January 28th, 2016
I suppose it’s the “Disneyfication” of my soul that upon hearing the name Rudyard Kipling my reflexive response is suddenly to hear Phil Harris singing “The Bare Necessities.” True, there are worse ditties to be so easily brought to the top of one’s brain, but I can only imagine that the famed author who now lies at rest in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey would prefer to be remembered for something a bit more substantial than what that paragon of commodifying enchantment can produce; and Disney is indeed relentless.
Of Kipling, another prestigious literary giant, T.S. Eliot, offered this curious but on the whole affirming appraisal:
An immense gift for using words, an amazing curiosity and power of observation with his mind and with all his senses, the mask of the entertainer, and beyond that a queer gift of second sight, of transmitting messages from elsewhere, a gift so disconcerting when we are made aware of it that thenceforth we are never sure when it is not present: all this makes Kipling a writer impossible wholly to understand and quite impossible to belittle.
Kipling is right to be remembered for his most famous Jungle Book (and all its offshoots, including Riki-Tiki-Tavi); for his other children’s stories like Wee Willie Winkie; for his prolific poetry (e.g. “Gunga Din”); and for his short stories like that of The Man Who Would Be King, the likes of which earned him an ambiguous reputation as the “prophet of British imperialism” from no less than George Orwell.
But did you know that this Nobel Laureate of 1907 is also to be remembered for his appreciation of the Apostle Paul, specifically the persecutor-turned-evangelist’s experience with that ill-fated ship in Acts 27 which turned out to be quite the picture of Providence?
Neither did I.
But Kipling saw fit to imagine the episode from the perspective of the boatsmen who ferried this curious Jewish “philosopher” to Rome. Thick with maritime nomenclature (which you’ll have to get used to) and the towering talk of men telling sea-tales, Kipling does a magical job of wondering what those sailors-for-hire might’ve thought of their prisoner-cargo who demonstrated equal parts amiableness and unflappability. When the soldiers contemplate killing the prisoners as the ship makes land, one witness recounts:
‘So I cleared my dirk [dagger]—in case I had to argue. Iron always draws iron with me. But he [Paul] said “Put it back. They are a little scared.” I said “Aren’t you?” “What?” he said; “of being killed, you mean? No. Nothing can touch me till I’ve seen Caesar.”
Rev. Brett Rayl is the Director of Christ Bible Institute in Nagoya, Japan and a church-planter associated with Mission to the World, the mission arm of our denomination. CtK is a supporter of him, his family, and their work. He and his family will join us this Sunday when he will preach and then give a presentation during 2nd hour about his work in the Far East. Brett will give the penultimate sermon in our series from the book of Acts on that very maritime experience Kipling was pleased to adapt.
In less than two weeks we turn in the church calendar to the season known as Lent. It begins officially on Wednesday, February 10th, with the first Sunday in Lent falling on the 14th (apparently St. Valentine was in accommodating mood).
We’ve spoken of Lent before in these pages, briefly explaining its meaning, purpose, and its history. And while there is a wide and varied spectrum of observance among Christian traditions, it has only been in the last several decades that churches in the Reformed tradition have begun to share in some of the same Lenten practices as those of its fellow Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and fellow Protestant communions.
During these seven weeks leading to Resurrection Sunday we’ll preach a series of sermons on the habits of heart and mind that do most to eclipse the light and warmth of God’s grace in us. In church history they’ve come to be known as “deadly sins,” but for reasons we’ll get to are better understood as vices–habits as ingrained as the virtues we hope to supplant them with. More on that in due course.
This year at CtK, there will be a couple of new ways we take the season of Lent to heart. For one, we’ll usher in this season by holding an Ash Wednesday service on the 10th at 6pm at CES. We’ve written before about Ash Wednesday’s meaning. Now we’ll let that meaning become a practice–singing, praying, reading, hearing, and then concluding with the imposition of ashes upon the forehead for anyone who would like to participate. (For more background into Ash Wednesday here’s a good article from our friends at the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship. And here’s another.)
The other new aspect of Lenten observance will involve offering you some devotional resources for reading and prayer, much like we did this last Advent for adults and children. Beginning Ash Wednesday, we’ll both print and post some materials we’ve been given permission to adapt and distribute from sister churches in our denomination.
You’ll have choice in this material. One resource will provide structure for morning and evening prayer, whether alone or with family or colleagues. The other resource will include a series of devotional thoughts and prayers from a wide range of voices, some within our Reformed tradition and some outside but respectful of it. These resources aren’t meant to supplant or be additive to what devotional practice or material you might already use. They are offered only for those who might benefit from some guidance and structure to their devotional life in this season–and beyond it.
But one more word of context.
Given the aforementioned variety of Lenten practice among Christian traditions, which includes some which have no practice and make no mention of Lent in the 40 days prior to Resurrection Sunday; and given that some of us come from traditions in which Lenten practice was articulated in such a way as to give the impression that such observance was necessary to “true spirituality,” it was a topic of lengthy discussion on our recent Session prayer and planning retreat whether to even have a service like this, or to offer resources like we will.
Some authorities to whom we’ve appealed in the past argue that Lenten practice in a Reformed setting is at best duplicative and at worst a distortion of the centrality of grace, no matter how well-meaning. But in light of how we plan to take note of Lent, how we invite you to participate in it, we came to the conclusion that this form of observance offers many benefits while avoiding any excesses. Any and all we’ll do is, as we’ve said, an invitation, not an imposition. And it will all be meant to impress upon us the beauty and inexhaustibleness of grace found in the gospel, and how our grasp of it impels us to reflection, examination, repentance. All in the service of the very freedom to which it calls us (Gal 5:1). If you have any questions, you’re most welcome to contact us.