November 9 2014, Twenty-first After Trinity
Isaiah 59:15b-21, Psalm 76, Ephesians 6:10-20, St. John 4:46-54
In his classic children’s book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” C. S. Lewis tells of the adventures of four children in the magical kingdom of Narnia. Jesus is represented by the lion Aslan, the creator of the realm.
In Narnia, the children meet Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who describe the mighty lion to them:
“Is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. 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; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Once upon a time, children understood. In our day, adults are confused. They insist on making God safe.
The Psalmist, as wise as any beaver, will have none of it. In verse 11 of Psalm 76, we find the Lord identified as “Him who ought to be feared.” This is a divine title. In verse 12, we read this morning from the New King James Bible, “He is awesome to the kings of the earth.” Other translations have “He is terrible” or, again, “to be feared.”
This diversity shows us the translators’ struggle to render the Hebrew in language that captures the majesty of God. One who is other, who is above, who is Creator of all, must inspire respect, awe – yes, even fear – in me. How could I not tremble before One who is my Creator, my Sustainer, my Judge?
He is indeed the King of kings, and the association between the enchanted place called Narnia and the poet’s picture in our psalm is even more pronounced.
Old Testament scholars are in broad agreement that lion imagery appears beginning in verse 2: “In Salem also is His tabernacle, and His dwelling place in Zion.” Salem is a shortened version of Jerusalem. The word translated “dwelling place” is used elsewhere of a lion’s den or lair.
The Psalmist is offering us a foretaste of the explicit “Lion of Judah” language the New Testament applies to Christ. John reports in Revelation 5:
“And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?’
“And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it
“But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.’"
Anyone who chooses to represent God using a figure from the animal kingdom seizes without hesitation upon the lion, the king of beasts. Now I put it to you: Do we as wretched sinners want this majestic, roaring God who overcomes Satan, sin and death as our Deliverer? Or would we prefer someone more cuddly?
Our psalm in verse 4 identifies the Lord as “more glorious and excellent,” terminology applied to “the shining One”; Lewis’ Aslan is “huge, shaggy, and bright.” The “mountains of prey” in our verse are the haunt of the mighty hunter, the lion.
It matters a great deal that we take the metaphors as the authors intended – and as Lewis interpreted them. It matters that we know who God is. Why does it matter? I could count the ways, but so doing I would commit the cardinal sin of delaying lunch.
So let’s narrow our focus a bit: What office does Christ hold?
Is He King above all earthly kings, exalted and mighty and, yes, terrible in the power He wields? Or is He a divine therapist tasked with affirming us in our sovereign choices and forbidden to impose His standards of conduct on us?
If Christ the Living Word is King, His revelation by way of the written word is utterly authoritative. It is given not to offer suggestions, aphorisms, pointers, tips and hints but to define and control the thinking and behavior of its readers.
Christ is both roaring Lion and the Lamb who was slain. Dismissing the Lion denies His royal lineage and leaves nothing but a victim. No, Lucy, God . . . is . . . not . . . safe.
Bore down deeply enough into most major theological disputes and you’ll find at bottom the authority of Scripture at issue. Is it the inspired and inerrant word of the King or is it an allegorical undertaking of that Great Facilitator in the sky, to be interpreted and reinterpreted endlessly so that it remains ever user-friendly?
Let me pause here for a caveat. We are not fundamentalists. We do not seek a woodenly literal understanding that fails to take into account the context of the chapter, the book, the particular author’s body of work, the testament, the Bible as a whole.
Here’s an illustration I used to make this point with my guys in my jail Bible study that helped them:
God’s word tells us never to let the sun go down on our wrath (Ephesians 4:26). We should do our utmost to resolve our differences immediately, to avoid letting dissension fester. At the same time, however, we should never let go of our anger over things which make our Lord angry.
God hates sin, and His followers should harbor a righteous anger against sin morning, noon and night. Context constantly controls.
We are watching large chunks of the church disintegrate like meteorites entering the earth’s atmosphere because many moderns reject the wisdom of the ancients – and not just any old fossils but those who were commissioned to utter these words: “Thus saith the Lord.”
We must not be surprised. The prophets caught the back of the hand from many of their contemporaries. Is it any wonder that legions in the church in our time treat them with as much contempt?
But we must be aware. War rages today in the heavenly places and on the earth. We read from Ephesians 6, “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” If God is not fearsome in His power, neither can we be. Our might comes from Him.
The battles of today will shape the future. We can and must have our own small say in how it takes shape.
We are privileged, beloved, to have a place in the Anglican Church in North America, which has accepted the challenge and embraced the grand vision of re-evangelizing North America.
We are still relatively few compared to many long-established institutions but we have grown at a brisk 15-percent pace in little more than five years of existence and we continue to pursue a vigorous church-planting initiative.
Tucked away here in our little corner of the Four Corners, we must not regard this movement as remote from us. We can make a difference by using whatever influence we have in the lives of our children and grandchildren.
We can tilt the scales in favor of the gospel of our Lord Christ and His faithful church not only by our giving today but by our estate planning as well. And we can continue in and ratchet up our efforts as prayer warriors for the bold proclamation of the gospel in our nation and throughout God’s creation.
I want to equip you with a shield as you continue to fight the good fight: Sincerity is no proof of orthodoxy. A common tactic when theological controversy arises is to disguise apostasy in the language of love.
If well-meaning people on both sides of an issue believe passionately that they are on the side of the angels we must cease disputation and live forever in sweet harmony.
But if sincerity establishes a position as valid, should we all not convert to Islam? No religious people have every believed more passionately in their cause than 19 men who killed thousands of innocents – and themselves – on Sept. 11, 2001. No one forfeits his life in a crusade in which he does not sincerely believe.
Listen to the Psalmist and take heed for there truly is nothing new under the sun. He likely wrote this poem to celebrate God’s deliverance of Israel from the Assyrian horde in the time of good King Hezekiah described in 2 Kings
The angel of the Lord beset the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 men. King Sennacherib returned to his capital of Nineveh and as he prayed to his god two of his sons struck him down with the sword.
This short poem allows us a micro view of the entire Bible. Its first six verses describe a great deliverance that is local:
In Judah God is known; His name is great in Israel.
2 In Salem also is His tabernacle, and His dwelling place in Zion.
3 There He broke the arrows of the bow, the shield and sword of battle.
4 You are more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey.
5 The stouthearted were plundered; they have sunk into their sleep; and none of the mighty men have found the use of their hands.
6 At Your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both the chariot and horse were cast into a dead sleep.
The last six verses show us a great judgment that is cosmic:
7 You, Yourself, are to be feared; and who may stand in Your presence when once You are angry?
8 You caused judgment to be heard from heaven; the earth feared and was still,
9 When God arose to judgment, to deliver all the oppressed of the earth.
10 Surely the wrath of man shall praise You; with the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself.
11 Make vows to the LORD your God, and pay them; let all who are around Him bring presents to Him who ought to be feared.
12 He shall cut off the spirit of princes; He is awesome to the kings of the earth.
God as Deliverer rescues His covenant people, God as Judge obliterates evil everywhere. From Revelation 6:
“I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind.
“Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’" (vv. 6-12)
The purpose of judgment is to save those who submit to God. Not only here but throughout the Psalter, God doles out justice to the wicked to deliver the oppressed. Israel is the Lord’s beachhead. He makes a modest beginning in that insignificant nation and then expands His salvation operation into all of His creation.
Man’s opposition? It enhances God’s glory. In the end, even the wrath of men will praise the Lord.
Let me address all present but with a special emphasis to those who launched All Saints 10 years ago. I can do no better than to quote Paul: “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9).
You left your former church as an act of faithfulness and you began anew in a spirit of hope. God has tested that hope. He tests us to grow us stronger. And in the most important way, you are stronger. Through the years of trial, you have kept the authentic Anglican witness alive in Durango. That is no mean feat.
Day by day, God is delivering us – on the local, national and international levels. We read from Isaiah 59:
"As for Me," says the LORD, "this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants' descendants," says the LORD, "from this time and forevermore."
He is our Lion and our King; His word is inerrant, inspired and authoritative. He protects and preserves His own in our time as He has in all others. I say again, let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Amen.