It’s a gray and cold rainy February Tuesday in Cleveland. A day to be tired of winter and yet a day too early to be thinking much about spring. It’s a good day to be home and wrapped up in a blanket in front of a fire with a cup of hot chocolate and a good novel.
I suppose that would be good but it’s not to be. Not today. I’m here at church in my study with my first opportunity today to be alone. It’s a busy building today with the Hunger Center and Benefits Banks open for business, staff meeting, Prayer Shawl ministry, and various other people who have found reasons to be here in the building. For anyone who thinks church is busy only on Sunday mornings — visit some weekday and see the fallacy of that assumption. The day began early for me with a pre-surgery prayer at the hospital. And it will not end until small group prayer study later this evening.
Church is at its best when it is busy with people coming and going. Church is at its best when it just feels right to be here — even without a particular reason. Church is at its best sometimes on weekdays (with all due respect to the importance of Sunday mornings!) when people are knitting prayer shawls and bagging up groceries. Having extended conversations that the rush of Sunday morning just doesn’t allow. Sharing prayer concerns. Showing the latest photo of a precious grandbaby. Receiving a phone call that the surgery went well and mom is in recovery.
I think God must smile on days like this. Days when it is tempting to stay tucked in at home and instead we are here serving others. Days when we recognize that someone needs us. Days when we recognize that we are the ones who are in need, and we know this place is where we can be fed. Literally and figuratively.
I wish all days were just like this one, even with its clouds and cold temperatures. Sadly, they are not.
Jesus lamented that day in Jerusalem when it seemed that no one was paying attention. No one seemed to care who he was or what he had to offer. He knew that times were hard. Frightening for many. And yet, people are not flocking to him for protection. People were going their own way. People were pursuing other gods. Following other paths they thought would lead to greatness and power. We can imagine him in a stooped shouldered posture with his head in his hands. Any pastor. Any church leader. Anyone who loves their church understands. We’re here — we’re ready and willing to be the body of Christ — and we see the empty pews. People need what we have — God’s love, Christ’s presence, and the Holy Spirit’s fire. We are tempted to stand as Jesus must have stood, not willing to look up and see no one there.
Fortunately for us, Jesus didn’t stay in this posture. In our text from Sunday’s sermon, the image of Jesus was as a mother hen. With wings outspread. Ready to protect us from harm. To gather us under his wing for warmth and comfort. Ready to die on our behalf. Yes, he lamented that unlike baby chicks who will instinctively run for cover under those wings, people will often go against instinct. People will try to go it alone. Free range chickens, if you will. Sometimes people will bite the hand that feeds them. Or deny the person who can save them. He recognized that try as he might, some people were not willing to follow. That didn’t stop him. He loved us too much to give in. He loves us still.
Have you have ever loved someone you could not protect? Then you understand the depth of Jesus’ sorrow. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. You not only are left standing there with empty arms, you are allowing yourself to be exposed and vulnerable. But if you mean what you say, then this is how you must stand.
We have Jesus as our example. He stood for us. His arms were outstretched for us even to his death on the cross. He is not here now to gather us under his wing. We are the wings. His body is now made up of us. We are his body. And just like with those people of Jerusalem, he is ever hopeful that his message will win out. That one day it will just be instinctive for us to open our arms and to wrap them around anyone who needs shelter and warmth. And that one day it will be just as instinctive for us to want that for ourselves. I know this. There’s no one who cannot open their arms in love for another person, and there’s not a one of us here who doesn’t need that hug. There’s no one who doesn’t need what Jesus has to give.
It’s what made today infinitely better here than curled up at home. There were lots of arms here today doing the Lord’s work. And, Lord knows there are many who could use the protection and the warmth of those arms. No time for head in hands around here. No time for lament or singing the blues. There’s work to be done. There’s plenty good room for stretch out our arms. And there’s plenty good room under those wings.
Blessings and peace –