The Story of Us

Now suppose you were to ask me to tell you about my marriage. I might say something like “well, it is my task to put out the garbage on a Sunday night ready for Monday morning, and Sandra’s tasks are to keep the pantry and fridge stocked, buy the clothes for the boys (yes, that includes me), take the lead on the medical concerns of our children, . . . well, pretty much everything but get the garbage out. Now of course I am exaggerating but I hope that you find it odd that a question about my marriage would end up with a list of duties and expectations. Yet we do this all the time with matters of faith. A question about our faith may well lead us to speak about our duties and expectations as a Christian. Or as I fear, many in trying to pass on the faith to the next generation will focus almost solely on passing on that list of duties and expectations. This can be described as the “it is good for you” kind of faith. Problem is the next generation normally has no problem coming up with a set of values and ethics on their own, especially with culture and society so eager to help. If that is all the Christian faith is about, then why bother, especially as Christian duties and expectations will seem quite a bit more bothersome than what might come up with ourselves. I needn’t tell you that many in the next generations (including my own) haven’t bothered.

The Psalmist in Psalm 78 has a heart for the coming generations and is eager to pass on the faith:

My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done. (Psalm 78:1-4 NIV)

We will want to notice right from the start that the Psalmist has a much bigger sense of faith than the duties and expectations. Yes, the Psalmist will go on to speak of God’s law as part of the “praiseworthy deeds” of the Lord, but there is something greater here than being grateful for a mere list of ethics. The Psalmist wants to pass on the knowledge of the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He wants to pass on, not just the rules of a religion, but better the knowledge of the living, interacting, and intervening God.

This of course assumes that the Psalmist knows the praiseworthy deeds, the might, and wonders of the Lord. If we are to be effective in passing the faith on to a new generation (and this is a key desire of mine within my own family!), step one is to be sure we know it and enjoy it well ourselves first!! Do you know the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord? Have you seen his power at work? Are you able to articulate the wonders he has done? Can you point to where these can be found in the Bible? Can you point to where these can be found in your own life story?

Furthermore, in the rest of the Psalm (and it is a long one, rather like some of my sermons!), the Psalmist tells us a story, or better, stories. These focus on God’s people, their rebellion, God’s covering them with grace and forgiveness, God’s drawing them forward with discipline and instruction, and finally God’s preparation for the future. The story ends with Israel’s final rebellion against God, his purposes being carried forward with Judah and King David. In fact the ending has kind of an ‘unfinished’ feel to it as one suspects the story will go on. And we know it does. But the thing for us to notice is this: the Psalmist in having a heart for the next generation, spends much of his time telling the stories of God’s relationship with God’s people, or the story of us. This is more like what you might expect to hear if you asked about my marriage. How we met. How we fell in love with each other. How we fell in love with our children. You don’t expect a list of duties and expectations, but the story of us. Can you articulate the story of God’s love for his creation and humanity? Can you tell the story of how you fell in love with God? Will you? The story goes on . . .

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Better Bread or Bread Too Hard to Swallow?

Watching the Olympics has been inspiring this year especially now that we are owners of of a pool.  The diving competitions have especially caught my interest and I find myself most amazed at the ability of the divers to enter the water with very little splash.  My entrances into the water can only be described as “The Cannonball Effect” whether I’m trying to do a cannonball or not.  So recently I decided to work on my technique for pool entry with minimal splash, and have to admit with some pride that I have done very well and hardly make any splash at all anymore.  Of course it requires me to go to the shallow end and wander in via the steps, but who said I needed to dive in?  I’m not exactly a medal hopeful.

Of course as I speak of my pool entry there may have been some misunderstanding.  You may have figured I was speaking of diving and jumping, though I’m sure there is no misunderstanding on my medal hopes.  John  chapter 6 captures a moment of misunderstanding, of Jesus saying in effect to the crowds around him: “you just don’t get it do you?  You just don’t understand who I am!”

The people are looking for Jesus to do a ‘sign,’ to pull off something special so that they may know that he is someone special.  They are hoping that he will be a prophet like Moses (note v.14):

30 They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? 31 After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus responds in a most intriguing way by insinuating that comparing him to Moses is like comparing apples to oranges, or really that any comparison is a lost cause:

47 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. 48 Yes, I am the bread of life!49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. 50 Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.”

What Jesus says here is pompous and blasphemous if it is not true.  Indeed we should notice that by the end of the chapter many of Jesus’ followers stop following him because what he is teaching them becomes too hard to swallow.  His teaching in this chapter really points out to the crowds that they do not have a big enough vision of who he is.  Expecting him to do something like Moses in calling down bread from heaven?  Jesus will do something even more amazing than that, after all everyone who experienced the miracle bread of Moses’ day ended up dead eventually, but everyone who experiences the miracle of Jesus ends up alive eventually.  Indeed the whole chapter has hints that God is working a new kind of exodus event through Jesus (my thanks to NT Wright for this insight which I don’t have room to write about here -and hardly had time to preach about during the sermon!), a much more significant event than that which was considered the most important in Israel’s memory.  But where that first Exodus brought deliverance to a nation, this Exodus in Jesus will bring about deliverance to the world.  Where that first Exodus brought freedom from the Egyptians, this Exodus in Jesus brings freedom from the true enemy that every captor has been a symptom of – sin.

Now again, Jesus’ words in chapter 6 are pompous and blasphemous if they are not true.  Which brings us to an important point for us today.  Many Canadians like to believe in a”good moral teacher but just a man” kind of Jesus.  But that is not the Jesus of the Bible.  Jesus did not just teach morality.  He was also very careful to set the record straight on who he was.  And he was and is much greater than any prophet including Moses.  He was and is accomplishing much greater things than any prophet including Moses.  His teaching didn’t just contain morals.  As C.S Lewis has said much better than I can:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. – Mere Christianity, pages 40-41.

But “what if” some will ask, “Jesus did just teach morals and these ‘blasphemous’ teachings were put into his mouth later by the Gospel writers?”  Then we need to ask why he was crucified.  One did not get oneself crucified by going around teaching morals, but rather by rubbing the non-believing religious leaders’ noses in one’s divinity one too many times.  “But what if Jesus were not crucified and that part of his life is mere legend?”  There is as much evidence for his crucifixion as there is for his life.  “But what if he never lived?”  Then  all of history’s facts may as well be lost to you.  Some go that route in kind of postmodern fad, but to me that would be like a scientist looking through a microscope and doubting that she can trust her eyes to see anything.  Why bother?  Yet for the sake of medical advances among other things we are glad they do bother.  It is worth bothering ourselves to seek out the truth about Jesus.

To some who find Jesus’ teachings hard to swallow he will be a pompous blasphemer.  Some will try to keep a ‘nice man’ Jesus by being selective in what they believe he taught.  Some will never look into it.  But my prayer is  that to you Jesus will be the bread of life who gives you eternal life.