Today, God’s Word is directing us to think about God’s story of salvation and how we place ourselves in the great story of redemption that God has written for all of humanity.
When I say the word story, I want to make sure we are all on the same page. In one sense when we hear the word story we think of something being made up or make- believe. Like when someone at work is trying to explain away why they lost a client and their just trying to save their own professional skin, the boss might say that was a great story but tell me what really happened.
Or a story can be fiction that we make up just for the fun of it or to ask a question and to see what might happen if, such and such happened. For example, what if there were aliens and what if the alien mother-ship landed in a small town and started disintegrating people with it’s death ray? This one was the premise for the great “war of the worlds” written by H.G. Wells in the late 1800’s. This is called speculative fiction, a “what if” story. Some critics of Christianity have said rather shrilly that the Bible is just that, speculative fiction, made up by the disciples to support a philosophical idea.
In 1938, the soon to be great dramatist and future film maker, Orson Welles performed a dramatic radio show based on the War of the Worlds. There was a brief disclaimer at the beginning of the radio program but after that it was uninterrupted story told in the form of urgent new’s bulletins about the aliens landing and the military confrontation. This portrayal was so well done that people just turning their radios for the first time to the station thought that this was a real news story creating a small amount of panic in the streets.
The next day when they were confronted with it they just said it was a great story, sorry about the confusion. In the same vein, if the Gospel stories of Jesus were simply speculative fiction the disciples made up, when confronted they would not have continued with great joy praising God for the resurrection of Jesus, especially when they were be martyred and slaughtered in great numbers. Speculative fiction does not hold that kind of power, people do not lay down their lives for a good retelling of The War of the Worlds.
Story in our everyday lives is much more powerful and it doesn’t have anything to do with fiction. In our American history think about some of the pivotal historical moments that really shaped who we are as a culture and as people. The assassination of President Kennedy. For me it was the challenger disaster in 1986. Or for pretty much all but the younger ones the events of 9/11. When someone asks, “where were you when, 9/11 happened,” we would tell the story of where we were, how we felt, how it effected us and the people around us.” The story is real, it is based on a real event and telling that story is one of our ways of understanding ourselves and the world around us in that life-changing moment and sharing that with others.
That function of story that helps us understand our place in the world and how we are supposed to live is something that we all work within. Think of the great American story that generations told each other, “go to America, there is opportunity there, start with nothing, work hard and you can achieve the American Dream.” This was part of that good old, protestant work ethic. But for recent generations that story has changed, where there seemed there was opportunity there are only shut doors and working hard doesn’t necessarily mean success as it has been defined in the past.
But there is one unchanging story of humanity and worldview that never seems to change. That is the story of blessing and failure. God’s story of humanity in the garden from Genesis 3: God’s blessing of a whole world for humanity to live within, enjoy and be caretakers of. God’s story written for them to live freely within the blessing of God. Then the Fall from grace, when they see themselves outside of God’s story and want to write the story themselves, to be like God. Failure and separation from the eternal God and all of the consequences therein. In the epistle lesson Paul continues to talk about this same story about the sin of Adam, becoming separated from God’s blessings that he gave to humanity.
Throughout the history of humanity their has always been the story of great blessing and great failure. When people take God’s story that he gives to them: here is the world to be blessed in, care for, live and love, and twist it for their own selfish desires. God’s blessings are not enough, they say, I want more, I want something different, I want this way of living or that way of living. I want to write my own story and be apart from God’s story. I want to be God and the forger of my own destiny. And as much as this seems like the call of freedom it is only the sad tale of another broken story, another broken life, another broken spirit. But we still try to write our own story time and time again, generation after generation, a common sinful and broken human story.
Then in the Gospel lesson we see Jesus being brought into the wilderness after his baptism. We begin to see the same story here Jesus coming out of the water, the heavens parting, the voice of the father speaking his blessing. But then Jesus is taken into the wilderness, a place of desolation and temptation. We are pretty sure we know how the story is going to go, the same way the story of Adam and all those before and after have gone, this is the point of failure, the place where we try to write our own story apart from God’s story.
The great accuser comes to Jesus who had not eaten for 40 days and tempts him to “If you really are the son of God, turn this stone into a loaf of bread.” The devil that Jesus had the power to do just that if he wanted to. Jesus had the power to write his own story apart from God’s, away from the cross and the empty tomb. The temptation was very real. Just when we know how the story is going to go, Jesus rebukes the devil with God’s story. “It is written that man does not live on bread alone but from every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This isn’t how the story goes, this is different.
Then the devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and tempts him again with a short-cut to glory and fame. This was in the middle of a feast day when many would be bustling around the temple courts and if Jesus threw himself off from the top of the peak and the angels in came to His rescue in all of their majesty the reaction from below would have outstanding. Another story written to keep Jesus away from keeping God’s story that would lead to the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus again doesn’t do what we expect and rejects Satan version of the story.
Finally, the devil offers Jesus a final alternative story to God’s story, dominion over the human world, ruling as an earthly king. Satan’s story would lead Jesus away from the cross and the empty tomb to earthly riches and power. Jesus could rewrite his story and not suffer and die upon the cross. But that would mean that all of humanity would be lost in their sins forever and their would be no redemption and no hope, just the human story of failure. For a final time Jesus says, “be gone Satan,” this is God’s story and not yours.
Because of God’s great love for us the story doesn’t have to end at failure and heartache, sin and separation from God because the best part of God’s story is the story of redemption and hope. The story of Jesus is the story of God coming into the story of blessing and failure and saying there is more to this story than just that. Jesus is the one who is both God from eternity and human in every way, living a life of perfect obedience to God’s story. There was not failure but obedience and trust. Then finally there was more to the story, there is the story of redemption from the cross and the story of hope given from the empty tomb. This is God’s story given to humanity in Jesus, it is the story of redemption and hope given because of God’s great love for us.
So now we find ourselves in the same story that humanity has lived time and time again, the story of blessing and failure. Our own lives attest to the commonality of this story for each one of us. It is also the same sad story of people trying to be God and trying to write their own story apart from God. That story is not a story with a happy ending but it is the same story of heartbreak, loss, hurt and separation from God both now and eternally. But God has a different story for us, because we are broken people it is the story of blessing and failure that we all live through, but because of Jesus it is story that doesn’t end there but in faith in Jesus it is a story of redemption in the cross of Jesus and hope everlasting. Blessing and human failure, Redemption and hope in Jesus. This is God’s story given for us and in faith he invites us to see ourselves inside this story so that we can know redemption and hope in the story that we live.