Growing up I had a nickname. Not a mean one, but a sweet and gentle nickname, that simply was reflecting on who I was. I was the daughter of the chicken farmer, so I was called “Pipper” as my dad was called “ Pip Hans”.
Some of my fondest earliest childhood memories are of chicken. My father was a chicken farmer and not just any chicken farmer. He was one of the biggest chicken farmers in Denmark with a production of 1.2 million chicken a year. Our chicken farm consisted of 6 large stables that could hold about 30.000 chicken each.
When the small chicks were delivered, they were newly hatched and oh so sweet. And oh, so many. As children my sisters and I were helpers when ever we could. Boxes were rolled in and each box contained 100 sweet yellow chirping chicks.
The floors were covered in fresh cut hay and our job was to help empty the boxes and get the chicken safely in the hay to begin their new life – a short life as it only took about 90 days to raise a full grown chicken ready to be picked up and slaughtered and find its way to the dining tables. A clear example of how the farming industry changed over the years, is that the originally 90 days to grow ended up being only 35 days in the last years of my father’s production.
But as a child, my sisters and I did not think about that at all. We only saw these beautiful small chickens. Chirping and so sweet. And as we removed them from the boxes and places them in the hay, they started following us. In their instinct they knew to follow the hen, - and one of the fun parts about these days on the chicken farm, was when we ended up having a tale of hundreds of small yellow chickens following us. If we sat down, they were all over us. If we walked, they followed.
I loved these small chickens. I loved the smell of fresh hay. I loved the sound of their chirping. And I loved how they followed me and trusted me.
Look at the bulletin cover today. And you will understand why I am sharing this childhood memory with you.
“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”
The daughter of the chicken farmer grew up to become a mother hen.
How often have I not desired to gather my children, our children, together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.
I am proud to be a mother hen – even if I know that our sons sometimes feel that I try to gather then under my wings, when they just want to try to test their own wings.
When our sons were small, they were indeed following me like small chicken and as children should, they trusted they I would protect them, warm them and keep they safe under my wings.
And I know they still do – trust that I want to protect them from all the possible and impossible harm of the world, I want to warm them when they are cold, and I want to keep them safe under my wings.
One time a mother hen, always a mother hen.
Through the Bible we have different images of God. Through the New Testament we have different image of Christ. As the light, the door, the Good Shepherd and as the Mother Hen.
Jesus chose the image of a chicken, a hen, an animal with few if any weapons at all again the foxes of the world. Jesus did not say “How often have I desired to gather you together to fight off your enemies like a fighter.” Jesus didn’t look to Jerusalem and say: “How often have I desired to gather your children together like a general gathers his troops.” He didn’t even look over Jerusalem said: “How often have I desired to gather your together like a bear protecting her cubs.”
No, Jesus chose a chicken, a mother hen, with few if any weapons against the foxes of the world. But mighty in love and mighty in resilience.
We may long for a Mama Bear God, but we have a mother hen Jesus. Sometimes we might wish for a Mama Bear God who would take our side in every argument. A God who will kick some butt? A God who will come in our schools and put the bullies in their place. A god who will come into our temples, churches, synagogues and place of worship and kick the crazy people out. Sometimes we long for a Mama Bear God with just a little roar!
A mother hen, gathering her chicks under her wings. That is what Jesus longed to be some 2000 years ago, and that is still what Christ longs to be today. The offer is still on the table: come gather under the wings of the divine love. Those wings will not protect us from every bad thing that may happen in life, they will keep us warm and dry and they will keep us close to one another.
We are all just small baby chicks, little balls of energy, curiosity and independency who think all our pecking around is so important. We are just baby chicks, but we are Christ’s chicks, male and female, young and old. We are all nestled under those great arms of love, if we accept the embrace.
Jesus had the heart of a mother hen. He understood how frustrating it can be never to be able to gather the whole flock together safely. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
How often have I desired to gather your children together…? But you were not willing.”
You were not willing. As parents we know how frustrating it can be, when we are not able to gather our children under our protecting wings. Christ was frustrated when he could not gather his children under his wings, because they were not willing. Sometimes we go astray, sometimes we do not listen, sometimes we choose to be on our own.
But like the Good Shepherd keeps on calling and looking, so does the divine mother hen keep on trying to gather and protect and warm.
Thinking back on the childhood memories of the time as a chicken farmer daughter, I often think that these moments of gathering all the sweet yellow chicks in your arms or making them follow you – were fine practices in compassion and care. And even more a great reflection on how we all long to find these safe wings to gather beneath. How our deepest instincts tell us to find that place of warmth, protection and fellowship.
We will sing about that place and these Holy wings in the beautiful Swedish hymn by Caroline Sandell and is one of the most beloved hymns from the rich heritage of hymns and folk music from the Scandinavian Lutherans. Karolina Sandelle was born in Smaa land,Sweden, and was a daughter of a Lutheran pastor. She found her voice and calling in poetry and hymns with 650 published. The most important image of the hymn comes from Luke 13 – the Gospel of today. It is all about Jesus being a hen! So as a church and a congregation, let us gather under his holy wings:
Thy holy wings, O Savior,
spread gently over me,
and let me rest securely
through good and ill in thee.
O be my strength and portion,
my rock and hiding place,
and let my every moment
be lived within thy grace.*
Our boys often tease me for being a Mother Hen. Whenever I have both of our boys at the table, they look at me and say: “ Now Mom is happy!” And that is right. Then Mom is happy. Then the daughter of a chicken farmer who grew into a Mother Hen is truly happy. I might not be able to protect our boys from all the foxes of the world, but I will try my very best to keep them warm, fed, loved and close.
When we gather in church and at the table of Christ, God is happy. God might not be able to protect us from all the foxes of the world, but he promises to keep us warm, fed, loved and close. AMEN