Feb 252013


Luke 13:31-35

The Fox and the Hen


+ May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be ever pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  (please be seated)

My Grandmother Germaine was an Old Hen. 

My Grandmother was Old:  She died two years ago this month having celebrated her 100th birthday the previous September. She was born in 1910.  At age 8, her parents contracted the Spanish Influenza of 1918 and both died within 30 days of each other. That left my grandmother and her 5 siblings young orphans.

She lived in an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy. She would tell the story of one kind sister who would sit by her each night and let my grandmother hold on to her rosary beads as she cried herself to sleep-obviously missing both her parents. Eventually, she and her siblings were adopted- each by separate families and ended up spread out throughout New Hampshire and Quebec.

My Grandmother was a Hen:  Not a gossipy hen, but the kind of hen who gathers her brood under her wings. My grandmother spent her life gathering her brood together- Everyone had a place at her table- the educated- the not so educated; the newly married and the divorced; her son the alcoholic and her son the family man. Her grandchild the priest and her grandchild the unwed mother.  We were all equals.

I remember her 90th birthday- we had a large birthday celebration at her home (fearing she wouldn’t make it to 100 years). Gathered around her table, she took out the birthday card I had sent her.

“Attention everyone, I would like to read the card that Brian sent me.”

I sat back very proud, knowing that perhaps I had picked out just the right words that touched her heart- Sappy Hallmark Cards can do that- like this one….

To a special Grandma,

You’ve shown by the way you love your family and the way you live your life that real happiness comes from thinking of others and giving of yourself. You’re a very special woman and wonderful grandmother….

Then she looked up, “And here’s the part that meant the most to me”

And someday, I hope to be a Grandmother, just like you.

Oops- I should have read the card!!

Christ the Mother Hen

I share the story of my Grandmother because she has formed not only my image of God but more importantly my image and understanding of Christ.

In Luke’s Gospel, we have the image of Jesus the Mother Hen who gathers her brood under her wings. That’s a powerful image. The Mother Christ.  As my grandmother gathered her brood around her dinner table, I better understand Christ the mother hen who gathers each of us around this altar table. In reflecting on the love of my grandmother, I better understand today’s scripture.

For a few minutes, let’s depart from our traditional understanding of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit- and focus on Jesus the Mother Hen.

We are in good company: St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, among many others, spoke freely of Jesus as our mother when he said: But you, Jesus, good Lord, are you not also a mother? Are you not that mother who, like a hen, collects her chicks under her wings? Truly master, you are a mother. For what others have conceived and given birth to, they have received from you…It is then you, above all, Lord God, who are mother. 

Let’s look closer at this Gospel Reading and see what the Mother Hen has to say.

  1. Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”


Many of us are used to thinking of Pharisees as hypocrites and enemies of Jesus. We think of them as religious leaders obsessed with man-made rules whereas Jesus is more concerned with God’s love; the Pharisees scorn sinners whereas Jesus seeks them out.

Christians have made the name Pharisee equivalent to hypocritical legalism. This is an unfortunate mischaracterization. While Pharisees did have a tendency to become legalistic, they were in fact committed to Hebrew Scriptures and sought ways to live by the biblical commandments.

Not all Pharisees were hostile to Jesus. In this passage it is some Pharisees who warn Jesus to flee from Galilee because Herod wants to kill him.  Danger is real: This is the Herod that served up John the Baptist’s head on a platter.

While Jesus and the Pharisees did not see things eye to eye, we find that Pharisees are often in the company of Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel, not only do they warn him about Herod, Jesus is invited to the home of a Pharisee for dinner.

This Palm Sunday  we will meet another Pharisee:  Joseph of Arimathea- he’s the one who asks Pilate for Jesus’ body and lays him to rest in the tomb.

  1. Jesus 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.

The Fox enters the story- King Herod. Calling one’s political leader a “fox” is probably not the best way to ensure safety and security, but Jesus wasn’t about to acknowledge that Herod was the final authority in his life.

Then Jesus laments:

  1. 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!

Jesus the Mother Hen. Herod the Fox

Do you see where this is going? We have the story of the Fox and the Hen.

Iconic Story-  Favorite subject in Aesop’s fables.

We all know that in a contest the fox will win over the hen. The hen will be overcome by the violence and greater strength of the fox.

We’d probably prefer that Jesus describe himself as a farmer with a shotgun who will blast the fox to smithereens, rather than a mother hen who passively protects her baby chicks by spreading her protective wings over them.

But Jesus is not a “shot gun” messiah. He’d already decided not to meet violence with violence; force with force. Jesus visualizes himself meeting the force of Herod with the sacrificing love of the mother hen, who in effect says to the fox, “to get my chicks, you’ll have to kill me first.”

  1. 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.'”

This is almost exactly the chant that the people will give, waving palm branches as Jesus enters Jerusalem in the coming days.

Jesus has called Jerusalem the city that kills prophets, and yet he is going there anyway. He knows that Herod and Pilate and many other foxes await. And even as the foxes plot his death, Jesus journeys toward Jerusalem.

How does this story of the Fox and the Hen end?

The fox meets the hen in Jerusalem and devourers her. The Mother hen hangs on the cross with wings outstretched and gives up her life.

  • So, like Aesop’s Fable, the fox wins.
  • Here’s the good news. With God, there is an alternate ending.

That’s the story of Easter Sunday.  The fox cannot take away the love the mother hen has for her chicks. And that love will live on and rise again.

  • My grandmother Germaine gave me a glimpse of that unconquered love. I felt it and experienced it in a tangible way. Perhaps your grandmother did the same for you. Their love helps us better understand the love of Christ in today’s Gospel. As much as Germaine loved her family, how much more does Mother Christ love each of us?


When I look out this morning, I can see there are many mother hens here at St Paul’s- we need you!

In a time when the foxes of the world seek to divide and separate, there has never been a greater need for the spirit of the gathering mother hen, creating unity, promoting peace, offering consolation, understanding, and love, sacrificing when necessary for the good of others.


 Sermon for Sunday February 24 – The Second Sunday in Lent  Posted by on Mon, 25-Feb-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday February 24 – The Second Sunday in Lent
Feb 192013

A few weeks before Thanksgiving a friend gave us a plant.

It was an amaryllis bulb – but at that point it really just looked like a turnip in a pot of dirt

We’ve never had an amaryllis before so we weren’t too sure what to expect, but our friend told us to be patient and keep it watered

So we did – we watered and watched and nothing happened

For weeks – and weeks and weeks it just looked like a turnip in a pot of dirt

But we kept watering and watching and one particularly cold night in December I even tied one of my favorite scarves around the pot because it seemed cold

My friend would look mournfully at it when she came by and we were embarrassed that we were failing her gift

Well past the new year and still nothing – we had pretty much given up

Then one day, 2 weeks ago there was in the papery folds on top of the bulb the teeniest fingernail sliver of green – I got out a magnifying glass to be sure I wasn’t making it up and then, of course, I took a picture with my iPhone – blown all the way up and sent it to my friend with the triumphant message “She’s Here!!”

Her journey from weeks and weeks looking like a potted turnip to the promise of a flowering plant reminded me once again – just in time for Lent, of all the work – the labor of creation that goes on in the dark –that happens underneath, that unfolds in the quiet and the stillness

For me, I think one of the challenges of Lent is to fully appreciate its capacity for radical transformation – over its long, cold weeks when spring seems still such a long way off

It’s easy to forget how much life force is churning beneath all of this snow and ice outside, easy to miss the world’s humming below the surface in the dead of winter, easy to let the challenges of weather distract us from nourishing our own interior spiritual selves

Easy sometimes once we’ve gotten our ashes to lose track of the days of Lent until they’re nearly all gone and Holy Week is upon us and its force grabs hold and we are alert once more to the flash and drama of those high holy days of our church year and the sacramental energies of our common life

Indeed, in spite of my best intentions, I’ve often found myself missing the spiritual gifts that Lent can offer-

Having let the demands of home and work take every waking minute I see myself screeching around the corner of palm Sunday on the home stretch toward the sorrow of Good Friday and the joy of Easter having barely taken a breath since that Wednesday six weeks past

But today is just day 5 – of the 43 left in this liturgical land of vigil and i still have the chance to decide here and now how I will spend those days ahead; i can decide that this year i won’t miss the Lent in between

For many of us when we were young Lent meant giving something up – usually sweet – and eating no meat on Fridays at least. Those efforts were supposed to help get our attention – focus our minds and prayer on the longing of the season

To be honest though, I am not sure how much longing I felt for the resurrection when all I could think about was the giant box of Good & Plentys I was going to buy myself with my babysitting money the day after Easter

But, Lent was also marked in our house by confession and making the stations of the cross and as I got older I could see in my parent’s devotion to the rhythms of daily mass and the sacraments just a bit of that longing – that prayerful quiet

Having crossed the threshold into the a time of vigil and deep quiet, and attuned to the days Jesus spent in the desert, its important to remember that this self exile occurs between his baptism and his active ministry –Luke tells us that his time alone in the desert comes immediately after Jesus has waited with thousands of others for his turn to be baptized by John and before he begins his travels with the disciples

I think it’s important to take note of this timing because it raises a critical question.  What do these 40 days spent away from friends and family for weeks of fasting and prayer in a stark and desolate place mean for Jesus’ ministry?

Before he begins his work of healing and teaching Jesus takes this quiet time away and at what must be his weakest point – when he is famished – answers the challenges posed by satan not with magic or miracle but with verses from the OT. Perhaps in that moment his ministry has begun – when he refuses to use the gifts his father has bestowed on him for his sole benefit or to prove who he is.

What if I ask myself what I’d like to see on Holy Thursday when I look back over the previous 6 weeks to today?  As much as it would surely help my waistline to give up sweets, or bread for the next 43 days –I am not sure that that will be enough to really make lent more meaningful.

What if instead of giving something up i give myself something – what if i give myself the gift of a minute or 2 each morning or before going to sleep for just a bit of contemplation – for listening; listening to where god is at work in me,

It doesn’t have to be the full spiritual exercises that I did years ago – but it can be making just enough time for a little window of reflection – being still enough to discern what God is hoping for me and allowing that to rise in my consciousness

Every time I come into the kitchen and see my friend’s gift I ask myself  “What was going on all those weeks in that pot of dirt?“

If that is one tiny place where the labor of creation was at work- imagine what is possible, what God is unfolding within each of us during this time of quiet if we bring an open heart to the next 43 days?

Oh and by the way this morning the Amaryllis measured 18.5 inches

 Sermon for February 17, 2013 – The First Sunday in Lent  Posted by on Tue, 19-Feb-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for February 17, 2013 – The First Sunday in Lent
Feb 132013

Do you think it is true that God only forgives the sins of those who are penitent, like the collect of the day says?  Here it is again, “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.” I wonder about that.  What about those of us who never really get around to penitence?  I thought I read that Jesus gave himself for the sins of the whole world?

This collect makes me consider the possibility that being forgiven is not just a one sided affair – maybe that is what this collect is getting at.  Maybe this collect is affirming what so many of us have found – that our acceptance of divine forgiveness is what activates it here in this world- in this earthly realm.  Maybe these words of this collect are pointing to the way forgiveness comes to full bloom in our lives when we acquiesce to the grace which makes it possible for us to see the wrong we have done, take responsibility for it, and seek to amendment of life. Or in words of the rest of this collect the grace that allows us to allow God to “Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness.” Then the full wonder and power of being forgiven is felt by us, and those around us become witnesses to this, and God’s realm is shown anew, through us.  At least that is what I want to mean, when I pray the words of this collect!

It seems to me that the graceful receiving of this divine forgiveness in our lives makes us more likely to be able to give and receive forgiveness in our relationships with other human beings.  And we all know that is where things get a bit more complicated, when it comes to forgiveness.

Think of your last argument, disagreement or break off with someone close to you.  Was it all your fault?  Was it all theirs?  Probably not – it was likely more complicated than that.  I never cease to be amazed by how our personal perspectives – the lens through which we each see the world – affects how we relate to one another. Sometimes our perspective mesh nicely – at other times they bump up against each other in painful ways – often, time and again!  And because we are so much more well-acquainted with our own perspective than that of others, it is easy for us to be – frankly – unforgiving of the ways and behaviors of those around us that we find offensive.

That being true, the readings and prayers assigned for Ash Wednesday help point us to the path of humility.  Humility, by the way, is a word that has often been misused. It does not mean being a doormat, and it does not have anything to do with being humiliated.  It is a spiritual stance in which we have a balanced view of ourselves – not thinking too much of ourselves, but not thinking to little of ourselves either.

To help point us to this path of humility the sacred journey of Lent begins this day with the potent symbol of ashes, reminding us that in essence we are but dust.  This is a good reminder – it helps us keep ourselves and this earth bound life we live in perspective. Our bodies started as dust and to dust we shall return.  This reminder can likewise help us with our unforgiveness of others since it reminds us that our neighbors are but dust also.

This symbol of ashes can help us with our unrealistic strivings, too.  Dust striving to be God is one definition of sin. We are in sin when we begin to believe that our dust-bound perspective is all there is to the picture of reality.  Humility is ours when we recognize that we are no better and no worse at our core than anyone else, for though we are all but dust, the image of God is what gives each living being shape and the breath of God is what gives us life.

In today’s passage from Matthew, we are reminded that human strivings toward fame and admiration from others can get us way off track when it comes to the life of our soul.  We should not pray, nor give, nor fast to be seen by others as admirable or Godlike.  Rather we should pray and give and fast discreetly with the goal not of gaining admiration for ourselves, but with the goal of getting closer to God and to our neighbors.  Because it is in connection with God and our neighbors that the basic ingredients of our being – dust, moisture and holy breath – become dynamic beyond belief, in cooperating with God’s gracious designs.

The amazing riches of knowing forgiveness of our sin and wholeness in God can change our life and define it in ways that seem to confound the conventional wisdom of striving on our power alone. All the pairings in our reading from the second letter to the Corinthians testify to this– what we might once have thought of as states of weakness, poverty and even death now abound with strength, riches and life because in the midst of them we hold the best treasure of all – God’s redemptive love. Redemptive love that we in no way earned through our striving, but received as a gift pressed into our hands by the divine heart which abounds with the hope that we will simply accept it.

God’s forgiveness of us so lovingly and freely extended has nothing at all to do with making us feel small, powerless or rotten. Rather it is extended to us that we might know the joy of being part of something more beautiful than our wildest imaginings – The amazing realm of God.  Jesus pulled back the veil and showed us this realm, which is continually gaining ground in this world through people who have come to recognize that they are loved, forgiven and free!  This Lent may we become those people – we who are but dust, enlivened by God, for goodness sake. In Christ’s name.  Amen+



 Sermon for Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013  Posted by on Wed, 13-Feb-13 News Comments Off on Sermon for Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Feb 122013

 Sermon for Sunday, February 10 – Transfiguration Sunday  Posted by on Tue, 12-Feb-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, February 10 – Transfiguration Sunday
Feb 122013

This year we’ll repeat last year’s very successful series of meetings at the parishes of our collaborative.

Here’s a poster for the series: post it!    Progressive Lent 2013

During the five Wednesdays of Lent, five Episcopal churches in the Merrimack Valley Deanery will each host an evening that will begin with a soup and bread supper followed by a Lenten themed program designed by the host parish. Each parish will offer a program which reflects the character and culture of their parish.

Children are welcome. Childcare will be available if needed. (Please call the church one week in advance so they can have time to recruit childcare volunteers.)

February 20th, Trinity, 26 White Street, Haverhill, MA 01830    978 272 4244

Click on each church name for information, and each church address for a map and directions.

The schedule for each evening’s events:

” 6-6:35 — Supper, Clean up, and transition
” 6:35 – 7:30 — Lenten Themed Program & child care


 Progressive Lent at five churches of the Lower Merrimack Valley  Posted by on Tue, 12-Feb-13 News Comments Off on Progressive Lent at five churches of the Lower Merrimack Valley
Feb 042013

Grace to you, and peace, from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Last week Martha’s focus in her sermon was on St. Paul’s letter to the church community at Corinth: about how they–and we–are all  bound together as parts of the Body of Christ. Today I invite you to wonder with me about the reading from Chapter 4 of Luke’s gospel.  It happens that last week’s and this week’s reading are from the same passage, so we read them both – repeating last week’s Gospel reading.  The passage is about lots of things, of course, but let’s consider one: it was a holy dialogue that went wrong.

Dialogues, conversations, discussions. These things are hard to have and to do. To really communicate we need to both know ourselves and know the one we’re communicating with.

Dialogue, conversation, discussion: The best of these is dialogue. When we have good dialogue we really hear one another. We can make our own thoughts quiet enough so we can pay attention to each other. We catch a glimpse of the world through each other’s eyes.

In conversation, we speak with each other. Conversations – by this way of thinking – can be a lot of fun. “Here’s what happened to me!”  “Oh yeah? A worse thing happened to me!”  Sometimes we need to have conversations:  “Do you know why you shouldn’t chase your ball into the street? No? Well, let me tell you.”  But conversations don’t go as deep as real dialogue.

Discussion – it rhymes with PERcussion, and hopefully doesn’t cause CONcussion – is the most adversarial of these. In discussions, each of us is far more interested in our own ideas than in the ideas of the one we’re with. We talk past each other. More truthfully, we don’t hear each other, but instead we hear ourselves. Anybody who saw tv or read a newspaper during the recent election season knows what I mean. Being a witness to a discussion can be painful.

I know in my life that I often hope for dialog, but then it turns to conversation. When conversation fails it turns to discussion. Then it’s too late.  We took the Boyz Club kids out to the beach on a calm cold day recently. We hoped they would see the damage the big post-Christmas storm caused, and ponder the power of nature. But that dialog wasn’t to be. These guys love the beach, so they jumped right into the water. We tried having a conversation about cold water and cold feet, but it didn’t amount to much – they were going to do their own thing.

Finally, a couple of them started trying to climb up the vertical sand face of the washed-out dune, under the overhanging dune-grass. I confess I raised my voice, and shouted “get down from there right now, it’s dangerous.” They were lost in their own little-boy world of wonder and immortality. I was stuck in my grownup world of fear: I didn’t want a little guy buried in a sand-slide.  They did get down, but our outing was pretty sullen after that. (It’s possible these guys get shouted a lot at by other adults.)

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus had something transformative to teach his people: the good news he embodies is big enough for everybody. He was hoping to start a dialogue about that with the people of his hometown shul. But it seems they were more interested in his celebrity than his message. Instead of hearing it directly, they heard it bouncing off their fears.

Here at St. Paul’s Church we’re pretty skillful at dialogue with one another. We do it a lot.  Here’s a simple example: A while ago (Martha told me) some people mentioned that it’s distracting to hear continual announcements of which page we’re on during worship. So we’ve been trying to do less of this. I hope we’re doing OK, and I hope you’ll share your suggestions about how we can continue to improve the flow of the liturgy. When the mechanics of our worship fade away, it’s easier to know the presence of God. The whole point of worship is to experience God with us.  So, that’s important.

The same was true in that synagogue in Jesus’s home town long ago. Their liturgy flowed pretty well. The acolyte handed Jesus the scroll of Isaiah. He unrolled it to the day’s portion, and read from it. Nobody needed to intone “a reading from, umm, the scroll of Isaiah at, er, the 61st chapter” or anything like that. He just picked it up and read it. Their Sabbath liturgy – at least to that point – flowed smoothly. It fit their routine and met their expectations, up to the point where Jesus began to teach them and challenge them.

Back to our dialogue about worship and liturgy:  there’s more to be considered. I have a friend here in town – a fellow-worker at Boyz Club – who recently has chosen a new congregation to join. It wasn’t us. In response to my invitation to visit and worship with us, she explained, “ I’ve been to your church. I don’t like lining up all the books. It’s too confusing.”

Those words hit home. She’s completely right about the complexity of our worship. It doesn’t flow for her. We come by the complexity honestly: our liturgy is ancient.

It’s clear from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that those folks were using at least some of the same words in worship almost two thousand years ago that we use today.  And, the church of antiquity under the guidance of St. Augustine, St. Chrysostom, and many others further developed it. The liturgy mystically unites us to the Church throughout history, just as our table of Holy Communion is mystically the same table at which Jesus served his disciples.

Back then the words were in Greek and then in Latin.  It was up to the clergy to speak and to lead the liturgy, and everybody else listened and let the flow of mysterious words wash over them. Then they responded with a single, simple, vital word. Do you know which word that is?


It’s the most important word in the whole liturgy. “May it be so!”

The faithful gathered people came, heard the mysterious language then offered God their Amen.  So it was all good. You and I can experience that kind of worship today by visiting an Orthodox Church for liturgy. It’s a wonderful mystical experience. But most of the gathered people don’t understand the words.

In the 16th century all that changed for our tradition. Wycliffe, Luther, and Tyndale insisted that the Bible be available in the language of the people. Cranmer insisted that the rest of the liturgy be in English as well. So we’ve inherited a liturgy from our late-medieval forbears in the faith, a liturgy that we’re now expected to engage with our hearts and our heads. So, we get the books. Our pews have reading desks built in to help us with that.

After years of worshiping, some of us can manage without the books.  Others of us prefer to use them, or need to. And some people, like my friend who recently joined another local congregation, just don’t care for our style. For her, our liturgy doesn’t feel like a holy dialog.

We all yearn for the mechanics of worship to fade away so we can rest in God’s presence and be thankful for Jesus’s promise of release for ALL the captives around the world and through the ages, not just the ones right here. My friend is feeling God’s presence in worship in her way, and I pray – confidently! – we’re feeling it too. I know we are.

Jesus talked about the prophets showing God’s mercy to people from Sidon and Syria. Geographically those place aren’t much further apart than we are from Boston. But, a Galilean traveling to Sidon today has to go to Tel Aviv, then take a plane to Cyprus, then another plane to Beirut, then take a bus to Sidon. And it’s considered a great miracle when people from those places can engage discussion with each other, never mind holy dialog. Then as now they may as well be on opposite sides of the world.

And, you know, it’s not far from High Street to this table. This is where we share Jesus’s holy meal with each other. We share it with Paul and the Corinthians. We share it with Augustine and Chrysostom and Cranmer, and all the followers of Jesus around the world and through the ages.  It’s only a couple of dozen paces from the street to this table, but some people passing by would sooner take a plane to Cyprus than walk in here. Nevertheless, Jesus’s loving promises of clear sight, and freedom is for them just as it is for us. There isn’t any “them” or any “us” in Jesus’s promise. Jesus’s loving dialog with us is far stronger than any conversations (or discussions, if our conversations get out of hand, heaven forbid) we might have about the form of our worship. The good news is that we can’t do anything bad enough to reject Jesus or good enough to persuade him to belong to us exclusively. He’s already chosen us, and he’s already chosen the passers-by in the street.

It’s my prayer for us all that we’ll remember and recognize Jesus as he passes among us, and that we’ll have the courage to follow him as he goes on his way.

 Sermon for February 3, 2013 The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany  Posted by on Mon, 4-Feb-13 Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for February 3, 2013 The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany