Saturday, May 09, 2009

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After Easter
All Saints' Church - Thomasville, GA

I’m sure that many of you are fans of C.S. Lewis, and his classic work, The Chronicles of Narnia. With the Hollywood release of both, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, Lewis’ fiction has become more accessible these days, and I imagine is attracting new readers to the other works in the 7 volume set. One of the lesser known volumes of the Chronicles is book four, The Silver Chair. I’ll have to admit this is one that I have not made it through completely, but I’ve started reading it many times over. In light of this morning’s collect and 2nd lesson from the 14th Chapter of St. John’s Gospel, the beginning of The Silver Chair serves as a wonderful tandem to what we have heard in our service this morning.

The book opens with a new character Jill Pole and one we met in the previous book named Eustace Clarence Scrubb. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lewis’ first sentence of the book begins with these lines, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” Scrubb had been to Narnia before, but Jill had not, and the two enter Narnia as they are being chased by bullies, and seek solace behind a door in the high stone wall that led to an open moor on the other side. While normally locked, the two children discover to their amazement that the door is unlocked and upon going through the opening find themselves not in the moor, but in a strange new land.

It is in this strange new land that Jill comes face-to-face with the great lion – Aslan. Of course, Jill has no idea what to make of this creature, but throughout her ordeal of entering Narnia, she becomes aware of her dire thirst, and begins to search diligently for the source of the one sound that permeated her new surroundings – the sound of running water. As she emerges from an opening in the woods, her eyes confirm the sounds in her ears. She spots a stream “bright as glass, running across the turf a stone’s throw away from her. But although the sight of the water made her feel ten times thirstier than before, she didn’t rush forward and drink. She stood as still as if she had been turned into stone, with her mouth wide open. And she had a very good reason; just on this side of the stream lay the lion.”

If coming up to the stream and finding the lion sitting there wasn’t enough, the lion begins to speak to her, and bids her to come and drink if she is thirsty.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at his motionless bulk, she realized she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

The passage we heard from John’s Gospel this morning is part of a section known as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. These four chapters contain the sayings of Jesus that do not appear anywhere else in the Gospels. Our collect for today brings in a line from the 14th chapter that directly precedes our passage regarding the promise of the Holy Ghost. Jesus has just told his disciples that he is going to prepare a room for them in His Father’s house which contains many rooms. He tells them that they know the way where He is going, to which Thomas declares, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus then replies with the line we heard in our collect this morning, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”

On this Mother’s Day, I think it is meet and right that we should celebrate and remember one of the great mothers of all time. It is a joy to examine the life of someone who wanted nothing more for her son than for him to embrace the joy and love of the source of light and life in the person of Jesus Christ; someone who lived and truly believed that Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. St. Monica was the mother of one of the greatest theologians of the Western Church, and clearly the foremost voice of Orthodox Christianity in the first millennium AD – I speak of course of St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.

However, Augustine’s life as a follower of Jesus Christ was later coming, and his early life was a source of great turmoil and distress for his dear mother. Monica spent countless hours in prayer and fasting for her son, and earnestly longed for his conversion to Christianity. She was grieved over the fact that he had fallen into the clutches of the cult-like heretical group known as the Manichees. Her grief was so profound that she would actually weep over his sins. One kind bishop assured her one day saying for her to depart in peace, and know that, “it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.” Certainly we all want the best for our children, and I’m sure that many of us have shed many tears on behalf of our beloved children. However, it is a most profound sort of love that Augustine’s mother would shed so many tears and with such frequency over her eldest son that he might come to know and embrace the joy of salvation through Jesus Christ alone.

Monica had a keen understanding of the love of Christ, and went about showing that love to her family. She was the wife of a pagan man, who shortly before his death converted to Christianity. Knowing that her husband died a believer, she spent the remainder of her life praying for the conversion of her son. She had experienced the power that comes from knowing that you are redeemed and cleansed through Christ’s shed blood. She wanted that same experience for Augustine. Thankfully for the Church, Monica and Augustine came under the pastoral care of St. Ambrose of Milan, and he was baptized in 387 AD, the same year his mother died.

This past Monday was the fixed date on the Church Kalendar when we commemorate Monica’s Feast date. Our tradition is steeped in the observance of the various feasts and fasts of the church year, and it is a wonderful occasion to remember a mother as grand as Monica on Mother’s Day. Her devotion to her Lord is a testimony to us all, and even in her dying days, she was never far from her Saviour.

Augustine and one of his brothers were planning a trip back to the northern shores of Africa from Milan when Monica fell ill. She had a vision in a state of semi-consciousness where she told her sons that they would have to bury her there. They were terribly grieved that they would not be able to give her a proper burial at home, but her response shows the depth of her love for God. She told the brothers, “It does not matter where you bury my body. Do not let that worry you. All I ask of you is that, wherever you may be, you should remember me at the altar of the Lord.” She was asked if she was fearful of leaving her body in an alien land, and she replied with these words, “Nothing is far from God, and I need have no fear that he will not know where to find me, when he comes to raise me to life at the end of the world.”

St. Monica was truly a mother whose concerns lay outside of her. She was always wishing for the salvation of her family, and she was able to die in peace knowing that both her husband and son Augustine died with their salvation secure. She knew at the deepest levels that salvation came through one source – Jesus Christ. She took to heart the passage from St. John’s Gospel that Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only source of life; she wanted others to experience that same reality as well.

After Jill drinks from the stream and receives the most refreshing water she had ever tasted, the great lion explains to her some of the great mysteries of Narnia, and why she was brought there. She thought that there had been some big mistake, and that she had been confused with someone else. Aslan bids her to speak her thoughts, and she says the following words, “I was wondering – I mean – could there be some mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb, you know. It was we who asked to come here. Scrubb said we were to call to – to Somebody – it was a name I wouldn’t know – and perhaps the Somebody would let us in. And we did, and then we found the door open.”
“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.

Jesus told his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

Jesus chose each one of us for His special purpose, to bear witness to Him, to be bearers of the Fruit of the Spirit. As we heard in John’s Gospel, we were promised, and have received the Holy Spirit as our Counselor, Advocate, Guide, and Comforter. He dwells within us, empowering us for the work that we have been given to do. He dwells within us so that we might be faithful mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, children, employees, students, and friends. He dwells within us so that we might know with all assurance and certainty that when we sin and fall short of God’s glory, that our forgiveness is guaranteed when we seek God’s mercy and pardon. He dwells within us so that He might guide and direct us as we seek to conform our lives and wills into the image of our Heavenly Father. He dwells within us so that the love that abides within the Three Persons of the Holy and Blessed Trinity might abide in us as well; that we might let that love shine forth in our lives, so that others might see it and be drawn into that love as well – that they might know Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and proclaim Him as their Lord and Saviour.

Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in Heaven.

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