A post-homiletical discourse delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe
Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, Nevada, November 18, 2007
I’ve thought for a long time that Christian sermons are more informed by the Enlightenment than by the Gospel (you know – a beginning, three main points and a conclusion…a well-reasoned argument to convince why, for three good reasons, you ought to pray, for example). I’ve gone over and over Jesus’ way of preaching and I’ll be darned if I can find that particularly effective technique.
The same is true of our worldview in general. I’d have to say that our worldviews are probably shaped more by the media than by the Gospel. We’re so used to getting our cues for right living and thinking from the cable news networks that we tend to disregard things that, at the end of the day, are much more important.
It’s like the coach who had assembled what he thought was the perfect team for the Detroit Lions. The only thing missing was a good quarterback. He had scouted all the colleges (even the Canadian and European Football Leagues), but couldn’t find the right guy.
Then, one night, as he is watching CNN, he sees a war zone scene in Afghanistan. In the background he spots a young Afghan soldier who had just thrown a grenade through a window from 80 yards away. Then he throws another from 50 yards down a chimney, then hits a passing car going 80 miles an hour. “I’ve got to get this guy!” the coach says to himself.
So he brings the young Afghan to the United States and teaches him the great game of football. Sure enough, the Lions go on to win the Super Bowl. The young Afghan is hailed as a hero and when the coach asks him what he wants, all the young man can say is that he wants to call his mother.
“Mom,” he says into the phone, “I’ve just won the Super Bowl!”
“I don’t want to talk to you,” the old Muslim woman says. “You have disappointed us. You are not my son!”
“Mother, I don’t think you understand!” pleads the son. “I’ve just won the greatest sporting event in the world!”
“No! Let me tell you,” his mother retorts. “At this very moment there are gunshots all around us. The neighborhood is a pile of rubble. Your two brothers were beaten within an inch of their lives last week. And I have to keep your sister in the house so she doesn’t get assaulted.”
The old woman pauses, then says, “I will never forgive you for making us move to Detroit!”
All I’m saying is that when we think of “war zone,” we think of Kabul. We think that way because we rarely question where cable news locates war…. Well, this morning we’re going to take a little trip down memory lane to experience yet another way in which our priorities have been messed with. Do you remember where you were?
Dave Mussatti was in the doctoral program for history and was walking through the Berkeley campus when he heard about it. Miss Barbara was a junior at Mercy High School in San Francisco and was hanging out in the hall with her friends when the news came. Mr. Davis told Cindy Hale and her third grade class what had happened. Jessica wouldn’t be conceived for another eleven years, so she’s a little sketchy on the details.
It was 44 years ago (next Thursday, to be exact) -- November 22, 1963. It was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. It was the kind of gripping news that suspended time. People remember exactly where they were, how they were feeling, even how they were dressed. If you were to ask them what they wore last Tuesday, they couldn’t tell you. But that day! That day stands out in the minds of everyone over the age of about 50.
Many of you remember it. [Thomas Brown, JFK: History of an Image] A young president – at that time, the youngest ever – who embodied the qualities of coolness and charm, wit and elegance, taste and a zeal for excellence. What a breath of fresh air after the stultifying ‘50’s, where the “mass society” was suffocating in its own conformity and materialism! And what about Kennedy’s youth, rich with the associations of activism, optimism, originality and vig-ah?
Two weeks after the assassination, Theodore White wrote a eulogy for Kennedy in Life magazine. In it, he recalled Jacqueline Kennedy’s tearful confession to him:
“At night, before we’d go to sleep, Jack liked to play some records; and the song he loved most came at the very end of this record. The lines he loved to hear were: ‘Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot.” [Brown]
Camelot. It’s a word which suggested a special time, exempt from the boredom and routine of mere politics, glittering with glamour, full of benevolence, and presided over by a handsome king and his beautiful queen.
Of course, in the 44 years since JFK’s assassination, critics have taken apart the myth of Camelot and exposed it to the harsh light of day. That “one, brief, shining moment” also featured the start of the Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and the nearly apocalyptic Cuban Missile Crisis. And let’s not forget those many dalliances….
So why are perfectly intelligent people perfectly willing to suspend their disbelief and become swept up in the Romance? Maybe it’s because a story like that reminds us – at a deep level – of another such story.
In his book, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis speaks of his strange spiritual longing. He described it using a German word, Sehnsucht. It was a longing for something beyond anything this world could offer. Augustine described it when he wrote, “You, O Lord, made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Not surprisingly, this is the exact spiritual sense tapped by the romantic notion of Camelot. It’s a wistful remembrance of a time that once was – a time in which all things were well with the world. It’s something that we once knew, but seem to have forgotten. It has been called by various names – heaven, being “in” Christ, koinonia, the Kingdom of God.
In his Tales of Narnia, Lewis presents us with a glimpse of what this might be like. It is the end of the long journey and the story is concluding:
“For us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.
All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now, at last, they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Unfortunately, that same world which has forgotten completely the Great Story is quick to assign ultimacy to two-year presidencies. And we – even we in the Body of Christ – buy into it.
Here’s the proof:
JFK was touted by the press to embody the ideals for which we stand. His presidency was exalted as Camelot (despite the evidence). He was, in the eyes of his admirers, a Great Man.
Against this image I give you C.S. Lewis. He was a faithful Anglican, professor of literature at Magdalene College and cultural exegete. He was one of the finest writers on the Christian life in our time. In book after book he presented a strong case for the efficacy of faith.
Millions upon millions of seekers have found his writings compelling. He has written books of fantasy, myth and science fiction that have opened the minds of his readers to a sense of the mystery and power of the Kingdom of God. He has probably been the most influential Christian of the 20th century.
So here’s the test:
Where were you on the day that C.S. Lewis died?
* (Here’s a hint: he died on November 22, 1963.)