Once Upon a Time

This is a transcript from the June 16, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.

I want to begin by telling you a story. I want to tell you a story about a man named Jason, who was working hard as a dad as a part of a family, and at this point he wasn't doing too well. The story is from Don Miller's book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. As Jason is telling Don about his daughter, his 13-year-old daughter, and he's saying, "It's not going well." She's 13 and she suddenly turned very antisocial. She's separated from a lot of other friends.

She's hanging around a boyfriend who's older, who's just using her, and she can't see it, or she chooses not to. She's doing a lot of at-risk behaviors. She's not doing well in school, and it's just getting more and more miserable. After some back and forth, it's Don, out of his mouth says,

"She's not living a very good story. She's caught up in a bad one."

Jason says, "What do you mean by that?"

He said, "Well, it just comes from some time and thinking about life as a story." That we have these stories that we are living out and it struck him that Jason's daughter had chosen a storyline, or it was chosen for her, or however you want to say that, it was not a good one. It was a bad one. I wanted to hold that up because this summer, we want to talk a little bit about our own stories.

Your story, my story, and how sometimes we get caught up in bad stories, or incomplete stories, or stories that just don't make sense, or we forget about our story altogether. Whether we're 13, or whether we are 93, there's something powerful about claiming and reclaiming the story, that's your life. It's not going to be series so much this summer, but Jordan and I are going to pick up some ideas about how do you tell the story of your life?

What are the elements of a story? How was yours going? How is your story going? My guess is on any given week with this many people here there are some whose story is going very well. Maybe today is a part of one of those great chapters, and it's a time of celebration. Maybe today is a reminder of a story that's not going well. Maybe it's some things that have been chosen for us, maybe it's our own choices. How's your story?

Because the point of all of this, including today is, how do we recover? How do we recapture? Maybe even, how do we reset the story of your life? If maybe the idea that your life has a story is a new thought, maybe it feels like things just happen and then things happen and things happen and it just seems all over the place.

Psalm 139 is a good piece of Scripture because Psalm 139 comes to us as a gift. It says, you have a story.

O Lord, you have searched me and you have known me.

You are known. 

In this wonderful poem, this Psalm, this song, there's all these different illusions and pieces that say, "You are made, you are created, you have a story that is known by God." For all those times when we despair that maybe we don't have a story, this Psalm 139 is a gift because it says, "Oh yes, you do."

If you think about it, if you step back, it will blow you away, it will knock you off your feet. Now, sometimes this Psalm has been used because different phrases and words get pulled out. It gets used for all kinds of things for which it was never intended. I've heard people quote this Psalm to talk about abortion or personhood. This Psalm gets quoted to talk about predestination.

This Psalm gets quoted to talk about things like violence and retribution, and all of that you can do with any poem or any song and it's a way of misusing this. You don't make doctrine and you don't make law out of poems, but you do catch the gist. The gist of this, the thing to not miss in this, it's summarized here.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.

It is so high I can't attain it.

There is something wondrous when I stop and think about my life and how it is surrounded, it is anticipated, it is joined by you, oh God. Suddenly, I have a different kind of a story. I am expected, I am created, I have a gift because they have a story. To recognize you, you have a story is a way of God saying yes to you and your life. You're not trying to vie for worthiness, you're not trying to create your own, you are trying to live into the one that you've been given.

This morning, I want to start with the phrase that we all know very well once upon a time. Once upon a time, suddenly we start to lean forward. Once upon a time, and we know there's a story coming. Once upon a time there was a prince, once upon a time there was a princess. Once upon a time there was a bear. Once upon a time there was a girl named Lucy, who was working in the back of a wardrobe. Once upon a time, there was a hobbit named Bill. Once upon a time, we say that because it's beyond time. We tell these stories because it's a way of making sense of our own.

Once Upon a Time - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO Church

We tell these stories because they inform and can inspire our own story. Stories are powerful things if we want to jump ahead, we'd say instead of once upon a time, we'd even say long ago in a galaxy far, far away, but it's the same point. It is a way of setting up and now we're sitting back and we're listening and we're savouring because we're going to hear something, and if it's a good story we'll connect with it.

There's something that will connect us, something that will spark, there's something that we will lean into, there is something we will get out of it. Maybe that's why the Bible likes stories so much because the Bible is full of stories. In the Old Testament, the very first confession of faith is the command that, as you go on those feast days, and you bring your offering and the priest will say, "Why are you here?"

You and I are used to giving a creed. You and I are used to saying, "Here's the doctrines we believe." The very first though, the very first is to tell a story. The answer is my father was a wandering era man once we were no people, but then God. God came in and found us and heard our cry and redeemed us and took-- It tells a story. That's who you are. A story gives you your identity. It gives you your location. It sets you up for what is next. It puts you into context.

Such knowledge is too great for me. Oh God, how do I ever get to it? Same thing in the New Testament, of course. When Jesus would go out, Jesus didn't give a set of doctrines, Jesus didn't give a set of instructions anywhere near as much as Jesus told stories. "You wonder what the kingdom of God is like?" Jesus said, "Let me tell you a story." "You want to know what it's like when Christ reigns? Let me tell you a parable."

It's like this and we live into it because there's something in us that's wired for story. How's your story this morning? How do you fit into that great story of God? That in beyond all time is our time because once upon a time, there was you. That's what Psalm 139 is about. Once upon a time, there was you. You who are wonderfully made, you who are anticipated, you who are expected, you who are being held. When we miss it's because we choose a different story.

We choose a smaller story, when Jason comes back a little bit later and talks about his family, his story. He tells Don,

"She's not a bad girl, she was just choosing

the best available story to her."

It was a different story of belonging. It was a different story of identity. As he was reflecting on it, she had too small of a story. We have too small of a story when we try to tell it apart from God. We have a story that's too small. It's not big enough.

It is not granted enough for who we were made to be. Would we tell our story and it's somehow apart from God? We need to change the story. That's what Jason did. It's a funny story. Jason, after he talks to Don, he thinks about it does some research and then at a family dinner, just his wife and his daughter, he announces that they're going to build an orphanage. Say what? It costs this much money and they don't have this much money, and it's going to take all this time. By the way, he hasn't even checked this out with his wife.

Not a good move as he finds out later and he acknowledges. It's out of this desperation, really. It's out of this, "Oh my gosh. I've got to do something to change the story of this family. I've got to do something to change the story of my daughter." He starts talking about this. About what it's going to mean to go and to work with orphans, and what it's going to mean to build something, what it's going to mean to make a difference somewhere in this world.

His daughter's response was to get up, go to her room, slam the door, not talk to him for three days. Eventually the thought started to creep in that this is what she was going to do. About the fourth or fifth day at the meal, at dinner, she said, "Can we build that orphanage in Mexico?" He said, "Why?" "I don't know. I've been online. I've been looking. I've been researching. It seems to me the need is really big there. I've been telling my friends that we're going to go build an orphanage, and I think it'd be really cool if we did it in Mexico."

She's starting to live into a larger story. She's starting to tell something that is bigger, that is closer to the true self of who she is. When we have a story like that, it becomes a gift because it's an invitation, not just into a larger story, but in retrospect, it's the story of our true self. It's a story of why we are here in the first place. It's God's story. It is a story that is inviting us into something larger than ourselves.

It's a story about love. It's a story about compassion. It's a story about justice. It's a story about freedom. It's a story about unity. It's a story about abundance. Yes, I want to live into that story because when I do, when I live into God's story, I get to live into my true story, who I truly, truly am. That's what Jesus is telling people. When He's coming and the first words where He says, "Repent and believe. The Kingdom of God is here."

The story of God is breaking out amongst you. Change the way you're thinking. Change the direction you're going. It's not about being naughty or not being a certain way-- It's about can you live into a larger story? Can you believe that God's presence is here? Can you believe the reign of God is in our midst? The presence of God. Now, will you change the way you think about yourself? Will you change the way you think about God? Will you change the way that you live? If you will, it'll change your life.

We call it the Gospel. It is the good news of your life. It is the good news for this world. It changed Jason's life. It changed his daughter's life. As he's telling the story to Don months later as they're getting ready to go. Don asked, "What about the boyfriend?" "She dumped him."

"No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy
who uses her," he said. "She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while."

That's the power of good story. The power of a story that's worthy of our life. The power of the story that's worthy of the one that God gave you and that God gave me. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we go to sleep. Sometimes we're in a trance. Sometimes we are enchanted and we live into something that is smaller. Sometimes we wake up and we get to see the story that God has for us. When we do that, suddenly, your story and my story, we find courage. We find meaning. We find purpose. It's something that's large enough because it's in the presence of God.

Let me ask this question. How's your story going this morning? What's your storyline? Is it a good story? Is it a bad story? Right now, is it a story that's small? Is it a story that is enchanted? Is it asleep? Or do you find yourself waking up in new ways? Do you find yourself waking up to the God who is with you, who is there no matter what? That's really the wonder of this Psalm.

"If I ascend to heaven, you're there. If I make my bed in Sheol, you're there. If I take the wings of the morning and settled at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me fast."

If I go to the highest heights, if I go to the God-forsaken depths, it doesn't matter. God is there. That's my story. No matter where I go, God is there. When I begin to awaken to it, that story becomes sacred. Now, it becomes holy ground.

Now, I'm not just living one day at a time, putting one foot in front of the other.

Now, my life isn't just a matter of disjointed seams here and here and here. I begin to see the presence of God. When I began to see the presence of God there, then where would I not begin to see the presence of God? This wonderful quote by Richard Rohr, "We're already in the presence of God. What's missing, what's absent is our awareness."

Once Upon a Time - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO Church

Our story is God's yes to us and it's waiting for us to wake up to it. It's waiting for us to hear the invitation to something larger, deeper, something sacred and something holy. This week, what I would invite you to do is find somebody to share with. Share your story. If that seems too daunting, share some of the highs and lows of your life. The highest heights, the lowest depths and if it seemed appropriate, in the right company, where did you experience God in that?

Because what I always hear is while we may not always appreciate God in the highest heights, it is often in the lowest depths that people will say, "God was present in ways that I could not have imagined." Don't let this just be Jason's story. Don't let this be Don's story. Let this be your story. This week, where have you been aware of God's presence? That sacred story that is being offered to you and for our own selves?

I want you to listen already just to all the different ways that we are hearing yes. Yes, in the way that God comes to us with our own life and in the story. Yes, in the way that God is inviting us into something different. Especially for people who want to live a life that makes a difference. It is then not just hearing the invitation, it is living it. It is the yes that we give back to God. I've already suggested that you get to your story this week. Find a way to tell your story. Find someone to do it because then it becomes real.

One thing to have it raveling around in your head, another thing to put words to it and then to get to hear and savor someone else's beyond telling your story then living it as a way of making a difference. I talked about God's story as a gift to God. It is God's yes to us. It's an invitation into something else, but what it's waiting for is not just recognition but the response when give our yes back. When we say, yes, and we align ourself with what God is doing.

Our passage this morning, I said I would finish up a piece of that that is coming, and the words, at this point, turn harsh at first but you have to listen to the whole thing. Again, this is one of those times when it says, when it talked about, "Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? Do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred. I count them my enemies." Then you go, "You're not supposed to say that in church."

You're not because this side of the cross, we know that that's not how we treat our enemies. Again, this passage has been used in some hideous ways to put down, to judge, to kill, to do violence against those who people perceived as the enemies of God. This side of the cross, we understand that the way we operate is through love and that's how we approach our enemies. Again, it's a poem. You don't take just one verse or one word and blow it into a whole doctrine.

You missed the point because even then, in this passage, this is a cause for humility because all of that is said in order to set up something on the inside. It is a way of being able to say yes to God on the inside because the very next verses are, "Search me, O God. Search me, know my heart. Test me, know my thoughts, and see if there's any wicked way in me and lead me in the way of life everlasting. Search me. I want to give my yes to you, O God. I want to give my yes."

There are those things that obstruct. There are all those things that get in the way. There are those forces and those people who get in the way and oppress and demean and diminish and our heart breaks when people suffer and our hearts are enraged at the injustice. People who want to make a difference, it's part of aligning our hearts with God, but it always, always, starts with then the humility that says, "But check me out." "Before I go railing against all the things that are wrong in the world, check me out Oh God. Test me, try me because I want my life to align with you. I want my life to be part of what it is that you are doing.

Humility. For people who want to make a difference in this world, this passage is a gift. It says your life has a story. It is an invitation to align that story with God's story to say, yes, to something larger.

Not only is it a way of doing that on the inside, that humility of the inside is our invitation to say, yes, with our lives throughout. Listen to all the ways, in just this morning that people have said, yes, to God. Vacation Bible School teachers plus four more who are yet to be named. Going to say, yes. You're all going to say, yes, with their time and their energy going to Zimbabwe, building homes, going on a mission trip to serve others.

All of these are outward ways that we align ourselves and give ourselves to what God is wanting to do. It's a way of taking our story as its unfolding and then enfold it into the ongoing story of God. I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of that, because that's what makes a difference, that's what matters, that's where I find deeper meaning, that's where I find purpose.

It says I pour myself into all the places where I see God. I can't see it as clearly if I don't understand I've got a story, if I don't understand that God's got a story. Once I do, then life, every day we wake up in that, is where is God? What is God doing? Where do I pour myself into? What do I give myself to? What do I say no to so that I can say, yes, to something larger? Some of us are living a bad story. Some of us are living stories that are just too small.

It's not that we're bad, quote Jason. Some of us are just living the best story we know but it’s too small. This morning is an opportunity to reset that, to say yes to something that’s larger, to say yes to the reign of God in our world. Through the love and the compassion, the justice, the hope, unity, the abundance that God wants to bring. We say yes to that in so many different ways. Where will you say yes in this week to come?