Under God's Wing
St. Philip Lutheran Church
13 March 2022 + Lent 2c
Rev. Josh Evans
The images are staggering and heartbreaking.
Amid the blaring of air raid sirens and the persistent sound of gunfire and missile strikes, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has found residents of Kyiv and neighboring cities taking cover…
… in bomb shelters
… in school basements
… in metro stations
“It’s not a normal situation,” one resident remarked.
We trust in many things – everything we rely on and take for granted as true in our everyday lives – not least of which is the safety of our homes and cities, and our families and neighbors. We trust that we’ll wake up in the morning and move safely through our days.
The events unfolding in Ukraine are a particularly staggering and egregious example of what it looks like when that trust is broken.
We don’t have to look too far in time or space to call to mind other instances of when trust is broken. Every week, we gather in this sanctuary for worship and community, and we trust this to be a safe place.
Three years ago, around this time, the worshippers at Al Noor and Linwood Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, trusted their houses of worship to be safe places, too – until that trust was abruptly violated by an active shooter who killed 50 people who had come for Friday prayers.
At the time, I was serving what felt like worlds away in Brookfield, Wisconsin … until I received an email from the imam at a local mosque only a few minutes away from our church. “I won’t lie,” he wrote, “our community is shaken. Angered. Scared.” And in that same email, he invited the community to gather Friday night for a service of prayer at his mosque. Where an act of hate and violence sought to separate and instill fear in a community, it only made that community gather more strongly, more faithfully, even defiantly – clinging to God and each other, in spite of devastating circumstances.
In different but similar ways, I see that resilience in the photos of Ukrainians huddled together in bomb shelters and metro stations.
One resident in Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv reported hunkering down all day with her children in their bathroom. “We heard gunfire and explosions all the time,” she said. “We are holding on… we will stand until the end.”
It’s a similar resilience found in words etched on the wall of the cellar of a Jewish home in Cologne, Germany, during the height of Nazi persecution, words given new life in a choral arrangement by composer Mark Miller:
“I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love, even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God, even when God is silent.”
It’s a resilience rooted in trust and hope, even in the bleakest of circumstances.
That kind of resilient trust and hope abounds in our readings today.
On the one hand, Abram’s honesty laments that he and Sarai, his wife, have no children and no heir. But God’s response, far from scarcity, is an expanded promise: As many descendants are there are stars, if Abram can even number them! And Abram trusts in this God who promises, this God who makes a covenant with Abram and Sarai. Trust in God does not disappoint because making covenant promises and keeping them is what God is all about.
We lament, and we trust in God’s covenant promises. We trust in God’s tender, motherly care.
The image from our gospel reading today of a mother hen, gathering her brood under her wings, feels timely. It’s an ancient image, rooted in scripture itself and in the writings of the early church: Anselm of Canterbury, writing in the 11th century, speaks of Jesus as a mother who gathers us; and perhaps more famously, the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich writes of Christ, our true mother, who bears us for joy and life.
The words of another hymn from a Filipino writer, found in our own Evangelical Lutheran Worship, expand on this image Jesus himself uses:
“When twilight comes and the sun sets,
mother hen prepares for night’s rest.
As her brood shelters under her wings…”
In the next stanza, the hymn-writer links that image to another: the scene of Jesus at the last supper with his disciples, caring for them even in a time of crisis, fear, and uncertainty.
Such an image feels especially appropriate in our time, as Ukrainians huddle in the shelter of bathrooms at home, school basements, and metro stations, enduring relentless violence and living through a time of unspeakable crisis, fear, and uncertainty.
While it might feel like worlds away for us, we gather in the shelter of this place, the shelter of Jesus our mother hen. We mourn and lament the brokenness of the world. We offer our prayers in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
Under God’s wing, we also trust in God’s promises.
Trusting in God’s tender, motherly care is to trust in God’s ability to bear us to life, to nurture us, and to protect us.
Trusting in God’s tender, motherly care is to trust in God’s ability to restore our weary world and make whole what has been broken.
Trusting in God’s tender, motherly care, we take refuge in the covenant promise and care of a God who does not, cannot, and will not ever abandon us.