Acts 17: 22-28
May 24, 2020
Lincoln Street UMC, Portland, Oregon
“At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.” So writes C.S. Lewis in his book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
I know many of you are great fans of the Narnia series. They are remarkable stories, are they not? Ones that draw in both the young and the old, religious and not. They are stories that have – through poetry, metaphor and great adventure – drawn in readers for decades, telling a story that both entertains and speaks to one’s very soul.
C.S. – or Jack – Lewis did not always write children’s novels. Nor did he always claim the label Christian. In fact, for many years of his life he was a devoted atheist, at seventeen he said, “’I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.”
He wanted the material world to be enough for him, wanted his logical, rational mind to be able to sort out the answers. He believed his intellectual abilities and the worth of human institutions could save him – could give himself and theworld around him meaning.
But a memory of a moment kept at him. A moment when he experienced what he labeled Joy swept over him and he felt the world open up, inexplicably. Though it lasted for mere seconds, he was dogged by this memory, until eventually in his early thirties he found himself once again praying to God. This time he did not pray out of duty, but rather out of an earnest search and supplication. Experience saved him – respect for the journey of the soul gave to him and the world around him meaning.
And so, although Lewis wrote many scholarly texts, he is remembered by most for his stories of invitation. Stories that allow the metaphors and images of Narnia to kindle fires in the child-like soul in search of God.
When I read about Paul’s preaching in our passage from Acts today, I think of how Paul and Lewis shared an insight into human nature. They both built for themselves a world of the mind, a world view based on scholarship and intellectual endeavor. Before conversion, Paul was a giant among the intelegentia of his time. His conversion helped him discover the need for experience and, like Lewis, he found in that respect for the unique experiences of the other.
He does not come after the Athenians with pistols drawn, demanding that they bow to his teachings. Instead, Paul begins by recognizing their own form of religiousness, by honoring who they are and how they have sought to be faithful. He reaches out to his audience by making connections with them from his own life, and then drawing them in.
There is no Bible thumping going on here. Or maybe that would have been scroll waving back then. But whatever, there is none of that. Instead, he meets his audience where they are – I see your altars and shrines, and he speaks their language – quoting their poets “We too are God’s children,” and he shows by this that he takes them seriously. He is demonstrating that they are meeting on the common ground of one human being to another.
And of course, by doing this he helps begin the church in Athens.
I am struck by the passage from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobethat I read earlier. Aslan is the great lion who moves in and out of the storyline throughout the series. And he is, metaphorically speaking, the image of the divine. Isn’t it captivating the way in which Lewis hooks us with each character’s first encounter with the sacred? Edmund feels a chill. Peter feels brave. Susan hears music. And Lucy
feels the anticipatory joy of the holidays. Aren’t those experiences far more inviting than any didactic piece of Christian apologetics that he could have written?
And in fact, Lewis did write those. Many of those kinds of treatises. But what we remember and celebrate today – what has remained timeless – is the Christian story brought alive for us in Narnia, with Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.
As one commentator wrote, “a good storyteller keep[s] us invested long enough to hear the message.”
2Enuma Okoro, The Christian Century, https://www.christiancentury.org/blog-post/sundays-coming/storyteller-who-respects-his-audience-acts-1722-31
Next week we will be celebrating Pentecost – the day we remember how the early church becomes marked and empowered by the Holy Spirit upon and within them. It is a fun Sunday, full of wonderful images of fire and wind and people alive and dancing. But what follows in the Sundays after that is the season of Pentecost. Pentecost-tide, if we were to follow our Easter language. And this season asks us to consider how we experience God’s spirit upon our hearts.
We are all called to be good storytellers – using the material of our lives to make the reality of our faith come alive. Perhaps we won’t be creators of a Narnia – but then again, I bet if you had asked Lewis he would have said that he didn’t expect to be that either.
So let us weave metaphor, imagery, story and thought together – and make our faith come alive. Each of our stories – like Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy – each of our experiences of the Divine help paint a fuller picture of how the sacred is intrinsic to all that we are and all that we are called to be.
Karen Wright Marsh, Vintage Saints and Sinners. IVP Books, © 2017, 32.
This sermon was written by Elizabeth Winslea and delivered on May 24, 2020, via Zoom to the Lincoln Street United Methodist Church. It is published here with the permission of the author. Please link back to this post and credit the author if you reprint or use any portion of it.