Sunday, February 3, 2019
Scripture: I Corinthians 13:1-3 & Luke 4:21-30
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
We begin in story. As long as humans have walked God’s earth, we have told stories about the world. Page 1 of the Bible is the story of God creating everything out of nothing, using words. A story. A story told in the framework of the love of God. The first people to show up in the Bible – Adam and Eve – have a story too. It’s a story that still holds incredible currency in the church and in the world at large.
We are a story people. Long before words made it onto clay tablets or scrolls, people preserved their stories orally. Around campfires and tables, they would tell each other about the meaning of life and about why they approach the world the way they do. We do this through books and poetry. We do this in our own families. I’m sure many of us gathered here today have family origin stories. They are stories about how our families first came to be in the United States. They are often stories of survival and risk, reminding us that we have the good lives we have because a relative who came to the States generations ago worked hard in a factory seven days a week, saved, and provided a future for us. Today we tell stories in more ways than ever before in human history. We tell them on film, through streaming, through the endless channels of cable, through amazing libraries, through church and school, at home, through Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. We are a story people.
Why do we tell stories? Stories define the direction of our lives. I think the author of The Little Prince captures this idea so well, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” We tell stories not just to pass the time. We tell them to expand the imagination, to give a frame to our lives, and to propel us forward into a direction that we believe is beneficial to us and others around us. Scottish Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, puts the question to us about as simply as anyone. “I cannot answer the question, ‘What ought I to do?’ unless I first answer the question, ‘Of which story am I a part?’”
The weather this past week sure was interesting, wasn’t it? On Tuesday our family was getting pretty stir crazy, so we braved Planet Hoth to make it to the movies. A couple of months ago Jess saw the preview for The Kid Who Would Be King, which is a modern take on the King Arthur myth. She immediately turned to me and said, “I want to see that!” I just shot her a look that said, “What? Are you crazy? That looks terrible.” Well, nevertheless, she persisted, which could be a framing story of our marriage. So on Tuesday, we saw it. By the way, Jess and the boys loved it. I thought it was pretty decent and a good take on 80s adventure films like Goonies. And it was not a waste of time since now I’m talking to you about it on Sunday.
The movie is about Alex, a high school student in London who is an outsider. His mom is raising him by herself to the best of her ability, but Alex and his friend, Bedders, are constantly harassed by Lance and Kaye, the school bullies. One day, Lance and Kaye are chasing Alex after detention to beat him up, when Alex hides in a construction site. There he finds a sword stuck in a stone, which he manages to pull out. The rest of the movie really is about Alex, Bedders, Lance, and Kaye discovering the story they are in, learning to live fully into that story, and finding who they are along the way. Whose story were they in? Well, they were in the story of King Arthur. In accepting that reality, they learned what they needed to do to save the world from Arthur’s wicked half sister, Morgana. They know what to do because they discover which story they are in.
Whose story are we in? Before we know how to act at all, we must find an answer to that question. In his book, You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith offers us a funny and telling way to look at this question, “Let’s say I have a flute and I’m using it to roast marshmallows over a campfire…As you can imagine, it doesn’t work out very well, and I throw down the instrument in frustration. ‘This is a terrible flute!’ I say. Well, no, not really, because I’m not using it for what it was made for. Roasting marshmallows is not the proper telos for a flute.” That is, a flute’s reason for existing is to play music. To use that flute to roast a marshmallow is a misuse of the flute. Just ask Maryanne. If we don’t take a look at the stories we are in – for all of their glories and flaws – then we really will never know if we really doing what we should be doing with our lives.
Jesus knows his stories. Not only does he recognize his purpose in life, but he is steeped in the stories of God told in the Scriptures. Our text for today picks up right where we left off last week. Jesus has just finished reading from Isaiah and made the stunning declaration that Isaiah’s words are being fulfilled in Jesus. Suddenly, the story takes a wild turn. Prior to verse 21, Jesus is receiving universal praise and affection from all gathered around him, including those in his hometown. Now Jesus takes the story in an unexpected direction. Using the stories of his own people gathered for worship, Jesus challenges their expectations about who he is and what he has come to do. He takes them first to the story of the widow of Zarephath, found in 1 Kings 17. There was a long drought, and God’s prophet, Elijah, went to foreign territory to help this widow, whose son had just died. Then Jesus goes straight into a second story from Scripture, the healing of Naaman the Syrian, who had leprosy. This story is found in 2 Kings 5. In it this important foreign man comes to Elijah’s successor, Elisha, for healing. Jesus points out that there were plenty of people in Israel suffering from skin diseases, and yet this is a story of God working outside of their expectations. In both cases, Jesus points out how the people are being selective about which stories they are willing to live into. They want Jesus to be theirs and theirs alone, but Jesus has a larger story to tell.
So, Jesus knows his stories, and they get him into trouble. How quickly they turn on him! He tells them stories they don’t want to hear, and they are ready to end his life, although because Jesus is living out a greater story, he is able to pass though their midst and carry on with God’s story for his life.
If I were to define what my role as pastor is in one sentence, it would be this: My calling is to keep us tethered to the gospel. In all situations – personal, social, political, and relational – my work is to seek to place what is happening in the context of God’s story for the world. Now, I’m not someone who relishes conflict at all. I’m a Nine on the Enneagram, which means I’m a peacemaker. It would be incredibly difficult for me to make the shift Jesus did in our story, but I recognize that all of us get our stories mixed up and that sometimes what is necessary is stepping into the role that challenges people. Believe me, I saw it in your eyes a couple of weeks ago when all I did was mention “the border.” Yet when I bring anything up like that, I do it for the sole purpose of tying the issue to the gospel. What does the gospel have to say about this thorny issue? How do we think about difficult subjects as followers of Jesus? I don’t relish the conflict, but my aim is always for the purpose of saying, “What does the gospel have to say about this today?”
We heard the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13 earlier in the service. They are such glorious words as they remind us that our story rests in a love that is so much higher and deeper and broader than any love we could imagine on our own. Paul reminds us that God’s love is at the root of all we do in life – from the most important to the most mundane. We could do the most amazing things, but if God’s love is not there, then they amount to nothing. We could do the most selfless acts, but if God’s love is not there, then it is of no benefit to us. Jesus tells these convicting stories from a place of love and compassion for his people, whose understanding of God’s love has narrowed to the point of excluding those they don’t like. Jesus says it doesn’t work that way. He loves them too much to let them believe that God’s story is exclusive to them.
“What are we here for in the first place?” N.T. Wright asks and then answers, “What we’re ‘here for’ is to become genuine human beings, reflecting the God in whose image we’re made, and doing so in worship [and mission].” Worship is part of what re-stories us. Worship is part of what causes us to long for the “endless immensity of the sea,” telling us once again that we are far more than we tend to believe about ourselves.
Now, we strive to tell ourselves this story week in and week out in worship, but let’s be honest, appealing to logic and intellect only get us so far. Worship is embodied. We are not just brains on sticks in here, but full-fleshed human beings. It’s why we sing because it gets our whole bodies involved. It’s why we stand and sit and pray and give. It’s why we come to the table, for there is no other part of worship that appeals to our whole selves as much as the table. This table tells our story again. When we come to the table, we are reminded of whose story we are in. We take the bread and the cup into our very beings so that we may then be strengthened to live according to God’s story.
What story are you in? God’s story, and that is a story that is so clearly told at this table. We come to this table to strengthen our resolve to live into this story over and above all other stories we are told. We come, repentant, because we know we’ve narrowed the scope of this story. We come, humbled, because this is God’s table, not ours, where Christ is host, and invites all who would come to encounter this story of great love. So, come, my beloved friends. Enter God’s story once again, so that you may know God’s great love and so that you may experience the extravagant love of God for you. The love that directs your steps from this table back out into the world that needs to know this extravagant love. It’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.
 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Wisdom of the Sands (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1950).
 Smith, James K. A.. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. loc. 1391.
 ibid., loc. 1405.
 N. T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2012), 25.