Home‎ > ‎Bible Notes and Commentary‎ > ‎New Testament‎ > ‎(d) John‎ > ‎John Chapters 10-19‎ > ‎John 11:1-45‎ > ‎

Runt of the Litter

From "Campaign of Whispers," a sermon preached on April 17, 2011
by Rob Elder

Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor once taught at Columbia Presbyterian Theological Seminary near Atlanta, and lived in the country on a farm, from which she sometimes drew lessons of faith. She once reported that they had a guinea hen who was such a wretched mother, after she laid her first clutch of eggs, she wandered from her outdoor nest, leaving it open to critters who were all too willing to steal her eggs. So the next time she laid eggs, they took them and placed them in an incubator. Nine chicks hatched out, but the last chick…

“… had such a hard time leaving the shell that a piece of it dried to her head, trapping her half in and half out. The cardinal rule of being a [human] Bird Mother is that you cannot help, because the fight to escape the shell somehow kick starts all of a keet’s systems. Those that cannot manage by themselves may die anyway, but if you help them then you wreck their odds…

In what had to be one of the most agonizing tests a pastor can undergo, I sat there in my imaginary straitjacket watching the chick struggle while her shell hardened around her. Her labors grew weaker as the time between them increased. Finally she laid her head down on the plastic shelf of the incubator and did not try any more. Figuring she was a goner, Ed lifted the keet, shell and all, and placed her in the straw-lined wooden box with her siblings. Huddled under a 60-watt light bulb, they were in constant motion, all climbing on top of one another as they each tried to crawl closest to the light.

When the trapped keet heard them cheeping, she cheeped too and the heads of the others swiveled in her direction. Then they called to her (“Lazarus, come out!”) and the sound galvanized her. She lifted her head off of the straw, shuddered all over and heaved free. On orange rubber legs, she staggered over to the pile of warm feathers and dove underneath them, leaving her old shell behind her like a shroud.

The other babies welcomed her by treading on her. This looked harsh, but turned out to be just what she needed. With nine pairs of keet feet, they dried and revived her better than any Swedish masseur could have done…

Within an hour, the keets were all eating… One by one, they walked over to the red plastic water trough and sipped from it as if they had studied instructions on its use in the shell. None of them asked for a chaplain. They did not even need a mother. My job, as it turned out, was not to crack shells, extract keets, dry feathers or pour mash into mouths. My job was simply to make a safe place, keep the predators away, and let the community do what it knew how to do. I hope I can remember that the next time I feel the urge to rescue someone from being born.”

(“Birth Pangs,” by Barbara Brown Taylor, The Christian Century, December 13, 2003, p. 43.)

Or from being born again. Paul wrote, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) But of course, as we contemplate our dying, even our dying by inches, no matter how we may die it is not for this life only, but for life eternal which we hope, through Jesus Christ, who is the very face of God shining on us, saving us in God’s steadfast love.