Sermon for Year C, The Second Sunday of Lent
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
February 24, 2013
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Herod is like a fox – Rome is like a fox –
The empire and its powers are like foxes – and Jesus is like a mother hen.
Fox and chicken are pitted adversaries,
Both of whom offer protection for their subjects, in their own way:
And the question is asked, Whose generous protection would you rather be under –
The hungry fox’s, or the mama chicken’s?
The fox is the greatest natural predator of the chicken.
A fox knows how to push against every foot of fencing to find any weak spot
So he can burrow under,
Just after sundown or just before sunrise,
And find something to eat.
When the fox does get in the henhouse,
Baby chicks make easy pickin’s.
If you ever lived on a farm, this is a familiar and disquieting truth:
That no amount of wire and nails and boards can seem to keep a fox away.
It’s one reason why my grandma kept her old shotgun in the closet by the front door.
A farm is an economy in itself, and foxes that steal chickens
Greatly disrupt that economy:
Goodbye meat, goodbye eggs, goodbye money for marketing.
Would you let a thief into your house to rob you blind?
This scene gets even more complicated when you think about it,
Because Jesus isn’t a shotgun-toting grandma:
He’s the mother hen in this little scenario.
And what can a mother hen do, really, in the moment,
Except to shield her younglings
And confirm their desire to run!, scatter when the fox shows her face;
But we all know that when it comes down to it,
It is the mama hen who will place herself between the teeth of the fox and her chicks.
I doubt this is how it happens in the moment in the actual henhouse –
I imagine quite a cacophanous scene in which the fox is dodging rooster spurs
And aiming for the biggest catch, the most meat, to feed her own family –
But the result is the same.
A mother hen is an all too easy victim.
And so we walk the Lenten road with Jesus again this year,
Knowing where the story of God is eventually meant to take us:
To a hill of crucifixion, a henhouse called Golgotha.
Yesterday I walked the Seasonals aisle at Bomgaars with my children.
There were a number of high aluminum water troughs
Brimming with various breeds of baby chicks.
They clustered together under hot lights and cheep-cheep-cheeped.
I looked down into these troughs
And could not summon up the energy to say how cute I thought the chicks were;
It was just Jesus’ words from Luke ringing in my ears;
So I could only remark that there was among them not one mother hen.
In the absence of anyone to protect them,
They were as good as the chocolates in the bulk candy boxes at Palmer’s,
And all a fox had to do was scoop them up and pay by the pound.
I collected my brood, and we left.
I recently had the experience of watching chickens in a sustained way, in Africa.
I went to the southwest section of South Sudan, in the east-central part of the continent.
There I found a diocese of Anglicans – a diocese called Nzara,
And I found their bishop, Samuel Peni, and his wife, Mama Santina.
(We’ll have them here in October and you’ll be able to meet them for yourself.)
Bishop Samuel and Mama Santina know a few things about having baby chicks,
Having half a dozen of their own, and being partly responsible for several others.
But they also have a modest colony of real live chickens running around.
These chickens – a rooster and a hen – were a gift from some visitors last year,
And when I visited, there were maybe eight chicks trailing in the mother hen’s wake
Everywhere she went.
The rooster was given to talking to us all the time (especially around 3:45 a.m.),
And he spent quite a bit of time gossipping with a neighboring rooster
Just over the fence, about 50 feet away.
My sleeping space was in between them.
Cock-a-doodle-do! said the one.
RR-rr-RR-r-Rrrr! said the other.
There must have been a lot of good gossip.
They tell us that in the story of humanity,
Where hominids began their long evolutionary trek to becoming homo sapiens,
Africa is the place where it really began.
In a fundamental way, it’s the birthplace of human beings.
Yet it receives no pride of place for such a major accomplishment.
Nzara is a little town in a little diocese to whom history generally has not been kind,
And life in the area of Bishop Samuel’s territory is difficult.
To begin with, Bishop Samuel is 42 years old – a few years older than me.
But this makes him almost an elder.
Average life expectancy, he told me, is mid-forties.
Take that in ...
Reasons why are entirely predictable:
HIV/AIDS … bad drinking water … little access to women’s health care …
Little in the way of public health education … sustained war with the north …
Almost no infrastructure in the way we’ve come to know it (roads, utilities, bridges)
… It goes on.
In particular, there is something called the Lord’s Resistance Army,
A band of guerilla militants that emerged to the south, in Uganda,
That has systematically terrorized the region where Nzara is found.
The LRA conscripts children into its ranks –
Ten-year-olds, baby chicks, with machine guns and sabers –
And it forces them to participate in the cruelest and most vile of human rights abuses,
Including mutilation, abduction, murder, and various sex crimes.
This is an almost cultlike movement that swept across Nzara
Like an infestation of army ants, leaving fear and terror.
Armies from the US and Uganda and other places came in and pushed the LRA west,
Deep into the bush, into hiding more or less, into Congo,
But the damage was done.
As if rank poverty and disease and deprivation weren’t enough already.
If any of this happened in our henhouse there’d be an uproar –
A rush to provide aid and comfort –
But there in Africa, it largely goes unnoticed by the rest of the world.
Bishop Samuel will tell you without batting an eye
That 9/11 happens in his country every day.
With God’s grace there hasn’t been an attack on their soil in almost two years,
And it’s giving them time to think about things like farming and health care.
The soil is rich; there are oil reserves; possibilities abound.
But it’s a long way up.
In other words, Nzara is one of the worst-fenced henhouses in the world,
And it’s full of hungry foxes.
The weaker your defenses, the easier the pickin’s.
And this is what I’m left to ponder and pray over in the wake of my return:
My return to the privileged and may I say chilly USA.
Not, Oh, those poor beautiful simple people –
There’s nothing romantic about suffering –
But just the image and the experience of watching a bishop and a mama hen
Doing their best to try and shelter many thousands of Anglicans,
And wondering what we might all do together to make life better.
In the end, I guess, in God’s wild farming economy,
The job of mother hen falls
To whichever Chrstians have the power and the motivation
To protect the other chickens.
That may mean money. That may mean expertise. That certainly means prayer.
That may even mean changing planes for 36 hours
And immersing yourself in it, firsthand –
Going and seeing something for yourself
Because some things you just have to see for yourself;
Some things are simply beyond the capacity to have described,
And you just have to know on your own.
It is good, sisters and brothers, to witness something completely Other Than.
It’s good for the blood, even if it’s a wreck on your tummy.
It’s good to see a henhouse of eager, prayerful Christians that is unlike any other.
Who pray as though their lives depended on it, because in fact they actually do.
Just like us, if we were bold enough to admit it.
Theirs is a henhouse ravaged by time and circumstance
Where Jesus Christ himself nevertheless is the great high priest and mother hen
Just as we say he is here, with us, just as we equally proclaim.
A place where Christ and the Holy Spirit are palably real,
And where God’s life is lived out by people taking up their crosses each day,
Just as we say is true here, with us, just as we equally proclaim.
A henhouse like any other. Unlike any other.
A place where God is praised, just as he is here,
Amidst the muck and the cut-and-thrust of everyday life.
A henhouse, secure in its own way,
And showing us how to shore up our own and keep our foxes at bay.
In this way we are already one.
Now we begin the long process to simply understand how very true this is.
God be praised. Amen.