Monday, October 21, 2013

The Old/New Story

A sermon preached at St. Andrew's On-the-Sound Episcopal Church in Wilmington NC on October 20, 2013.  The texts were Jeremiah 31:27-34 and 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5.


For thousands of years, human beings have been telling stories.  From the obvious fact that we have inherited a Bible filled with stories that are (approximately) three thousand years old, to the even more ancient tales the Neanderthals painted with dirt and grime on the walls of their cavernous homes, humans have always been story-telling creatures.  At their best, stories have a way of capturing not just our intellectual interest, but they grab us at our emotional core, tugging on the strings of our hearts, inviting us in to feel what the characters feel, to journey with them, to arrive at the end somehow changed or transformed.
            Though, not all stories are about the journey.  Think about how often stories get told at family gatherings.  Even stories filled with inconsequential details take on a greater significance.  Telling stories is a way to remember the past so that the present and the future maintain a sense of connection, of continuity. Speaking of family gatherings, one of my favorite things to happen when stories get told is how one story gets repeated time and time again, and each time a new detail emerges, or if you’re like me, a new detail gets exaggerated.  But no matter how tired the story is or how exaggerated it becomes, it’s the telling of the story that matters because it’s a reminder that we are caught up in something bigger than just the present moment and the problems it brings.

Some stories, however, dwell too much on the darkness of this present age.  The never-ceasing news cycle replays horror stories of crime, tragedy, and violence.  Wars and rumors of wars persist.  Speaking of darkness, we’ve entered into a season where ghosts, ghouls, and goblins adorn our porches and legends of violence, betrayal, murder and mayhem cause a great fear to settle upon our hearts and minds.  So the doors get locked twice, and the porch light is left on, and we shudder at the sound of anything that goes bump in the night.  I’m fascinated by the Halloween season because I marvel at the stories we choose to tell, and the films we choose to watch…how we choose to dwell in the darkness if only but for a moment.
            Dwelling in darkness certainly isn’t just a modern phenomenon.  The Hebrew Scriptures contain a great many stories about the people of Israel seemingly mired by darkness and destruction.  Second only to their enslavement by Egypt, the Babylonian exile stands as a time of great darkness and gloom for the people of Israel.  Their land stripped from them, their wealth and riches snatched by Babylonian hands, and their people divided and sent into exile.  And leading up to this exile and captivity, the prophet Jeremiah had been warning God’s people of a coming calamity, but they wouldn’t heed his warnings.  And so the Babylonians arrived and conquered Jerusalem.  Though Israel’s story had been a narrative of God’s chosen people living into prosperity, they chose another narrative.  They turned to false gods and forsook the ways of their forbearers.  They chose a story of rebellion, and this choice ultimately cost them their identity.
            But in the midst of this exile, of this captivity, of this deep darkness, Jeremiah listened to the LORD’s voice and offered another story, a new story: “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the LORD’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” The people had chosen to ignore the story of their ancestors, the story of how God chose them from among all others, had saved them from the brutal hand of Egypt, and had ushered them into the Promised Land.  They ignored this story, and sought to tell another story…a story where the LORD was not their god, but the idols of Ba’al.  And they paid dearly for their rebellion.  But God’s judgment and vengeance was not the final word.  A new story would be told, of how God forgave the people, of how God restored them and ushered them into an age greater than any that had come before.  “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
          Imagine how Jeremiah’s words must have felt to those who were living in the midst of destruction.  Any sense of abandonment by God would have been washed away with a flood of joy.  Jeremiah chose to tell another story in the face of deep darkness and gloom.  His story was one of repentance and restoration, of a new age where God would be known more intimately than ever before, and all the sins of the past would be wiped clean.  Jeremiah chose to tell a story of hope.

            During this season of stewardship, what kind of story will you and I choose to tell with our lives?  We’ve been given an opportunity to think critically about how our money is spent and how we fill the hours of our days.  And when all is said and done, we realize that stewardship is about much more than money or time.  It’s about a life lived in service to this grand story of grace and redemption.  Jeremiah chose to tell a story of hope to a broken and beaten down people.  The Apostle Paul admonished Timothy to “continue in what he has learned” and to “proclaim the message and be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable.”  Last Sunday, Richard reminded us as a congregation filled with God’s children to be thankful for all the blessings we have even in the midst of the troubles that may work against us.  So, what kind of story will you tell?  Will you live your life in such a way that the story of God’s grace, redemption, and salvation will shine brightly?  Will you be thankful for your blessings and seek to tell the story of God’s peaceful kingdom with the sharing of those blessings?  Will you help St. Andrew’s to become a parish ever more faithful to the story of grace and transformation we have received, where the Gospel is preached and righteousness flourishes?  What kind of story do you want your life to tell? 

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