear again about how the promise of Jerusalem in this relationship is under constant strain. It is at once home to the temple considered THE dwelling place of God when Luke is writing… while it has also become a city of corruption. And that is a painful dichotomy.
Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, '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 outside of 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! See, your house is left to you. 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.'"
Jerusalem, most of the pharisees, and Herod do not want to hear what Jesus has come to preach. Jesus has come to heal and to cast out demons. Jesus has traveled forth from Nazareth to Jerusalem with the intention of fulfilling Isaiah’s prophetic words “To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor:” “To lift up the lowly."
Most places of corruption, whether it be two thousand years ago or today, have lost that essential understanding of relationship, of mutuality, of seeking God in one another. The prophets role throughout history was to remind the community of just that. The prophets proclaim a breach in our relationship with God. And that the breach with God is apparent through a breach of our relationships with one another. Prophets are truth-tellers. And generally we do not want to hear from them. They make us uncomfortable. People in power do not want to hear from Jesus.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”
But what about our own personal Jerusalem? The dwelling place of God in our hearts? Why do we reject the stirrings of the Spirit in ourselves? We often don’t want to hear the still small voice that says: "You are my Beloved. In you I am well pleased.” We often allow ourselves to be overtaken by voices of doubt. And that becomes a very lonely place to be.
This week the diocese offered a workshop for clergy and lay leaders on issues of grief and loneliness. Many of us don’t want to admit that we are lonely. There is some kind of pride we carry in being self-sufficient. We were raised with “chin up.” We feel we are required to be strong for others and any sense that we might be in need of deeper friendship or comfort is a deficiency of character.
There is what has been coined an epidemic of loneliness even before Covid. Young people are overworked and underpaid, overwhelmed by technology, over budget with hefty loans…and lonely. Today we have seven living generations in the US and a study recently showed that millennials are the loneliest generation. That is our 25 - 40 year olds. And it is the group that is largely missing from our pews. It’s not a deficit of the Episcopal Church - it seems to be all churches…
So what is the Spirit saying to us through this reality? Perhaps there is a prophetic voice ringing through the silence and the loneliness…longing to be in relationship.
We should be asking then: Where can we meet you?
Many respond I am spiritual but not religious… or I don’t believe in organized religion. Well, as Christians we seek to find Christ in one another…
With the Holy Spirit as part of the Trinity, we can say that we take spirituality very seriously. The Episcopal Church has a lot to offer to individuals seeking God’s face. We have deep roots in a spiritual tradition. The Spirit is the giver of life, the advocate, the guide, the one who helps us grow into wisdom, knowledge and truth. There are many ways to explore growing with the Spirit. And they have been part of our tradition for hundreds and even thousands of years. The Eucharist is one of the highest forms of liturgy. So much of mature Christianity is expressed through the symbols of the Eucharist, but for many that come to the Eucharist as “unchurched” - or who abandoned it as teenagers, they just hear rules and regulations. We are not rules and regulations. We are about deep kinship with one another and the planet, about finding harmony with creation, about shielding one another like the hen, and about enlivening one another like Jesus.
There was joy in the presence of Jesus. True Joy.
We will always have the Eucharist. It is the core of our tradition. But how else may we draw from that tradition of rich imagery and make something new?
Are we Jerusalem that casts out change, new ideas and new voices…
Or are we “Jerusalem of the Heart" reaching for new ways to connect and new expressions of God?
What is so wonderful about our tradition is that Christianity is alive with a past, present and a future. We are inclusive of both the tent of the Hebrew tradition and Jesus’s newer metaphor of the Mother Hen. How might we envision the dwelling place of God today?
What new images can help us in our search for God’s face? What images can help us reach out across the breach… to meet the needs and the joys of the community… because community is the opposite of lonely.
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The Rev. Heather K. Sisk