The Wide Family of God ———–Mothers’ Day ————–6th Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:44-48 —————May 9, 2021—————-John 15:9-17
Today’s story comes from the pen of C. S. Lewis, from his book called The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. One of the main characters is described in the opening sentence: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” He is described as an annoying, spiteful, friendless know-it-all who gets dragged into Narnia with his cousins (who had been there before). Eustace was a constant pain to everyone. And when the ship anchored at an island, he wandered off and discovered a dragon’s cave! Of course, it was filled with treasure, and he loaded his pockets with gold and jewels. He saw a fancy armband and put it on, then he settled down on the treasure to take a nap. When he awoke, he had turned into a dragon, and his forearm hurt like crazy because of the armband. He flew back to the rest of the crew, and was able to help them understand that he was Eustace. They were very kind and accommodating to him, and did all they could for him.
One morning, his cousin Edmund saw someone approaching their camp in the pre-dawn light. He drew his sword and was about to challenge the stranger—but it turned out to be Eustace! He was a boy again! He explained how:
“Last night I was more miserable than ever. And that beastly arm-ring was hurting like anything…and then I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly toward me. There was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough.
But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it—if you can understand. Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn’t any good because it told me to follow it. And I knew I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it to a well. I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells—like a very big round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first.
I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means.”
Eustace peeled off a layer of skin, but he was still not ready for the water. He did it two more times, but it was no good.
“Then the lion said, ‘You will have to let me undress you.” The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. He peeled the beastly stuff right off—and there it was lying on the grass. Then he caught hold of me and threw me into the water. I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again! After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me.”
Edmund explained that the Lion was Aslan (who is the Christ figure in all the Narnia stories). The author goes on to say that Eustace “began to be a different boy. The cure had begun!”
I love stories in which someone (who seems to be absolutely intolerable) experiences redemption, and grows into the person they were meant to be! Our Scriptures are full of these characters, and they illustrate God’s determination to be WIDELY INCLUSIVE.
O, the Wideness of God’s Mercy
I don’t know about your experience, but I was raised in a very narrow slice of the world’s population. In my little church, folks looked like us and acted like us. We all professed very similar values. If someone had asked me, “What does a Presbyterian look like,” I would have thought that I knew. But 42 years of ministry has widened that perception!
In our reading from Acts, we see Peter and friends at the house of Cornelius, a God-believing Gentile. They had thought that they knew what followers of Christ looked like, until the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured on these Gentiles! And Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?!” They were learning about the Wideness of God’s Mercy!
My Experience in the Family of God
This passage forces me to think about my own experience in the family of God. It dovetails with a line from Romans 12 where Paul urges us “not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.” And he tells the church in Colossae, “In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”
The Scriptures are begging us to widen our perceptions of the Family of God. The Holy Spirit is urging us to get to know people who are different from us, and to resist judging them. Again, in Romans 12, Paul writes: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another.” You and I have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, and we must find ways to get our differing gifts working together!
One barrier to our mutual acceptance and our working together as the Body of Christ is this: Human beings have a tendency to annoy one another! It’s as if we are walking around with a lot of sharp edges that hurt others. It’s not that we are bad people—it’s just that we are human, and part of the human experience is that we tend to hurt each other. Yes, we are followers of Christ. Yes, we are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. But, we are all so very different—and we see the world differently—and we express ourselves differently. Paul saw the problem, and addressed it in his letter to the church in Colossae: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another…forgive each other. Above all, clothe yourselves with LOVE (Godly love) which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Harmony—that’s what we are looking for, right? We all know what the melody is—a familiar tune, the main theme. But harmony requires other voices: counterpoint, basso continuo, other voices that are singing with the melody to make beautiful music.
In my former church, Ann Nisbet noted that Presbyterians like bagpipes, and maybe this is why: In a set of bagpipes, there are three drones that just play the same pitch for every song. It’s the chanter that plays different pitches that vary from song to song. In every Presbyterian congregation, there are always some drones that go on and on, droning away, never changing their tune! But it’s love—God’s love—that makes it possible for us to make beautiful music together. It’s God’s love that “binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Does that mean that people stop being annoying and sometimes hurtful? Sadly, no. But when we intentionally practice patience and forgiveness and compassion, the glory of God is revealed in us!
I want to finish today by taking us back to Eustace Scrubb. He was very like a dragon in his relations with others, but when he showed up as an actual dragon, the others treated him with compassion and kindness. It made him want to be a boy again, to be part of their fellowship, to be one of their number.
If our church treats others like that, we will be partnering with God in the process of helping each other to grow into the fullness of the stature of Christ. Thus, Paul urges the church in Philippi, “Make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”