Scripture Luke 13: 31-35
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you."
He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.'
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
A Word of God that is still speaking, Thanks be to God.
Thoughts about an Imperfect Life and Faith “So much is out of our control”
So to be honest, when I first read the worship guide for this morning as I was prepping for this week and saw the phrase, “herding chicks” I immediately thought of the popular saying “getting your ducks in a row” - which led me to one of my favorite internet memes:
I do not have ducks, They are not in a row. I have squirrels at a rave.
I mean, doesn’t life feel that way sometimes when we’re trying to get our stuff together? The kids, the chores, the partner, the job, the volunteer commitment, the bills, the friendships, the meals, the appointments, the whatever-it-is-we-may-have-neglected on the hamster wheel of obligations and deadlines swirling about our lives. There’s this implicit assumption that we’re supposed to manage that stuff pretty well, or at least, let the right things slide (the kitchen counters are optional and if you have a pint of ice cream for dinner and unvacuumed floors, well, that’s life). Almost forgetting to pay the insurance bill or letting the coffee date slip, tends to be a bit more frowned upon.
These are the things we’re supposed to be able to control and manage. The ducks we are supposed to have in a row.
But so much happens that is beyond our control - big things and small things - the diagnosis, the accident, the infertility, the storm, the war, the loss - we can’t even control how people behave or how they will respond to us - not even (or perhaps especially!) those who are closest to us.
How are we to respond when things happen that are beyond our control? You can’t manage grief or fit natural disasters on a timeline or predict the unpredictable.
It’s easy to ascribe those uncontrollable things to God - like if we aren’t the ones in charge, managing things as we would like, if our human need for control isn’t satisfied, well, then, someone else must be pulling the strings for it all to make sense. Or we talk about karma - some kind of cosmic balancing act to explain the bad things we have no control over. Either way, if we can’t control things, then surely God must be, down to each tiny little thing. It’s a way for many of us to try to make everything fit together, because let’s face it, it’s hard sometimes to admit that there is senseless suffering in the world. It makes us very uncomfortable.
I was listening this week to Emily McDowell on Kate Bowler’s podcast Everything Happens and she talks about this discomfort and the way we humans so often try to fix or solve or manage other people’s pain - or find a way to relate to it to make it about us - or try to minimize the other person’s painful experience. I don’t know if you know anything about Emily McDowell or not, but I first heard of her a few years ago with these amazingly honest greeting cards. Turns out, she created this line of greeting cards because after her cancer diagnosis, she found a lot of people in her life drifting away because they didn’t know what to say, or she would discover people wanting to connect but ultimately saying something unhelpful - like “Get Well Soon” when she didn’t know whether or not she would, actually, get well. Let me share a couple of these cards with you
[normal, lemons, hamster died - check out Emily McDowell's website!]
I look at Jesus in our scripture passage from this morning - Jesus who had all the divine power in the world, who performed wonders and miracles, who shared captivating stories, who proclaimed this liberating message of Jubilee and abundant life - and even he couldn’t control how people responded to him. Even he was surrounded by people, who in his hour of suffering, denied knowing him and drifted away. In this scene, I just imagine Jesus lifting up his hands in frustration as he speaks these words “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
I hear the longing in Jesus’s words - but also the recognition that he’s not in control of how people respond to him. He can offer his message, he can perform miraculous healings, he can teach the crowds along the sea or on the plain or in the mountain, but he had no control over what people would do in response. He didn’t have control over how the empire or religious elites would respond to him. He also chose not to be controlled by those things either.
It makes me consider that there are two invitations here - first of all, we have permission to admit that sometimes all we can do is just…let it go. Acknowledge that we don’t have control over the situation. Throw up our hands - in frustration, in surrender, in grief, in relief and like Elsa in Frozen…let it go. Jesus wants to gather and shelter the people - and yet he also knows the reality that what he offers will be rejected - and he accepts that….and he names it. There is power in just naming reality.
The second invitation is that we can turn to Jesus in these times - not because God controls the uncontrollable, but because God knows what it is like to experience life as one of us. The hurt, the pain, the betrayal, the suffering - the joys too - Jesus navigated those waters too. Jesus longs to be a shelter not so that we can be safe from harm and never have to worry about pain and suffering, but so that we can draw strength and courage to face the things that come our way.
I want to read a portion of one of the devotions here in the book - it’s titled “Being Honest about Disappointment” because let’s face it - disappointment and lack of control go hand in hand. I’ll start here on page 135.
I don’t always know what letting go looks like - but it starts with acknowledgment of reality, the awareness that some things are beyond our control, the trust in God’s presence with us in the midst of - whatever it is we’re dealing with (like the disrupted work week due to illness, the shipping delays, the price of gas, the health crisis of a friend, the response of others when you share vulnerably about yourself, the sudden loss of a job), and the ability to show grace to yourself in the midst of it all. And in those moments, you’ll learn how to better extend that grace to others, to show up in their lives in ways that are less about a need to fix or control or solve - and more about deep presence and compassion and kindness in the midst of the unpredictability of life.
This week - find some ways to let go and show yourself some grace, to stop trying to control and manage things that aren’t yours to control, to name honestly the reality before you, and to find shelter in Jesus, who longs for you to gather under the shadow of his wing. May we find life and wholeness in this good enough space. Amen.
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Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.