Tag Archives: Chronicles of Narnia

Needed by the Kingdom

A Sermon for 8 January 2017 – Baptism of the Lord

A reading from the prophet Isaiah 42:1-9. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.   Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: ‘I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the fifth of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia; Eustace stands out. He’s the sniveling cousin of Lucy, Edward, Peter, and lil Susan too. In case you’re unfamiliar with Narnia, you need to know that the four siblings Lucy, Edward, Peter, and Susan live in parallel worlds. In the real world, they’re bored, commonplace kids. But in Narnia, they are royalty. They’re the queens and kings the kingdom frequently needs. Without their valor and courage, their trust and love; the kingdom is held captive by the evil forces of the snow witch; or in the case of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by a mysterious, demonic mist that takes captive those who encounter it. Cousin Eustace doesn’t believe. Not one bit. He hates having Lucy and Edward in his home in the real world and finds all their talk about this mystical Narnia place, in which they are something other than a total pain to him, absolutely rubbish!

It would happen, of course, that one day, Eustace falls into Narnia right behind Edward and Lucy. Despite the sights all around him – including a talking, sword-wielding mouse – he still doesn’t buy into the notion of a Narnia kingdom where their help desperately is needed. . . . Over the course of events, Eustace becomes a flying, fire-breathing dragon. And as the dragon, Eustace takes on the unique qualities needed to combat the devilish mist. Of course royal Lucy and Edward are needed too. But without fire-breathing, dive-bombing, scaly-skinned Eustace; the mist which holds its prisoners captive cannot be defeated.

Baptism of the Lord Sunday seems a good day to remember Narnia. For today we are confronted, not only with Jesus’ baptism, but also with our own. It’s been a while since we’ve had the joy, in Baptism, of pronouncing a new child as God’s very own. And when last have you experienced the excitement of watching an adult bow to embrace the reality of Christ’s royal mark? Every time we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism, we all are reminded of who we are and to whom we belong. The purpose of all our lives is re-affirmed again as we, the church, rise refreshed for life in the world. That’s why we do baptism the way we do as Christians of the Reformed Theological Tradition. Baptisms are public, with vows taken both by the individual (or as in the case of infant baptism, for an individual) AND by the congregation. We believe baptism is a sign and seal of what the Sovereign God already has done in Christ. Though we might live in the real world where too often we feel like boring, commonplace Lucy and Edward; the truth of it is for us that we too are royalty – children of the most high God who are needed in the kingdom.

It would be really helpful if we did a better job as the church in remembering and marking the passage of our baptism dates. Do you know yours? Do you light a candle on that day or get out a keepsake bulletin? I urge you to. And parents and grandparents: if you don’t yet, begin this tradition with your children. Because on the day when you were baptized – whether you were a baby so you can’t remember it now or maybe dunked as a teenager in this or another tradition – our baptisms are a very BIG deal! . . . So many want to focus on baptism as an assurance of God’s gift of salvation. But honestly that’s not the purpose of baptism in the Reformed Theological Tradition. For us, baptism is not a form of dispensing God’s grace to us – nor is our other sacrament, the Lord’s Supper. Rather each act is a reminder to us of what God already has done – the crucifixion and resurrection are over. We are set free for abundant life now! Let the ritual – let the act of feeling water on your head and tasting bread and juice in your mouth – let these rituals remind you of who you are, to whom you belong, and how you are to live each day in the world.

Consider Isaiah. It may seem a bit odd to read this Old Testament Servant Song as the focus of Baptism of the Lord Sunday. Because, who really is the servant? Historically some have said the prophet was writing while the Israelites were in exile. Cyrus was the exalted servant (Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 1, Stephanie A. Paulsell, p. 220). After all, he was the great Persian king who would defeat Babylon and pave the way for the people to return to Jerusalem. Others think Isaiah is speaking of Israel itself. Thus the whole community is God’s servant, chosen to protect the weak and gently cup their hands around any dimly burning wick so even the littlest light will not be snuffed out (Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 1, Stephanie A. Paulsell, p. 218). Much like Matthew’s author does, many Christian commentators have read Jesus into the Old Testament to insist that Isaiah’s servant refers to our Christ. As the Messiah, he is considered the fulfillment of such prophecy. Indeed we know Jesus to be one upon whom the spirit of the LORD rests – the one whom God called Beloved, with whom God is well-pleased (Matt. 3:17). The one who would not faint nor be crushed until justice is established on the earth (Is. 42:4). . . . All options are viable in thinking about who this servant is in whom, according to Isaiah 42, God’s soul delights. . . . And so too are you. As the church upon whom God’s Spirit has been poured out, we can hear the first of Isaiah’s Servant Song as a gift to us. Blessed words spoken by God to us: “Here you are; my servants, whom I uphold, my covenant children, in whom my soul delights” (Is. 42:1). I love the way the version of the bible called The Message lays out these marching orders from God. Listen: ‘I’ve bathed you with my Spirit, my life. You are to set everything right among nations. No need to call attention to what you do with loud speeches or gaudy parades. You won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt; you shall not disregard the small and insignificant. But steadily – firmly – you shall set things right. . . . Open blind eyes – if not literally then figuratively – release prisoners from dungeons, empty the dark prisons in which too many are caught’ (Is. 42:7).

Can you see how the words of Isaiah are words that give form to our baptismal vows? We are the royal servants that the kingdom needs. Our valor and courage, our trust and love are the unique qualities needed to combat the forces that still seek to take captive whoever they can. . . . I know sometimes it’s hard to remember. I know sometimes life in the real world can push us down until with Narnia’s Eustace we don’t believe. But remember, children of the covenant, remember household of God: we are the royal servants the kingdom so desperately needs.

As we prepare to reaffirm our baptisms, remember who you are, to whom you belong, and how you are to live in the world each day.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All right reserved.)


A Sermon for 7 February 2016 – First Sunday during Lent

A reading from the gospel of Luke 4:1-13. On this first Sunday during the season of Lent, we hear the gospel of Luke’s version of what happened to Jesus right after he was baptized. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.’ ” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus answered him, “It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

If you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis, then perhaps you remember his Narnia Chronicles. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are the siblings who step through the wardrobe door to discover the wonder-filled world of Narnia. The whole series is an adventure in that magical place where the siblings come to know their true selves. They live in the real world – and similarly at first in Narnia – unaware of who they really are and what their lives have been destined for from the start. It is as if the circumstances of life in the real world left them with a sort of amnesia. A film of forget-fullness regarding their true identity. Through a series of fanciful events in Narnia, the siblings finally see that they are royalty. Heroic kings and queens of the land – there to ensure the forces of evil are battled. Aslan, the great talking lion, guides them in their quest that is as much about them discovering who they are and what their lives have been destined for from the start, as it is about fighting against the malevolent forces trying to capture Narnia. . . . It’s the classic hero’s tale. The unsuspecting under-dog who rises to the challenge of their life to impact the world for good. To claim the fullness of who they are – the hidden powers within that are needed to battle inner and outer demons on the path that twists and turns until at last the hero stands triumphant. If only the hero can remember their true identity, then for sure all else shall be well.

If only . . .

Naturally the gospel of Luke is going to start the adventure with such a struggle. If only the hero can claim his true identity. If only the one of royalty can remember his deepest self. If only the one freshly baptized in the Jordan River by John and driven out by the Spirit into the wilderness place of testing. If only Jesus can remember who he really is and what his life has been destined for from the start; then, for sure, he will stand triumphant in the end. . . . Each Lent we’re given this story on the Sunday at the start of the season. Too often it’s been presented as some sort of super-human ability to best the devil at his own game. You know – withstand with the strongest will-power the deepest temptations of our lives; so that somehow people end up making empty vows during the season of Lent to overcome the temptations of certain vices – like chocolate cake or swearing or beer. As if that’s what the season of Lent is all about: shoring up our own will-power in order to beat some devil at his own game. . . . If only. If only. . . . If only we realized the testing in the wilderness is the hero’s training ground. It’s not so much about temptations as it is about amnesia – a forgetfulness of his true identity and the God-given destiny about which his life is to be.

A close reading of the text shows us that Jesus just has been baptized. He’s just heard the Voice declare: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). The very next voice he hears echos: “If . . .” Really? “If you are God’s son . . .” To the best of our knowledge no one was there but Jesus and the Tester – and the Spirit. Which goes to show that if is a powerful, little universal word that pops up in the voices in all of our heads. Forty days fasting in the wilderness left Jesus vulnerable. Would he remember The Voice? Would he remember the Way of the Voice: the self-emptying path of the Voice that is love – the greatest force for good the world ever has seen? Would he overcome any doubt the Tester sought to provoke? Would Jesus remember his true identity and that for which he had been destined from the start? . . . That’s what’s at stake out there in the wilderness. If only this one can remember.

If only we can. Because how easy is it for us to forget who we really are and what our lives have been destined for from the start? Lent is about that remembering. It’s our annual forty day testing ground to see if we can remember our true identity and that for which we have been destined. In years when snow doesn’t prevent it, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday – or today as we’ll do in a few minutes – with the self-emptying sign of love traced in ash. Right there on the same spot where we received our mark of baptism, we begin our Lenten journey with an ashen cross that calls us to deeper dedication in following the path of Christ. We are reminded that we too are royalty: sons and daughters of the Sovereign of the Universe! Children of the LORD God Almighty! Heroes on the winding way of life here to wrestle inner and outer demons until at last we stand triumphant. If only . . . If only we remember our true identity, then we too can empty ourselves of our own wills to pray in deepest trust with Christ in Gethsemane: “Thy will be done through me, O God. Thy will be done through me.”

Life out there in the real world can make us forget, or leave us wondering if it ever was true in the first place. The pains we experience, the losses, the other voices that shout. Before you know it, we succumb. If wins the day. The memory of the Voice grows dim. We take the path that’s easier than the way of self-emptying love. . . . The sun sets and the sun rises, and we are given a new opportunity to re-claim our true identity. To ground ourselves in God, so that we can face whatever challenge that comes. If God were afar watching, I’m sure there would be cheers of encouragement. Messages to get back up and give it another try. . . . The good news is that God isn’t afar at all, but within and all around. When we feel like we’re in the throes of the hardest battle, God is right there with us willing us to remember our true identity – pleading for us to rise to live out our destiny as sons and daughters of the Sovereign of the Universe – ones who follow the path in every encounter we have. If only . . . If only . . . We’ve got the rest of this special church season to remind us – and one another to encourage us along the path as well. For we’re needed in this world. We are in this world to live the alternative way of Christ – so that others will remember, or discover for the very first time, their true identity too. Until at last every other force is redeemed and for sure all else is forever well. . . . If only, brothers and sisters of Christ. If only we daily remember . . .

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)