Broody Hens ~ The Second Sunday of Lent

Sermon Given March 13, 2022

Today’s gospel pulls us into the world of broody hens and foxes. We spent a lot of time in my Bible study this week talking about chickens. I’m a townie, so I’ve never had livestock or chickens to care for. But one of my priest friends is a chicken lover and has her own little flock. She shared with us about broody chickens.  When a hen lays eggs, they will either lay them and walk away or sit on them and keep them warm. Those who spend a lot of time on their eggs in their nest are broody. There is a deep longing, a deep desire in these chickens for their eggs to hatch, to care for little chicks. While my friend has no rooster and buys chicks that are cared for in their own heated area away from older chickens, if she wanted, she could find a broody hen and when the chicks hatch, remove the eggs from under her and place the chicks under her wings while she’s asleep. When she awoke, she would instantly care for the chicks. The chicks would also imprint on her, following her wherever she went. The hen cares little about whether the chicks come out of her eggs or not. When she is broody, she longs for chicks. She will do everything she can to care for and protect them. 

We, of course, consider a fox to be superior to a hen.  It can easily overpower a chicken. If a fox gets into a chicken coop, it can kill the entire lot of chickens just for the sport of it. There is little the chickens can do to stop it. But a broody hen will surely make the fox pay for its antics. There is a deep power within her that comes from her love and longing for the chicks to survive, no matter the cost to herself.  She will become aggressive to any perceived threat, billowing up her feathers, kicking, scratching, and biting at anything that could harm them. Against a fox, a regular hen is often easy prey, but a broody hen can put up a great fight, giving her chicks a chance to survive. Against a fox, she may fall, but her chicks may live on. 

Through the image of the broody hen, Jesus connects us with the fiercely maternal side of God. There may be things that feel more powerful, forces that come in outside of God’s control, but God is there nonetheless, kicking and fighting and giving us a chance for survival. God is like the mother who would freely choose the life of her unborn child over her own. This is the kind of love that lays down their life for their friends. 

Perhaps this was what the cross was all about. Not debts and balances, not our sinful nature, but God’s maternal nature. Maybe God saw all the evil in the world, how it could consume and conquer us all, how it had even come into God’s own temple, mixing governmental business with religious observance, creating a status quo that made peace with oppression and God brooded. God longed so fiercely to protect, to care for, to save us from the things that corrupt that God was willing to choose our lives over God’s own. The maternal instincts kicked in full force and there was no stopping God. 

This way of love looks weak in the world. Jesus died. The fox had its way in the hen house. That could be the end of the story. But then, the improbable happened and resurrection sprung up all over the Roman empire. It wasn’t just Jesus’ resurrection. The way of God’s love brought healing and complete, true peace to many, both before and after Jesus’ death. Jesus tells the Pharisees that he’s going to keep healing and doing what he’s doing up to the point he gets to Jerusalem. He’s on a mission to help people become who God knows they can be. Healing isn’t about Jesus’ power over disabilities. It’s about people being able to live in community fully, about people being able to be at true peace with each other. That can happen without a single physical healing, it’s not about whether someone can walk, it’s about whether someone has the support they need to move through this world. Jesus gave them support through healing bodies, we can give support today through community care, affordable medical treatment and equipment, through accessible structures and listening closely to other people’s needs. Access is no less a miracle than Jesus telling a man to take up his mat and walk. It appears as weakness to care for the most vulnerable, but we’re following God’s maternal ways, not Herod’s fox-like ways. It is through the care of those considered last in society that we find a better way for all of us to live in this world. We will only have a city of peace, a true Jerusalem, when the broody hen becomes our teacher. We’ve learned too much violence and strife from foxes who kill for the sport of it. 

I find it really interesting that in the Gospels, we are always connected to relatively weak communal animals. We are sheep. We are fish. We are chickens. These are animals that travel in herds and schools and flocks. Their strength is in their numbers. Their ability to escape death comes from their ability to work together for the good of the entire group. A single sheep or fish or chicken is a relatively helpless animal. Without something stronger protecting it, it will likely die. But a whole group can survive together well. 

We were made for such a connection, for such a communal nature. Certainly we are all individuals, but we are individuals who thrive when we work together. Absolutely no one can make it on their own. Even those who become hermits require some connection with others, if for nothing else but trade. We don’t have all the skills within ourselves to make everything we need. We rely on others to provide us with the things we don’t know how to make or aren’t good at producing. We couldn’t be as powerful as we are without each other. We are communal animals. Yet our cultures tend to raise up and celebrate the foxes among us rather than the broody hens. We need a maternal balance to the patriarchal systems of domination because in the end, the fierce protective nature of love is greater than anything else.

There are animals that are solitary and individualistic, that is their nature, but that is not the essence of human nature. We have more in common with sheep and chickens, yet we keep trying to become fierce, to dominate by picking each other apart. We imitate solitary predators to our own destruction. Jesus calls out to us today, “People who want peace, who long for it, how often have I desired to gather you together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! I will not force you.” Yet still, the broody nature of our God longs for us, desires us, invites us to come under the wings. 

What would it mean today to draw near to God, to allow God’s maternal nature to care for and nurture us?  What would the world be if we became the flock of God? 

Maybe it would be a world that is accessible to all, that loves each other like our mother God loves her children. Maybe we would protect each other like broody hens rather than fight like foxes. Maybe we would find that protective wing of God covering us even as evils and dangers continue to arise. Maybe salvation would come to the world. Amen.