I messed up. Yeah, so what else is new. That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it? Whether you are thinking of me the writer or you the reader, you know messing up. It happens with frightening regularity. Messing up is sort of our standard operating procedure. Our modus operandi, our raison d’etre, and other foreign-sounding phrases that might distract us long enough to get onto another topic! Look! A squirrel!!
Okay, we messed up. It doesn’t really matter what happened; this isn’t a confessional booth. And in the greater scheme of things, it isn’t really all that important – except to the one who pointed out the mistake or neglect, we could say. In that face you can see disappointment and judgment. You can see dismissal, as though everything was summed up in the mistake, as if there were nothing else of value that we might have done that day. We are now defined by that brokenness. I am a sinner. You are a sinner. And we feel about that high. (Picture a thumb and index finger held in close proximity to grasp that last visual.)
There are some experiences, some people who can make us feel small, make us feel insignificant, make us feel unloved. It is a common human experience. A reality sung about in the spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”
It needs to be said that I don’t presume to know what it felt like to be a slave during those terrible years in our nation’s history. Whatever I have experienced in my life is but a pale shadow of what thousands faced under an unjust system made worse by cruel and dehumanizing treatment. And what millions still face under the ripples of those systems that continue to this very day. I can only stand silent as I listen to their stories of neglect or suspicion or abuse.
Yet, a part of the power of the spiritual is identification. “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home”: Who hasn’t had that experience? Who hasn’t felt that fear grip them at a weak or a painful moment? It is part of the human condition that there are times when we feel disconnected, diminished, and unloved. There might be tragic circumstances to cause such a feeling, or it may be the result of our own failures. Or it may be a misunderstanding. Or . . . well, you know. Don’t you? There are a million things, a million moments that can drive a wedge between us and the world, or between us and those we want to love, or between us and God.
Wait a minute. God? Can we be cut off from God? Or more accurately, can we feel cut off from God? Can we feel as though our sin, our brokenness, our lack can cause God to turn away in disgust or dismissal? Well, duh, you might be saying. That’s part of our human condition as well. “Why have you forsaken me?” We aren’t the first to shout that from some cross of pain or emptiness. We aren’t the first to whisper that in the loneliness of our bedroom, afraid that the words haven’t gone any further than the ceiling. “Sometimes we feel like a motherless child a long way from home.”
So, what is the antidote? How do we continue in those moments when we are a long way from where we long to be? We listen. We remember. And sometimes we lament.
There is some considerable agreement that in our gospel text for this week Luke is messing things around again. In Matthew’s Gospel, this lament over Jerusalem comes on the threshold of the Passion. Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem for the last time; he is about to lay down his life. And it is out of that event that Jesus begins with these words, with this desire – to gather the children of Jerusalem (which probably means all the children of God). It certainly makes sense that on the brink of the events that would lead to his death, that Jesus would be lamenting about missed opportunities. So, it does seem likely that Luke took an event out of order so that he could make a point.
But then what might that point be? What does the juxtaposition of the warning from the Pharisees about Herod’s homicidal rages and Jesus’ lament over the city of Jerusalem say to us?
And does anyone else find it odd that it is the Pharisees who come purporting to save Jesus’ skin? These are the guys who would like nothing more than for Jesus to find a speedy and messy end. These are the guys who stumble all over themselves to find tests he can’t pass and questions he can’t answer. And now we are supposed to believe that they have Jesus’ best interests at heart? Yeah right. Even Jesus seems to suspect something because his response is an acknowledgment of a relationship. “Go and tell,” he says to them. “Run on back to the puppet master pulling your strings,” Jesus says. Jesus declares that he is in charge of his own destiny; he is in charge of his worth and his value; he isn’t planning to run and hide from anyone. He knows to whom he belongs. He is not far from home.
It might make perfect sense that having declared his own sense of belonging to his mission and to the one who sends him on this journey, that he then pauses to reflect on the object of that mission and the subject of the love that comes from the one who sends him. It seems right that his heart would break for those who have said no at the moment he is reminded of the cost he will have to pay.
Besides, he has met the fox, so now he heads to the henhouse. Go and tell that fox, he says, that scavenger, that trickster, that unscrupulous schemer, that his power, the power of destruction has its limits. Having chased away the fox, he then wants to gather the chicks. It is as if Luke is presenting us an option here. Do we find our safety and security in the powers that function out of fear and self-interest at least in part? Do we find our connection, our sense of meaning and purpose in those who seek to define us by amassing a count of our failures and disappointments? Or do we run to the one who shelters us in the shadow of his wings, who is broken and poured out through an unimaginable love for us?
We need to know love like Christ offers. We need to cling to that love, to that hope when we walk through those valleys, and when we feel like motherless children. We also need to be in the business of loving like that. All around us at any given time there are those who feel disconnected, those who feel as though no one cares, no one is there for them. There are those who feel that their mistakes define them in your eyes, who need for you to spread your wings and gather them in.
The second verse of the spiritual says, “sometimes I feel like I’m almost gone.” To be forgotten, to be insignificant, to be unloved is a common experience in our world today. Jesus’ love, flowing through us, each of us, as we deal with one another—in the midst of success and failure—is the antidote. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve messed up, he still wants to gather you as a hen gathers her brood. So, come home. Be gathered up by Jesus. The one who longs to wrap his wings around you is waiting, and offering, and hoping. It may seem like a long way, but it isn’t. It’s as close as a prayer.