Monday, April 7, 2014

Journey to Jesus: Kneeler Stage: Two Roads, Two Kingdoms

(If you're just joining this series, it begins here.)

After exploring the over-arching narrative in which we live (simplified, of course), we're ready to talk about the daily journey. Every kairos moment is a moment of choosing which kingdom we journey toward: kingdom of God or kingdom of self (and consequently, the kingdom of our enemy who longs to keep us from God).

I love this illustration that I found here. I don't know what was in the mind of the artist when he or she created it, but it nearly perfectly exemplifies the complexity of the choices we make every day. The options that are most celebrated and lauded by our culture are often the ones that lead to darkness and death; whereas the ones that look dangerous and risky and ridiculous in the eyes of the dominant culture (toward the kingdom) are the ones that lead to life. (I could say much more about post-modern suspicion represented in this, but that's not what this post is about.)

The illustration I draw on the white board of two kingdoms is not nearly as creative or layered as the one here, but it helps the kids to consider that they are continuously presented with forks in the road. One road is an invitation to live in fellowship and communion with God and the other is an invitation to live for something else. This is the constant conflict we live within.

I read an excerpt from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in which Eustace has become a dragon. Ending with this segment: "He realized that he was a monster cut off from the whole human race.  An appalling loneliness came over him.  He began to see the others had not really been fiends at all.  He began to wonder if he himself had been such a nice person as he had always supposed.  He longed for their voices… It was very dreary being a dragon.  He shuddered whenever he caught sight of his own reflection as he flew over a mountain lake.  He hated the huge bat-like wings, the saw-edge ridge on his back, and the cruel curved claws.  He was almost afraid to be alone with himself and yet he was ashamed to be with the others.” 

C.S. Lewis talks about how Eustace became a dragon by thinking dragonish thoughts and dreaming dragonish dreams. I pause and ask the kids about the dragonish thoughts and dreams that they sometimes dwell on. Some examples might be, "He has what I want. I want more." "She's being mean to me, I'll be even meaner to her!" "I'm much more important / interesting / intelligent, etc. than ___, why does everybody pay so much attention to ___ instead of me?" etc.

After the kids (and their parents!) have shared some dragonish thoughts, we continue reading in the Dawn Treader as Eustace explains to Caspian, Lucy and Edmund where he has been. We end with this part: "Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been.  And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.  Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water.  It smarted like anything but only for a moment.  After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone… And then I saw why.  I’d turned into a boy again…

After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me… in new clothes.”

Eustace tried to peel the dragon skin off himself a few times, but each time, it grew back. We reference Romans 7 and talk about how much a part of the Christian life this struggle is. No one is above it. No one has completely triumphed over it. But the good news is in Romans 8. The Spirit sets us free from sin and death and empowers us to live differently. The picture of Eustace being taken out by the lion and dressed in new clothes is a picture of baptism. Our old selves are put off and we are clothed in Christ Himself. 

We turn to Ephesians and explore the command to live as children of light, being filled with the Spirit (You could also turn to Colossians 3:5-17, Galatians 5:16-26). We talk about the put off / put on dynamic and find some examples in this passage of things that need to be taken off and things that need to be put on, keeping in mind that all of this is only possible by the empowering of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. 

I ask the kids some questions: Have you ever tried to get rid of your own dragon scales? Tried to be better? Tried to behave better? Tried harder? How did it go?

If God’s not involved… if God isn’t the center of the process, all of our efforts are essentially worthless… short-lived, temporary. We must realize that scratching at our own scales is not a permanent solution and so we must place ourselves at the mercy of the lion’s claws.

For reflection for the week to come, I toss out some questions: What are your dragon scales?  Which parts of yourself do you think are least pleasing to God?  To your parents?  What do you most often feel sorry about?  Or what are you most often disciplined for?  What must you put ON to replace these?  If you yield to him, what can you expect from God on your behalf?  For next week, think about a situation in which you were disciplined or felt sorry about your behavior or attitude.  How can you depend on the Holy Spirit to empower you to take a newly redeemed action if this old situation comes up again, now that you know that Christ is re-clothing you?

Even though there is conflict in this life and we are constantly presented with the bondage that evil brings on one hand and the freedom we have with Christ on the other hand, we persevere in the Spirit of Christ, acknowledging the tension between what we are and what we have been called to become (Romans 6-8, Colossians 3, 5). Each and every kairos moment is an opportunity to turn again toward Jesus, to keep on the Journey to Jesus, to depend on the Spirit as Jesus Himself did on earth.

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