Saturday, January 17, 2009

Epiphany 2

A reflection on 1 Samuel 3:1-20 and John 1:43-51

The rectory at my former parish in the Chicago area had a wooden deck outside the kitchen that over looked 2-1/2 acres of land, bordered by a small section of woods. At one time this deck had surely been the site for family cookouts and fun, but, because the house had been empty for three years, the deck was practically unusable due to a tilt from end to the other. Underneath the deck various animals had built dens and so it had also become a wild life habitat.

One day, as we were moving in, my dog stated barking wildly at the sliding glass door that led to the deck. And, there outside, standing on its hind legs, was a woodchuck, baring its big buck teeth. Eventually the woodchuck moved on, finding a better home somewhere in the neighborhood.

Over the next few years the various underground dens that resided under the deck, became home to rabbits and an occasional possum. The rabbits we enjoyed, but the possum we evicted, immediately with vinegar and moth balls.
One year we were startled to discover that a red fox had moved in under our deck. Later we realized that it was a couple, a male and a female red fox. Then, by late winter, the baby foxes made an appearance. Thankfully the red fox is a timid creature, mostly vegetarian, and more afraid of humans than we are of them.
As spring unfolded we were delighted to see the fox family, usually late at night, out in the yard, playing. In this case one fox would place himself way out on the perimeter of the yard while the other brought the babies out of the den and taught them to follow, and play, and become fox. At first we thought there were only one or two babies, but in time we saw them all, 8 in total. And very cute. For the next few months the fox family and the Pilarski family learned to live side by side, two very different families, different species, living in harmony.

Easter came early that year. I remember it was a long day, three services followed by a family gathering at my mother in laws. Instead of the usual relaxing and feasting, we ordered Chinese food and began the long process of packing her house. We spent hours going through her belongings, organizing, packing, and preparing to move her from her home of 50 years to a nearby condo.

After all that work was done my family and I headed home, exhausted. But no sooner had we arrived home than we discovered that something was horribly wrong. Our animals knew it first – the dogs were pacing and pacing and grumbling, the cats running here and there from window to window, yowling. Dan and I began the process of investigating the situation. After some effort we realized that one of the baby fox had fallen down the window well and was stuck at the basement level of our house. It appears that in their nocturnal playing the baby had wandered off and fell into this open chasm. The momma fox was beside her self trying to look out for the others and call her baby back to her. But the baby was unable to climb up a four foot drop lined in sheet metal.

Dan and I called the wildlife rescue company only be told that they could not do anything. We knew better than to try and fish the baby out or open the window from the basement and grab it. We knew we had to find a way to get the baby out, if for no other reason than the crying of the baby was upsetting all the animals in my house, both human and otherwise. Finally Dan, the ever resourceful one, decided that we needed to build a ladder to put into the well and hope the baby could and would climb out.

And so we did. Using a 1 x 6 board as the base, we nailed wooden strips cut from 1 x 2 board, creating a solid platform with steps. As we built the ladder, the crying escalated. The dogs got more anxious, the cats yowled louder, and our kids were beginning to panic. Then, as if the chaos wasn’t bad enough and the anxiety high enough, and our fatigue great enough, we realized that another baby had fallen into a second well, and so we now had to build two ladders. Awhile later, the ladders built, and, with me keeping a careful eye on momma fox, Dan slowly went outside and placed a ladder in each of the wells.

Back inside the house we watched as the momma fox called to the babies. To our amazement, one baby, and then the other, figured out how to climb the ladder. As they came to the surface of the ground the momma caught each baby by the scruff of its neck and hauled it to the safety of the den. Within thirty minutes, or so, of placing the ladders in the wells the babies were safe. And our house was quiet.
For me this story is like a parable - of a time of great anxiety when, somehow, two otherwise incompatible members of God’s creation, came together, worked together, and turned chaos into peace.

The reality of God’s love, of the peace of Christ, becomes a reality in our lives, in our world, when we are able to listen to God’s call to us, working together to turn the chaos of our lives, and our world, into the peace of Christ. Our scripture reading today reminds us that, listening and hearing God is a challenge. As human beings we put up lots of roadblocks to God. Thankfully God calls us over and over until our response becomes like Samuel’s, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Last week in his sermon Ed gave us a lesson on what it means to be a Christian, and to follow Christ. Appropriately so Ed grounded this teaching in the baptismal covenant, pointing out that being a Christian and following Christ, or in the language of our readings today, Listening to God, is done by living into the five points of the covenant – continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, seek and serve Christ in others, respect the dignity of others, share in the breaking of the bread, resist evil, whenever you sin, repent and return to the Lord, proclaim the Good News of God in Christ, love your neighbor as yourself, strive for peace – and, most importantly we can do this with God’s help.

God does not ask us to do these things, follow Christ and love as Christ loves, all on our own initiative. God asks us to do these things and then God helps us do it. And that is the foundation of trust. Working together toward the same objective of listening to God, and following God, ultimately enables us to live through all kinds of anxiety calmly and with a deep sense of hope, whether it’s building a ladder for a baby fox, or building a church community.


Hot Cup Lutheran said...

it is really a beautifully told story... and i like that there is isn't a lot of "adiophora" or extra junk thrown in to stretch the point... the simplicity and beauty convey quite graciously the movement intended.

blessings & prayers on the meeting tomorrow...

karlajean said...

I am with HCL...this is graceful and simplicity-full sermon.
the story is so accessible as an image....
prayers for you.

Jennifer said...

As always, you preach truth with grace.
This is a mighty fine sermon.
May your stunning new look amke you feel great, and may the power of the Holy Spirit guide and direct you and those who have ears to hear tomorrow.

Katherine E. said...

Powerful and beautiful, Mompriest. I'm with Jennifer: may those with ears hear the true Gospel.

Sally said...

what a wonderful illustration for a beautiful sermon, thank you

Mary Beth said...

Amen. The simple elegance of this leaves me breathless.

You are wonderful, a treasure. Holding you in the light tonight and tomorrow.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I agree. This is a beautiful sermon.

Diane said...

amen. praying for your time tomorrow.

I am glad I met you.

dust bunny said...


Presbyterian Gal said...

What an amazing experience with the foxes. And what a beautiful sermon.

Anonymous said...

Your sermon is inspiring as always, especially the story of the baby foxes.

I've nominated you for a Friends Award over at my blog.

Crimson Rambler said...

Truly lovely. a privilege to read it!

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