Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 55:1-9 and Luke 13:31-35
Sermon: The Fox and the Hen
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
When I was a child, one of my favorite songs to sing was “The Fox Went Out on a Chase One Night.” We learned it in school and our family has a record with the song sung by Harry Belafonte. I loved the tune and I liked a song with a story. I still do. But every time we sang the song, the goose and the duck got killed. Every time. The fox got into the pen and killed two of the animals who thought they were sleeping in safety and the farmer was unable to protect them.
And so, that subtle process begins, instilling in us the way of the fox. In our collective imagery, the fox is a sly, devious, predator. It is cunning, evil, and dangerous. The fox is a trickster. The fox takes; it doesn’t give. It gets the hens, the geese, and the ducks, and whatever else it wants. And so, in the story we heard this morning from Luke, Jesus refers to Herod as a fox. It’s not a complement. Jesus is calling out Herod as someone who is devious and cunning. Not to be trusted. Not interested in the welfare of others. He will definitely save his own skin, no matter the cost. Kind of sounds like a lot of politicians today. The fox sees death and destruction as the cost of doing business. The fox takes advantage of others for personal gain. No qualms about that. By using power to threaten and intimidate, the fox instills fear and then capitulation ensues. We see this pattern happening all around us. We see fox style leadership in the political and economic realms of our society. We see people taking advantage of others, preying on them, through policies and practices that cause harm and destruction. We see the steady cultivation of fear and intimidation used by the fox. The fox approach to life and leadership surrounds us. We are surrounded by the fox world view, the fox reality.
But there is another animal image in this story from Luke. Jesus also refers to a hen: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. . .” [Luke 13:34] This image of the hen implies protection, security, safety, nurture, and care. The hen does not prey on the young of others. The implication is that the chicks under the charge of the hen are cherished, precious, beloved, vulnerable and frail. Each life deserving of love and care and protection. The image of the hen offers a vision of community where everyone is safe and protected and provided for. The picture of the hen echoes other references in scripture that portray God with these kind of nurturing traits. Here are some examples:
Deuteronomy 32:11-12 This is in reference to Moses and the Exodus –
“As an eagle stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young; as it spreads its wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on its pinions, the Lord alone guided him; no foreign god was with him.”
Ruth 2:12 This involves Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, gleaning in the fields of Naomi’s kinsman, Boaz. Boaz hears the story of these refugees and responds:
“May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”
And from the Psalms – Psalm 17:8 “Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings. . .”
Psalm 36:7 “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”
Psalm 91:4 “The Most will cover you with pinions, and you will find refuge. . .” [adapted for inclusive language]
And from Isaiah. Isaiah 31:5 “Like birds hovering overhead, so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem; The Lord will protect and deliver it, The Lord will spare and rescue it.” [adapted for inclusive language]
Isaiah 49:15 Describing God’s care for God’s people – “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?”
All of these examples show the hen side of the nature of God and of our nature. Jesus lives out of the hen image of the Divine. He gives us a vision of a world where all are cherished and cared for as a mother hen attends to her precious chicks. This world comes into being when we care for each other with divine mothering love.
The hen vision of the world is a world where everyone is wanted and included and valued. Where everyone is safe and cared for. Where everyone is provided for and has the opportunity to make a contribution. It is a society of compassion and care with special sensitivity to the vulnerable and frail. When you think about how we treat the children and elders of our society, we immediately see that we do not live in a way that reflects the hen vision of reality and values. In speaking with David Lomaka, the executive director of Neighborly Senior Services, this week, he mentioned that there are 1,000 people in Pinellas County on a waiting list for Meals on Wheels. Surely, he said, we can manage to give everyone who needs it one meal a day!
Jesus is inviting us to live a hen style reality, to create the hen ideal. It is an alternative to the fox view of reality. Jesus offers an alternative vision; a different kind of allegiance not to self interest but to the common good. It is a life affirming, life giving, life valuing conception of reality. Jesus did not win people over through threat, intimidation, or violence. He won them over with food, healing, forgiveness, mercy, and solidarity. That’s the hen style of living, not the fox style.
So let’s look at a few examples of where we see the fox style of reality and the hen style of reality at work.
Since it is St. Patrick’s Day, let’s look at the traditions surrounding St. Patrick. First of all, the St. Patrick’s Day holiday has become more about shamrocks, luck, green, and beer than about St. Patrick. And that may not be such a bad thing because St. Patrick is known for having used intimidation, fear, and even invoking God to kill people to promote Christianity in Ireland. In addition, his legacy is built on a false presumption. He was not the first one to bring Christianity to Ireland. Palladius, Brigit of Kildare, and Columba preceded him. But Patrick was the most heavy handed, fox style, so he is the one most remembered.
And many of his prayers include the concept of protection because he was engaged in life threatening conflict. He got pushback. He is known for evicting the snakes from Ireland. Well, Ireland has never had any snakes. This is considered metaphor for kicking the Druids out of Ireland. Is that Jesus style? Jesus was trying to bring his religion back to its original heart, back to justice and compassion. He was not trying to start a new religion and he was not trying to evict an old one. The biblical concept is that the Jewish community will live according to the ways of a God of generosity, justice, and right relationship. People will be inspired and want to live like that too, and will be drawn to that way of living. It’s hen style. But by the time Jesus was around, things had gone fox style. It’s very tempting as we see with St. Patrick who was definitely fox style however noble his intentions may have been.
Next, let’s look at the situation in Jerusalem and Israel and Palestine today. In a context of much fear and intimidation, the fox style of managing the situation is prevailing as it was in Jesus’ day, and it is not succeeding in creating peace with justice for all people. Fox style never does. It can’t. You can’t create peace using violence and fear. Jesus is portrayed crying over Jerusalem several times in the gospels; they just won’t see their way clear to do it God’s way. Jesus laments, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem. . . Your house is left to you.” In other words, you will reap what you sow. And several decades later, Jerusalem lay in ruins. The lesson is yet to be learned, however. The fox style of reality is still holding sway today in Israel and Palestine with countless victims in its wake.
This week, we saw another horrific scene of carnage, this time in New Zealand. The pope, whom I respect, called the killings senseless. Well, it is not senseless at all if you are from the fox world view. From the fox world view, such killing sends a message. It makes your life worthy. It is a declaration of supremacy. It instills fear and trembling. It is a display of power through destruction and death. If that is your world view, such carnage is not senseless at all. And from the hen perspective, it is not senseless, it is sinful, evil, and morally reprehensible. And this killing was not senseless, in terms of bodily senses. The killer wanted people to sense, experience, the killing, over the internet – seeing it and hearing it in real time. No, that act of terror was not senseless. It was the fox.
And look at the responses. In New Zealand, the government is seeking to tighten access to guns and promote stiffer gun control. Protect the people. This is a hen response. In the US after such a massacre, the response from many is more guns. That is a fox response.
One of the places today where we see the most beautiful manifestation of the hen view of reality is in the farm worker movement. I was in Gainesville on Thursday as part of the farmworker demonstration at the University of Florida. To put it briefly, the farmworkers are promoting a Fair Food Alliance which is an agreement between growers and farmworkers about working conditions. The provisions include things like water in the fields for farmworkers to drink, protection from toxic pesticides in the fields, a process of reporting sexual harassment in the fields, being paid a penny more per pound for picking tomatoes, and the like. It is very basic and rooted in human rights. Growers who have signed on feel they have a much better relationship with the farmworkers and productivity is increased and things go more smoothly for everyone. Some growers have refused to sign on to the Fair Food agreement. The farmworkers are trying to get their cooperation by getting major corporations to buy only from Fair Food growers. That would pressure more growers to be part of the Fair Food agreement. The Fair Food campaign targeted Taco Bell years ago because Taco Bell was buying its tomatoes from growers that were not part of the Fair Food Alliance. Many boycotted Taco Bell. Eventually, Taco Bell signed on, and so did many growers. Another target was Burger King. They have since signed on. We are still working on Publix and Wendy’s to sign on and to buy tomatoes from growers who agree to the Fair Food program.
The issue at Gainesville is that there are two Wendy’s restaurants on the school campus leasing space in school buildings. The effort is to get the school to cut the contracts with Wendy’s.
When you hear the leaders of the farmworkers talk about their vision, it is of a world where all people are treated fairly and valued in every line of work. It is a vision of a world where all people have equal rights, human rights. It is an expansive, inclusive vision. And they know that they can only achieve this vision by treating others with dignity and respect, including the chairman of Wendy’s and the head of Publix. At the event in Gainesville, there was mention of fairness and dignity for all, with specific citing of gay, lesbian, transgender, bi sexual people, people of every sexual identity. It was also notable that a group of people, predominantly African American, from the Fight for 15, working for a minimum wage of $15 an hour in Florida, were right in there chanting and singing and demonstrating with the mostly Latino farmworkers. It is so inspiring to see a movement of people committed to human rights and dignity for all taking non-violent action to make society more just. It is based on people power. And they are firm in the belief that people can be influenced to do what is right without violence or threat of personal harm. The farmworker movement is based on the power of the mother hen protecting her chicks. They are using perseverance, dedication, persistence, courage, creativity, and sacrifice to achieve their ends; not money, status, or privilege. And they will prevail. They already have. Time and again. The farmworker movement is a hen movement and it just lifts your spirits to be part of it! I was so glad I went on Thursday even if it did mean 4 hours on a bus!
Where does the church stand in all of this? Do we see the church living out of the hen perspective of reality? Or do we see the church serving the fox view of reality? The hen style, the way of Jesus, is a way of compassion and love and mercy. It is not a way of intimidation, threat or violence. It is a way of sharing, giving, and helping. It is not a way of taking, taking advantage, or taking over. We who follow Jesus are following one who extolled and honored the mother hen vision of reality. To live in that reality actually takes much strength and courage. Jesus knew that he would be going to Jerusalem and that he would be killed there. And he followed that path. Anything the Pharisees or Herod, or the disciples for that matter, said was not going to dissuade him. He knew what he had to do if he was to live fully from the hen vision of reality. He recognized the fox, he knew the fox, but he would not capitulate to the fox.
What about us? Do we recognize the fox? Do we know the fox for what it is? Do we capitulate to the fox? It is easy to be swept up in the prevalent world view, to let your guard down, to let fear in, and then to be playing on team fox.
Our Lenten theme is All Things New. For all things to be new, we need the hen view of the world, the way of Jesus, the path of transformation through compassion and non-violence. And, like Jesus, we must be relentless, unswayed by the fox. We must be fighting fear at every turn. You can’t be a hen and a fox, the two just don’t mix biologically or metaphorically. And to be of the hen heart and mind is to be part of living into a world where every person, every single person, is sacred, and where Earth is sacred, as a mother, a home, a provider, to be revered. That takes vigilance, sacrifice, and bravery. The hen is fierce about cherishing, protecting, preserving, and nurturing especially those who are vulnerable and frail. It’s not a passive approach. The fox wants to take you at every turn. We must be vigilant so that we are not taken in but we must never succumb to fear because that opens the door for the fox to get into the henhouse.
So, we are expecting our first grandchild in June. I know I will want to sing that favorite song of my childhood, “The Fox Went Out on a Chase One Night,” to this new family member. But I think I’ll have to think up some new words. It won’t do to have the fox steal a goose and a duck and celebrate the feast. Maybe the farmer, John, and his wife, can give the fox some tofu to take home to the family for dinner. Amen!
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.