The Story of Us

The Story of Us - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

This is a transcript from the July 14, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.

Want to know a really radical story about who we are? It's right here. That humanity is not just meaningless. It is not an afterthought. Humans aren't meant to be controlled and oppressed and used for your own benefit. Humanity is, by its very nature, sacred. It is blessed by God.

God said, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that's upon the face of the earth, and every tree with a seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. To every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has breath of life, I have given every green plant for food."

God saw everything that He made.

Indeed, it was very good. We moved from good to very good. We moved to, "Wow, this is amazing. I've even outdone myself", says God, and it has to do with humanity. Can you see what a different story?

When we talk about the story of us, and what's this all about, and what the implications for how we live our lives and how we treat one another, this is going to come out differently if we start there. If we don't start there, we start over here. The results are all around us. We start with a better story.

By the way, this is day six and the next day just to make the point, was not, "Okay, you're here now you get busy and go work." No, it's "You're here, now let's rest. Now, let's have a day of Sabbath. Let's find a day of revelry and savoring the presence of one another. Let's not do work. Let's make this a day--" Because the Sabbath becomes the crown of all creation because we were made for one another and presence. God is present in creation, not aloof, and just looking for workers.

Oh, my goodness. There are two different stories that are going on. It is the story of when we're talking about what is the story of us, there is one story that is the story of power, of violence, of death, and cursedness. There is another story about creativity and love and relationship and blessing, and there still are. There are still those two basic stories about why we are here. What does it mean to be human? How are we to live and to thrive in this world. It all has to do with where do we begin.

In the beginning...

where do we go back to? Because I tell you, there are still two versions of what does it mean to do well in this world. One will have to do with who's the strongest, and who's the most powerful and who can oppress, and who can be in control. Then there's another that is vulnerable, and it is about love and is it about care. Those are still the two major stories that will determine our lives. It will also determine the way we come to worship, it will determine the way we worship God and we live our faith.

Even as there's two versions of the world, there are two types of religion. If it is the first one, then it's about appeasing this God who we don't want to get angry at us. We want God's favor and so we'll do all kinds of things, we'll say things. It is to coerce others to keep in line so that God is not upset with us. It is also to make sure that everybody's doing the right thing. It works off shame, it works off guilt. It's about excluding those who don't belong and making sure that those who do belong have done the right thing, said the right things, believe the right things.

On the other hand, there is another version of religion where the whole point is to align ourselves with this good, creative, and loving God. It is to do the work of reconciling that which is separate. It is to live out of grace. The great work is to bring together, it is to include.

The Story of Us - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

Let me ask you this question. Which of those typified the way you were brought up? Which of those is the one that you have labored under? I hope that you got to under the second column. I'm guessing most of us at least in part, got a taste of that first column and it makes a difference. It makes a difference because it limits the way we're going to see God. It makes a difference because it limits the way we get to live our faith. It makes a difference because it limits the way we treat one another.

Genesis 2 starts at the same way. It is God getting very involved in creation, and forming and fashioning human beings and in breathing into humanity. That's what it means to be human. It has had the very indwelling of the nature and the breath of God. By definition, we are created sacred. If you want to know where the holy ground is, just look next door. Look at the person who's sitting next to you. That's holy ground. This is holy ground.

Now, how do we live? Unfortunately, some of us who grew up where we are on that one column over there with a Peace Corps shame and guilt is because we started our story somewhere else. We started in about chapter three with that story about disobedience and says, "That's the most important thing about who we are."

We even labeled that, we called it Original Sin.

For the last 1500 years since it first came out, in the 1400s, original Sin says, "No, this is who we are." In the beginning, you are unworthy, you are rebellious. You are a person who does not merit God's love. Something has to be done in order to make you somehow worthy, somehow acceptable to God. One of the famous sermons in American history is sinner in the hands of an angry God. Go look it up someday, it'll depress the heck out of you.

It is still the benchmark for what some people consider good preaching of telling it like it is. Because it is about literally putting the fear of God in people so that they will turn and do something, and they will line themselves up, and they will do what needs to be done so that they can be acceptable to God.

It's not just ancient history, it is current day stuff because in one way or another, there are many sermons today and in many revivals that have the same basic format. Put the fear of God in people, and then give them a way out, and now they're acceptable to God. It has to do with the way that we treat one another.

There is a famous preacher who is living today, who is well known, who shall not be named, who when he was asked about, "What about all the innocent children in the world who are dying of hunger? Shouldn't they be treated well? Shouldn't they have compassion given to them?" His answer was, "First and foremost, there's no such thing as innocent children. Everybody from birth is born accursed, and everybody is born apart from God."

Let's start there. That's where we start. When we have the wrong beginning, when we take this story, and we misinterpret it from the very beginning and we create this. There are two different ways of thinking about God and two different ways of thinking about our self. It's in that version where Jesus came to save us from the wrath of God. That somehow Jesus came so that God would see us differently and accept us so that when we die, we get to go to heaven. Does that sound familiar at all?

We start in a different place. Depending on where we start, when we start with Genesis 1, we start at what is right there in the scripture where it says,

The most important thing about us, the most essential part of who we are, before we even took a breath, was we were blessed,

the original blessing.

It doesn't mean that there isn't sin. That doesn't mean that we have violated things. We do all the time. It does mean that on the backdrop of that, for all the things that we do wrong, here's the one part that's never changing. You are blessed. You are beloved.

The great work of God is to bring us back, and that Jesus didn't come to satisfy the wrath of God but to demonstrate the love of God. When Jesus was on the cross, Jesus wasn't trying to change our minds, God's mind, about us. Jesus was trying to change our mind about God.

Jesus was trying to give us a new beginning. It begins with the idea that there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God. When we say there is nothing that can make God love you more or less, it's coming out of Genesis 1, God created.

At the core of who you are, no matter what failures, no matter what thing, yes, that happens. You know what, even more true of you is you are blessed, and you are beloved, and that God is seeking to unite and to reconcile so that you can wake up and we can wake up to who we truly are in the beginning.

It changes us when we start from original sin, then we're trying to appease, then we're trying to coerce, then we're trying to shame or guilt people over trying to exclude. When we start with who we are as originally as blessed people and beloved by God, then the work of religion is to align and to reconcile, to live into grace, and to do the work of inclusion.

You tell me what's a better story? You tell me what's inside of you right now that's going, "Yes, I want that one." I'll bet you're thinking that one on the right sounds better, and it should because it corresponds to your creation and who we are.

The Story of Us - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

We're reading a book for the pastor's book club this summer, one book for three weeks instead of three books a week. Searching for Sunday, and I was struck in getting ready for this. There's a chapter 10, I won't read it.

There is one account after another of where the church, the people of God get on the wrong side of the story. They have aligned themselves with the one column, the wrong story. They have aligned themselves with the part that says, "God is blessing those who are in control and powerful. If you are in power, that means God has blessed you and you use it to coerce and you control people."

Story by story, whether it is the story of the crusades where the crusaders go in, and as they breach the walls of Jerusalem and shouting, "God wills it. Kill every human being, man, woman, and child because God wills it." When they find Jews in their synagogue seeking a sanctuary, they set fire to it because God wills it.

It is the story of the reformation where Jews were persecuted because they were on the wrong side of the story that it was decided that they weren't worthy enough, they were wrong. They needed to be converted or die because it was better to die than to go to hell. God wills it. Glory be to God.

It's those kinds of stories that you and I find in our stomachs that just churn. They should because it's something that's out of sync with our creation. Why do we continue to have those episodes?

It's not just those. You watch how people are treated. The first part had to do with who we are, this also affects how we treat one another. Whether it is the legacy of how Europeans treated people from Africa because they were out of the Tribe of Ham and somehow they were cursed, and so they could be treated differently, they were worthless.

Whether it was in our own heritage with Native Americans. Whether it's in any group of people where some people are more valuable and worth more and others are worthless, and so they don't count as much. They don't have to be taken into consideration.

In each case in this story, in this book, Rachel ends with "Lord have mercy." Indeed Lord have mercy because we have too often been people when we side, we don't go back far enough. What's this all about? We started in the wrong place, and we don't have a chance of getting it right.

We live out of the wrong story. It's the kind of story that Marduk would approve but I don't think Jesus would. Not just Jesus but as time goes on and the idea of fear starts to subside, more and more people are throwing the whole thing away saying that's just a bad story. They're throwing all of religion out.

Abraham Heschel who was a 20th-century Jewish mystic had this wonderful saying that I had just kind of emblazoned in my study. "It is customary to blame secularism for the eclipse of religion in modern society, but it would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, and insipid."

When faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain, when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless. More than that, it becomes dangerous.

There are two stories. There are two versions of who we are and what it's about. There is the story of what religion is to do, which is to exclude, it's to oppress, it's to coerce, it's to make people obedient. There's the other one that it is meant to include and to reconcile. The word religion literally means really religio, reconnect, religament. It's to reconnect us to God into one another.

The Story of Us - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

Which story has our attention? Which story will we live out of today? Because there is a choice in what this is all about. To be on the side of Christ who came to include, and to unite, and to reconcile, to open our eyes to who God is, to help us think about God differently, and God is still at work.

That becomes our work. Our story gets to be part of that. That's pretty exciting work. We get to be about the business of redeeming, and reconciling, and healing. We get to be about the business of continuing to create. This is a better story. This is God's story. This is Christ's story. By the grace of God, let it, today, be the story of us.