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Done: The Chronicles of Narnia Now struggling with sadness Yet coupled with optimism

Time and again I am frustrated with how to manage all the thoughts that get tangled up in my brain after I finish reading a book, but that tangle is multiplied by seven after finishing the series, The Chronicles of Narnia,by C. S. Lewis.  I am left with sadness of the end, yet that is coupled with the optimism.

At the same time, basically, I have finished reading the Old Testament book of Numbersand the New Testament book of Revelations.  Maybe that has multiplied the tangled mess in my head.

I know I have said it before, but reading fantasy literature is difficult for me with all the invented names the authors introduce.  My dyslexic brain is so wired to read language that fits into my paradigm of spelling and meanings, that stepping into the fantasy world of unknowns slows down my reading and therefore complicates my ability to stay connected to the storyline.

Now add to the storyline of the seven chronicles the Biblical timelines of the Old Testament, the New Testament and then the future as outlined in Revelations and this brain is almost fried, if I may use a vernacular.

BUT.  And I do mean all caps BUT, the reading continues to fuel my understanding of God. I am more and more convinced of the reality that where I live here in the Midwest of the United States, a North American country of the globe we label Earth is just one tiny speck in a universe that God has established.

AND, yes an all caps AND, the speck in the universe that I am is as exciting and delightful as any speck might be anywhere in the vast unknowns—as long as we are part of God’s loving world filled with Grace, Love, Mercy, and more Love.

In one respect, I am thankful that I read the chronicles in the way the stories were packaged rather than in the order they were actually written.  I like order. And even though the chronicles always remind readers that today’s earthly definition of time and Narnia’s concept of time do not match, keeping the sequence of the stories in order helped my dyslexic-and probably obsessive-compulsive tendencies-aided in my comprehension.

That is a lengthy introduction to the tangled thoughts that are bouncing around in my head, but I beg your patience as I begin trying to sort out some of my thoughts.

1.  The Chronicles of Narniais much more than juvenile literature.  The truth that Lewis presents how to treat others just as they want to be treated—whether human or animal—is critical and I am thankful that it is the underlying theme for each of the adventures.

Loving one another as one wants to be loved is absolutely critical.  That rule of life has, is and always must be the measure of all actions whether in personal relationships, in community neighborhoods, in business decisions, in national and international decisions, even in decisions on how we treat the other living beings co-existing with us.

If every decision was made based on that principle, how could decisions have negative affects?

2.  The Chronicles of Narniaalso illustrates the basic sins of humanity that return over and over in literature and in our daily life, especially greed and power.  Lewis’ characters clearly identify the negative effects of the sinful behaviors in vivid descriptions of the characters’ features and faces, not to mention their actions.

The images literally caused me to shiver as the story took a turn for evil and challenged the forces of good.  I get the same reaction when the news shares some terrible event or even quote something or someone who is operating from the premise of greed or power over the well-being of others.

Reading the Old Testament book of Numberswas challenging because I could not comprehend the need for the itemized explanations repeated over and over for how to make sacrifices, nor for the different degrees of sacrifices or offerings for this or that purpose. Confusing.  Unnecessary.  Unmanageable. Of course, those descriptors come from the 21stcentury after God sent Jesus as the final blood sacrifice.

Which again brings up the discussion of timelines. As I read through the New Testament book of Revelationsalong side ofNumbersandThe Chronicles of Narnia, I had to face the fact that we continually need to be taught how to keep our life focused on God and the true commandments that Jesus taught during his ministry:

                  Love God.

                  Love one another.

As much reading as I am doing these months, I can turn almost any literature into a theological discussion on how to live the Christian lifestyle and how that combats all the evil in our lives.  I also can see though the various written words how essential it is to live in our current timeframe by those very commandments so that we are able to transition into any other realm at any time. 

When I read the final chapter of Lewis’s The Last BattleI wanted to scream, “NO!”  Over and over I wanted the story to continue and for the Eustace and Jill to return to their lives in England without any loss of Narnia.  

I wanted to scream, “NO!” that the evil ape Smith was just misleading all the creatures of Narnia.  

I wanted to scream, “NO!” that the donkey Puzzle was clever and the ape was dangerous trying to manipulate Puzzle.

I wanted to scream, “NO!” to Tirian as he drew his sword trying to fight against the impossible number of Calormenes.

But the lesson would have been lost if Lewis’s story had not continued to the surprising conclusion as each one of the Narnian squad entered the Stable door.

Then as the last chapters began to conclude the chronicles, the glory of Aslan pushes the reader forward, into a realm of new possibilities.

And, my personal readings once again intertwine. Remember, my personal reading has been included Revelations, which is filled with the wonderment of the New Jerusalem in vivid descriptions.

Why, I ask, did I find myself binge reading The Chronicles of Narniaalong side the year-long Bible readings?  As I said, now that I finished the chronicles, I am experiencing a sense of sadness, but it is coupled with optimism.

My brain is afire with thoughts, but then the final pages of The Last Battleand the chapters of Revelationsseem to be racing together to tell me one of the most wonderful truths that I have yet to experience:  Life with Jesus as my savior leads to life eternal in a world so unbelievably beautiful that there is nothing to fear.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear loving, gracious, merciful Father

As the words of your servants

Unveil the mysteries of our earthly lives,

May we shed all the fears

that clutter our lives

Muddling the beauty of life around us.

Lead us through the Holy Spirit

Who teaches us through the words

Of Holy Scripture written so long ago, 

but also of gifted writers since those days.

Open our hearts and our minds

So that we may take the words

And open our hands to serve you

In any way that we can 

So others may learn the promises

Of The Word shared by Jesus.  –Amen

Just a P.S. Words are powerful and I continue to read even when the ideas, the genres, and the timelines cause my brain to go into overload.  How often I find myself needing to step away and let my thoughts just float around before they fly out the fingers on the keys.  May God’s words enlighten me through the Holy Spirit so that my words are God’s tools.

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Telling the story: Cain & Abel

given on Sunday, January 8, 2012

Telling the Story:  Cain & Abel

 

Background:  We are moving into a calendar time known as the Sundays after Epiphany:  January 6, 12 days after Jesus’ birth, the day the Wise Men arrived.  The Christmas Story now becomes the story of Jesus’ development into the man with a new message. 

         One of the questions that has floated around in the back of my mind is why do we need to study the Old Testament once we have accepted Jesus as savior?  The more I studied the Christmas Story, I found myself thinking about how a tiny infant would be raised.  The Old Testament was the primary teaching tool for those of the Jewish Faith, and Jesus was born into a Jewish household.  He was educated with the Old Testament.

         The priests, who were the teachers, too, relied on the Old Testament stories to teach the young people the proper rules for living within the faith community as well as the secular community.  In the local culture, the secular world was structured around the Jewish faith.  Even though Jesus was God, the physical human form had to be developed and to be accepted within the community; Jesus had to grow up just like the other kids in the community.

         Looking back at the Old Testament Bible Stories understanding the culture and the educational style is the lens through which various Bible stories will be studied.  One goal is to connect the lesson from the Old Testament to a lesson in the New Testament.

Just what lesson does the Cain & Abel story teach?

Based on Genesis 4:1-15

         How can a story of one brother murdering another brother in cold blood have any positive lesson for Christians today?  Surely we do not need to hear another violent story; there is enough murder and mayhem on the nightly news, on the various drama TV episodes, and in the movie theaters.  Why this story?  How can it possibly provide us any value when the Christmas story is one of love?

The answer may lie in a verse from Mark.  As the New Testament reveals the story of Jesus’ life, the lessons in the gospels focus on one overarching theme:  love one another.  In Mark 12:30-31 the connection may provide the key:

29-31Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”  (the Message)

Cain and Abel were the first two children of Adam and Eve.  They were born after the couple ate the apple and were kicked out of the Garden of Eden.  Regardless of one’s understanding of the creation story or the sequential record of humanity’s development, the Bible stories provide a primary textbook for how to live and how not to live.  In Genesis 3 and 4, the story teaches how sin separates humans from God.

Adam and Eve failed to follow God’s law, and they were forced into the real world.  As they began their family, they experienced all the same battles families do now:  the need for the basics:  food, shelter, and clothing.  To provide for those needs, the men took various roles to work for those needs while the women continued to meet the needs by cooking, making clothing, and maintaining the homes.

Living in community, the personalities of family and non-family members differed and greed gets in the way.  The problem may have a different look in the 21st century, but it is the same problem that has created conflict throughout human history.

Cain worked as a farmer; he tilled the land and raised crops.  Abel was a rancher, so to speak.  He raised livestock rather than till the land.  The products they produced were different so the comparison of their gifts to God seems to be the source of conflict.  Cain provided an offering to God of some of his produce while Abel provided the best meat he raised.

The various interpretations of the offering agree that this is where the conflict begins.  God expected only the best to be offered, not just some of the gleanings.  The fourth verse provides readers the difference in God’s acceptance of the offerings:

Cain brought an offering to God from the produce of his farm. Abel also brought an offering, but from the firstborn animals of his herd, choice cuts of meat. God liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn’t get his approval.

The reaction of Cain is the same as a similar experience is for us today:  he became angry.  Whether the trigger for anger is greed—Abel’s offerings were more valuable—or whether it was jealousy because Abel found more favor in God’s eyes than he did, anger took over.

As young children, early Jewish laws were taught from the Old Testament text.  Jesus, just like his peers, went to Temple for teachings and the story was used to teach them the right way to live.  The murder of one brother over the quality of the offering seems petty; yet it demonstrates that sometimes emotions boil up and lead us to make bad decisions.

Today, just like in the beginning with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and other related family members in the Old Testament, violent reactions occur over the same issues:  greed and jealousy are at the top of the list.  This week in our own metro area, the news has reported murders, robberies, and vicious behaviors that echo the Bible stories of conflict.

Have we learned any lessons?  Hopefully we have, but we need to check ourselves against the guidelines or the commandments that Jesus taught and are recorded in the New Testament.  Mark’s inclusion of the greatest commandment:

“The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.

If Cain had provided the best of his labor to God before anything else was done with his harvest, would the story ended differently?  We cannot second-guess the scripture, but we can learn the lesson.

In our lives today, are we offering God our best?  Are we passionate about our love of God?  Are we sincere in our prayers?  Do we put forth our best in using our intelligence and our energy?  Do we come to worship with the zeal that God is the basis of our lives?  Do we come to thank him for his love, his faith, and his guidance?

Cain did not.  Cain freely decided to murder his own brother out of jealousy and/or greed.  Cain sinned.

And what is the rest of the story?  Sin lead Cain to a frustrating, unhappy life.  Not only did he struggle, but also so did his family.  God did not strike Cain down; but when He did talk to Cain, he continued to show unconditional love despite his sin.

God’s punishment is that the land, where Abel’s blood was shed, would no longer produce well for Cain.  The result forced Cain to become a homeless wanderer trying to find a way to provide food, shelter and clothing.  And . . .

13-14 Cain said to God, “My punishment is too much. I can’t take it! You’ve thrown me off the land and I can never again face you. I’m a homeless wanderer on Earth and whoever finds me will kill me.”

God did not follow Cain’s behavior and kill him, no eye for an eye, or tooth for a tooth.  No . . .

15 God told him, “No. Anyone who kills Cain will pay for it seven times over.” God put a mark on Cain to protect him so that no one who met him would kill him.

God demonstrated to Cain what we are to do—he turned away from the sin, punished him, but then protected him.  There is a paradox of sorts in the story, but looking at God’s actions through the New Testament teachings one can see the application of the Greatest Commandment:  ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment  . . .

The story of Cain & Abel might first appear to be one to avoid, but if we look deeply into our personal history and our personal lives, I suspect there is a ‘Cain & Abel’ story hidden within our own lives.  Yet, it is how we deal with our sins that makes Jesus’ story so extremely important.  When we accept God’s grace, work to understand how Jesus was born, lived, and died for us, and then live our faith honestly, then we know that God’s unconditional love will provide us forgiveness and eternal life.

If Jesus can learn from the Old Testament Bible stories, then we can, too.  If we sin as Cain did, we can still turn to God and ask forgiveness.  God loves us.  Jesus loves us.  Do we love God so much that we can follow his example and love those who sin against us?  Remember Jesus’ Greatest Commandment:

29-31Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”  (the Message)

As we depart today from the safety of our church, let us remember that the stories are there for us to use.  Let us go out and tell the stories so others may understand God’s love.

Dear Loving Father,

Today we hear the Old Testament Bible story

Of Cain murdering his brother Abel.

Let us find the lessons you want us to know,

Let us live the lessons we learn, and

Let us tell the stories to others

So they may also find the joy in Christian living.  –Amen

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