My Aunt & Uncle have a farm, and at one stage they had chickens in their orchard. During the day the chickens would roam free, but come dusk, they had to bring the chickens into the coup to keep them protected from foxes. But even then, on occasion a fox did occasionally manage to somehow get into the coup and cause devastation.
In today’s passage from Luke, Jesus has been approached by some Pharisees, warned that Herod wants Jesus dead. Jesus responds by saying king Herod is like a destructive fox, contrasted with his own desire to draw all those he cares for under his wings like a hen does with her young chicks.
There were no modern-day chicken coups in Jesus’ day, and while owners of chickens may have developed some protection from foxes and other predators, the hen’s role of protecting chicks would be an exposed and vulnerable one.
That is the role Jesus longs to play for us. Jesus went on to Jerusalem as succumbed to the most horrendous and tortuous walk to Calvary, the place of his public crucifixion. Jesus spread his arms of love on that cross and we believe that through his sacrifice and resurrection 3 days later, we find forgiveness, acceptance and love beyond measure.
Jesus longs to protect us from the evil that wants to destroy the hope in our lives. The evil that says we are not worthy. The foxes that distract us from his immeasurable love. The Pharisees were not willing to receive his protection – not willing to trust in Jesus. Are you?
Follow up: Spend some time in prayer this week.
Ask Jesus to help you to see the evils around you which threaten your relationship with him, and nestle into Jesus’ wings of love.
Today’s reflection is also available in Worshipping Together, a monthly worship at home resource.
My prayer life is Rubbish. There isn’t enough of it. I never know what to say, or how to say it. My prayer list is always so long, and I never feel like I ever get to the end of it. I don’t know what to pray, or if I’m praying right. I don’t know if God is doing anything anyway.
Ok – so that may not be how you expect me to start, but I wonder, can you relate? Do you have similar self-depreciating thoughts that make you feel guilty about your prayer life, or lack of it.
If you have thoughts like I do, then I also want to suggest to you, that like me, there’s a mistake in your understanding of prayer.
The mistake comes when we assume there is a right and wrong way to pray.
But there is no definitive right and wrong way to pray – there are simply lots of ways to pray, and we each find different combinations of those ways are what works for us as individuals.
Prayer is, for us, conversation with God and seeking God’s kingdom, listening to God and looking out for the signs of God’s kingdom responding to God and living for God’s kingdom.
When I was training as a local preacher I remember going through different types of prayer…
intercession and petition – prayers for others and the world
adoration, praise and worship – words to adore God
confession – recognising the fragility of our humanity
thanksgiving – giving thanks for who God is
And at times I felt as if there was this list of ingredients that, if all were included in the recipe of a service, it meant the service worked and would successfully bake a good cake for the congregation.
But actually, thinking about forms and types of prayer is not about a recipe to success at all.
I wonder if we’ve failed ourselves by overthinking prayer – and not grasping it’s joy, it’s flexibility, it’s breadth and depth, and its uniqueness for each of us as individuals.
What all those types of prayer do helpfully remind us of though, is that they, along with many others, are tools in our toolbox to resources us in our relationship with God, as worshippers and as disicples.
You see, prayer is not following a recipe to make a successful cake for others, prayer is a tool from the disciple making toolbox that we used to help us as disciples to nurture a relationship with God. To make our relationship with God a good cake.
And for prayer, it’s not actually the ingredients that matter, but the heart from which they come, and to which God speaks and responds.
I wonder, if prayer sometimes too easily becomes a list of wants and desires. Well-meant and good to be prayed, but if wants and desires for others and the world is all prayer is to us, then prayer becomes so focused on the earthly kingdom and asking God to intervene, that we miss out so much more.
Because if we are too focused on the earthly kingdom our attention is drawn away from also seeking God’s kingdom – the kingdom and way of living that God calls us to seek and live out in the world…
When Jesus was asked by his disicples how to pray, he begins: ‘Our Father in heaven, you are holy, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.’
Prayer is a mutli-resourced way of life with a heart focused first on seeking God, and God’s kingdom, and partnering with God in bringing about that kingdom on earth.
Prayer can be conversation, it can be thoughts and feelings, prayer can come while we’re shopping or talking, cycling or swimming, using a prayer book or a mobile phone app, it can be when we are alone of with others, with other disicples, or with those who have not yet met Jesus, via podcast, Youtube video, facebook or a paper book.
May prayer be a tool for us, not to fill us with guilt and shame, but to empower us and nurture us as worshippers and disicples. That we will seek first God, and God’s kingdom.
What habits do you have? Habits can be both good and bad – and sometimes that’s different for different people…
For me, in the last year because I’m working from home more I’ve definitely got into an unhealthy habit of snacking, but I have spent more time reading and walking, which is, I think, a good habit for me.
The important thing when it comes to habits, is are we in control of it, or is the habit controlling us?
I was reading information on a study this week that suggested adults look at their phone every 6 and ½ minutes. I made me aware how often I look at my phone, and made me wonder whether I’m in control of the habit, or if the habit is controlling me.
In Mark 8 Jesus says to his disciples and the crowd around them:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”
This call to deny ourselves initially might feel like Jesus is saying ignore your own thoughts and desires they don’t matter when you follow me. But I don’t think that’s quite what Jesus is saying. Actually, I think Jesus is saying we do matter, and it’s because we matter, that Jesus wants to help us to keep our desires and habits in check and under control – and guided by the life that Jesus lived on earth – that becomes a blueprint for how he calls us to live.
To deny ourselves is not about us not mattering, quite the opposite – it’s about ensuring we develop healthy habits that benefit the physical and spiritual wellbeing our ourselves, and those around us.
During lent we sometime stalk about giving something up – chocolate is common – but that’s not really what Lent is about. The period of Lent is really about self-discipline, and reflection – asking ourselves are we developing and living in healthy habits that help our physical and spiritual wellbeing, and asking God to help us.
Jesus goes on to ask what benefit there is to have the whole world, but forfeit life. In his worship song, Tim Hughes words it “What good is it to gain the whole world, But lose your soul?”.
If we don’t work to ensure we develop healthy habits, we can fall into a hole of building up our earthly, worldly kingdoms – healthy bank accounts, homes filled with treasures, but loose sight the Kingdom of God – which trades not in cash and material possessions – but in justice and love.
Pray today, and ask God to help you reflect on what healthy habits to nurture and developed to benefit the physical and spiritual wellbeing our ourselves, and those around us.
Looking back on the interruption of 2020, and the interruption that the season on Advent encourages us to look towards.
What has given you peace this year? What is giving you peace today? Comment below, I’d love to hear your experiences.
Lydia, my youngest daughter, is 4 and an early riser – it’s unusual if she wakes up after 6am, usually, around 5:30 in the morning we’re awoke to Lydia coming into our bedroom asking ‘is it morning’, ‘can I have a cuddle’, ‘can you help me put my tights on’, or ‘wake up’!
Louise, my wife and I often respond with something of a grunt, a groan, or a go and play in your bedroom, but Lydia has none of it, she’s wide awake and she wants our attention.
During Advent, Christians often read some of the story of John the Baptist, an older cousin of Jesus who was himself called by God to tell people of the coming one, who would bring signs of the kingdom of God.
Right at the beginning of Marks gospel we read some words that we also find in the Old Testament – which point to John the Baptist as a messenger preparing the way for the Lord – the coming one.
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
The message at the start of Mark’s gospel is – ‘wake up – make space for the coming one!’ Pay attention to the signs of the coming kingdom.
The use of the words that are also in the Old Testament make a link with the words we find there. Some of them come from Isaiah 40, which is a chapter that begins with the words:
Comfort, O comfort my people, says God.
They are reassuring words, because they remind us that God cares for us, loves us and wants to comfort us. That in making space for God in our lives, the turmoil of life is interrupted by the coming one who came to bring peace to the world.
There’s a myth that God is sat on a golden throne looking down on use little humans wagging his finger in judgement, saying we are awful people who deserve to be punished. There’s even been Christian leaders suggesting that COVID-19 is God’s punishment on us. That’s codswallop.
God doesn’t sit on high, at a distance, judging us. God is among us and with us.
God knows the mess that the world is in, knows we, the human beings God made, are not always the best at looking after the world and one another.
But God knows we try our best and doesn’t focus all effort on punishing us. God loves us and wants our living together to be interrupted by peace, that we might live in peace with one another.
We’ve seen that interruption this year as we sacrifice our own wants and desires, to limit our activity and care for one another through pandemic.
Christmas reminds us that God came to live among us and show us signs of the kingdom of God now. One day Jesus will return and establish an even greater kingdom where all is well, and filled with peace.
But as we journey towards Christmas and hear the message wake up, make space for the coming one – we discover that the coming one, Jesus, has come to make God’s love and care for us more real for us today. The kingdom is now.
So while we know the world isn’t perfect, We know we’re not perfect – perfection isn’t want God is asking of us right now. What God is asking of us is to wake up and be open to be interrupted with peace, to let God’s peace flow into our lives, and flow out into our relationships with one another.
May your life be interrupted… by peace.
All shall be well in his kingdom of peace; freedom shall flourish and wisdom increase; justice and truth from his sceptre shall spring; wrong shall be ended when Jesus is King:
Sing we the King who is coming to reign, verse 2, by Charles Silvester Horne
Throughout August I will be encouraging us to reflect on things we have learn and are learning through lockdown about self, God and being Christian community.
On the 1st September 2016 we moved to Queens Foundation, Birmingham where I was to begin my training. As we’d only got a small, 2nd floor flat for the 4 of us, college had offered us a garage, and, at first, we parked the car in it.
On the 2nd September 2016 we took a trip to the supermarket. We got back, unloaded and I shut the garage door – it was quite stiff to shut, but I kept pushing, thinking, I must get some WD40 for that… until I realised I never locked the car…or shut the boot. I went to re-open the garage door to discover that the boot and garage door were now hitting each other – I couldn’t open the garage door beyond a few inches.
I spent about an hour trying to work out how to solve the puzzle. In that time, I met various other students and members of college staff, their first introduction to me was seeing a stranger trying to break into a garage…thinking back I’m not surprised those conversations started with some suspicious looks.
Eventually, I managed to reach through the top gap of the garage door get some rope tied to the car boot, then reach through the bottom gap and pull it down to get the garage door open. The car boot had a few scratches, but at least I’d got access.
Before lockdown, my experience of church communities is that our default way of people accessing ‘church’ was by attending a church building. Within these buildings we hold services of worship, community drop-in’s and coffee mornings, prayer groups and bible studies, toddler groups and quiz nights.
As lockdown came in access to all these things was stopped. Our buildings we’re locked as part of the nationwide effort to reduce physical gathering and push down the spread of COVID-19.
So during lockdown, our default way of accessing ‘church’ – by gathering in a church building – was suddenly blocked from us – just like my car was when I foolishly shut the garage door.
This led to two things – firstly – creativity. Utilising post, email, phone, blog posts, YouTube, video and telephone conferencing and more. Creatively developing lots of different ways for people to engage with church without the building. – to be a scattered church
Secondly – it led to greater self-responsibility. What do I mean?
Well I mean that because accessing ‘church’ has not been about gathering in a building, individuals have had much more responsibility themselves as scattered church for nurturing their faith and relationship with God. The format moved from what could perhaps slightly crassly be described a passive attendance to active engagement. People had their own space and freedom to choose how to engage, how to be church.
Not only that, but people who for one reason or other were much more cut off from the worshiping community, for example living in care homes, working on Sundays or caring for relatives, feel they are included and connected to the worshiping and spiritual life of the church community in ways they never did before.
In the gospels we read the familiar story of people bringing children to Jesus for him to bless them. The disciples try to stop it – children, it seemed didn’t matter. But Jesus rebukes them and says let them come to me – the kingdom of God belongs to them too.
It is a passage that’s often used within infant baptism, that vulnerable, innocent children are welcomed by Jesus.
But I wonder, if we take a step back from the story itself, and see it in light of Jesus wider ministry, healing the blind and crippled, spending time with tax collectors and zealots, the excluded and the vulnerable, this passage may take on even more meaning for us.
I wonder if this passage might challenge us as worshipping communities to reflect ourselves on where we might, intentionally, or un-intentionally, be excluding people from being a greater part of the community.
Developing an attitude of access
Lockdown has forced me to look differently at our church communities and makes me wonder if we may have fallen into the trap of letting buildings become too central to our common life together. It makes me wonder how passive we’ve allowed that life to become – and how it unhelpfully and unfairly excludes those who for one reason or other, cannot access it.
But it’s also show me that there are simple ways to begin to redress that balance and build a more accessible and inclusive community. That there are ways access can be achieved for those who are excluded – in part by having a little less focus on buildings, and a little more on discerning how best to connect with people where they are, not where they are not, with our focus on the kingdom of God.
And it’s also shown me the fruit that is borne when individuals have more active self-responsibility for their worshiping and spiritual life.
What may all this mean for the future?
I sense a strong challenge from God – challenging us to not build up ours walls in a way that they keep people out, but to build up one another in a way that allows us to bring people in.
What walls may we need to allow God to break down so that we can grow into a more inclusive and active community that keeps the kingdom of God at the centre?
Where do we pin our hope in an age of fear? Fear can be both rational and irrational, it can make our world smaller and less hopeful. Fear can be a place where it is harder to dream big for the future, and can be harder to know where God is in the middle of it all.
And in the midst of global pandemic, fear is undoubtedly a part of human living for many of us at the moment. But what do we do with it? How do we fit the fear we feel within our Christian faith that speaks of freedom, healing, and transformation?
This is a book for anyone living with the realisation that the life is a little broken. For anyone wanting to resist the temptation to retreat into our armchairs and ignore the world.
This is a book that resists the culture of fear that can be seen to be growing in society, and growing among Christian communities.
This is a book that encourages us to discover and rediscover the mystery of hope, which will bring us face to face with the nature of God, character of Jesus and playfulness of the Holy Spirit.
Using the biblical story of the exile, Cox-Darling brings a prophetic voice for Christians to hear. During the exile, the absence of a place of worship was destabilising to sense of community. Yet the story of the exile can was a catalyst to God’s people discovering the true identity of God.
Through rich threads of biblical exploration. Joanne Cox-Darling is convinced hope can be a present reality for us, not just a distant future. That we can find hope in the Christian story, that the church is a window to a community of hope-filled rebels striving to seek first the kingdom of God.
Within these pages, be encouraged to look again at the Christian story as a place to discover a hope-filled resistance, reminded that at the heart of the gospel is the truth that death and despair are never the end.
Discover hope as a catalyst that believes the world can be different, that our living life can be different. That hope thrives in a community of broken people willing to live in brokenness.
Find a call to faithfully and hopefully respond to God who knows our struggle, can meet us in unknown places and offers us stability and constancy, and the hope that things can be better and brighter. God who is the source of all hope, who begins to restore the brokenness, makes a difference to our living, and help us glimpse the light of the kingdom of God.