The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire

Sermon - February 21, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 13:31-55


The Rev. Robert Vodra


     Back in about 1999 I was living and working in Western Michigan for the Presbytery of Lake Michigan.  About every other week I would meet with the Presbytery staff, which was a wonderful gift.  After one of our meetings, our Associate for Global Ministries asked if I would like to go to Nicaragua.  Well that is a huge trip.  I had a passport, but had never been to Central or South America.  I asked my boss about using some of my continuing education funds and going.  It was during the winter, so the camp was quiet, and he thought it would be a good opportunity for me.  

     So I agreed and was given a packet of information to start preparing.  First there were shots that I had to get, hepatitis A, updated tetanus, and a few others.  And then I had to get pills to prevent contracting Malaria that I would take for a few weeks before going, while I was there, and then upon returning for a few more weeks.  They suggested that I get a prescription for a specific antibiotic, just in case I needed it.  They would provide bug nets when we were staying with a family, but we were asked to bring sheets.  They suggested buying a large King size sheet and then sewing it together to make a kind of sleeping bag.

     As the trip got closer, I started to get nervous.  We had an itinerary laid out.  A few days in Managua, the country capitol, then out into mountains to visit with the town that our Presbytery had a relationship with, then back to Managua for a day or two and fly home.  When we were staying in the capitol, we would be staying in a kind of hotel.  The three guys would all stay in one room with bunk beds, and there were bathrooms, some even attached to the rooms.  There was running water, not hot water, but the weather was going to be plenty warm so a cool shower would be fine.  And we could expect power much of the time we were there. 

     In the mountains the accommodations would be less modern.  Outhouses were more common than indoor plumbing.  Families selected to host us were selected based on having a semi-private room we could sleep in, but sometimes that was the back porch, which did make a shorter walk to the outhouse in the middle of the night.  Electricity was much less reliable, but we each had a flashlight, so when the power went off it really was not a big deal.  Many houses had light bulbs and maybe a refrigerator that used electricity, not much more. 

     In hearing the stories of what others had experienced, and getting all my shots and medicines together, I started to get nervous.  I donít like rollercoasters or anything like that, meant to frighten you, but I still will do some of those rides because I know they are safe.  Thousands of people have been in this ride before, nobody has ever died, I will be OK. 

     But this was a third world country I was going to.  The city of Managua has sustained great damage due to earthquakes and hurricanes, and many years of war.  Much of the infrastructure has not been repaired.  And the hospital of the town we were going to was always short of supplies.  The babies in incubators were rolled out into the sun to warm them, as the heating units didnít work anymore.  The disposable gloves they used in surgeries were used three times, washed with antibiotics between uses before they were finally replaced.  Pain medicines for things like stitches were in very short supply, so they were only used for women and children.  It is a made dominated society down there.  So I knew if I got injured, I could have surgery with reused disposable gloves, no pain medication, and very little sanitation.  This was potentially dangerous. 

     And there were unsafe things that we did.  Seatbelts didnít exist in most of the vehicles we rode in, and even those where they may have existed carried way too many people.  Yes, you can fit about 11 people into an old Toyota Corolla, with a stick shift.  Riding in the back of a pick-up truck, sitting on the edge of the bed or standing was acceptable transportation around town. 

     And my parents tried to warn me.  Are you sure you want to do this?  Others tried also.  Told me all the dangers, you could die, or come back with some disease, or something else.  How about going to California, isnít that exotic enough for you?

     In todayís scripture Jesus gets a warning, from the Pharisees.  Herod wants to kill you, better stop this stuff and go away someplace if you want to live.  This is kind of interesting, Jesus and the Pharisees donít really get along, but neither likes Herod, so it is kind of a case of ďmy enemyís enemy is my friend.Ē  But Jesus ignores this warning, and foretells his own death. 

     And he laments about Jerusalem.  I imagine that there were mixed feelings.  Many assume that Jesus walked willingly into Jerusalem, celebrated Passover, and quietly went to his crucifixion.  I wonder if Jesus could have changed things without being crucified, if he would have.  Was it all laid out at some point in the past.  Jesus hints that it was, he foretells his death, but if he had the opportunity to change the world without being killed, would he have done that? 

     What was running through his mind?  Perhaps some of the same things that I thought about when I went to Nicaragua?  If I do this, I could die.  And I was not going to change the world.  I was going to bring down some medicines and some books for the school.  I was going to get to know some of the people in the town.  We were going to learn about the economic situation there, and learn how some small loans might give groups a leg up.  And the risk was really pretty small.  Many groups had gone before, all of them came back.  A few did get sick, but all recovered with no lasting problems.  Jesus was warned, if he goes to Jerusalem, Herod wants to kill him. 

     And Jesus described what he wanted to do.  I wanted to gather your children, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.  There were other illustrations that Jesus could have used that were more masculine.  I wanted to protect your children, like a great warrior stands before his people with a shield in his hands.

     When I was in very early Sunday School I have a memory.  I was in the room that was next to the nursery, which was probably the pre-Kindergarten class.  We had time to play every Sunday, building big towers with those cardboard blocks, and then someone would knock it over, and we would rebuild it.  There were old clothes we could play dress up with, and there was a rug we would listen to stories on.  In one corner there were some tables with the little chairs where we would have our snacks, crackers and a tiny, tiny cup of juice, every Sunday.  A little bigger than the communion cups, but not much. 

     One week we were read a story and then given a piece of white paper, some crayons and asked to draw a picture of God.  Well I started with the white crayon since God has white hair and a big white beard.  Obviously God is white, so started to try to draw his face.  And God wears a long white robe, and lives in heaven, which is obviously in the white clouds. 

     Have you ever tried to draw with a white crayon on white paper?  Yes, I was one unhappy preschooler.  No matter how hard I pushed on the crayon, the image of God that I had in my head would not come out on paper. 

     I donít know why I remember that.  I donít remember what the other kids drew, but for some reason I remember having that image in my head, but could not get to show up on paper.  Maybe I remember it because it was one of the most accurate pictures of God that I have ever drawn.  The finished product was not as I pictured it in my head, but what others could see, by looking at the paper could have been very accurate. 

     As I have grown up, I was exposed to different images of God.  Back in the late 1980ís I was working at a church camp.  After meals we would sing a few songs.  We had big overhead projector, and a file box of overhead transparencies with all the songs that we might sing.  That summer we also had a few female staff members who felt that all the songs we could sing should be gender neutral.  We could no longer sing about mankind, but had to sing about humankind.  Our brothers became our family.  Every ďHimĒ when referring to God was changed to God.  Even Lord and King were changed.  I will admit that I am one of the ones who went back into the dining hall late one night to change some of them back to the way that they were written.  There are good ways to change songs to make them more inclusive, and change the image of God from a man to something else, but when you just go and change it without thinking about tempo, beat, rhyming and all that stuff, it just sounds bad. 

     Even though I didnít agree with them changing all the songs, I did leave some the way they changed them, and it did open up my view that God may not be the man that I thought God was.  By the time I got into seminary, they professors could, and would, challenge anything you wrote.  I quickly learned that if I wrote ďHimĒ to refer to God, they would say ďDefend why God is a male.Ē 

     And then I started to come across verses like the one we read this morning.  Jesus is preparing to go into Jerusalem, to be hung on a cross and die a painful death.  Really the cross was less about death and more about torture.  Your hands and feet were nailed to the cross, and then you were hung up where everyone could see you, but you could not touch the ground.  In order to take a breath, you had to pull yourself up, or push up with your feet.  Either was extremely painful, but would allow you to get air into your lungs.  Eventually, when you could no longer lift yourself to get air into your lungs you died.  The end result was always death, but the purpose was torture. 

     And Jesus, facing this torture, describes how he wanted to be like a hen, gathering her brood, under her wings.  Which kind of blows my image of God out of the water. 

     I have thought a lot this past week about these two things.  How Jesus is setting himself up for pain and suffering, and death, and yet is able to see himself in loving, motherly role.  On one hand doing something totally masculine, and yet describing something very feminine. 

     Our two children know that my wife and I are different.  They learned at a very early age that there were somethings that I would give into that she would not, and there were things that she would give into that I would not.  And they learned quickly which one to ask based on what they wanted.  If they wanted a hug for a scraped knee, Mom was the one.  If they wanted to stay up a little later at night and talk about something, I was the one. 

     I believe that God is not that different.  God knows that at times we need a God who will hug us, care for us like a mother would.  God also knows that at times we need someone to tell us to get up and get going, do what we need to do.  And God is able to be both those.  By God in Jesus, being able to describe what God would like to do, God is able to be that loving motherly figure able to give us a hug.  And in God in Jesus, being able to face all that lays ahead of his in Jerusalem, God is able to be the toughest guy around. 

     Perhaps that drawing I tried to draw in preschool came out exactly as God really is.  God is not a white man, with a white hair, sitting in a white robe in white clouds.  But God is all around us.  God is not male nor female, but both.  Immortal, invisible.

     I made it home from Nicaragua, pretty sick the day before we flew home, and not feeling my best on the way home.  Jesus will make it to Jerusalem to face his fate.  And we will continue to follow Jesus on this journey of ours through Lent and through life.