Three weeks ago I was in Kenya. I was listening to Archbishop Jackson Olit Sapit, a Maasai by origin, who grew up in a small village and by some missionaries received his education after his father died at the age of three.
Archbishop Jackon told us a story of when he was a young man, 13 or 14 years old, and a herder. And on his first duty guarding the flocks and herds at night, his friends had told him that when a lion roared, it was preparing to charge, and that he had spent the night terrified. The joke by his friends is, of course, that lions are far more dangerous when they’re silent, because this means they are stalking their prey and preparing to pounce. They roar when wandering around looking for the prey they will then stalk. His friends told him that in the morning.
Shepherds, in other words, says Peter, need to have their wits about them, because to protect their sheep they need to know what might threaten them – the lions that pose a danger to the flock. The Lion of 1 Peter 5 is a warning to the churches – all of them together – not merely to individuals as we so often interpret it.
We can so easily turn or perceive other people or ideas into lions and consider them a threat, even an enemy. We can make a lion out of shadows, or we can be assailed the lion which has snuck up on us quietly. We as a church, as this Synod, need to be aware and yet not so cautious that we are paralysed with fear and communicate that fear to one another around.
The lion of our time has many faces, some of them modern, many of them as old as the church itself. Notice that in 1 Peter 5 it is described as ‘your enemy, the devil’. Not your enemy, those who disagree with you. Not your enemy, those who troll you on Twitter. Not your enemy, those who say nasty things in Synod – which would never happen. Not your enemy because they are of a different church or form of churchmanship. It’s your enemy, the devil. It echoes Paul in Ephesians saying, we do not fight against flesh and blood – our enemy is the principles and powers in the heavenly places, says Paul.
The lion, as I say, has many faces, but they are not the faces that we see around us. They are not human enemies. Some of them have been around forever. Culture, cruelty, lack of love are pre-eminent, and we can aid the biting of the lion through social media in a way we’ve never known before.
Read it all.