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Fox and Chicken

Luke 13:31-35. Bures 13.3.2022.

Many of us will remember asking our parents, “What did you do in the War?” In turn, I wonder if our children and our grandchildren will ask us what we did during Covid 19. Major World events certainly change our lives. And now we have the appalling situation in Ukraine.

Over the past 2 years has Covid changed your life? I know it’s changed mine.  On the plus side I managed to lose some weight and had time to get fitter. I also achieved an ambition to read the Bible through in one year. Hard going, 4 chapters a day, but I did it. And it was certainly worthwhile.

During that time, however, I found that I was gradually getting more depressed.

And then I started to look at how I was spending my mornings. I would wake up and look at the news on my iPhone. I’d have breakfast while watching the news on the telly. Later, I’d read all the news in the paper. Unfortunately, good news doesn’t sell. Bad news does. I was surrounding myself with bad news! No wonder I was getting depressed!

Do you find you are being dragged down by bad news? With things like Covid and Ukraine, it’s difficult not to.

In the New Testament this morning we find Jesus surrounded by bad news. Israel’s an occupied country. The Jewish people live under Roman rule. Not surprisingly, they hate it. He himself is a wanted man.

To add to his troubles a group of Pharisees come up to him and warn him, “You’d better get out of here. King Herod is out to get you.” But it’s a trick, planned by Herod himself.

The clue here is that Jesus is standing on the very spot where his cousin, John the Baptist, was arrested. Herod had him arrested because he spoke out about Herod’s stealing his brother’s wife. But, despite that, he secretly admired John. He visited him in prison. So, he was devastated when, later, famously, he made a stupid, drunken promise to his stepdaughter. The result was that he was forced to have John’s head cut off.

That beheading haunted Herod. He had nightmares that Jesus was John the Baptist, come back from the dead. So, when he found that Jesus was in the place where John was taken prisoner, that freaked him out. No wonder he sent the Pharisees to move him on.

What is Jesus’ reaction? He doesn’t run away. He doesn’t hide. He doesn’t get depressed. He doesn’t blink.

Referring to Herod, he says to the Pharisees, “Go, tell that fox, I’m going to carry on my job driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow. I’m going to keep going until I reach Jerusalem.” He wasn’t overawed. He had a job to do.

John Wesley was once asked what he would do if Jesus was to return that night. He simply got out his diary and read out his appointments for that day. He had a job to do. No outward circumstances would alter it.

Here, in Luke 13, we see Jesus’ only personal insult of anyone. He calls King Herod a fox – a small, sly creature; neither great, nor straight. It was a fearless put-down. Despite his power as king, Herod was a wimp and he was terrified of Jesus.

Jesus calls Herod a fox; then he compares himself to a hen. In nature, of course, the fox is always stronger and more dangerous than the hen; always out to kill and eat her and her chicks.

(But God loves to turn nature on its head. In our Old Testament reading he promises Abraham a son, to be conceived with his 90-year-old wife! Impossible? – but the result of that promise – the Jewish nation of today!)

In mentioning the hen, Jesus cries out, “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I often I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

Jerusalem is the capital city for the Jews, World headquarters. Over the previous centuries God had performed many miracles for the Jewish people. They had forgotten the miracles. He’d sent prophets. They had stoned and killed the prophets. Now, they’re in a sorry state. But Jesus still wants to care for them, as a hen cares for her chicks.

So, what are the characteristics of a hen? She’s a wonderful mother. Once there was a severe fire in the East End of London. Two clergymen went to find out what they could do for the poor people who had suffered. Beside a charred fence one of them saw what looked like a burnt pile of twigs. He poked it with his stick. The pile instantly disintegrated. Then the clergymen got a shock. From underneath, 4 tiny baby chicks appeared cheeping and blinking into the sunlight.

What the clergymen thought was a pile of burnt twigs was the remains of the mother hen who, when the fire came, had spread her wings over her babies. She had saved their lives. She had protected them, while she herself faced certain death.

Jesus longs to have his followers experience the protection of his wings. Chicks are a great example to us. A chick constantly watches its mother, never strays from her. As they study her, they are learning all the time. We will too, if we study our master.

For people listening to him Jesus gave wonderful advice. Advice, that if the people in Jerusalem had paid attention, could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Here’s an example:

The Romans occupied Jerusalem. Being occupied by another nation must be incredibly galling. One of the rules that the Romans had was that any one of their soldiers could stop any Israelite, despite whatever they were doing, and order them to immediately carry their back-pack for up to one mile. How frustrating would that be!

Jesus’ answer to this rule: “if you are ordered to carry the pack one mile, then offer to carry it 2 miles”. That would certainly take the sting out of the demand. That’s, of course, where we get the expression “going the extra mile”.

To put it in modern terms, suppose Bures was occupied by a foreign army. I am sitting at home watching my favourite programme, Death in Paradise. I’m just about to discover who did the murder, when a soldier bursts in and demands that I immediately take him to Bures train station. I’m furious. How dare he! I want to punch him on the nose! But…. but…. remembering Jesus’ words, I grit my teeth, smile at him and say, “Certainly. But, if it suits you better, I’d be delighted to take you further, say, down to Colchester.” Incredibly difficult to do, but that was Jesus’ instruction.

If only those living in Jerusalem learnt that lesson. But they did totally the opposite. They kept poking sticks at the Romans. There was only going to be one winner. In AD 68 the Romans got fed up. They surrounded Jerusalem. Then began the worst siege of any city in the history of the World. 97,000 people were taken captive; 1,100,000 died. Food was so scare that shoe leather became a luxury diet.

If only they had listened. What a waste.

Thinking of our relationship with Jesus, Corrie ten Boom, the great Christian writer, once came up with a moment of brilliance. She had just led a weekend for students. They were so keen to live the Christian life. They were waving her off as she left on a train. As the train started to move, she wondered, “What thought can I leave these young Christians?” She wound down the window and shouted, “Don’t wrestle – nestle”.

It’s too easy to dwell on the World news and get depressed. We see a “fox” in Moscow causing unimaginable suffering. Thankfully Covid seems to be gradually fading away. But, on the horizon, there are threatened cost of living increases we haven’t seen for 50 years. Too easy to feel hopeless and helpless.

The response to Ukraine, here in Bures, has been magnificent, with the back of the church piled high with bags of supplies 10 days ago. And thousands of pounds already sent to EPIC.

We need to be aware of the World news. But let’s not over-dwell on it. let’s keep praying for the terrified people of Ukraine; ready to give anything we can to ease their suffering.

Let’s continue “nestling”, living under the Master’s wings, learning from him, quietly serving him and putting his instructions into practice.

He himself faced far worse than we ever shall. But he overcame everything; and he did it all for us. Some master. Some wings. Some hen.



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