This sermon was preached at CoH-Dallas as part of a series they were doing on fear. I was assigned the title/theme Fear of Fire.
Fear of Fire
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Dallas
18 May 2005
Let me tell you a story.
It comes from The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, from the final of the seven books – The Last Battle. This book tells the story of the end of the mythical world of Narnia. Narnia is this wonderful place – a magical world with witches and Talking Beasts, dwarfs, unicorns, and other interesting characters. Narnia was created by Aslan, the great lion who is the Christ-figure in these stories. Aslan returns to Narnia on occasion to save it from its enemies. Narnia is also visited by children from England who come on occasion to aid in rescuing the country.
In this final book we meet the last king of Narnia, Tirian, and his subjects. The land of Narnia has been invaded by their enemies, the Calormenes. The Calormene troops have fooled many Narnians into believing that Aslan has returned to punish Narnia and that the Narnians are to be enslaved to their enemies. Many average Narnians are confused. Some of them form a rebellion with the king leading to thwart this invasion and subversion. Some of the children from England have been called to Narnia to help in its time of need.
The battle finds itself outside of a stable. This stable has been used by the Calormene troops in their effort to fool the people. They have told them that they are keeping Aslan inside. In fact they have one of their own troops stationed inside, and he will kill anyone who dares enter.
The king and his loyal subjects eventually find themselves backed up against the stable and forced one by one through the door. They are afraid of what lies on the other side. Even they have become afraid of what evil might lie in wait.
When the battle forces King Tirian through the stable door, he is shocked by what he finds. Instead of being in a dark, dank stable, Tirian finds himself in a wide, beautiful country. There is an entire land inside the stable with mountains, rivers, forests, and valleys. The sun is shining and Tirian realizes that he is not in an evil place. Tirian is met by those who have come through the door before and other characters of legend out of Narnia’s past. They greet one another and are puzzled by finding themselves in this place. They turn around and examine the stable door. When they look through the cracks in the door, they can see outside to the battle that is still raging.
Off to the side of the stable door a group of dwarfs is sitting huddled in a circle. During the invasion and the battle the dwarfs did not take sides but fought only for themselves. They refused to come to the aid of their fellow Narnians. During the battle, the dwarfs were forced through the stable door. However they don’t seem to realize where they are. The dwarfs don’t see the wide country or feel the warm rays of the sun. The dwarfs seem stuck in the stable. They are huddled in a group, afraid and thinking only of themselves. Our band of heroes tries to convince them that they are not in a dark stable but the dwarfs won’t be taken in. They say they will not be fooled. So they go on sitting there only seeing darkness and not really seeing what is around them.
Aslan appears and tries to help the dwarfs, but they won’t be helped. The dwarfs say, “Well, at any rate there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.” Aslan explains, “You see, they will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out.”
Then Aslan goes on about his work. He leads the heroes of Narnia back over to the stable door through which they watch the end of Narnia. The stars fall, the inhabitants of Narnia flee through the stable door, the seas rise, the land is destroyed, and the sun is put out. The land they have all loved has come to an end. The stable door is closed.
They then begin to journey through this new magical land they have found themselves in. As they travel they realize something. They recognize this land. Why, it looks so very like Narnia, yet bigger and better and different. The Lord Digory, who was present at the creation of Narnia, explains, “the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia, which has always been here and always will be here. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.”
The group of heroes travels through the land taken in by all they are experiencing. Let me now go to the words of C. S. Lewis himself as he describes what happens.
The new [Narnia] was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there, you will know what I mean. It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed and then cried: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. . . . Come further up, come further in!” He shook his mane and sprang forward into a great gallop – a Unicorn’s gallop which, in our world, would have carried him out of sight in a few moments. But now a most strange thing happened. Everyone else began to run, and they found, to their astonishment, that they could keep up with him: not only the Dogs and the humans but even fat little Puzzle and the short-legged Poggin . . . . The air flew in their faces as if they were driving fast in a car without a [windshield]. The country flew past as if they were seeing it from the windows of an express train. Faster and faster they raced, but no one got hot or tired or out of breath.
The characters eventually find themselves in the garden at the center of Narnia, where they encounter all the old heroes of legend and where they soon realize that all the worlds are connected to Aslan’s world.
At the close of the book, Aslan is speaking and says,
The dream is ended: this is the morning.
Lewis then concludes the Chronicles with these words:
And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
I first read this book when I was in sixth grade. I remember distinctly reading the portion where they begin to run, where the Unicorn encourages them to come Further Up and Further In. I read that portion just before recess, and when I got outside I ran. I ran all over the place. I was so full of energy and joy and hope and peace. It may have been the single best recess of my elementary years.
And to this day this story remains an elemental part of who I am. When I picture God or Jesus, I picture Aslan the lion. When I picture heaven, it looks like Narnia. When I meditate, the place I picture myself going to is Narnia. I walk its green hills and swim in its cool pools and lie under the shade of its trees. Twenty years later, I can’t read those words I’ve just read without being filled with energy, joy, hope, and peace.
Let’s consider who was afraid in this story. It was the dwarfs. Aslan says that they are so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out of their prison. They are too afraid to risk. Too afraid to make themselves vulnerable. To afraid to truly live. If they open themselves up and trust what the others are saying or if they only really see what is around them, then they do run the risk of being fooled once again. It is possible that this new country will end up being too good to be true. It is just so much easier for them to sit there huddled together. They think it guarantees them that they won’t be hurt again like they’ve been hurt before.
Wow! How often have we heard those things before? How often have we said them or thought them? “Too risky.” “Don’t want to be vulnerable.” “Won’t let myself get hurt again.” “Fool me twice, shame on me.” So we put up our walls and hide our true feelings. We are afraid to love, afraid to step out on chance with a new job, afraid to trust our family and friends with the truth, afraid of what might happen. It is just too risky.
And from experience we know that the risks are all too real. We told someone that we were gay expecting them to respond well and instead the experience was horrific and a relationship was destroyed or damaged. We experienced pain and grief.
Or maybe we loved someone with all our being and that person broke our heart. We had never felt better than we felt with that person. But with that intensity of positive feeling we made ourselves vulnerable to the worst pain we’ve ever experienced. The joy was intense, but so was the heartache. We just don’t want to risk that again.
Or maybe we risked by moving to a new place, taking a new job, or standing up for something, only to face financial difficulties, experience loneliness, or be attacked for what we did.
Yeah, life is risky. And experience tells us that we need to protect ourselves.
You know, we should protect ourselves. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. As with so many other things, there is a balance to find. We need to risk, but not to engage in patterns of behaviour over time that are unhealthy. What we need to avoid are the dwarfs problems. In this story they are ultimately self-centered. When Narnia was under attack, they refused to help their fellows. When other people needed them, they weren’t there. So the dwarfs find themselves beyond help. If you find yourself developing a pattern of behaviour that refuses to ever help anyone in need because it is too risky for you, then you have moved beyond self-protection into a destructive self-centeredness that is robbing you of life.
The dwarfs have ultimately become trapped into believing that everyone else thinks the same way that they do. They won’t trust people, because people might be as self-centered as they are. Therefore, they are unable to believe. If you become distrustful of other people, you run the risk of losing the joy of life. You might miss something genuinely good when it comes your way. You might think that it is “too good to be true.” Or maybe you will take something good that a person does for you and view it in a negative light, ultimately pushing away someone who may have really cared for you.
The dwarfs are afraid to live vibrantly and passionately. The fire of the Spirit is alien to them. Because of their self-centeredness and lack of trust, they can’t open themselves to the work of the Spirit around them and among them. They can’t receive the gifts of Aslan as gifts.
And look at what they miss out on! They miss out on new found life! A life where they don’t have to worry about being taken advantage of because in this new world everything has changed. They don’t see this. They don’t see the work of God.
But the rest of our characters do. They get to experience life in its fullness. First they experience salvation from their problems. They are no longer battling the evil Caloremenes. On this side of the door they are safe, and they also get to rest and be at peace. As they begin to settle into their new surroundings, they are overwhelmed by its beauty and richness of meaning. Beauty and meaning are themselves part of a rich, full life.
My favourite part, however, is the vitality, the energy, the exuberance, the joy that comes over them when they begin to run. It is like their spirits are on fire. They run across the hills and valleys and over mountains and rivers and up the sides of waterfalls. They run and are not weary, almost as if they have mounted up on wings like eagles. Contrast this with the dwarfs who remain huddled together, sitting in the darkness. The dwarfs are maybe just too lazy to grasp hold of this new life. This new life is full of energy, and it just might overwhelm them.
I want this kind of joyful exuberance in my life. Even if I am not able to physically run like these characters in the story, I want that kind of energy. I want that kind of spirit. I want that kind of passion.
It may begin with feeling, but it doesn’t stop there. Many of us may think we are passionate, when we are really only emotional. Passion is feeling, but it is more than that for us. It also needs to be a habit. As a habit it doesn’t simply come and go like a feeling, but it persists and becomes a part of our character. In many ways feelings are beyond our control but our ability to take a feeling and develop it over time, remain attentive to it, discipline ourselves by it does take our effort and control.
Ultimately, however, I think that this kind of life is a gift. A gift from God. The exuberant joy in The Last Battle is made possible as a gift from Aslan. God has opened up a new life for us. The resurrection has announced to all that death and suffering, oppression and exclusion will not have the final word. No beauty, joy, love, peace, hope, and life get the final word. With Pentecost that power has come upon us. The Holy Spirit has come to dwell among this faith community, energizing it with the power of God. This is your gift!
It’s not a gift that gives you a free pass and lets you forever avoid death and suffering, oppression and exclusion. Actually because you are a part of this new life you will be misunderstood by others. But even in the midst of continued life, you get to live with a new power, a new hope. You don’t have to be afraid of the fire. In fact, we are told to be not afraid.
Instead of sitting huddled in the darkness, afraid to risk, afraid to be vulnerable, afraid to be passionate, grab hold of the new life that God has given you. Live a life filled with fire. For these are the words of Jesus, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”