Trinity 1 2021: Not tame but warmly strange
Mark 3. 20-35
Once upon a time four children were playing hide and seek in the country house of a mysterious professor. They find a magical wardrobe through which they can reach a faraway land, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. The land is called Narnia, and in Narnia it’s always winter but never Christmas.
This is the story of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. You remember how the story ends. The power of the White Witch is broken. Spring comes to Narnia at last! And this happens through the power of a magnificent and wise lion called Aslan, the true King of Narnia, who befriends the children and sacrifices himself for one of them and then miraculously returns to life.
Aslan of course is a brilliant representation of Jesus. The story is a kind of retelling of the Gospel. And I have always remembered something that the characters keep saying to each other about Aslan. Whenever they’re surprised or shocked by something Aslan is doing or failing to do they remind each other: “He’s not a tame lion, you know.”
In some of his other books and letters C. S. Lewis wrote about difficult it can be when someone from an ordinary Christian family suddenly feels the impulse to do something wild: to go off and be a missionary, to be a doctor in the Amazon, to be a monk, and the rest of the family say, “Oh, why do have to take it all so seriously? Why can’t you just be ordinary and tame like the rest of us?” And the only answer seems to be, “He’s not a tame lion, you know.”
What God asks of us, if we are going to be disciples of Jesus Christ can be, well, really wild: because Aslan is like Jesus. And Jesus is not ordinary and He’s not tame.
Just look at what’s happening in the Gospel today. In this chapter Jesus is stirs things up. He doesn’t do what He’s told. Instead, He does miracles - and He does them on the Sabbath when healing is forbidden. Now He has returned home with His disciples. And now such a crowd has come together that He and His disciples can’t even eat. Imagine if the home team tried to have a quiet lunch with their manager in a pub just next to their stadium before a match like the Champions League final. No chance! That’s the atmosphere. There are too many people and there is too much excitement and expectation and hope!
Scribes, teachers of the Law, have come down from Jerusalem. Investigators have been sent to assess His threat to the religious authorities. They try to shut Jesus down. They call Him Beelzebul, the name of the prince of demons. Beelzebul means, “Lord of the Flies”. The name refers back to the Canaanite god Baal. Name calling to shut someone down is what politicians still do today of course: Donald Trump talked about “Crooked Hilary” and “Sleepy Joe” Biden, and Boris Johnson calls Keir Starmer “Captain Hindsight”.
This is nastier, as nasty as anything people put on their blogs or Twitter feeds. It’s as if they called Jesus a terrorist.
But Jesus will not be shut down. You know what He says? He says, A house divided against itself cannot stand. The Temple in Jerusalem was called “the house of God”. That is, “If you say I am Satan, then this is a battle between Satan and Satan and so Satan’s going to lose.” He’s telling the Jerusalem elite that they are Satan. They are the true enemies of God. And He promises that He will come like a thief in the night and tie up the strong man of the house. He will take on the powers that be and He will win.
And then Jesus says that all sins are forgivable, except any blasphemy against the Holy Spirit! The Temple exercised the monopoly on the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is ending this monopoly forever. The system will no longer be able to divide us up into the pure and impure. The grace and forgiveness of God is for everyone - everyone. There is only one unforgivable sin left and it is exactly what the authorities are committing in trying to shut Jesus down. This unforgiveable sin is the misnaming of God’s work: in other words, to call ‘godly’ what is actually Satan’s work, and to label satanic what is God’s work. The confrontation with the Temple is clear.
No wonder we see His family getting involved. They’re trying to protect Him but they’re also trying to restrain Him. What’s going to happen to their reputation if He carries on like this? They are trying to domesticate Him and Jesus resists them by redefining who belongs to His family in a radical way. His family is now, whoever does the will of God.
So the Jesus of our Gospel today is not ordinary and He’s not tame, just as Aslan is not a tame lion. People are even saying that Jesus has gone out of his mind.
But He says that we are His family now if we do the will of God. And so maybe we shouldn’t be afraid of showing a little bit more of a family resemblance to Jesus, even if that means people might think us mad too, or at least weird.
For, just as Aslan is not a tame lion, Christians are not a tame people.
Think of the world we live in. There was a time when the people of Enfield lit candles before holy images or read their Bibles by candlelight and lamplight. Now we live by the flickering light of our screens: our televisions, our computers, and our phones. The values of our country are no longer determined by the words of Scripture or the lives of the saints. They are determined by the profane images we see on our screens. And so it seems like we have forgotten holiness. We have stopped striving to become wise. We all believe in freedom but we have forgotten what it is for. Our whole culture seems to make it harder and harder to be a Christian, but we Christians blame ourselves for being irrelevant.
A monk in the ancient Church once asked his elder, “Will Christians in the last times be able to raise the dead or perform miracles like us? The elder answered him, “It will be a greater work for them to even be Christians in those times.” These are the times we are living in my dear brothers and sisters. The society we live in is often anti-Christian now, forcing us to look like strange religious radicals, sometimes even to other Christians. As St Anthony the Great, the first of the Desert Fathers, once said, “A time is coming when people will go mad and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, “You are mad, you are not like us.”
I remember when I was working in Cambridge the Cambridge Methodist the University Methodist Society members wore t -shirts at the Freshers’ Fair that adapted a phrase by John Wesley about the moment of his evangelical conversion. Wesley wrote that he felt his heart “strangely warmed.” The Methodist Society t-shirts said “Cambridge University Methodist Society: Warmly Strange.”
Let us here at St Mary’s not be afraid to be “warmly strange”. Let us join Jesus’ wild rebellion against the ugliness and barrenness of the world. And let us confidently show the world around us the beauty of a holiness, which is not ordinary or tame, but ever ancient and ever new.
The Rev'd Dr James Lawson, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 06/06/2021