You Might Be A Christian If…You Are Kind of Weird At Biology

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Corinthians 15:12-23.

Aslan has died. He sacrificed himself on the stone table in place of the traitor, Edmund. Bound and shaved, the great King of Narnia lays disgraced without breath in his body. Lucy and Susan, much like the women at the foot of the cross, weep uncontrollably. Their beloved friend is gone, along with their hope.

Then, CS Lewis “breaks” the “fourth wall” – a characteristic of his writing. He pauses the activity of the narrative and turns to speak directly to the reader:

I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been – if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.*

That chasm of quiet swept over Jerusalem after Jesus’ body was taken from the cross, swaddled in cloth, and laid in a borrowed grave. That chasm of quiet sweeps over any person and any house where the voice of a loved one used to be heard, but now is heard no more.

Sometimes the quiet is a welcomed relief. There is so much activity following a death that there is comfort to be experienced in the silence.

That silence…is also pregnant. Expectant. Full of energy as it anticipates being broken. What will be the first word? What will transform the silence into song?

The Rev. Jan Richardson is a writer and an artist; her chosen mediums are collaging, oils, and words. She is also a friend. I often turn to Jan’s art when I find myself in expectant silence. Below is a poem she wrote, I am sure, as she imagined the dew settling in the garden as day broke on the Third Day.

For Jan – the first word after the quiet that follows a night of mourning is blessing. Blessing accompanies the dawn.

Risen by Rev. Jan Richardson**

If you are looking for a blessing, do not linger here.

Here is only emptiness, a hollow, a husk where a blessing used to be.

This blessing was not content in its confinement.

It could not abide its isolation, the unrelenting silence, the pressing stench of death.

So if it is a blessing you seek, open your own mouth.

Fill your lungs with the air this new morning brings

And then release it with a cry.

Hear how the blessing breaks forth in your own voice,

How your own lips form every word you never dreamed to say.

See how the blessings circle back again, wanting you to repeat it, but louder,

How it draws you, pulls you, sends you to proclaim its only word:

Risen. Risen. Risen.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

*The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 158.

**Circle of Grace 151-153; explore also janrichardson.com.

From Wreck to Restoration: We Cry Out

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 8:18-9:1.

Eustace is one of the main characters in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eustace is a sullen little boy that is critical of everything and landing on the Dawn Treader’s latest voyage was absolutely the last thing on his list of desires.

Actually, it was not on his list of desires at.all.

The longer the crew sailed, the more incorrigible Eustace became. His arrogance, self-centeredness, and anger worsened ten-fold.

One day the ship docked on an island and the crew set off to explore their surroundings. Eustace made his way into a cave and stumbled upon a great treasure! His greed was all consuming. He eagerly pulled valuables towards himself and stuffed whatever he could into his pockets. Finding a gold cuff he placed it on his arm, which initiated a chain reaction across his skin. His soft skin was transformed into scales, his bones lengthened and stretched, and horns replaced his hair.

Eustace transformed into a dragon.

At first he thought himself quite grand. People did not usually pay particular attention to Eustace unless he was causing an arrogant, self-centered, angry tantrum, but now everyone would pay attention to him! He would show them – all of the thems!

But the longer he sat, the more distraught Eustace became. Feelings of pride became feelings of panic and Eustace realized that he did not want to be a dragon. He was bound to the treasure he had taken that was not his. He had become the treasure’s captive and while everyone else could leave the island on the Dawn Treader, he would be left alone.

Try as he might Eustace could not change himself back into a boy. Eustace attempted to scape away his scales to only find layer after lay underneath. In hopelessness he cried out. In this, Eustace’s greatest moment of humility, Aslan appeared and peeled away Eustace’s dragon skin.

Remembering the encounter Eustace said,

I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt…

He peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm.

And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again…*

Only God could free Eustace from his scales, which were a visible prison built by his sin, and Aslan – Lewis’ God-figure, did just that. Eustace cried out to Aslan and Aslan saved him.

We are incapable of saving ourselves; only God can save. Try as we might to remove our sin on our own, we are incapable. We need God’s help.

When we cry out to God our God frees us and forgives us. When we cry out to God our sin is peeled away and our hearts are rendered tender. We might feel frail or weak, but in humbling ourselves before God to be forgiven and made new, what may look and feel like weakness is evidence of true strength.

At times we can feel captive to our sin in prisons of our own design. Find rest and receive comfort, dear friends, that our God is the God that has come, is coming, and will always come to “bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isa 61:1 and Lk 4:18-19).

Thanks be to God.

Prayer: “Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness. Come, my Life, and revive me from death. Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds. Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins, kindling my heart with the flame of thy love. Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there. For thou alone art my King and my Lord. Amen.”**

*C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader 108-109.

**”An Invitation to Christ,” The United Methodist Hymnal 466.

Plot From The Plain: Unobstructed

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:37-42

While in seminary I was selected as a candidate for a special scholarship for one year of my studies that covered my full tuition AND gave me a stipend.

For books.

And when you’re in my vocation – you have great love for ANYONE who gives you money to purchase books or gifts you books.

Books books books – big love.

Books books books – also a big weight when it’s moving season (over 30 BOXES of books!) – but that’s not the point here.

I love when I turn to my bookshelf for a sermon resource and I can remember how it was gifted to me – much like when I come across most of the things in my house and I remember who gave them to Andrew and me as wedding presents.  The text I sought today came from my seminary book stipend – CS Lewis’ bestseller Mere Christianity.

In the text he offers this thought in his chapter on forgiveness:

For a long time I used to think this is a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life – namely myself.*

Is it true that we can love the sinner and hate the sin?

We are a people – we are individuals – constantly in conflict.  The Apostle Paul describes it this way, “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom 7:15,19).

What causes us to do what we hate?  The sin that occupies our human condition. Sin breeds only brokenness and suffering.  The grace of God seeks to heal and make us whole.  I believe God’s grace manifests within our hearts as self-worth – that which enables us to love ourselves because God first loved us.  That self-worth, which is rooted in God’s love, alerts us to the problem of sin and sets us on the path of the redeemed.

Lewis continues:

However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself.  There had never been the slightest difficulty about it.  In fact, the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man.  Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.  

Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery.  We ought to hate them.  Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid.  But [Christianity] does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.**

He can – she can – we can be cured and made human again.

I am convinced that this cure we seek comes through a life of faith.  It begins with the grace of God that we receive before we are even aware of it.  It continues as we actively receive and are claimed by God’s forgiveness in the moment of our conversion and redemption.  And it continues throughout our lives as God’s grace makes us more holy, as we grow in Christian maturity, as we are perfected in the faith.  The cure is realized as we are beautifully restored to the image in which we were made – the creation that God called very good.

I believe when we “love the sinner and hate the sin” we claim the hope of this cure – this ultimate redemption and restoration.  This doesn’t mean we fail to hold our neighbors accountable – or be held accountable ourselves.  We can hold one another accountable without casting judgment and in doing so we become companions for one another as God sanctifies.

I claim this hope for my family, my friends, my neighbors.  I know – I feel – their claim of this hope for me.

I will love the sinner and hate the sin.  Because you and me – we are equal and walking together.

Prayer: “Where shall my wondering soul begin? How shall I all to heaven aspire? A slave redeemed from death and sin, a brand plucked from eternal fire, how shall I equal triumphs raise, or sing my great Deliverer’s praise?

O how shall I the goodness tell, Father, which Thou to me hast showed? That I, a child of wrath and hell, I should be called a child of God, should know, should feel my sins forgiven, blessed with this antepast of Heaven!

And shall I slight my Father’s love? Or basely fear His gifts to own? Unmindful of His favors prove? Shall I, the hallowed cross to shun, refuse His righteousness to impart, by hiding it within my heart?

Outcasts of men, to you I call, harlots, and publicans, and thieves! He spreads His arms to embrace you all; sinners alone His grace receives; no need of Him the righteous have; He came the lost to seek and save.

Come, O my guilty brethren, come, groaning beneath your load of sin, His bleeding heart shall make you room, His open side shall take you in; He calls you now, invites you home; come, O my guilty brethren, come!

For you the purple current flowed in pardons from His wounded side, languished for you the eternal God, for you the Prince of glory died. Believe, and all your sin’s forgiven; only believe, and yours is Heaven!”***

Amen.

*CS Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 1950) 117.

**Ibid.  

***”Where Shall My Wondering Soul Begin,” The United Methodist Hmynal, 342.