Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Reflections from The Hill – Why a Chook? – Luke 13.31-35



Our Bishop, with a party of twenty-something others, are currently hooning around Jerusalem and its environs taking in the sights, tasting the food and soaking up the culture of that most ancient locality. OK, maybe not hooning.


I don’t suppose that this, or any other, party of pilgrims will be found doing what The Bloke did in his day – and by that I don’t mean perform miracles or walk on water.


When we meet The Bloke in today’s Gospel Reading, he’s in the middle of speaking a Lament – one of two in Luke – over the Holy City. A Lament is a prayer for help that comes out of the pain of what’s happened/ing.


What’s happening there is obvious: first, there’s the underlying pain that The Bloke is going to be killed in Jerusalem and the Pharisees (yes, some were among his buddies) have come to warn him that The Old Fox is scheming for his demise.


Then there’s the pain The Bloke is carrying about Jerusalem itself. The Bloke speaks out of his pain over a Holy City that has rejected his offer of comfort and protection.


Pain and suffering are universal. Each of us can recall many of our own painful experiences, even as we read these words. The question is, though: what do we do with the pain and those recollections?


Today’s Reading provides a clue. What did The Bloke do? Well, first he found a chook, a kind of heavenly visual aid.


Why a chook? Of all the animals written about in The Good Book, he had to pick a chook. With no other reference to hens anywhere else in the whole Bible, I find this both amazing and quite interesting.


He could have picked any of the 138 animals listed there – a lion, a bear or even an ape would do – but, without any precedence, he chose the chook; a choice hardly selected to inspire confidence, unless you’re a chicken, of course.


Yet we can see where The Bloke’s coming from. His choice is pretty typical: turning expectations on their ear by giving out the prizes to losers, children and peasant and relegating scholars and rulers to the bottom of the pile. So much for my Grad. Dip.


Naturally, he chooses the chook. He will always choose the chook, about as far removed from foxes as you can get. Would he have done different? Nah.


As always, he gives us options: we can spend our time going around looking for chickens to eat or we can lose our life protecting them. That’s the options.


One thing’s for sure, as theologian Barbara Brown Taylor reminded me in an article she wrote for The Christian Century, The Bloke won’t be The Top Fox in this or any other story. (She used different, theologian words, naturally.)


He’s going to be Mother Hen, putting his Body on the line between his brood and the assailant(s) who have schemed to inflict harm and to bring lots of collateral damage with them.


She got no fangs, no claws to speak of, no Stallone biceps. All she got is a heart and a body that’ll shield her littlies: if The Fox wants them, he’ll have to take her first which, of course, is what he did.


While everyone was asleep, he crept in. She wakes, cries out. The chickens scatter and she dies – wings spread-eagled, breast exposed, defiant, victorious.


There’s not a mother alive who wouldn’t do the same, be it chook, dog or human. Yet it can be a tragic tale if it wasn’t for the idea of hope. Without that, we have nothing and it’s there that Laments come into their own.


The Lament is a powerful tool for restoration and renewal. It’s a matter of banging away at this for our proclamation of the Resurrection doesn’t obliterate the reality of the Crucifixion or the Burial.


We don’t take the figure of Christ off the Cross, or hide it behind a banner or in a cupboard, as some have done. We daren’t jump too quickly to resurrection, skipping over the Lament.


Perhaps we are discovering a different aspect to Lent, one that addresses both national and personal trauma through the practice of Lamentation, a prayer that comes out of pain and brings healing with it. Now, that’s hope.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Reflections from The Hill – Silence – Luke 9.28-36


They’ve built a church there, of course, a huge and ornate structure set on a mountain and filled with glorious art work. At least that’s what the pictures show.


It’s visited each year by thousands of onlookers, many hoping that a bit of the glory might fall on them. Even a small cloud would be enough.


It seems that Peter got his own way, even though there’s only one booth, not three. My crazy mind asks “Who missed out? Moses? Elijah? Jesus? Maybe all three?”


Let’s not be too hard on Pete, though: if the truth be known, we’re all a bit that way inclined. We all like our hammers, hanging on to them for dear life with our memories of glory.


We all know what it’s like to be an onlooker, gawking, helpfully offering to do unhelpful things. “Er, um … here, look, I’ve got a hammer, let me use it, let me nail this moment down.”


We God-botherers do it all the time, creating space where people can somehow enter the glory. We’ve studied the Word, you know. We know, too.


We’ve designed the Pew Bulletins and written the sermons. We know. We’ve done the study, got the degree. We know. Our hammers are word-shaped: words, words and more words.


It’s tough talk to encourage preachers to not use these hammers, and yet – apart from Pete’s blurt – that’s what happened: “And they kept silent …”


If the experience of glory only leads us to keep silence, why speak? Why write? What is there to say?


It’s a great paradox. On the one hand there’s the reality of The Presence, drawing us to a face so radiant and clothing so bright that our Ray-bans are useless, a Presence that so many of us long for, sing about, anticipate just the same.


It’s not unlike remaining in the movie theatre to watch the credits roll, not being quite ready to make the transition from what we’ve just seen into the chaotic world outside. “It’s good for us to be here.”


One of those emails that regularly appear in my Inbox said it better: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”


The other side of the paradox is the demise of The Transfigured One, told with poignant alacrity. It is well to note that the distance from Mt Tabor to Golgotha is not so great that we should lose sight of either.


The point is that glorifying God always leads to sacrifice. As if on cue, the Reading for today is followed by the clamour and chaos of a shrieking, convulsive boy.


Coming off the mountain introduces us to the accompanying valleys of sorrow, despair and illness. We are led minister in that mess all and every day.


Before that, though, The Big Fella directs us to listen, an action that requires us to be silent, not just from words, but also from the noisesome pestilence of our inner desires and intentions.


That there are paths from the mountains to the valleys may be obvious and, to be fair, expected. What isn’t clear is their location: these paths are very difficult to find.


Listening becomes an overture to the symphony of following and doing but it is a key. Get this one right and the rest follows.


While the space between Sunday and Monday maybe sometimes huge, the ever-present danger is to stay behind and to get lost in the clouds.