We make C.S. Lewis come to Life. 15 year Anniversary

2013 Sermon by Larry Wood

A sermon delivered by Rev. Larry Wood
C.S. Lewis Festival
First Presbyterian Church Harbor Springs, Michigan
October 13, 2013

Jubilee

Every fifty years, after seven cycles of seven years, came the Jubilee.
Slaves could return home,
indentured servants were set at liberty.
and land that had been lost could be recovered.
It was the year of the Lord.

Everyone had a rest – even farms lay fallow through the year.
At the same time, there was jubilation,
captured in Psalm 100, the Jubilate Deo.

The Jubilee gave those who had fallen behind a hand back up,
and if anyone had gone through hard times and had had to sell property,
a generous soul from the community could redeem it.
That’s what Job means when he says, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

Small wonder that when Jesus began his ministry,
he described it in terms of the Jubilee.

People realized that they depended on one another,
rich and poor, urban and rural, faithful and unfaithful,
that they could be God’s people only if they were together,
and that they made one country.

*

This is a strange Jubilee to celebrate.
Fifty years ago, on November 22nd, a professor of English at Cambridge
died after a brief illness.
Not much of an anniversary, I know.
It might not have been great news even then,
but it was completely lost amid the shooting of President Kennedy.

If you were alive in 1963, you may remember
how all the world talked about what had changed.
People felt that they had lost their innocence,
even though they had been through world wars and many other shocks.

Maybe you were glued to the television along with everyone else.
It was a brave new world.

2

So what has changed since then?

That time had begun with youth and optimism
that led to civil rights and eventually put a man on the moon.
America congratulated itself on having overcome prejudice
in electing its first Catholic president,
although some people could never accept him as legitimate
or even fully American.
Having made his mark as a writer, and then briefly as a Senator,
he remained a mystery to some people, possibly a Socialist,
who must have benefited from the Chicago machine.

America was fighting a war in Asia;
there were road signs to Impeach Earl Warren;
Southern governors defied federal authority.

Come to think of it, I don’t know that all that much has changed since then.

What Kennedy could not do in life was realized on his death.
For some brief time after November 22,
people realized that they depended on one another,
rich and poor, urban and rural, faithful and unfaithful,
that they could be God’s people only if they were together,
and that they made one country.

*

On the same day that President Kennedy died,
a well-known British writer also died, all but unnoticed.
He was a slender, solemn man,
not given to much company.

He might have been a better writer if he liked people.

Part of the problem may have been in his upbringing:
as the grandson of a clergyman and an agnostic scientist,
a child those who embraced progress and those who distrusted it,
he didn’t know what to believe.

And then he had come of age during a Great War,
which left his “generation unable to trust any gospel.”

His name was Aldous Huxley, and he wrote such satires of modern life as
Point Counterpoint and Brave New World.

3

These biting novels showed him as a man of his time, who felt out of step with his time.

In later years, he tried to reconcile Christianity, Buddhism, and other Eastern religions,
arguing that they pointed to roughly the same thing.
He searched for a God who erased all differences among people,
hoping to overcome the body and individual personality,
as if this incarnation were a problem rather than a privilege.

Huxley couldn’t trust science, and couldn’t trust other people;
he tended toward despair about the brave new world taking shape,
and died on a day that might seem to have confirmed
the worst in human nature.

So what has changed since then?

Well, even as the study of world religions has grown,
it is no longer fashionable to suggest that they all say the same thing;
rather we celebrate their differences,
for that is how they enrich each other.

Huxley’s novels have begun to fade into obscurity.
It seems our appetite for satire lasts only so long;
eventually we have a need for hope and joy.

*

Amazingly we find that joy voiced today by, of all people, Job.

O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at last he will stand upon the earth…. Job 19:23-25

Given all that he has been through, Job is anything but jubilant;
for him, it is a long November 22.
But he looks forward to that day when God will put things right.

 

It may take fifty years;
in the end, God is redemptive.

That is one thing we know for sure –
we know that our Redeemer lives.
And the Jubilee will be for all the people.

4

*

Fifty years ago, on November 22, another English writer died,
and in some ways, that was just the beginning of his story.
Although much has changed since then,
he has only become more relevant and beloved.

His story is a counterpoint to Huxley’s.

He loved people,
and it showed both in his writing and in his actual life.
Like Huxley, he had seen the First World War,
and it had shaped his beliefs, though in a very different direction.

Whereas Huxley was slender, he was hefty;
whereas Huxley was solitary, he joined friends for a smoke and a drink.
Whereas Huxley had been a famously bad teacher,
he was a superb one.
Most of all, C.S. Lewis loved people, especially their differences.

In 1946, seventeen years before the day on which they both died,
an article compared the two men.
One striking difference, the author noted,
was that C.S. Lewis took more joy in bodily life.
“So far as I know, Huxley has never written a book in which sexual love
was described in a sympathetic way,
and one suspects that his disgust extends to all matter….
Lewis, on the contrary, says,
‘There’s no good trying to be more spiritual than God.
God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature.’”

Huxley saw personality as evil,
while Lewis believed that each individual was a child of God,
and that service to God
would bring out the personality more clearly than ever.

Nor did he despair as Huxley did about world events.1

5

One student recalls how Lewis used to joke about Huxley’s notion
that all faiths said essentially the same thing.
“’Oh, sure – Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike,’ he said,
‘especially Buddhism.’
Lewis thought ideas should have space around them to breathe;
he was instinctively suspicious of easy reconciliations.”2

And this may have been the most notable distinction between the two men:
Lewis loved friendly debate, pleasant disagreements.

This student said:

“Lewis in debate tried to keep disagreement going for as long as he reasonably could, and sometimes longer. If I were ever to be asked what I learned from him, that would be my reply: the art of disagreement. He had vigor without venom; he was generous….”

 

With the Inklings, in round table conversations with friends,
in colloquies with students and correspondences with readers,
he was engaged –
listening, respectful, always ready to be changed.

If Lewis had “an iron pen,”
he also found, in the words of scripture, that “iron sharpens iron.”
He wanted people around who viewed the world differently than he did.

It took him a while to appreciate that he could find plenty of this challenge in church.
At first, he was a bit of a snob about it:

“When I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches…..I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic side-boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots.”3

6

He also said this –
which places him far beyond Huxley
and just about any political figure of our time:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”4

*

We need that view today.
We need it in our religious life, and in our national life.

Long ago, another man who was a gifted teacher
died in obscurity.
He had brought together the most disparate people,
and for that he had endured the trials of Job.

Fifty years later, God had redeemed that life and then some.
Gospels had been written,
good news had brought even more various people together,
and far beyond Israel, throughout the Roman Empire,
the Jubilee had been proclaimed.

It was, and always has been since, the year of the Lord.

Because of him, we know that our Redeemer lives.
More than that, because of him, we learn how much we need each other –
the hungry, thirsty, poor, sick, and imprisoned, in whom we see him;
the arms, legs, and feet of his body;
male, female, Jew, Greek, slave, free,
we all are one in Christ Jesus.

7

At last we learn that we depend on one another,
rich and poor, urban and rural, faithful and unfaithful,
that we can be God’s people only if we are together,
and that we make one country.

It is time for us to learn the art of disagreement.

And we had better, because it is a changing world –
none of us can stay where we are.
Someday people will look back and see what we have made of it.

There is good news all through it.
Whether it is brave or not, and whether it really is new or not, we shall see.
There is good news all through it, and it is the Jubilee.

1 Chad Walsh. “Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis: Novelists of Two Religions.” The Journal of Bible and Religion, vol. 14, no. 3, August 1946, pp. 139-143

2 George Watson. “The Art of Disagreement: C.S. Lewis (1898-1963).” The Hudson Review, vol. 48, no. 2, Summer 1995, pp. 229-239

3 Lewis, “Answers to Questions on Christianity,” God in the Dock, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970, 61-62

4 Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” The Weight of Glory, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965, pp. 14-15