Jesus said, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Luke 13:34b (NRSV)
When I was growing up and in my teens, my mother used to try to hug each of the four of us: me and my three siblings. As children, we didn’t mind so much, but the teen years brought what most teens go through – rebellion and not wanting to hugged by your parents and maybe not even being seen with them. Somehow that stuck as an adult, and I wasn’t much of a hugger for a long time. But I had a few friends along the way who taught me that hugging helped me to feel loved and somehow like I wasn’t alone, especially when I moved 1500 miles from home to live and didn’t have family around.
I try to be aware that there are many people who don’t like to be hugged, and, as a pastor, I ask permission before I hug and watch body language and facial expressions. On the other hand, there are some people who only receive a hug when they come to church because they have no one else. In one of the churches I have served, there are several people who have no one else in the world – no other family and very few friends because they no longer drive or most of the people who were closest to them have passed away. These folks want hugs and want to know the touch of a human being.
There is something comforting about Jesus’ imagery of the mother hen drawing her chicks under her wings to protect them. Of course, I realize that the verses previous to the one quoted above talk about Herod, and Jesus refers to him as a “fox.” I think Jesus uses the idea of a hen protecting her chicks to demonstrate his great love for all of us – a love so strong that he was willing to die for us. He gave his life so that we might have life abundant in this world and in the world to come.
It seems to me that the church can provide the same sense of love and comfort to everyone who comes. I would hope that people who come into our churches would feel the love of God through us, and that we would demonstrate what it means to be part of the life-giving and sharing qualities of our Savior. If we aren’t offering that, we might want to take a look at what is going on in our congregations. It’s all about Christ, and that’s where we begin and continue to offer Christ to the world.
Many people have had conversations with me about the “structure” of the church and the hierarchy of the United Methodist Church. It is constructed in human minds and something that needs to be in place to give organization and order to our church lives. I agree that sometimes it gets muddy and cumbersome and downright frustrating. But if it’s the structure and organization of the church that keeps us away, then we have missed the point. The calling of all churches is to share Christ with the world, so Christ must be the center of all we do.
That is our calling – to the best of our ability. Let us offer the wings of love – Christ’s wings – to all whom we encounter wherever we are in this world. It isn’t always easy, and it isn’t even always safe, but it is honest and true. It will make the world a better place. Give it a try if you haven’t been doing it already!