The Reverend Christopher W. Hogin
Cocooned In God’s Love
The Episcopal Church of The Ascension
February 21, 2016
For some reason a story kept nudging its way in my consciousness this past week. I’m not sure why. The story is a Polish folktale called Zlateh the Goat.
It begins in a small village. Reuven, the local tailor, was having a bad year. It was a mild winter. There was no snow, and it wasn’t even very cold. Because of that no one bought any winter clothes from him. Reuven needed money for his family, and so he decided to sell the family goat named Zlateh. He called in his eldest son, twelve-year old Aaron, and instructed him rise early in the morning, travel to the neighboring village, and sell the family goat to the butcher. Aaron was dismayed. He loved Zlateh, and didn’t want to sell her, especially to a butcher. Still, he understood the family’s dire situation.
The next morning Aaron rose, tied Zlateh to a leash, and hung a copper bell around her neck. He grabbed a tin pail, and then bid his family goodbye. The boy and goat ventured off into the wilderness. A few hours later hiking in the woods, Aaron noticed a change in the weather. It got colder. Raindrops fell. The raindrops turned into snow flurries. The snow flurries turned into snowflakes. The snowflakes turned into snowballs. Soon, a violent blizzard erupted. The wind carried a high-pitched shriek sounding like a chorus of a thousand demons. Aaron and Zlateh were lost. They could not they see. Darkness descended. Aaron panicked. His wool jacket gave little protection from the cold. Zlateh’s hoofs sank deeper into snow. Aaron cried, and prayed to God. He sat down in the snow, resigned to his fate. It was over. All he could do was submit to the howling wind of the cackling demons. They had won.
Then Aaron saw something. In the distance he saw a large frosted lump in the middle of an open field. It looked out of place. Aaron summoned his strength. He and Zlateh, her copper bell clinking, trudged over to it. Aaron realized it was not a snowdrift, but a haystack covered in snow. He became excited. This was his chance. Aaron burrowed into the haystack forming a cocoon-like shelter. He led Zlateh inside. There it was warm and snug. The goat was astonished. This human had led her into a house made out of food. She began eating the straw until she could eat no more.
Aaron patted Zlateh, happy that she was fed. He realized that he too was hungry, and noticed Zlateh’s swollen udders. Aaron placed his tin pail under Zlateh and began milking. The milk gave him nourishment and strength. Outside the blizzard raged, but inside the haystack Aaron and Zlateh remained warm, safe, and full. The straw was fragrant with cut grass and dried summer flowers. Soon, both boy and goat fell asleep, and Aaron dreamed of green fields and sunlight.
The storm lasted three days. On the third day, Aaron awoke. The wind no longer blew. It was quiet and still. The demons had vanished. Then he heard it—ever so faintly. He heard sleigh bells and horse hoofs. Aaron scurried out of the haystack and signaled the driver. Soon, boy and goat were back in the village and received a loving homecoming. Because of the snow, Aaron’s father sold many winter coats. With money in hand, the family was secure and Zlateh remained with them for the rest of her life.
Why do I tell you this story about a boy and a goat surviving the wilderness? What does it have to do with the Gospel? Jesus often confronts demons in the Gospels. We see it briefly today in Luke where Jesus tells the Pharisees that he’s far too busy to worry about Herod because he’s performing cures and casting out demons. Earlier in Luke, Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus replies, “Get-behind-me!”
In Zlateh The Goat, Aaron ventures into the wilderness where he confronts his own demons through fear, hopelessness, despair, and manifested in the howling wind. When Aaron prays he sees hope in the darkness. That hope leads him to shelter, warmth, nourishment, and safety.
My brothers and sister, during this Lenten season we also have the opportunity of venturing out into the wilderness of our souls. It can be a place of beauty, but also a place of danger. In the wilderness we often see things clearly, both demonic and angelic. Use this time to see both. Ask yourself, what are the demons in my life? We all have them. It may be an addiction, regret, fear or uncertainty. It may resentment over how life may have turned out. It maybe disappointment, or an unresolved issue from the past.
Whatever it is, know that the demons will always be lurking in the shadows. They come in the form of despair, pride, envy, anger, hatred, and fear. But we have a choice. We can either sit down as Aaron did in the snowstorm, tortured by the madness of our demons, or we can seek out shelter. We can put those demons in their proper place, just as Jesus when he cast them aside.
Brothers and sisters, consider doing three things this Lent. First, ask yourself, what are my demons. What demons are controlling my life? Are they pulling me away from those I love? Are they in your marriage, your work, or in the people you interact with? What draws you away from God and one another? Are they grudges, or regrets? Confront your demons.
Second, find a refuge from the storm. Look for that frosted lump. Find that haystack, which often emerges in unexpected places offering shelter, warmth, and nourishment amidst the storm. That shelter can be here in church. The shelter can be drawing closer to one another through relationships in community. The shelter can come through prayer, which can be a haven warmth, safety and nourishment amidst the storm.
Finally, have hope. Keep your hearts directed towards God. Just as Aaron dreamed of green fields and sunlight as he breathed in the fragrant aroma of cut grass and dried summer flowers, so also hope. Know that whatever storm rages in your life, whether an illness, a broken marriage, a broken relationship, disappointment, fear, sadness. Whatever it is, God does want you healed. But you must listen to God, not the demons. Cast them aside as Jesus did. Put them in their proper place. Respond by commanding them to, Get behind, not in front of you.
Nothing ever really lasts. The howling winds are eventually silenced. And in that stillness, listen for those clinking bells of hope. Dream those dreams of green fields and sunlight. Remember the fragrant aroma of dried flowers. For when we find ourselves sheltered in the cocoon of God’s perfect love, all will be well.