Studying the Bible with Brother Jack
Part I: The Silver Chair: Sin’s Enchantment
July 10, 2011
Scripture reading: John 8:31-36
The next series
I created a survey online for what to preach. Turns out, the first two picks were ones I’m preaching in the fall, and the next will be part of the Inscription series, which means I “have to” preach on the theology in the Chronicles of Narnia.
· I decided to preach a short series inspired by my mentor, CS Lewis, or Jack as his friends called him.
It is tricky to preach this because it cannot be a series on Lewis; I respect him and all, but he is not God. This church is built on the Bible, not Lewis.
But what Jack has done for me has been to help me understand the Bible with clarity and see things in a new light. He read very broadly and knew ancient literature very well.
· Many scholars have narrow focuses, but he had a broad grasp of the whole, and found ways to show how it touches our life.
So then, what I want us to do is not better understand C. S. Lewis, but to better understand the Bible with his help.
· BTW: Among American Christians there’s a foolish idea of “just me and the Bible,” as if God hasn’t spoken to anyone else.
Next week, we will look at Screwtape Letters and Letters to Malcom, Chiefly on Prayer. But this week, we’ll look at one of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair.
The power of stories
Stories have a certain power; they sneak past our intellect and make us feel something. Jesus loved using stories; the Gospels are filled with parables that say more than a sermon ever could.
For instance, the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant strings the listener along with indignation at lack of mercy, then ZING! this is about you!
I have been reading the Chronicles of Narnia since I was 8, and have read it more times than I can count, somewhere on this side of 20, and yet each time I find a new Biblical truth revealed.
I’ve been reading the Chronicles with Grace and Sarah, and we’ve just finished The Silver Chair, and I realized it is filled with analogies of sin, how sin is an enchantment that keeps us bound.
· As I retell story, listen for that theme.
The Short Version
The story opens with Eustace Scrubb (the brat in Dawn Treader) at school with Jill Pole. They are chased by bullies through a gate and find themselves in Aslan’s country, a beautiful forest atop a mountain that makes Everest look like Little Mountain.
· Jill shows off by standing on the edge of the cliff, and then she looks down and sees just how far down it is.
· And of course, that animal is Aslan; he has blown Scrubb safely to Narnia.
Aslan gave her a mission, to find Prince Rillian, son of Caspian. Rillian disappeared ten years prior while hunting for a bright green serpent that killed his mother.
Aslan gives Jill four signs she must follow:
1. As soon as they arrive, Eustace will see an old friend and they must go to him at once.
2. The must head north out of Narnia to an ancient giant city.
3. There they will find something written in stone; they must do what it tells them.
4. They will recognize the prince because he will be the first person to bid them to do something in Aslan’s name.
He makes her repeat those signs over and over again, until she has then memorized verbatim and tell her to repeat them every morning when she awakes and every night as she lays down.
As he sends her to Narnia, he warns her that the signs will look very different down in Narnia and she must not be confused by appearances, which is why she must memorize them.
Once they get to Narnia, they see an old man embarking on a ship and realize too late that that man was Caspian, and they have already failed (“flubbed”) the first sign.
They head north and are joined by Puddleglum, a Marsh-wiggle, like a human with frog features, and all of the personality you’d expect from a frog -- he’s so pessimistic that he’d say the half-full glass will probably break when you pick it up.
On their way to find the giant city, they meet a Lady dressed in a green dress and a knight in black armor, who never lifted his visor or spoke. The Green Lady doesn’t know where the giant city is, but suggests that they visit the Gentle Giants of Hartfang, where they can get a good meal, a bath, and a comfortable bed.
On their way to Hartfang, it began to snow and they stumbled through a strange area, filled with walls and pillars, and fell into ditches that ran in straight lines then stopped. But they were in such a hurry that they didn’t investigate.
They get to Hartfang, they were delighted to be warm and well-fed. But that night, Jill has a dream that Aslan asks her the signs, and she cannot remember them.
He then takes her to the window, were she can see the area they had struggled through – a ruined giant city. They had walked right through it, but were so focused on Hartfang that the missed it, missed the second sign.
Even worse, she could see that the trenches they walked in were massive letters cut into the stone, letters that spelled out the words “Under Me.” The third sign and they missed it as well.
They agree to get out of the giants’ castle and under the city. But that is easier said than done; the giants are in no hurry to let them go. It turns out they are to be the main course for dinner the next day; man-pies are a giant delicacy.
They escape, but as they are being chased, they hide in a cave under the ancient ruins. In the cave, they fall down a slope, miles and miles down. At the bottom they are captured by a small army of earthmen, who take them to an underground castle.
In the castle they meet the knight who accompanied the Green Lady. He is a young man, handsome and kind, but there is something about his face that doesn’t seem quite right.
He insists that the getting eaten by giants was some sort of misunderstanding, and that the Green Lady, Queen of the Underworld, is kind and virtuous. In fact, she has promised to make him king of a new kingdom after they conquer the Overworld.
Furthermore, the Queen has been freeing him from an evil enchantment and he is nearly free from it. But for one hour every day he must be bound up in a silver chair or else he would kill even his friends and then turn into a serpent.
It is almost time for him to be bound, so the knight asks his new friends to stay with him, but they must promise not to release him, no matter what he says to them. They readily agree.
Yet they hold to their word and ignore him. He become more and more angry and starts raving in his desperation to be free, as they were warned he would. But then he begs them in Aslan’s name to set him free.
What should they do? They are very frightened of what will happen if they free him, but they’ve failed every sign, and this is the last one. This must be Prince Rillian. There really is no question, they know what they should do. So they set him free.
At once, he jumps up and grabs his sword, then brings it down on the chair, destroying it. At that moment, the witch returns, for the queen is a witch, the very witch that killed the prince’s mother ten years ago.
She is furious, but changes her tack, throws green powder on the fire, and the room fills with a thick, sweet smelling smoke that seems to fill their brain and makes it hard to think.
As this enchantment sinks in, she convinces all of them that the world they knew, the sun, the stars, the sky, and even Aslan, are all fake, and this underground world is the only real one.
They’re on the edge of completely giving in to the enchantment, when Puddleglum stomps out the fire and they are all roused. The Green Witch turns into a serpent and attacks Prince Rillian. They barely manage to kill her before she gets him.
At her death, the Underworld is set free, and the four of them return to Narnia by the path the witch built to attack Narnia.
The story ends with Jill and Eustace return to their school and Aslan helps them deal with the bullies at their school, so that no more kids could be tormented by the bullies.
The Moral of the Story
It really is a great story, and I was not able to do it justice. I hope you read it soon. But I hope that my telling painted some of the picture that Lewis painted about the power of sin.
a moment of clarity
Think back to Rillian’s enchantment: I knew an elderly lady who was dying of cancer. They gave her morphine, but were giving too much, and she was in a delusional state, unable to tell them.
· To me that seemed to be a type of Hell, to be a prisoner in one’s own mind.
Now imagine that for one hour you have the clarity to see what is happening, but your nurse taunted you and refused to fix it.
Relate this back to sin: The majority of the time, you’re fooled into thinking that you’re fine. Sure there are the regular sins you struggle with, but you think you have them under control.
Then something happens and you have a moment of painful clarity and you see just how wretched you are:
· Maybe you get a glimpse of how others view you.
· Maybe you are arguing with a friend or your spouse, and think, “They just might be right!”
· Maybe the Holy Spirit convicts you about something.
· Maybe something I say catches your attention.
And in that moment, you see something for first time, something you have never noticed before, a big blind spot. Or God forces you to look at that sin you have been ignoring, minimizing, calling it an “old-fashioned rule.”
You see all this, and you echo with Paul:
Romans 7:15-18 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
This is the moment when the enchantment clears enough for you to see you are bound, but not enough to free you.
A Witch’s comfort
Now, in the story, before he is freed, Rillian says the Witch stayed to comfort him when he was in the Silver Chair, but once you know the whole story, you imagine she only taunted him.
Q And what do you think our enemy, the Devil, does when you have your moment of clarity?
He’s got a couple of different tactics, all designed to keep you enchanted, and he knows which will probably work best on you:
1. He may play on your self-doubt:
He will tell you that you are worthless, you are a failure, that God could never love you when you are so sinful. As a result you feel paralyzed, unable to move, afraid of God.
2. He may play on your self-assuredness:
He’ll tell you that you are good enough and smart enough, and you can beat this thing. Make the to-do lists, get help from friends or professionals and work your way to being good enough.
3. Our he will soothe your soul back into bliss:
You are a good person, there is no need for guilt. God is love, not guilt, and he will fill you with Oprah-esque thoughts so you can sink deeper back into your enchantment.
Not of yourself
It really doesn’t matter which one he uses – the self-assured righteousness is just as effective as the New Age theology.
· Rillian could not free himself, he was completely bound.
John 8:34-36 34 ¶ Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
If you sin, and you do, then you are a slave to sin, unable to free yourself. Only the Son can set you free.
Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
· The point of this sermon is not “try even harder to be freed from sin,” it is “fall completely into God’s grace.”
Grace is not simply the forgiveness of sins when you get saved, it is your new reality that God loves and accepts you not because you are good but because he is.
· I recently talked to someone who grew up a Christian, yet still struggled with God’s acceptance of sinners.
Of course the analogy breaks down because grace is both a one-time act of being freed from the penalty of sin and a lifelong journey of being rescued more and more from sin’s enchantment.
The Christian life is the ongoing cycle of having these moments of clarity, falling deeper into to grace, then be freed from the sin that is destroying us:
NIV Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
There is another lesson about sin, how easy it is to be distracted from your mission and led astray. In the story, the reason that they ignored the ruined giant city and nearly got themselves turned into man-pies is that they got distracted.
· They were called to save the prince, but became far more interested in a warm bed.
There is nothing wrong with a warm bed, nor with TV, nor a boat, or Facebook, nor a hundred things that vie from your attention.
Q But are you being distracted from your mission?
I am really enjoying my second job; and quite frankly, it is more fun than writing sermons. The challenge for me is to not get distracted.
· This (Sunday morning) is still my favorite thing, and I work to support this calling.
What is your mission?
Q What is your mission in life?
There the big obvious things: To glorify him, to be a good spouse, parent, friend.
Then there are the things that are specific to you, your personal mission: Mine is pastor this church and to teach people God’s truths, both inside and outside this church.
If you don’t know what God has called you to do, you will easily be distracted by a myriad of things that sound good. Take time and look at your skills and passions.
Q What excites you?
Q How can that be used to God’s glory?
I would encourage you to write that down. Or you can get a tattoo, like mine.
· Once you know your mission, then you can make decisions based on that mission.
Hiding His Word in our hearts
There is something else that struck me: Aslan told Jill to repeat the signs every morning and as she laid down every night:
Deuteronomy 11:18-19 18 ¶ Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Nothing has the power to break the enchantment of sin and the restore clarity of purpose like hiding God’s word in your heart.
A couple of mornings ago I read Proverbs 5, which is all about adultery. I realized how it is even more vital for me to fill my heart with that now that I am working in a “normal job.”
· If you work with the opposite gender, you know what I mean.
With all of the busyness, I have found myself slacking on my Scripture reading, and I can tell the difference.
· I’d encourage you to pick back up on the Inscription reading.
God works all things
There is one last lesson, an encouraging note to end on: Even though they had missed the first three signs, they still reached their objective. Their failure did not tie God’s hands.
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Your sin and failures don’t freak God out, he still makes it work. It may be more painful and take longer, but God will work it out.
[Peralandra, chapter 8?]
· PPT: Please text Peter, service is almost over: 941-3365
Q & A
· Memorize and meditate on Eph. 2:8-10
· Set aside time to prayerfully consider your personal mission
· Read Inscription