Featured Sermon: Christ the King – Rev. Heidi Haverkamp
It’s a pleasure to be with you this morning. My name is Heidi Haverkamp and I am an old seminary friend of Ben Varnum’s, here as a guest of your diocese because of a book and church program I wrote called Advent in Narnia. I wanted to do this program with my own parish and when I couldn’t find any materials out there to help me, I decided to write them myself. You may or may not be familiar with the young adult novel, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis – maybe because of the Disney movie made about ten years ago, if not the book itself.
It’s a sort of fairy tale about four children, a secret doorway, and an enchanted land with an evil queen and talking animals. But it’s also much more than that. C. S. Lewis wrote a children’s story of wonder and humor, but it’s also a story about serious Christian theology: about conversion, sin, love, and resurrection. He wrote it so subtly that you could read the whole book and never really notice, but when you read with the awareness that Lewis was trying to also tell a story about Jesus Christ, there is a whole new depth to this very simple book he wrote. Adults in my workshops have sometimes shed tears, getting to know this story in a new way – getting to know, really, the story of salvation in a new way.
C.S. Lewis did not set out to write an allegory of the gospels. He was a lonely professor at Oxford and certain images kept popping into his head: a faun with his arms full of packages, a lamp post in a forest, a queen on a sled, and a great lion. It was as he wrote down the story that it became what it was – as he put it later, a story about what it might be “if Christ had come to a world different than this one.”
The interesting thing for us to notice about Christ the King in Narnia, especially today, on Christ the King Sunday, is that Lewis saw Christ not as a human being, but as a lion – Aslan, the Son of God, whom Lewis calls the Emperor Across the Sea, is a member of the animal kingdom. In Christian Scripture, we are used to hearing about a Son of God being very much like us – born as a baby, living as a man, and truly dying, as a human being. But Aslan is different from us, which is not un-Biblical, but a different vantage point. Christ was human and God, like us and very different from us. Aslan is flesh and blood, but he’s not quite like the children. He loves them, he even cuddles them, but he is also fierce, and strange, and different from them, just as God is from us. Just as Christ is loving, but also: fierce, strange, and different from us – human, but also divine.
Mrs. Beaver in the story tells the children about Aslan at one point: “He’s not safe.” When I think of so many of the passages from Matthew we’ve heard this fall, and also many Advent readings, I think about this: Jesus is not always nice. Jesus is not always pleasant or patient. Jesus is fierce, he gets angry, and well, he is not exactly “safe.” Mrs. Beaver tells the children, “Aslan is not safe, but he’s good.” Jesus, our King, is human – he is not a lion – however, he is not safe. But he is good.
When we hear Matthew tell of the end of the world and Jesus dividing us according to how we have treated the most vulnerable of our neighbors, it’s a Jesus who is not safe, but who is good. It is a king who is not nice, but a king who loves us so much that he asks us to love one another, not just with words but with deeds.
If we truly have been transformed by our faith in Christ, we will show it in our lives. If we turn to him as our Lord and Savior, if we put our whole trust in his grace and love, if we seek and serve him in one another, our lives will also turn to the most needy in our communities. I look at my own life and I know there are things I do well and ways I could engage more – not to check off a box but to grow in love of my neighbor as well as in knowing Jesus in my life.
Christ is our King and he loves us more than we can imagine. My bishop likes to say, “Christ loves us just as we are, and yet he loves us too much to let us stay that way.” Christ dearly desires for us to love one another and not just to love – but to show our love in action through works of mercy. Christ came to save us, but also to make us part of his saving work. The Body of Christ is a body that cares for the bodies of others.
In Narnia, Aslan the Lion also comes to save his people, but also to make them a part of his mission. He loves the four children, but he also takes them very seriously – which is part of what makes it such a terrific children’s book. They are not just victims or little kids he swoops in and rescues – they also have a part to play. In fact, one of the most powerful scenes of the book is when Father Christmas finds the children and gives them gifts, on Aslan’s behalf. They aren’t your usual Christmas gifts – not toys, but tools. Several are actually weapons! A sword and shield, a bow and arrow, a horn to call for help, a dagger, and a healing cordial.
I think this is what God is trying to say to us in the gospel as well. You are loved more than you can ask or imagine. You are also called to be a serious disciple – children, too – to walk into situations of need, even of life and death, and to share Christ’s love and mercy with people who need it. Christ our King needs our hands and hearts, he needs us – requires us, even, although I realize that may make some who believe we are saved by faith alone, squirm – but I hear Christ here telling us that works of mercy are not optional for a life of faith in him.
The good news is that – like Father Christmas – God gives us what we need to do these works of mercy for one another. This is not superhuman stuff (although maybe visiting a prison is, that’s a real tough one) – but feeding the hungry, welcoming a stranger, caring for sick people, keeping a place in our hearts and lives for “the least of these.” God is not asking you to be someone you’re not, or to be a miserable person. God is asking you to be brave and become more of the person you already are, in loving your neighbor who is in dire need.
Maybe there is a gift in particular, that God has given YOU, for helping the least of his family. I invite you to think of that for a moment, or to ask God to uncover it for you if you are not sure.
How might Christ the King be calling you, to live out your baptismal covenant in this way?
What can a novel with talking animals teach us about any of this? I think C. S. Lewis taps into what Paul wrote in a letter to the Corinthians, that, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor. 1:25) And “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18) There is a mystery and foolishness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we may need children’s books to help us grasp.
As we approach another Advent season, may you find joy, wonder, and foolishness enough to meet Christ the King in your life and in the lives of your neediest neighbors, for in so doing, you will meet Christ, again and again. Come, Lord Jesus.