I remember sitting one cold January morning having a nice cup of tea with Auntie Anne. She love to laugh and tell stories. This particular morning, I thought I would make her laugh by telling her of the previous night’s adventure. You see that particular Rectory was heated by wood. I would have to say up until midnight so that I could load the stove up and not have to rise again until six o’clock to fill the wood stove again. But to prevent having to go outside at an early hour, There was a box in the office that I would fill with firewood so that I would not have to go outside in cold weather (minus 40°C to minus 45°C) . Over the day the weather had warmed up (to a balmy minus 3!) and so in my bare feet at midnight, I went out for my wood. As I was picking up my second arm load of wood, I came nose to wet nose with a silver-tailed fox. Carefully and purposefully I moved to back away from the animal, dropping my load of wood inside the door and closing it. Grabbing the broom I used to sweep the wood chips off the deck, I gave it a swing and yelled at the fox, “Go on, and get outta here!” I proceeded to chase that fox up and down the length of the bridge (porch) for the next several minutes, swinging my broom and telling the fox in no uncertain terms that he was not welcome. At the end of my rope, not sure what to do I took an extra hard swing, missing the fox but not the pillar that was between us. And having between so cold for more than a week and then suddenly warming up the plastic broom exploded like a gunshot into tiny pieces all over the neatly stacked wood. The fox darted off into the darkness. Anne roared with laughter, “You interrupted uncle’s dinner!” I was silent for a moment and then asked, “I interrupted the fox’s dinner?” “Yes! You interrupted him chasing the rat under your feet which was to be his dinner!”
Over the years I have reflected on that discovery. You see the rats in that part of the world are mean and furry and have much fouler tempers than their southern cousins. I could have easily been bitten by a foe I had not seen. I had not anticipated or contemplated what might have been. Anticipation and contemplation of the future seem to be big topics of discussion in the Church today. We like to think that God is in charge of the future, especially eternity, while we are in control of this moment; this present situation. The reality is that we are not in charge. We aren’t even completely aware of the whole situation! We believe we are because we see the fox and we have the broom in hand. But we aren’t aware of even the possibility that there is a wider picture and that there is a greater danger right at our exposed feet in the form of a rat.
Jesus was concerned for the City. After all what can one say about a group of human beings that think God is dead and Elvis is still alive. The people of the City have not come to realize yet that despite knowing who they are, they have forgotten whose they are. God has sought them out in the person of his Son to renew relationship and covenant with them. They haven’t realized that they are back in the time of “Ichabod” (1 Samuel 4: 12-22). They have not noticed that the glory of the Lord has departed. God isn’t here anymore and that what they have now is empty.
We need to remember not only who we are but also whose we are. Religion must be by its very nature something more than a bunch of rules and actions that people agree to. There needs to be a relationship between people. “GO tell that fox” is a sign from the shepherd that he will not be dissuaded from caring for the sheep. People try to move Jesus by throwing a potential scare into him – you’re going to die… be afraid, very afraid, Jesus. Only problem is he already knows that the City and that hill loom large in his future. Jesus is aware of the bigger picture. He can see beyond all that to the resurrection and what lies beyond that. Maybe it is foolish to thumb your nose at someone as powerful as Herod Antipas but it is vital and important that the ministry to which Jesus gave himself and the ministry to which he calls you and I goes on, unabated.
What this world needs is not a Church that is relevant. The Church can look and sound good to the world and will still fail. The world and its various figures from Tiger Woods to Mr. Toyoda to the latest politician caught in scandal will claim that they are sorry but who is going to offer mercy? Who is going to offer grace and hope? We must remember that the cross of Christ was firmly rooted in this earth so that the earth in us could be redeemed and shown mercy. We are what is wrong with this earth. And we need to decide as Church whether we desire to conform to this world and accept expediency or will we turn and accept that there needs to be a transformation of the Church that will put us in conflict with the ideals of our society because we are being led to serve and to know God by the Spirit.
Whose desires will prevail, God’s or ours? The threat does not come from individuals but from the City. As Simeon noted when he saw Jesus, he said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35). Jesus followed the path he chose to show us the deep love he has for us even in the face of threats of violence and death.
Where does this leave us as Church in the Lenten season? Do we worry about the future? Do we try to be relevant to the world around us? The Church is not here so much to be “relevant” as to be proclaimers of the good news that Jesus is Lord. We need to boldly speak his name and gently live his life in us. The church is not to shrink back in fear because threats are made to its structures, its budgets or even its personnel. As church we are called to live out our lives with courage which means that we show up, we listen; we tell the truth (that Jesus is Lord) from our hearts and we let go of the outcome and the future. Such things don’t belong to us any way. And we hold on to Christ through our faith because we are with him in this moment to be guided along the path that we must take in order to follow him. After all we are headed to the table and the feast, are we not? Let us take heart and courage and boldly speak and gently live being aware of who and what is around us this week.