Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pentecost 9 - Year C

I haven’t yet seen the Simpsons Movie, but I plan to. I’m a BIG Simpsons fan. Not only is it a great show, it is a WEALTH of sermons illustrations. After one too many Bart and Homer references, someone pulled me aside in Halifax and gently asked me to lay off the Simpsons in the pulpit.

I love the Simpsons, not just because it’s funny and well-written, but because it’s a thoughtful commentary on today’s culture. The Simpsons cartoon is not just a satire of its time, but also a ground-breaker for pop culture, says Chris Turner, the Calgary writer of Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Documented an Era and Defined a Generation.

The Simpsons is my generation’s narrative. It’s our story. Most folks older than me hate it, and most people younger don’t quite get it. It’s not their story. So, my story and other stories rub sandpaper-like against each other.

It’s easy to get sucked into competing stories. And one of the defining characteristics of today’s world is that there is no BIG STORY linking us together like there once was.

The US told the story of revolution leading to freedom. Canada’s story has been a battle between English and French, Anglo and Quebecois, east and west.

Now we are told that we choose our stories. That the old stories don’t work.

This isn’t really anything new. Just look at today’s second reading. It looked like the church in Colossae was in danger of forgetting their new story and returning to the old one. So Paul reminded them:

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.”

In other words: Remember your story. And your story is Jesus’ story.

It’s hard for Paul to break out of his Jewish upbringing. But then again, he didn’t feel the need to. When he wrote this passage he was probably thinking of a passage from Deuteronomy:

Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gate.”

In other words, Continue to live God’s story. Continue to live God’s love. Every moment of every day is supposed to be filled with God’s Word, with the story of who God is and what God has done. We should so indwell this story that it permeates our whole being, so that it is constantly on your tongue and at the heart of every conversation. The cadences of this tale should become your native tongue (adapted from Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keemaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire)

Paul was reminding the Colossian Christians that their story is found in Jesus’ story. But how does Jesus’ story become OUR story.

Last Monday, Cathy and I went to the special synod that bishop Ron called to talk about the “Way Forward.” And as people talked about what should be our priorities for the next while, there was widespread agreement that “biblical literacy” should be at the top of our agenda as a church.

It makes sense. Who could disagree with that? Who else are we going to know how to be Christians except from studying the bible? Especially when many folks in our churches don’t know the difference between the Old Testament and the New.

That aside, when folks kept hammering away on biblical illiteracy and we need more rigorous scripture study in our churches, I found myself asking “Why? To what end?”

Do people think that if they simply study the scriptures then sinners will fall in line? That our divisions will be healed? That we’ll all suddenly agree with each other? That sin will suddenly be silenced?

Or is it just another way of bossing folks around? Using the bible as a club to beat people with? A set of rules and regulations that dictate to people how they should live?

Or will studying the bible help us enter into God’s story as it’s unfolding all around us?

New Testament scholar NT Wright talks about the task of reading and living out the biblical story in terms of an unfinished six-act drama.

In Act One the scene is set with creation. The author’s intentions are revealed. Then Act Two is the crime or break in the relationship. The Garden episode with Adam and Eve is the first instance of plot tension.

The remainder of the story, which consists of a torturous route to resolution, is divided up into four further acts. Act Three is the story of Israel and Act Four is Jesus. Act Five is the Church and Act Six is the end, where the Author’s brings it all to an end.

Or so it seems. If that were true then the story would have finished 2000 years ago. Where do we fit into the story? If we are actors in this story, then we need some fresh lines.

So we turn to the Author and ask for more script. And the Author says, “Sorry, that’s all I’ve written – YOU have to finish the story. But I have given you a very good director who will lead you to the end.”

So here we are with an unfinished script. But the only way to finish it is to know the story that came before. (NT Wright via Walsh and Kessmaat)

To learn from the prophet Ezekiel who ate the script so it became a part of him.

And to follow Jesus’ command to consume him; to eat his flesh and drink his blood: the Word made flesh, for he is our script.

So how are we going to finish the story? As actors in God’s drama, a divine Goodfellas, or sometimes, God’s romantic comedy, - a celestial Hugh Grant saga - how are we going to bring it to an end? How is it going to resolve in your life and the world?

That’s the question that God is asking us, and the question I think we are asking each other. But answering that question takes time, discernment, and heavy doses of prayer to hear the Director’s voice calling us to a deeper interpretation of our role, and a greater love for the Author.

May we have ears to hear it. Amen.


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