Let Go and Let God
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
March 17, 2019
How do you picture God? What is your image of God?
I asked this of a Church Sunday School kindergarten class once. I was amazed at their pictures. Some of them drew God in the clouds. Others drew God in a church. Most drew God sitting on a throne as a king. The most interesting drawing, I thought, was one which showed God sitting on a throne, but with two heads. One head was male and the other head was female.
In our Scripture readings for today, we get two very different images of God:
In Psalm 24 that Julianna read for us, God is pictured as a mighty warrior, a king on a throne, with power and dominion and authority.
Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.
God is holy and lifted on high. In fact, the Psalm asks, Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
God is portrayed as holy and mighty and set apart, sitting on the judgment seat and pronouncing judgments on his subjects. And only those who are clean and pure, and without any blemish or sin may approach his throne.
This is a powerful image of God. And it is the picture of God many of us are familiar with. We have been taught to see God as or testing us or correcting us, or judging us or punishing us. Or we see God as distant and disinterested. Up there, out there, far away from where we live. This is a powerful and prevalent image of God, but if this is the only way God is pictured, then two kinds of followers are produced:
We realize that we cannot approach God until we make ourselves good and right and worthy. And so we do. We work hard and fix ourselves. But, then we forget our struggles in getting here and become self-righteous and judgmental of others. We don’t need to be saved; we saved ourselves. We become so full of pride we wouldn’t recognize grace if it was put right in front of us.
We realize that we are too stained with sin and scarred with shame to be in God’s presence. And so we turn away and go our own way, lost and convinced that we are unworthy and unloved. We become so full of self-judgment and criticism, that we cannot recognize grace even when it is right in front of us.
In the Gospel reading from Luke, we get a very different picture of God. God is not on a high and holy throne. God has come down to walk the earth in the person of Jesus. And who can come to Jesus? Not only those with clean hands and pure hearts. In fact, here we see Jesus is casting out demons and curing people of disease. Despite the threat on his life from Herod, Jesus continues his work of reaching out and touching those who are sick and healing them. Then, Jesus laments, “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!”
Here is a very different picture.
Jesus desires to reach out to those in the city of Jerusalem who killed prophets.
Jesus desires to reach out to those who are sinners, who have fallen short of the glory of God.
Jesus desires to reach out to those who have lost their way and are a long way from the holy throne of God.
Jesus desires even them.
Jesus desires even us. And yet, we hide. We resist. We turn away and go our own way.
We follow our own crooked path in search of truth.
Yet, still God seeks us out. How often have I desired to gather you and you were not willing?
Still God longs for us. Why?
Maybe God desires to show how beautifully we've been made, how deeply we are loved just as we are.
Maybe God desires to uncover for us the love that is at the core of our being, which we tend to ignore even as we seek affirmation elsewhere.
Maybe God desires for us to behold our true selves, bearing the very image of God.
Maybe God desires to gather us together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.
Barbara Brown Taylor is a writer, a teacher, a preacher, who lives on a farm in Georgia. About this Gospel story she wrote an article “Barnyard Behavior” about her experience with a hen she bought to care for an orphaned baby chick.
“First I lay on the grass while the hen and the baby watched each other through the mesh of the cage. Then I placed her inside. Both she and the baby froze. The baby cheeped. The hen did not move a feather. The baby cheeped again. The hen stayed right where she was. The baby took a few steps toward her. I held my breath. The gray hen lifted her wings. The baby scooted right into that open door. When I checked on them an hour later, all I could see was a little guinea chick head poking out from under that gray hen’s wing.”
She continues, “Every time I introduce the hen to a new baby with nowhere else to go, I can feel the back of my throat get tight. Please, please, please, don’t peck this baby, I plead. It’s so little. It has never laid eyes on any momma but you. Then I set the chick in the cage with her, sitting down where I can watch what happens. The baby cheeps. The hen does not move a feather. The baby cheeps again. The hen stays right where she is. The baby takes a few steps toward her. She accepts all comers, no questions asked. She has never seen a chick she didn’t like. The hen lifts her wings. Come to momma, honey.”
Under God’s wings, there is plenty of room for all of us, whoever you are, whatever you have done, however you see yourself as not worthy or as not needy.
What if we were willing to admit our dependence and take shelter under God's wings?
What if in yielding to God's desire for us we awakened our own desire for God?
What if what we've been looking for after all is the One who has been longing for us after all?
Maybe we could see ourselves and others as God sees us: precious and beloved.
There are many images of God. God is not limited to just one image--no matter how powerful or prevalent. So, are you willing to let go of the pictures of God and yourself that don’t serve you; and let God show you the face of mercy, the wings of welcome, under which there is room for you and for me and for plenty more.
God accepts all comers, no questions asked. God has never met a chick she didn’t like.
Picture this: God opening up her wings of welcome and love, and saying to each and every one of us, “Come to momma, honey.”
Barbara Brown Taylor, “Barnyard Behavior,” Christian Century, September 19, 2006
John Wurster, Lectionary Reflection on 2nd Sunday of Lent, Presbyerian Outlook, March 15, 2019