Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Living Waters of Narnia

I am not (in fact quite infrequently) a fan of many so-called sermon illustrations.  Too often the medium becomes the message and the entire focal point of the illustration is lost (also one of the main problems with children's "sermons," btw).  There is always the danger of the sky-scraper sermon: one storey after another.  This is not to say that all illustrations are bad.  In fact, we need illustrations.  We learn and hear and comprehend this way, but we really ought to examine the illustrations we use.  Who is the focus?  What's the point of reference?  Does it clearly point to Christ or obfuscate the Gospel?  Those are just a few questions we do well to ask before setting using an illustration.  Illustrations should be like the stimulus was alleged to be: timely, targeted and temporary.  But for example, as I will illustrate below, an illustration may be entirely appropriate (even Christ-centered and cross focused) and yet for a variety of reasons, can still miss the mark.  Kind of like referencing the sins of the Jersey Shore to a snow-bird community who has never even heard of MTV, let alone Snookie and her cookies.

As I was pondering the text for this Sunday's Gospel reading - John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well - I couldn't help but think of a perfect example of this latter kind of sermon illustration.  In a different context (or among a different audience, to say it another way) the following, more obscure C.S. Lewis Narnian reference, would be more widely understood.  But I will leave that for you, the reader, to evaluate.

This Sunday's reading is kind of like a random sampling of my 1980's wardrobe (yes, I rocked the Hammer pants): there's just a whole lot goin' on.  And if you try to focus on it all in a short Sunday morning sermon, you - and the parishioners - will probably get dizzy.  That's how this little illustration made its way here.  Not so much the cutting floor as it is the threshing floor of further homiletical harvesting.

It doesn't take a genius or an exegete to realize that John has an obsession with water in his Gospel.  That's really because Jesus has an obsession with water and more importantly, what He will do with it: whether that's at His Baptism, in Cana, with Nicodemus, by the Holy Spirit, from His side or in His disciple's preaching and teaching and baptizing in His Name.  This Sunday, Jesus' water "de jour" is the Samaritan woman by the well.  It's no coincidence He's at a well and it's no coincidence they end up talking about water.  Because it's not just about the water they are drinking. As good as Jacob's well water might be, Jesus knows what kind of water the woman needs: living water.  Jesus water.  Holy Spirit water.  Now, don't jump to Baptism just yet.  We'll get there.  First, the living water must flow in the right direction, down stream from this well in Samaria to Jerusalem.  Not to the mountain where the temple is, but to the hill outside the city to the Temple in human flesh.  That is where the water flows to and from.  All water - living and otherwise, temporal or spiritual - flows from the very Word, sent by the Father with the Spirit - a divine thirst-quencher.  In order for the living water to be given, Jesus must eventually die.  Not there in Samaria.  Not at this well.  But He goes to Jerusalem for this woman and for the people who come to believe in Him through her testimony and more importantly, through the Word that flowed from Jesus' mouth in streams of living water, to their ears.

Yes, living water flows from the cross.  Or better yet, from the side of Him who suffered and died on the cross.  A fleshly Altar, out of which flows a well of salvation - blood and water.  Like Eden, only better.  Think Revelation.  A tree and a river and Jesus dying so that you might live.

For in Narnia too, the King had died.  Caspian X had lived a good life.  He traveled to the edge of the world.  But there he rested in a glassy stream (at the end of The Silver Chair).  His long white beard swayed like water-weed.  And there beside the waters of Aslan's country, Jill and Eustace and even Aslan wept.

"Son of Adam," said Aslan, "go into that thicket and pluck the thorn that you find there, and bring it to me."  The thorn was a foot long and sharp as a rapier.
"Drive it into my paw, Son of Adam," said Aslan, holding up his right fore-paw and spreading out the great pad towards Eustace.
"Must I?" said Eustance.
"Yes," said Aslan.  (Do you hear the divine dei, it is necessary?!)
Then Eustace set his teeth and drove the thorn into the Lion's pad.  And there came out a great drop of blood, redder than all the redness that you have ever seen or imagined.  And it splashed into the stream over the dead body of the King.  At the same moment the doleful music stopped.  And the dead King began to be changed.  His white beard turned to grey, and from grey to yellow, and got shorter and vanished altogether; and his sunken cheeks grew round and fresh, and the wrinkles were smoothed, and his eyes opened, and his eyes and lips both laughed, and suddenly he leaped up and stood before them...and he rushed to Aslan and flung his arms as far as they would go around the huge neck; and he gave Aslan the strong kisses of a king, and Aslan gave him the wild kisses of a Lion.

Such are the living waters that flow in Narnia which point to the living waters that flow in Samaria and Judea and in every font now that our King has died and risen.  Blood and life-giving waters that well up to eternal life for the Samaritan and the Jew and for all who thirst in the way of that woman, quenched forever by her Savior and ours.  "I AM He who you are speaking to.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life."  So, dear fellow Samaritans, all you who thirst (all Sons of Adam, Daughters of Eve, Narnians and elves), let us go and ask this Jew to drink His living water.  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

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