Winter has been going on a long time…it seems forever, and the White Witch is in control of everything at the point when we are first introduced to the fantasy land of Narnia in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which is the first book in the series called the Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis.
The Witch, of course, is the representative of all that is evil. She is able to turn a creature or a person into stone and she has done so with many. In opposition to the witch is a Christ-like figure Aslan – a gigantic lion who represents the power of good.
When Aslan returns to the land of Narnia the snows begin to melt and the land begins to thaw. And then there is this remarkable scene in which Aslan the lion discovers the courtyard filled with stone figures – individuals frozen in place by the wicked queen.
C.S.Lewis’ narrative voice says, “I expect you’ve seen someone put a lighted match to a bit of newspaper which is propped up in a grate against an unlit fire. And for a second nothing seems to have happened, and then you notice a tiny streak of flame creeping along the edge of the newspaper. It was like that now. For a second after Aslan had breathed upon him, the stone lion looked just the same. Then a tiny streak of gold began to run along his white marble back—then it spread—then the color seemed to lick all over him as the flame licks all over a bit of paper—then, while his hind-quarters were still obviously stone, the lion shook his mane and all the heavy, stony folds rippled into living hair. Then he opened a great red mouth, warm and living, and gave a prodigious yawn. And now his hind legs had come to life. He lifted one of them and scratched himself. Then, having caught sight of Aslan, he went bounding after him and frisking round him, whimpering with delight and jumping up to lick his face.”
In the portion from John I just read, Jesus says to the disciples: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit….”
Clearly this moment in the “mini- Pentecost” of John is what Lewis is referencing in his famous allegorical novel – the moment in which the disciples were freed from the paralysis of their fears and able to aspire to the vocation of Apostle – builders of the church.
When I say fears, I am referencing the words John uses to describe their attitude before Jesus appearance. Remembering that John places the Pentecost experience on Easter Day itself, we can envision the disciples still reeling from the events of the trial and crucifixion – they did not know if there was a list that the Romans were going to pursue for similar trial and execution and if their names were on that list so they were afraid – they were in hiding behind locked doors. That is part of their paralysis…
But one of the things we need to note is that these disciples have never quite “gotten it” – throughout the narratives of Jesus ministry they are always slow on the uptake and a little bit dense as to the implications of his message. Jesus has been offering new life to any who would grasp it and they were continually slow on the uptake, often the last to understand.
As is often the case for many of us, their fears were not of safety alone – the Greek word for fear is the root from which we derive the word “phobia” – theirs were the kind of fears we have of giving up control of our lives, fear of looking foolish or of being put on the spot. As has been said, “It is [in] playing safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity.”
The Poet Rumi has a poem called, “Say Yes Quickly” in which he says:
“Forget your life. Say God is Great, Get up.
You think you know what time it is. It is time to pray.
You’ve carved so many little figurines, too many…”
“I could take a casserole over to my neighbor since she has just lost her husband, but what if they think I am intruding.” “I’m not being nosey, but perhaps it’s best not to inquire of Mr. Jones about the cancer treatment.” “I would love to help with the church school, but maybe I don’t know enough about the Bible.” “I love to sing, but the people in the choir seem to know music so much better than I do – what if I messed up.” Those little figurines are the phobias, the fears, the self-consciousness that holds us back. And we remain “God’s frozen chosen” as someone has called Presbyterians.
John talks about baptism by water and the Spirit in his gospel. I rather think that many of us, having received the first, may not be able to describe the moment of the second, the baptism by the spirit. But, if like the disciples in that upper room, if we don’t recognize Jesus at first or comprehend that it is the spirit at work, that does not mean that the transformational work of the Holy Spirit is not happening.
Little first cousins Clara and Grace will not remember their baptisms taking place this morning – few of us do remember. What we do come to understand is that in baptism a process has begun for us, for these two little girls and for every child of God who receives this visible sign of grace. God has chosen us – to be in our lives much the same way he chose the original disciples without our knowing why or for what. God sets a sign upon us as the liturgy says, which proclaims we are loved.
It is those phobias – the fear which creeps into our lives as we grow and mature into adulthood that keeps us at a distance. Although the Holy Spirit comes in a flash, as C.S. Lewis describes it, it is more like melting – a transition from one state to another, that is from fear to openness, from paralysis to action.
“I don't know who - or what - put the question,” wrote Swedish statesman, Dag Hammarskjold, “I don't know when it was put. I don't even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer 'Yes' to Someone - or Something - and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life in self-surrender had a goal."
The Spirit’s breath comes at that moment when we say “yes.” The result is not that we become a street corner preacher – the result is that we have a new lens with which to view the world – a new way of understanding and asking, “How might I get involved…how might I help…how might I share my gifts in any situation?”
We Presbyterians are not ones to wear our religion on our sleeves, so to speak – at least most of us. We are a bit cautious about intruding or imposing our convictions. At the same time, as Presbyterians, we have a long heritage of action; of doing rather than just saying - of being in the world where the spirit sends us.
We bear witness to the Spirit’s baptism – our baptism when we come to see ourselves as the disciples whom Jesus has called, risking ourselves just a bit, to touch or lift or help another. Gordon Cosby, founder of the Church of Our Savior in Washington D.C. puts it this way:
“[You] come to know that God’s grace is surrounding you and you rest back in it. You know you have been loved with this sort of love. And simply because you have entered into this love you are able to splash it around so that it touches anybody who comes close to you….”
“Love one another as I have loved you.” This is Jesus’ only rule. This is how we bear witness to our baptism – this is the Spirit’s work. It can, it is, working in you – in us all. Amen.