The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
'“Well, sir, if things are real, they’re there all the time." "Are they?" said the Professor; and Peter did not quite know what to say.'
I had a friend who was so put off by her experience of aggressive Christianity that when Christian groups started to make a big deal about the book from which this quote comes, in the lead up to it’s release as a movie in 2005, she decided she wouldn’t go and see it. The book and film is of course, C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Many believe and argue that the book is a direct allegory of the Christian story of sacrifice.
C.S. Lewis actually refused to accept the idea that his children’s books were allegorical in this way. Undoubtedly he used them to wrestle with philosophy and beliefs with particularly Christian ideas. But they were not a direct allegory of the Christian Narrative. They do, however help us to engage in ideas of faith, of sacrifice, of good and evil, and not always in the black and white way which some who adopt them would like.
But then we can find the Gospel, the good news, in any number of places whether it was intended to be there or not. Of course, we are not, any of us, in such a bubble that we could even develop the idea of a story without having been influenced either by Christianity or by the rejection of it. However, I would argue that we can find the elements of Christian faith and truth in all sorts of places.
Whether it be lamenting the fallen world like in the psalms or exploring the joy of love. I remember, when I was learning to play my guitar, I met another young man who had decided he would only play Christian Music. His hope was that music would be for him a focused praise of God. But of course, this failed to recognise that a Christian is as sinful as any other person, and Christian Music can be as flawed as any other.
To claim to detach oneself from the world God created would not some how bring him in to greater communion with God. If anything, I would say now, it could take him farther away from God. As if nothing by a non-Christian or without a Christian objective could engage with the things which are most important to God.
I’m often amused how people will say to me, after telling me about somebody or something, like, for example, a politician: ‘And you know she’s a Christian!’ As if that makes me somehow more favourable to me, like I’d be more inclined to vote for them. That said, I’m sure I’ve said the same thing to others on occasion.
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles is one of my favourites. Paul stands in front of the Areopagus - an outcropping of rock Northwest of the Acropolis in Athens. Here Paul gives a brilliant sermon, using an approach which is the basis of sermon teaching still. He’s been in Athens for a little while and has got to know the people and the place, their poetry, their art - he sees they worship many different gods or idols in their temples. After arguing with locals in the synagogue and the marketplace for a number of days, they bring him to this rock and ask him what he’s been talking about. So he acknowledges that they are devout and then highlights an altar he’s seen to the unknown God. Paul then presents Jesus as that unknown God, as we might present the week’s Gospel as offering a particular insight into a recent experience or event.
When he finishes telling them about the resurrection, what gets dropped off our lectionary is that among the congregation that has gathered, much like might happen here, some scoff at what he has said, while others want to ask him more questions afterwards. Paul sees in the world a way in which God has prepared a way for him, he trusts in the Holy Spirit to guide him in this sermon in Athens.
In our Gospel, continuing from last week, Jesus is reassuring the disciples before his death. Here he is telling them the Holy Spirit will accompany them, and that they will be able to discern the work and will of God in the world by this Spirit of Truth. The disciples will continue to see Christ because the Spirit will show him to them in the world around them. And that loving him they will follow his commands - to love one another and to serve one another. Much like Paul is able to see Christ at the Altar of the unknown God and introduce the Athenians to him out of a sure love for them.
At St John’s, over many years, Robert has helped us to develop a musical tradition which is unique to this church. Rather than only seeking out the pure and the sanctified music from only the traditions of the church, it is a tradition which seeks to recognise God working in a broad range of genres and musical traditions. We’ve been able to recognise how that music has engaged with the created and loved world around us. Music which engage with the emotions and struggles as well as the joys which are actually at the core of scripture, often when the church has utterly failed to acknowledge or engage with the reality of the world around it.
And this is exactly what we are called to do as disciples of Christ. To go out, empowered by the Spirit and look for the ways which God is engaging with the world. To see God in one another here in this place and out there. To rejoice at the sight of the Glory of God wherever we find it. In art, in music, in food, in the person next to us on the tube. To rejoice in each glimpse we find of the beauty of God, and to demonstrate our love for God by loving and serving the world which God created.