Whose Story?

A Sermon by Rev Chris Williams

Sunday 25 September 2016

Deuteronomy 6 v6-9, Ephesians 6 v10-18, Matthew 6 v9-15

Three weeks ago I preached on vision. I defined vision as ‘Your picture of the future that produces passion’ We looked at Ephesians which provides one example of what is suggest should be our ultimate vision – to become mature and attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. You can read it on the parish website. Two weeks ago I shared something of how that vision has touched my own life and ministry – acknowledging that it’s not always easy or simple – but if that vision remains in front of you, you can face almost anything.

But today I would like us to consider a little further how we can achieve this vision: to become mature and attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. There is one way of understanding this dynamic which I think is enormously helpful; that is the idea of ‘story’ – or rather, of understanding ourselves as part of a story. We are all part of a story whether we acknowledge it or not, but I propose that to be a Christian is primarily about becoming part of the story of Jesus.

I think all of us are on a quest to find ourselves and discover our place in the world. We all need a convincing story that explains who we are; an overriding narrative that provides us with a sense of worth and direction; a sense of purpose that gives us a reason to get up in the morning and gives us meaning. A story in which we know who we are. And when you get the ‘who am I?’ question right, the ‘what should I do?’ questions tend to take care of themselves.

We will look for meaning in many places – money, sex, power (perhaps, all three!), in the hope that they will bring meaning – but none of these can provide real security, love and a sense of significance.

Some of us have allowed ourselves to be dominated by a story we’ve inherited from others – from our parents, the church, our friends, the media – we have been controlled or crushed by others’ expectations of us (or by the lack of them); we have allowed others to shape who we are.

Some of us are just trapped in a rut – perhaps feeling we are in a second-best story and we’ve not ended up where we wanted to be – our job, our family, our marriage have not turned out as we would have wished and we lack hope for the future.

Fleas jump. If you put a flea in a jar and put a lid on it it will jump and hit the lid. It will do this for several days until it learns to jump just short of the lid. If the lid is then removed, it will still jump no higher than the now-removed lid. In fact its offspring will also jump no higher – condemning them to a life within the jar.

Many of us have had our stories shaped by forces – some of them outside of our control – that means we reach less than our potential. In time, the new, lower expectation becomes the norm, even when the original barrier has been removed. Such constraints can be seen both in individuals and in groups or organisations. Over time we may have created narratives for ourselves that justify our low expectations; stories which we may even have passed on to future generations.

So what story can we become a part of that is big enough to remove any lid that has been created by a different story.

I shared a couple of weeks ago about an experience I had when I was 21. An experience when I was dramatically aware that I was part of a much bigger story – God’s story. It transformed my life and lifted the lid in no uncertain terms. I knew I was loved and I belonged – to God. And that gave me meaning and purpose and hope.

Jesus himself grew upo in a story. He was a Jew and the Jewish faith was understood very much as a way of life. It was in this context Jesus said ‘I am the way’ and the early disciples of Jesus called their faith ‘The Way’. Following Jesus was simply a chosen way of life.

It is not so much about giving assent to a system of doctrinal statements – real faith is about trusting Christ enough to walk his way through life – it’s about letting his story shape our actions, attitudes, responses. When we are baptised, we are baptised into God’s story – literally born again to begin a new story. When we share bread and wine we are identifying ourselves in a most dramatic way with the story of Jesus – his life, death and resurrection. Events which have an enormous influence on how we understand ourselves and the world. Events which give us meaning and value and hope. If a Communion service does not influence your view of yourself then you are probably missing something.

Jesus never wrote a set of doctrines (that may encourage some of us!), He never started a denomination (certainly not the Church of England!), I don’t believe he even came to start a new religion – he simply demonstrated a different way of living – loving God and loving others the way they loved themselves – and invited others to ‘follow him’ in that.

Rather than the word ‘Christian’ (which was never used by Jesus, I often use the term’ follower of Jesus’, simply we are being invited to follow Jesus, to share his story, his life. It’s a lifelong journey – but one that begins now. We follow because this story makes sense more than any other story. Yes, we can respect and learn from other philosophies and other religions – of course we can, but it is this story that to me makes more sense than any other – and I choose to walk within it.

what does it mean to be a part of the Jesus story?

The story is told of the young Robert Louis Stevenson watching the old-fashioned gas lighter wandering down the street lighting the gas lights one by one. One day he was so excited he said to his nanny – Look there’s a man coming down the street punching holes in the darkness.

That is our Job – our mission, (should we choose to accept it) – to punch holes in the darkness of poverty, of prejudice, of injustice, of loneliness, of intolerance, of rejection and hatred – to follow Christ and be agents of change. This is the job of the church. Do you wake up in the morning with this VISION in mind? Is this your vision of the future that produces passion – because it was what Jesus did – and does.

Can you recall the mission statement of Jesus when he started his ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. If we follow Christ, then this surely is our mission also?

Every week we say the Lord’s prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. (Words we actually say twice in the 8.30 service).

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven

These are powerful and life-changing words if prayed in faith. To pray any prayer is to allow it to become your vision, your passion, your longing. To pray this prayer is to allow it to shape you – to become the story by which you shape your whole life.

This prayer is an invitation to you and me to follow Jesus in the way we should live and become the answer to the prayer – to see God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth. To pray any prayer is to offer ourselves to be the answer to that prayer. It is not to influence God – it is to change you.

The kingdom of God is simply another way of saying what life would be like if God were king: if his will was done rather than the will of the bankers, the markets, the politicians. And God’s will is that every person, every community – indeed the whole of creation should flourish – free from oppression and living well.

The kingdom of God is a way of doing things differently: It is where the excluded are welcomed, the hungry are fed, difference is celebrated, injustice is banished, greed is no more, no one is oppressed or abused, disease is eradicated, joy and fulfilment become a reality rather than a distant dream.

The overarching story of the Bible is that the God of the universe is working to establish his kingdom of love, justice, peace here on this earth. And Jesus said we are to seek this kingdom first – before anything else.

God calls all those who chose to follow him and who make his story their own, to be his partners and to work with him in transforming the world to cause his will to be done on earth as in heaven.

This morning God invites every one of us to become a part of his story. To find purpose and meaning and direction within God’s great drama. To break open any lid which has kept us from becoming all we can be, To punch holes in the darkness with the confidence that one day God’s kingdom will come in all its fullness.

This is a picture of the future that, I hope stirs up passion within you. It’s a picture that begins and ends with Jesus. It is a vision that will give meaning and purpose to your life today and which has the power to transform the world in which we live.

I finish with two questions:

What does it mean for your story to be caught up in God’s story?

And what does it mean for St Mary’s story to be caught up in God’s story?