Not A Tame Lion Sermon - 1/8/06
My wife has become an addict of home improvement programs and It’s Sunday night. That means that in my home we will be watching a show called Extreme Makeover: Home Edition I actually like it a lot, except when she looks over at me with that look that seems to say “Why can’t we do that with our kitchen, or living room or whatever?”
On the show, a carpenter/host named Ty Pennington leads a crew that chooses a worthy and needy family and builds them a new home. It’s fun and funny and touching and sometimes even exciting. The makeover crew surprises the family at the door and sends them on a great family vacation to Disney World or someplace like that. While they are gone the crew moves in to design and build the deram home for this family. It’s a feel-good show all around.
But there is an interesting part that happens early on in each program. The family leaves on vacation, the designers come up with all kinds of great ideas for the new home, and then they stand back and look at the old home. And then they call in a demolition team. And every program they just destroy the old home. They come up with creative ways of doing it. A biker gang or a wrecking ball or they all just take sledge hammers to it.
They videotape the demolition and then they call the family on vacation and play the video for them. We viewers get to watch them as they watch their home being destroyed. That’s fascinating to watch. The family is thrilled to get a new home, full of excited anticipation. But you can tell by their faces that it isn’t always easy to see the old place torn down. Once not long ago that was home. They’ve grown up in it, they’ve experienced family life there; there are memories There are some mixed feelings at that point. They know that they are getting something better – but the moment mixes that delight and expectation with pain of loss.
Yet it’s got to be torn down if something new is going to take its place.
The Set up
That’s pretty true of all of life. It happens in our own minds. As we experience life, as we learn things - we form ideas, images, understandings and expectations in our minds. We read a newspaper, hear a sermon or a lecture. We see something as we walk town the street or have a conversation with a friend or listen to a voice on the radio. It’s the way we organize how we think.
Of course we don’t know everything just from one report, one story. So our minds fill in the details. It gives us greater clarity in our thinking. It is a good thing to do that. Of course when we find out new things, more information. etc. our ideas, images and expectations should change to take the new information into account - to have a realistic pictutre of whatever it was that we are considereing.
Take for example the movie that came out just a few weeks ago - "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe". Milllions of people have formed images in their minds of how Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy look. We’ve all imagined professor Kirke’s house and the Witch’s castle, the Beaver’s house and the Stone Table. One of the big concerns the people producing it was that the pictures they made would reinforce and build on the pictures we have all created in our minds - and not contradict them. In some cases that is just what happened for me. But for some of them, I know have new pictures in my mind - they have driven out the old. New information changes the way we think. But it’s not easy. Even when we learn new facts, when reality isn’t quite the way we had imagined, it is hard to change.
The movie is an interpretation. One image may be as good as the next. But sometimes the images that we have in our mind are wrong. They are untrue, quite different from the reality. And so a demolition crew moves in to do the job of breaking down the old in order to present the new. Reality is great for destroying wrong thoughts and images.
That’s what C. S. Lewis thought. He spent a quite a lot of time reminding us that the reality of God is often quite different than our expectations. We create our own images of God, others and our selves. He believed that God shatters our images by giving us the truth. God brings us face to face with reality. Most people know C.S. Lewis for his children’s fantasy books, but he was also a brilliant scholare who wrote on philosphy and Literary Christicism and theology and apologetics. He wrote a lot of books that explained things about Christianity in ways that people who were unfamiliar with it could understand.
When Joy Gresham met Lewis in 1952, she asked him to autograph her copy of his book, ’The Great Divorce’. He wrote this inscription.
“There are three images in my mind that I must continually forsake and place by better ones: the false image of God, the false image of my neighbors, and the false image of myself.”
This phrase came from a chapter that never got written for the book but that captures an idea central to Lewis’s whole life and work. – the idea that reality often breaks our treasured images. Such an image may be temporarily useful but if it is held too tightly, it becomes an idol that must be broken in order to allow a better image to take its place.
A person who breaks such ideas, images, expectations and illusions is called an iconoclast. C.S. Lews didn’t mind being called that because he believed that God is the great iconoclast, the true iconoclast. God is alway surprising, always unexpected. That shouldn’t be too surprising. He’s the creator. Why shouldn’t he be creative in the way he interacts with us. He is always more amazing than any of our attempts to explain him and that is the reality, the truth. Lewis liked to talk about reality. He would call the life that we are living, our existence in this world that seems so real and concrete to us – he called this life ‘the Shadowlands’ because the real life is life with God. The most real person you will ever encounter is Jesus Christ, and when you do, you will find that he destroys all of our comfortable ideas, images, expectations, and illusions. After all ...
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation;
16 for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities--all things were created through him and for him.
17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.
19 For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell,
20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
That’s from Colossians 1:15-20. (RSV)
God come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ full of grace and truth. We read that In the first few verses of the Gospel of John, but we also read that we didn’t recognize him. We didn’t get it. He was too unexpected. He wasn’t what we were looking for. He didn’t behave the way we imagined he would. JESUS IS THE REAL IMAGE OF GOD. And we aren’t always very comfortable with that.
There was an English clergyman who Lewis knew and admired called J.B. Phillips. He made a translation of the New Testament that I’ve liked for a long time. He also wrote a number of other books. One of them is called "Your God is Too Small".
In it Phillips points out that for many people, what keeps them from a mature faith, or even from any kind of faith, is the fact that they havn’t found a God big enough for their needs - a God who can handle modern life in such a way as to command their respect and worship. Many of us, he contends, still hang on to an image of God that we formed when we were children. But we grew up. We became more sophisticated. We’ve learned to ask questions, to doubt. If that’s the case we will always be “secretly afraid that some new truth will expose the juvenility” of our faith. So we don’t ask the tough questions. We don’t dare doubt. God can’t handle it. We’ve got to protect God.
How did we get to such a place? God can’t protect us. We’ve got to protect him. How can we trust in such a God who is so inadequate? Yet to many that’s what it looks like.
“It appears to those outside the Churches that this is precisely the attitude of Christian people.” Phillips writes, “ If they are not strenuosly defending an outgrown conception of God, then they are cherishing a hothous God who could only exist between the pages of the Bible or inside the four walls of a church.” (Your God is too Small, Preface p v.)
Phillips put that in the introduction of his book and went on to write about a number of ways in which we underestimate God. He followed that with a discussion of how we might battle our own limited understandings of God. It’s worth a read. Essentially he’s telling us that we need to be iconoclasts too.
It’s not easy, and that can be a problem. Because too many believe that God is a tame lion (to use CS Lewis’s image) - unable to survive in the wild. Their concept of God is limited because they formed images without getting to know him.
Too often we Christians have been unwitting accomplices in this misunderstanding because we tend to think the same way - or at least we act as if we do. We may think of God as a guarding conscience, that only exists to tell us when we’ve done something wrong. Or perhaps as the old-fashioned grand old man who once was relevant but has nothing to say to our generation. Or perhaps he is a wimp, like the pale and frail pictures of Jesus we sometimes see.
We get these ideas and we build these images of who God is and both J.B. Phillips and C.S. Lewis tell us we need to shatter some of them in order to discover who the real God is. The God who is immeasurably more creative than we can ever imagine, who is gutsy enough to come to earth, way outside his comfort zone, to be with the people he cares for, who is such a passionate lover of his people that he would rather die than live without them. This is a God who is vital and alive, more alive than any of us , and not some icon, plastered on a wall.
When C.S. Lewis was in his late 50’s he fell in love and got married. Around that time he wrote an autobiography of his early life, titled “Surprised by Joy”. It was a play on words, because the joy of the book title was the joy he pursued in his youth that he discovered to his surprise came only from God. But his wife, Joy, was also a surprise to him. She was the great human iconoclast in his life. Joy’s entrance into his life and her death were both events that shattered his expectations. When she died he poured his grief into the little book ‘A Grief Observed’. Reflecting on their life together he realized that loving her was an ongoing exercise in shedding false ideals in favor of a real, unpredictable, flesh-and-blood woman.
“All reality is iconoclastic” he wrote. “The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her.” Joy was always reminding him of that “so unexpectedly, by being so thoroughly herself and not me.” (Grief Observed)
Just as his image of Joy was incomplete, he realized, so had been his image of God.
“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. God shatters it himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of his presence?”
Think of the way God came to earth.
Despite our efforts to keep him out, God intrudes. The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked “No Entrance” and left though a door marked “No Exit.”
Prism Jan/Feb 2001
The was written by Peter Larson in Prism magazine a couple years ago. Lewis would have loved it. The God he knows is not a tame one. He breaks rules and illusions. . When the children in the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe learn that Aslan is both a king and a Lion they are a bit disconcerted.
Ooh!” said Susan, “Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a Lion.”
“That You will dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “ if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; … “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
(Lion, the Witch an dthe Wardrobe; pg 86)
In the pages of the Bible, you won’t find anything about God being ‘safe’ but quite a lot about his goodness. And of course because Aslan was modeled on Jesus, he’s not tame either. It was just as Mr. Beaver had warned the children.
“He’ll be coming and going. One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down… He’ll often drop in. Only you musn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
(Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; pg 200)
How many of us are guilty of trying to tame the lion of God?
Of trying to put this wild and unrestrained God in a box. A box of our expectations; a box of the way we think God ougtta act in out live.
For how many of us is our God too small?
Have we been keeping Him in that box - only recognizing our small idea of him?
Today, THIS day. This new year. Let us open up our hearts to experience God more fully in some ways that he has yet to reveal to us. Things that we cannot imagine yet, can happen this year, this month, this very day in out experince with God> Lets let God break down our old images of him and let his Spirit touch us with all of its power and all of its love.