Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
I am not a parent, but parenting fascinates me because of my fascination with all things human. If you are a parent, you have my utter admiration. As a non-parent, I do not know how parents do all that you do and have done: the sleep deprivation, the worries, the entire act of feeding and dressing another human being — and one who is very tiny and fragile, at that. Let’s face it: in the words of writer Roxane Gay, babies are cute but useless. They can’t do much of anything for themselves. Then they become toddlers, and toddlers move through the world like tiny, adorable drunk people: stumbling, clumsy, slurred speech, could say almost anything, unaware of danger, and prone to getting the munchies and fits of emotion. And when kids grow up, Lord — they get their own ideas about everything.
So if you are a parent, you have my undying admiration.
One of my friends who is a parent posted a video on social media this past week that caught my attention. It’s a video by Kerwin Rae, an Australian speaker specializing in psychology and parenting, among many other things. He’s listed on his Facebook page as “a single father, businessman, entrepreneur and human performance specialist.” Normally I’d be a little skeptical of such people, but not this guy.
In the video, a tearful mother says that she’s been guilty of not “appreciating her [young] son for everything that he is.” But that sometimes, he doesn’t stop: he can have outbursts and be defiant and just put her at her wit’s end. She says that she and her husband have been talking about how they talk to their son, trying to do better. She says, “I know I’m not a bad mom; I only did what I knew then.”
Kerwin says, “How old’s your son?”
The mom responds, “He’s eight.”
Kerwin continues, “Do you know when a child’s brain becomes fully developed?”
The mom guesses, “At about ten?”
“No,” Kerwin says, “When they’re about 28.”
The mom breathes a sigh of relief and says, with relieved laughter, “Oh thank God, I can fix it.”
“Yeah, you can,” Kerwin says. “But here’s what parents need to understand. Kids are loud, they’re messy, they’re all over the place, they’re intense, and that’s the way kids are supposed to be. Kids aren’t supposed to be well-behaved. They’re supposed to basically come into this world and flail their arms and find out where the boundaries are. That’s what kids do. And our job as parents is to allow them to find those boundaries safely. And sometimes that’s hard, because what kids do is come into this world, and they behave in ways that press our buttons… what our kids need to learn more than anything else is they need to learn how to regulate. And if you don’t know how to regulate, it’s because your parents never demonstrated it to you.
“Because when a child is having a meltdown, what do most parents say? Stop it! Go to your room! I’m sick of hearing you carry on! Whereas what a child needs in those moments is a nice calm parent… to get down on one knee and grab them and bring them in, and just hold them and say, ‘It’s gonna be okay. Just breathe.’ All a child wants is to feel your presence.”
And I started thinking about how none of us is really all that different from a child. Learning to regulate our emotions and our reactions is a lifelong process. You know that. You’re church people. You’ve seen grown adults completely unable to regulate their emotions and their reactions. You’ve likely been there yourself. I have. And what we typically need in those moments is just to be held, whether physically or just emotionally, and told that it’s going to be okay. Just breathe. Just breathe. (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!”
We are right smack in the middle of Luke’s Gospel now. The disciples have seen healings and demons being thrown out of bodies. They’ve seen amazing things and they’ve seen controversy. They’ve seen Jesus feed a bunch of people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Just before this in Luke 13, we’re told that Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem. For Luke, everything in Jesus’ story flows towards Jerusalem, and the cross.
Some Pharisees catch up with him. “Get away from here,” they say. “Herod is trying to kill you.”
This is as if we heard someone say “Get away from here, Kim Jong Un is trying to kill you,” or “Get away from here, Putin is trying to kill you.” Herod is a known killer, a tool of the empire. And a total tool. The kind of tool who will totally kill you.
Jesus’ response is one of the most gangster responses of Jesus in the Gospels: “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. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.”
Don’t miss it: Jesus is told that a killer wants to kill him, and his response is, “Go tell him I’m coming right for him, and I’m not afraid to die.”
It’s not just Jerusalem that kills the prophets. You know that. All of humanity has been fond of killing truth tellers. We humans — of all ages — are temperamental, messy, prone to outbursts. Unfortunately, when we become adults, our outbursts stop being cute and have, in history, often become murderous.
That’s when Jesus starts feeling rather parental about us: when threatened with death.
Jesus don’t scare easy.
Instead, faced with the greatest threat, the messiness of humanity, he gives us this motherly image for God: of being gathered and sheltered, all together. It’s on the cover of your bulletin, and artists have been using this motherly image for centuries to depict God: wings open, loving, sheltering.
As I told you last week, I’m tackling one of our five chosen values from our retreat last month for every Sunday of Lent. Last week, we talked about how we are sacramental: we order our lives around these holy things in these holy seasons.
Today, it’s inclusivity.
It’s become almost passé for a church to say “Everyone is welcome.” Inclusivity is, and isn’t, old hat by this point. The recent decision by the United Methodist Church on LGBTQ+ issues is one example of how we’re not there yet, and as we talked about when we went through the Reconciling process two years ago, lots of churches say “All are welcome,” but what they mean is “all people like us are welcome.” This congregation gets that. You tolerate differences: in politics, sexuality, gender identity, and personality — better than just about any congregation I’ve known. You respond to humanity’s messiness by wanting to draw people closer to God’s love and saying “You are loved. Just breathe.” I love that about you.
But beloved, the work continues. We are continuing to find new ways not just to include, but to invite. How can we help all people feel more safe, and more welcome, in our space? How can we care for our Muslim neighbors after Friday’s horrible shooting by a white nationalist? How can we care for those around the world who suffer from the effects of terrorism of all stripes?
We’ll continue to explore our welcome that as 2019 goes by. And, of course, it’s also about whether people are ready or willing to join us. Jesus didn’t say, “How I have longed to gather you as a baby hen gathers her chicks, and you were not willing, so I forced you.” No. Love is, among many other things, about mutual consent.
The Good News, beloved, is that we serve a God who longs to gather all people together under her loving wings, hold us close, and tell us just to breathe.
So draw near. Come close.
It’s not just children who are messy and temperamental, especially when they’re hungry and tired. It’s not just children who are learning how to regulate their emotions and handle what life throws at them. It’s not just children who need to be heard and seen and held close and told to breathe.
It’s us, too.
While it’s true that you may not be able to feel God’s physical presence, you can feel the arms of the body of Christ. The Church is the body of Christ. God’s arms are your arms and mine and the person next to you. We can be here for one another and for the community around us. Let us not forget to hold one another close in whatever ways are needed and wanted, knowing that it is Christ, the loving mother hen, who holds us all.
On this St. Patrick’s Day, I end with part of the prayer from his breastplate:
“Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.”
Christ surrounds us and embraces us as we are. So come close. And breathe. Just breathe. Amen.
1. You can watch the whole video here.