Rev. Rebecca Heilman

The author and poet, Ross Gay, wrote a book in 2019 titled, The Book of Delights. It’s a quaint little book full of delightful vignettes in his life. You know, those random conversations with a stranger that lifts your spirits, or a flower who found life in the midst of concrete, or that feeling when you finish a good book, and you can’t stop thinking about it. Those types of insignificant, yet delightful moments. He tells one story where a friend gifts him a tomato plant in a starter pot for him to take home…except he’s traveling by plane. But he doesn’t reject the seedling, he takes the frail plant with him and writes, “What you don’t know until you carry a tomato seedling through the airport and onto a plane is that carrying a tomato seedling through the airport and onto a plane will make people smile at you almost like you’re carrying a baby. A shower of love began…” He continues, “The flight attendant asked about the tomato at least five times, not an exaggeration, every time calling it ‘my li’l tomato.’ She even directed me to an open seat in the exit row [telling my tomato and I], Why don’t you guys go sit there and stretch out?” Gay placed the tomato seedling in the window seat beside him so the seedling could look out the window and get some light. He gave the seedling some water when he got a beverage from the attendant and placed his hands around the plant to protect it from falling when the plane landed. He writes, “my arm reflexively went across the seat, holding the li’l guy in place, the way my dad’s arm would when he had to brake hard in that car without seatbelts…[it’s] one of my very favorite gestures in the encyclopedia of human gestures.” Gay protected that little plant of life that will someday give him nutritious tomatoes for his sandwich. He cared for the seedling like he was a mother waiting to cross a busy street with her child or the father who breaks hard in a car like Gay speaks of. Or like the aunt or uncle who at the last-minute catches their niece or nephew right before they fall off the park’s jungle gym. Most of us have an instinct of protecting and caring for those we love, for those who are most vulnerable, for those who need protecting. And so our metaphor of Jesus comparing himself as a mother hen who extends her wings to gather and protect her brood is not a difficult metaphor for us to grasp.

In our text today, Jesus is making his way towards Jerusalem. He is walking towards his death, towards the political power that has it out for him. Jesus is more than aware of it and he makes it quite clear to those around him. While he’s walking, and by surprise to us readers, a group of Pharisees rushes to warn Jesus that he should get away from Jerusalem because Herod seeks to kill him. This is surprising indeed since we Christians tend to generalize that the Pharisees want to punish Jesus as well. Well, maybe not all Pharisees want to kill Jesus. Regardless, Jesus responds to the Jewish leaders in contrasting parallels – While “the Pharisees want Jesus to ‘[go] away,’ Jesus in turn tells them to “go” towards Herod. While Herod wants to “kill” Jesus, Jesus reminds them of Jerusalem’s reputation for killing prophets.” And so, while the Pharisees keep coming at him with warnings, Jesus has an uninterrupted rebuttal. Jesus is not backing down, nor turning away. He is heading towards Jerusalem come hell or high water and he knows his fate. He knows he has been preaching radical words that the wily and destructive fox of Herod wants to silence. He knows he’s a prophet up for grabs. Jesus knows the history of violence in Jerusalem where blood was shed from the Jebusites, to the Canaanites, to the Babylonians and the Romans.

To use Jesus’s words, “Jerusalem, O Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you!” There’s nothing but sorrow in his words for the destruction that occurs in the city, nothing but love. And it’s not sorrow or love for himself, it’s sorrow for the waywardness of his people.

So no, Jesus won’t turn away from Jerusalem, the place where prophets are killed. He’ll go to Jerusalem, to the city he loves but that will break his body,
towards the people he loves but who will break his heart. He goes not for the purpose of death, but for the purpose of the third day after his death, an empty tomb, a resurrection.

That’s a fierce love, an intense protection, a loud statement of hope. And Jesus reinforces this fierce love and why he walks towards his death by comparing himself to a mother hen, gathering her brood underneath her wings. This metaphor, those words, the sorrow from Christ underneath it all – it practically brings me to tears. No wonder our artist today created a wood piece of a parent whose eyes are closed with a long, steady tear drop on their faceas if they cannot bear to watch what’s happening. Look with me. Dive deep into this piece of artwork with me. The Rev. Denise Anderson, a former co-moderator of our denomination, writes about her interpretation and inspiration in her creative work. She says, “As a mother, I know what it feels like to watch from a relative distance as a child makes heartbreaking decisions. I didn’t want to illustrate the details of the scene with my piece; I wanted to depict the emotions in it. To somehow capture the heartache of a parent whose children have chosen a destructive path…As I consider the destruction, we continue to visit upon each other and all of creation, I imagine God is still grieved.”

Of course, God grieves because God loves. It seems so simple to say that, but do we actually, truly believe it? Do we know the depth and vastness of God’s love? Do we know how authentic that love truly is for us? Do you know that that love, even in our brokenness, that sorrow is for you?

Maya Angelou, we all know her – a poet, an author, a civil rights activist – was interviewed by Oprah, we all know her too. They reflect on the immensity of God’s love. Angelou was reading the book, Lessons in Truth, with her mentor and while they were reading it out loud, they came upon a simple sentence, “God loves me.” Angelou’s mentor asks her to read it out loud again and then again and then again. God loves me. God loves me. God. Loves. Me. In the video, Angelou leans over in tears and says with a huge lump her throat, “It still humbles me, that this force that made leaves and fleas, and stars and rivers, and God loves me. Me! That’s why I’m who I am because God loves me and I’m amazed by it, grateful for it.”

God’s love, it seems so simple to say, is deep and wide. There are hardly enough words and images to reflect its truth and enormity. Maybe that’s why the mother hen metaphor brings such deep emotion to the surface for us. It’s something we all can relate to. That type of love is fierce and unconditional. It’s protective and humbling. That love is always there, it’s just…we have to be willing to open ourselves up to it. Are we willing to be protected and loved fiercely by a mother hen? Are you willing to not only talk about God’s love and believe it for others, but actually, wholeheartedly believe it for yourself? Beloved, God gathers you in, God holds you close, you are loved and each part of you – the traits you love about yourself and the traits you’d rather not have – were created by God. Lent is a time to take up spiritual practices. To maybe let something go, but to also embrace something new. Maybe consider when you wake up in the morning And rest our heads at night, repeating these words with deep breaths, “God loves me. God loves me. God. Loves. Me.” May we lean into God’s protective wings and be overwhelmed to tears by God’s overflowing love.

Pray with me. Loving God, we believe. Help our unbelief. Amen.


[1] Ross Gay, The Book of Delights: Essays, (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2019), 212.

[2] Ibid, 214.

[3] Gay, The Book of Delights, 214.

[4] Sharon H. Ringe, Luke, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995), 192.

[5] The Rev. T. Denise Anderson, Artist Statement, Sanctified Art Full to the Brim.