Scripture Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17–4:1; Luke 13:31-35
When I was 21 years old, my mom gave me a copy of the children’s book, Mama, If You Had a Wish by Jeanne Modesitt. The book is full of vibrantly colored illustrations by Robin Spowart that depict Little Bunny asking her mama a series of questions about what her mama might wish to be different about her. “Would you wish I never cried? Would you wish I was always brave and never scared? Would you wish I never got mad at you, or made mistakes? Would you wish that I looked different? Each time the Mama answers, "no," and reaffirms that she would never wish to change those things about Little Bunny, because she knows that we all get scared or mad, and we all make mistakes - sometimes even big, giant mistakes. Finally, Little Bunny asks her mother outright: “Mama, if you could make one wish about me, what would it be?” and Mama answers, “I would wish for you to be yourself, because I love you just the way you are.”
My mom gave me that book as a gift one year after I had failed out of classes, ended an abusive relationship and was finally getting back on a path to wholeness. It was a way of letting me know that no matter what mistakes I had made, no matter what I had not been brave enough to do, no matter how broken I felt on the inside or outside, that she loved me just the way I was. She showed me as much a year earlier when on a Sunday morning I called her out of worship and asked her to make the one and half hour drive to come help take care of me for a few days, after having been pushed through a wall the night before. I had been living a life full of big, giant mistakes – ultimately, I was the one who was hurt most by the way I had been living. But my mom came immediately, no questions asked. She took me to the doctor, she helped me move my things, she helped me find people who could help me, and she even talked to some of my professors and helped me work out a plan to stay in school. She loved me with a fierce kind of love that was ready to do whatever it took to rescue her little bunny.
That’s what mothers do, though, right? Some of you are mothers, and all of us have been mothered. Even if it wasn’t our biological mother, there was likely someone in our lives who loved us with that fierce kind of love. Instead of thinking of my mom as a Mama Bunny, she was more like a Mama Bear. You may have even heard that expression – “don’t mess with a Mama Bear.” Especially around Mother’s Day, I start seeing this expression all over t-shirts and mugs. Because it’s a universal feeling, I think, that mothers do feel intensely protective of their children. Most mothers, anyway.
There are some mothers, and fathers, and other relatives, though, who have not always been so accepting and protective of their loved ones. We know that some people are just not ready, or not capable, of becoming mothers and fathers, so they may choose to have their children adopted… or the department of human services chooses for them. But there are others who become mothers, become parents, and then discover something about their child which compels them to turn their children out of their homes, out of their families. Something that, if they had a wish, they would definitely change: their gender identity; their sexual orientation. Youth who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender make up over 40% of the youth homeless population, even though they make up only about 5-7% of the total American youth population; and they have a 120% higher risk than straight, or hetero-normative youth, of becoming homeless at some point over a 12-month period. But homelessness is not the only harm that comes from parents and family members rejecting their LGBTQ loved ones; research has confirmed that attempted suicide rates and suicidal ideation among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth is already significantly higher than among the general population. Those rates then increase again another 8.4% if the youth is in a highly-rejecting family.
In 2011, A mom named Sara Cunningham in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma found out that her worst fears had come true when her son turned 21 and came out to her as being gay. She says she had always suspected that to be true, but for years tried to “pray the gay away.” Sara and her entire family, including her son, were actively involved in a conservative Baptist church at the time. And so this secretary and mother of two says she fell into a deep depression after he came out. And she began to pray, fast, and burn incense, and even shamed her son into burning all of his journals. Her son recalls not knowing how to feel himself about his sexual orientation. In an interview with the Washington Post he recalls, “Not only was I living in constant fear as a gay kid in conservative Oklahoma, we were fighting a spiritual battle inside the walls of a non-affirming church,” Parker Cunningham said. “My mother and I were both struggling with what we thought was a literal ‘life or death’ situation when it came to my soul and how I’d spend eternity.” Sara and her husband both began to research everything they could learn about homosexuality and tried to examine everything they believed in light of their love for their son. She says that she began to feel like she was being forced by her church to choose – her faith or her son. That was not a choice she was willing to make. Instead, her prayers and her faith led her to a more generous love for her son and the entire LGBT community.
In an interview with CBS news, Sara recalls the first LGBT Pride Parade that she and her husband chose to attend as a show of support and acceptance for their son. She said, "It was my first interaction with the community that I was so alienated from by my own ignorance and my own fear ... And I realized this was a beautiful community." The next year, she decided to go back to the parade wearing a button she made that said, “Free Mom Hugs.” Because of her button, and the hugs from an accepting mom that she gave freely that day, she said she heard horror stories about the rejection these individuals experienced in their families – stories that haunted her. Moved by her experiences, Sara has written a book to help educate other parents of LGBT youth and has even started a movement which includes over 3,000 people called “Free Mom Hugs” which consists of other moms and even some dads who are on a mission to let LGBT youth know that if their own families reject them, there are other parents out there who still love them.
What does all of this have to do with our scripture readings and our own Lenten journeys?
Today, we are reminded that God is faithful to God’s promises. God made a covenant, or promise, to Abraham that he – an old man with no children – would become the father of a great nation, whose descendants would number the stars. And that God would give them a new land, flowing with milk and honey. Many generations later, God leads those descendants out of slavery in Egypt, forms them as a spiritual people, gives them God’s divine law, and leads them to the promised land. Generations after that, after failed earthly judges and kings, after God’s people have been exiled from their land, and brought back to live under occupation of foreign powers, God sends His own son, Jesus as The Messiah – to set up God’s new reign. To “preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
In today’s gospel reading, we have fast forwarded three years from Jesus’ experience in the wilderness which we read last week. If you’ve been reading the daily scripture readings in our weekly GPS guide from the gospel of Luke, then you’ve started to see the ministry that Jesus is engaged in for those three years. Jesus goes about from village to village opening blind eyes, healing diseases, feeding the hungry, seeking the lost, and restoring the outcasts’ place in community. Jesus is showing us what the Kingdom of God is like. It’s like a great banquet where not only the important people, or highly religious people are invited, but the poor, the dirty, the servants & slaves, the sick, the unclean – they all are welcome. Jesus has been preaching, by word and by example, what it means to love God by loving your neighbors. And in doing all of this, we see time and again that Jesus isn’t afraid to touch the dead or unclean, Jesus isn’t bound by religious laws that would prohibit him from healing on the sabbath, Jesus doesn’t align himself with the religious elite or with social codes that exclude ‘certain people.’ Jesus is on a mission to make sure that every person he encounters knows that even if the church would tell them they are unclean, or unworthy, or a sinner that they are loved by God.
So in today’s reading, we hear Jesus describe himself with a metaphor that rings a strange tone with us. Jesus as a Mom. A mother hen. Not a Mama Bear, not a soaring Mother Eagle but a vulnerable mother hen. Offering free Mom Hugs! Offering to gather in each one of God’s beloved little chicks. But… not all of us want to be gathered up by a vulnerable chicken. We want the bear! We want someone with claws or fangs or brute strength. We want a God with muscle! We want a God who affirms the laws and the structures and the systems that give us the moral high ground, or the social power. We don’t want a wimpy chicken God. Because what happens to the mama hen when the fox comes?
Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my favorite Christian authors. Her writings are so poetic and always get to the heart of spirituality. In one of her reflections about our scripture today, she writes:
“Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first; which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter.
“She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her — wings spread, breast exposed — without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart . . . but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Christian Century, Feb 25, 1986)
This is our Savior – a mama who stands with her arms open wide, inviting all of us – all of us – to find our place under her wings; a mother who grieves for all of her children who will wander off, looking for strength and power in ourselves, or in others. The question for us on our Lenten journey, then is, will we who have wandered off return? Will we give up our self-reliance, our trust in other systems and powers, in order to surrender to our vulnerable God of love? Will we accept our free mom hug from Jesus, and then be willing to offer that same kind of love to our neighbor, to the strangers and even to our enemies?
Around the world right now, many followers of Jesus are reaching out with free mom hugs to the LGBT youth, to the immigrants fleeing from wars and genocide, to the Muslim community enduring religious persecution, to the hungry and needy in our own neighborhoods. The love of Jesus requires more than our worship – it requires us to take up our cross and follow the way of love, each and every day.
PRAYER: God of Embracing love, gather us under the wings of you love, even as Jesus longed to gather Jerusalem into the arms of his love. Send your Holy Spirit into our worship this day, that we may be strengthened for the time ahead, as we seek to walk faithfully with Christ all the way to the cross. Be our light and our salvation, that we may live in your presence and walk in your ways all the days of our lives. Amen.