Those Who Scatter and The One Who Gathers (Luke 13:31-35)

Here’s my sermon for Lent week 2.

All of you are aware of the fact that a few weeks ago we buried a women from AA. That week while I was preparing a few words to share with those at the memorial service I wrote this:

“I haven’t known ___ all that long, but there’s lots of things about her that will stick with me. I want to share only one more. I remember the first time ___ called me on the phone and scheduled some office time with me; I am pretty sure she was one of the first people to actually visit me for spiritual advice and she’s not even in my congregation! Looking back I can see that she had this gift of including people and making everyone feel welcome. She even made me feel welcome, inviting me to play a role in her life that otherwise I would have missed out on.”
The part here I want to stress is that I wrote “she had this gift for including people and making everyone feel welcome.” During the memorial service, long before I said my prepared words numerous people got up and said “Hi, I’m so and so, ___’s adopted daughter,” or her adopted niece, nephew, grandson, etc. I started thinking, who was this woman adopting all these people, here I thought I was special. So “adopted” got to be one of the words of the day to describe ___. When I finally got up at the end to give the closing reflection I said “Hi, I’m Wess, ___’s adopted pastor.” And besides getting a nice chuckle, there was a feeling of camaraderie, and unity among a diverse crowd of people.
Speaking of diverse crowd, later that day during lunch, a gentleman said to me, “Wow, can you believe how tough of a crowd you had in there today? There were folks from AA, Al-Anon, and just about every kind of person in recovery under the sun!” I thought, I’m glad you didn’t tell me that before I stood up in front of everyone!
And all these folks were gathered there because of some connection they had made with this woman who had a proclivity to adopt others, even others who are often those least likely to be gathered.
Those Who Scatter_
This is the second week of Lent and we have been talking about what it means to be awake, be open and alert to the Spirit of Christ around us. The hope is that we are awake enough to see God working not only within us, but in the world around us. If we are attentive to that work, then we can participate in God’s work as well.  This morning we’re going to look at how part of God’s work is to gather people together.
First, you should know that Luke 13:31-35 is fiery because it comes at the very end and is the climax of a number of judgements that Jesus calls out against those religious elite who do not accept his call to repent and join his kingdom movement.
  • Just in Lk 12 he said “I came to bring fire” and talks about the division created by his ministry.
  • Then in 13:1-5 he scorches those in Jerusalem who are quick to point the finger at others all the while being themselves guilty.
  • Then in Lk 13:10 there is the story of the bent woman. She had been crippled for 18 years but when Jesus heals her the leader of the synagogue gets up and rebukes him for healing on the Sabbath. Jesus lets out a roaring criticism of the kind of religious hypocrisy that prizes doctrine and rules over people.
  • And just a few verses down is his famous lines about the narrow road, a line that gets used so often by those of us in the church against those on the outside. The irony is that Jesus’s aims this criticism again at those already within the religious establishment of the time.

All this judgement goes against the grain of what most of us have experienced in institutional religion where we have witnessed hypocrisy, and the kind of religiosity that pushes people away.  So at least part of what I think this challenge is about is allowing the service of God to become something that actually leads to neglecting or hatred of people. Jesus’ criticism is that human-made laws and doctrines too often scatter, rather than gather the people of God. And that this scattering goes against God’s ultimate work.

Jesus says in Luke 11:23:
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
And Jesus does face at least two scattering forces on his journey to the Cross: Herod and Jerusalem. Luke makes it clear that Jesus’ work contrasts with both the political ruler Herod, whom Jesus calls a fox, and the religious folks who make up Jerusalem. “Herod wants to kill Jesus; Jesus has wanted to restore and shelter the people of Jerusalem; the people of Jerusalem have not wanted him to do so” (Green 534).
So Jesus sends Herod a little first century email with the subject line reading “You Fox!” Now, today we might actually take this as a compliment – “Jason, you fox!” But Herod was no Fantastic Mr. Fox who was himself a rather cunning and crafty fox. Instead, Jesus calling Herod a Fox is more along the lines of calling him a rodent, someone who doesn’t have any real status or ability to carry out his threats.  Something more like a rat in today’s world.
“In this case, Herod’s rank would be relativize by the recognition that Jesus, whose mission is rooted in divine necessity, thus serves one of greater status and power than Herod or the Rome he represents. Herod’s threat is blunted because his design runs contrary to the divine will. A further foxlike trait is potentially actualized in Jesus’ use of this metaphor – namely, the proclivity of fox for malicious destructiveness” (Green 536).
Essentially Jesus calls Herod varmint in the Lord’s field, disrupting the divine economy and killing God’s workers (ibid). Herod is one who scatters like a fox in a hen house.
For our sake then, Herod represents those who scatter, all those powers and people in our world whose push people out, hurt, and are more interested in serving their religion than caring for and loving people.
And haven’t we all have experienced Herod’s like this in our lives? Maybe we have been Herod’s before as well.
The One Who Gathers_
And then Jesus does something rather interesting and describes himself as a mother bird, a hen seeking to gather her brood. So over agains the destructiveness of the varmint in the field Jesus likens himself to the hen in the hen house.

“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34 NRSV)

This imagery is straight out of the Old Testament (so much for all doom and gloom) where the Hebrew authors assign feminine descriptions to God. For our purposes today we’ll can just look at the metaphors of God as a mother bird wanting to offer her wings for the protection of her chicks. The protection could be from prey, it could also be for shade from the scorching Middle Eastern sun. The Psalms are replete with this metaphor.

“for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.” (Psalms 63:7)

And Deut. says:
“As an eagle stirs up its nest,
and hovers over its young;
as it spreads its wings, takes them up,
and bears them aloft on its pinions…”
(Deuteronomy 32:11–12)
Jesus’ is saying then that his divine mission is thus nurturing, sustaining, protective as a with her young and vulnerable. This is the gathering work of Christ. Just as a mother hen gathers, so God longs to bring together a people, a community, who join his kingdom movement of peace and love, of reconciliation and forgiveness, all the things that Herod’s work opposes. If the fox destroys, the hen protects even to the cost of her own life.
This idea of God as a mother hen teaches us something about who God is. God is the One who gathers. God is the one who lays down his life for those he loves. God’s work is to bring people together, [even if like at ___’s memorial service, it is very unlikely people,] no matter how rough and tumble we are. This is why Paul says:
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:27–29)

Thus, God’s work is connection and gathering, Herod’s work is disconnection and scattering. Jesus sees his journey to his execution on the cross, which we focus on here throughout Lent, as really trying one last time to gather God’s people.  The cross is the climax of the Gospel narrative, it signifies yet another of God’s attempts to gathering the world to himself. The cross is about God gathering people through the power of forgiveness, reconciliation, love of enemy, and the inauguration of another peaceable kingdom that comes not by power but by weakness.  The cross is more like a mother hen then it is like a fox.

So my sense is that very simply this work of gathering, bringing people together, connecting ourselves with one another, is the work of God. It involves connecting ourselves with ourselves, with one another and with God. Tolstoy once wrote:
Why do we feel bad when we disagree with someone and feel still worse when we are angry at him? Because whatever is in us that makes us human beings is the same in everyone. So, when we do not love people, we are disconnecting ourselves from what is the same in everyone; in other words, we are disconnecting ourselves from ourselves.  – Leo Tolstoy
Thus connecting, gathering together is as much about us finding healing with ourselves, as it is connecting us with something deeper in each person. Or as they say in India ‘Namaste’ which means:
“I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides; I honor the place in you of love, of light, of truth, of peace.”

So in the process of becoming more awake, more human, being more open, more generous, and hospitable we take on the work of gathering and being gathered. I think we get glimpses of the kingdom of God at work when we see people gathering, working together, finding ways to unify, listen and learn from one another.

Will we be gathered?
So if we turn this text on ourselves and let it examine us, where are we in this? Do we allow ourselves to be gathered? Christ says in Lk 13 “yet you were unwilling.” Are we doing the work of gathering people together, making connections, doing acts of love to those around us? Or are we on the side of Jerusalem and Herod, unwilling to heed to God’s divine purpose because we cannot see or do not understand what’s in it for us?
[As an aside, I recognize that for some of us we may not have the capability to gather others because of some abuse we’ve faced, because of some deep wound we carry. In these instances maybe we do not gather people, but allowed ourselves to be gathered, to be brought into something bigger, under the shade of the hen’s wings. To be a part of a community, a work, a project, a set of unexpected friendships that helped us connect again with ourselves, with each other, and with God.]
My guess is that we have points in our lives where were fall on either side of this. So maybe Lent can be a time when we practice the work of gathering as we make space for people to enter into our lives. We don’t all have the capacity to actually do some of the gathering. But we can join, allow ourselves to be gathered.
Are there ways we can practice gathering during Lent. Maybe it is simply inviting someone or a family you don’t know over for dinner, or it is taking time to call someone you have been avoiding for awhile, maybe it is walking a different route than usual looking for and praying for people you don’t normally see. Maybe it is something bigger, maybe it is joining a small group, or initiating a project that may draw diverse people. Maybe you are the mother hen who gathers a few people together to try something new, maybe you are the chick who allows yourself to be gathered even though you find it difficult because of the page.
Query — How might you gather or be gathered over Lent?

Closing Prayer:

May you find yourself in the gathering wings of our mothering God in heaven.
May you find yourself connecting rather than disconnecting with others.
May you find the capacity to share and nurture a liberated space, a Christ-common, in your own home, or in a third space outside these walls where people have a chance to be gathered.
May we here at Camas Friends steward our space well and allow for the nurturing work of the kingdom of God to flow through every aspect of our lives together.
May we be a people who gather rather than scatter.
In the strong name of Jesus.

Amen.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.