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Resisting the Prowling Lion – Day 25

Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape

Day 25 – Wednesday after 4th Sunday of Lent

To Read:

From The Screwtape Letters:

Screwtape, a senior demon, is offering advice to Wormwood his nephew, an apprentice demon.  The language he uses is ‘upside down’ referring to God as ‘the Enemy’ and the devil as ‘Our Father Below’.


The two churches nearest to him, I have looked up in the office.   Both have certain claims.   At the first of these the Vicar is a man who has been so long engaged in watering down the faith to make it easier for supposedly incredulous and hard-headed congregation that it is now he who shocks his parishioners with his unbelief, not vice versa.   He has undermined many a soul’s Christianity.   His conduct of the services is also admirable.  In order to spare the laity all ‘difficulties’ he has deserted both the lectionary and the appointed psalms and now, without noticing it, revolves endlessly round the little treadmill of his fifteen favourite psalms and twenty favourite lessons.   We are thus safe from the danger that any truth not already familiar to him and to his flock should ever reach them through Scripture.   But perhaps your patient is not quite silly enough for this church – or not yet?

At the other church we have Fr. Spike.   The humans are often puzzled to understand the range of his opinions – why he is one day almost a Communist and the next not far from some kind of theocratic Fascism – one day a scholastic, and the next prepared to deny human reason altogether – one day immersed in politics, and, the day after, declaring that all states of us world are equally ‘under judgment’.   We, of course, see the connecting link, which is Hatred.    The man cannot bring himself to teach anything which is not calculated to mock, grieve, puzzle, or humiliate his parents and their friends.   A sermon which such people would accept would be to him as insipid as a poem which they could scan.   There is also a promising streak of dishonesty in him; we are teaching him to say ‘The teaching of the Church is’ when he really means ‘I’m almost sure I read recently in Maritain or someone of that sort’.   But I must warn you that he has one fatal defect: he really believes.   And this may yet mar all.

Your affectionate uncle


To Reflect:

Oh the joys of the Revised Common Lectionary!  Wonderfully devised so that in a three-year cycle –  Year A for Matthew, Year B for Mark (with chunks of John) and Year C for Luke – we remove ourselves from the danger of hobbyhorse preaching.  Mind you after 40 years of preaching when I get to John Chapter 6 in the Year of Mark I do wonder how I will manage yet another five-week run of sermons on the theme of Bread, even though it be Living Bread!

Screwtape handily outlines here one of the two dangers those preaching and those hearing sermons face.  

I remember a colleague from a different Province of the Anglican Communion who in his diaconal year, having written one sermon for each Sunday of the Book of Common Prayer year based on the Collect, Epistle and Gospel, then proceeded to preach those same 52 sermons for the next 40 years!

Not that repeating a message, so that it sinks in, does not have its uses…

Norman York, Reader and sometime Headteacher of the Royal Hospital School unerringly preached the same sermon at the first Evensong of the year to all 700 boys.  This meant that each of us heard it seven times – a good biblical number!  Whenever I meet with Old Boys of the School it is the one topic about which we are guaranteed to speak.  However Neddy York won the day as all the boys of my generation can repeat his sermon, based around the effect of a small pebble producing a large ripple when thrown into the pond of life, word for word.  So there is hope yet for others and me the next time John Chapter 6 comes around in the Lectionary. [i]

Repetition becomes dangerous when it becomes a hobbyhorse and diabolical when we presume that God cannot use the same words to reveal a different part of God’s love.  Beware of saying to yourself, on listening to a familiar passage of Scripture or the same old anecdote from the preacher, that you have heard it all before.  The Word of God IS living and active and, if we but let it, it will pierce our souls and transform our hearts.  But for that to happen both listener and preacher must be willing to be wounded by the Word.

The other danger is that described by the character of Fr. Spike.  (A deliberate lampooning that Lewis is careful to debunk in his commentary on his writings – however there is always a grain of truth in any caricature.)

Looking at Fr. Spike I see a few uncomfortable truths in my own life.  Am I called to be a fierce Zealot of the faith or some sort of sacred social worker?  Should I always be found standing at the barricades and protest at the injustices of society or become consumed by a personal private piety wrapped in vestments and surrounded by incense?   It is all too easy to replace a hobbyhorse with frequent, passionate (or should that be violent?) mood swings…..

In reality each of us is called, ordained or not, to be careful loving pastors of those around us.  Attending to both the Word and the World, we are to be agents of transformation.  To do this we must come to learn that the call is to a journey of faith not a declaration of position.

If we start with the Word we must beware that we do not chase the little treadmill of (our) fifteen favourite psalms and twenty favourite lessons and be ever ready to find new unfamiliar truths, then go and share them with the World 

If, on the other hand, we discover our faith in serving the World we must make sure we acquire the fatal defect of really believing and look forward to being nourished by the Word that was first preached in the world.

The old well-worn catholic-evangelical quarrel about whether it is the Word or the World which sets the agenda for the Church is a nonsense.  It must ever and only be the Holy Spirit who sets the agenda for the Church.   Our concern (though we must do both) should not be about determining our strategy for Social Action or our plan for Bible Preaching but should instead be about being focussed on obedience to God’s call wherever the Spirit may lead us.

To Do:

If you have a favourite Scripture passage visit it again but spend more time with it.  Read it in a different version or even, if you can, in a different language.

If you do not have a favourite Scripture passage, or maybe know some Words which mean much to you but you are uncertain of their origin, look them up and try to commit them to memory.

Whatever you do, hold on to that Word asking for some new way of making it come to life for you. 

A useful Biblical reference resource is Biblegateway.com which besides covering many different translations of the Bible has some useful study tools.  It is also available as a free App for iPhone, iPad, Android and Kindle.

A Psalm To Ponder:


Refrain:        Come, refining fire of love

Why do the nations rage at one another?

Why do we plot and conspire?

The powerful of the earth set themselves high, 

the people collude with their pride.

We whisper against those God anoints, 

chosen to embody God’s will.     Refrain:

Do not be mocked and derided, O God: 

speak to us in your wrath, terrify us in your fury, 

break us with your rod of iron, bring us in fear and trembling 

to fall down before you and kiss your feet.      Refrain:

But who is this, God’s chosen one – God’s Son?

Inheritor of the earth and all it’s people?

You take our rage upon yourself,

mocked and crucified, yet meeting all with love.     Refrain:

Ah, Fire that shrivels up our hates, 

and brings us to our knees in awe!

Ah, Light that pierces all our fury, 

laying bare our greed and our pride!

Forgive us, for we know not what we do.     Refrain:

Come, wondrous Ruler of the universe, 

holy and just, compassionate and merciful.

Come, universal Reign of peace.

Come, Anointed One, in glory!     Refrain:

Ruler of heaven and earth, raising Jesus from the dead and giving him the victory, work in us the power of your saving love and bring us to share in your reign; through Jesus Christ our Saviour.  AMEN. (Jim Cotter)


Please Note:  These reflections are also published on my blog: suffolkvicarhomes.com on Twitter as @SuffolkVicar, and on my public Facebook page Rev Andrew Dotchin

If you would like them as a daily email please send a request to vicar@felixparish.com


Quotes from The Screwtape Letters are copyright © 1942 C.S. Lewis Pte

Prayers from Psalms for a Pilgrim People are copyright © 1989, 1991, 1993 Jim Cotter

Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

These Reflections,  ‘Resisting the Prowling Lion’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2023

[i] For a good resource to help reading and reflecting on the lectionary have a look at textweek.com

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