If you think about it,the Bible is a book of stories.
That’s really what it is. And, I’m not saying that to diminish the inspiration or power of the Bible, but to actually raise the power of stories in our lives. The Old Testament is full of the stories of Jewish people and their interaction with God. The Gospels are full of the stories of Jesus and His interaction with people. And, the Epistles are also stories of sorts – insights into the Early Church, and the stories that shaped them.
So, I raise all of this, because we so often discount our own stories.
We discount the lives we have lived, and the impact God has made in our lives. But, the truth is, our stories matter. They shape us, change others, and give tangible insight into the working of God in our lives.
When Paul shares his story in 2 Corinthians – that he has been battered and bruised, but not beaten – we resonate and can understand. When John shares about his interaction with Jesus in Revelation, we enter into his world and are changed. When we read Acts – literally the story of the Early Church – we are shaped, formed, and changed by it.
I write all this to remind you of one simple thing that we often discount and dismiss: Our stories have power.Our stories have meaning. Our stories are places not only to connect with ourselves and others, but also with God.
And, this is something I think the church understood a while ago, with the importance placed on “testimony” or “bearing witness.” And, it’s something we need to get back to. We need to share our stories.
Andrew Root, an amazing theologian, writes this:
“Stories are the tentacles of personhood that reach out to share and be shared in. We enter each other’s lives not through magical voodoo, but through the words of our stories, and entering into these stories binds us to one another. Story is the formative experience of relational personhood, and to share our story is to invite others to share in our being. When I share your story, I share in your person.”
So, share your story with others. Open up. Share around a table. Share over a cup of coffee. But, please share your story.
Because, it is in opening up and sharing that we become bound to one another.
And, I think that’s needed more than ever in our world. To be bound together, and bound to Christ. But, that only happens as we share our lives with one another. So, share your story, and see what happens.
On Sunday we started our series looking at each of the gospels and why they are written the way they are. Because each gospel is wrote with a different purpose, context, and audience – and we need all 4. Life is complex and we cannot reduce the gospels down to “one story”. Instead, we have one story told from four perspectives and we need all 4.
So on Sunday we looked at the gospel of Matthew.
We learned that it was most likely written to Jewish Christians. We can tell this by how Matthew never explains Jewish customs (like Mark), grounds Jesus’ ministry with echoes to Moses and Abraham (unlike Luke who grounds it in Adam), and focuses in on Jewish questions of how to live.
From this we learned though why this might be so important in that day and age. We learned how the temple was destroyed in AD 70 and how Jospehus writes that millions were killed, and “Most of the victims were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, butchered wherever they were caught. Round the Altar the heaps of corpses grew higher and higher, while down the Sanctuary steps poured a river of blood and the bodies of those killed at the top slithered to the bottom”.
And while that is certainly brutal, here is why it matters. The Jewish world was utterly rocked by the destruction of the temple. The Jewish way of life as was known was over, and they faced tremendous change, uncertainty, and confusion. And it’s into this milieu that Matthew writes. Matthew writes to a group of Jewish Christians whose way of life has been so utterly compromised that they can’t see the way forward.
So Matthew writes about moving through change and confusion.
While we looked at some high level themes, we really landed on the story of Peter walking on the water, and how this story would be so helpful to a group of people processing change. Peter, in the midst of darkness, uncertainty, and confusion does something crazy. He steps further into the unknown. He actually moves further away from what little safety and security remained for him and stepped out into the wind and the waves. He places all his faith, and trust in Jesus and with courage steps out.
And I think this is Matthew’s point commented on in various ways throughout the gospel: the way we get through change is courage and trust in Jesus.
That’s how we move through the wind, waves, and sea of chaos and uncertainty. And while the temple being destroyed doesn’t change many of our Western lives, we all have our own temples that we rely on. Whether these temples are faith, jobs, health, or wealth they occasionally crumble and seem to crack. And Matthew’s word for us to trust and have courage in the face of uncertainty. Matthew’s words for us when the world is falling apart to step further out in trust with Jesus and follow with courage. Matthew’s message isn’t to huddle in the boat, trying to keep the thing together, but to step out with trust. And that’s where we ended too. Asking us all to take a step of trust.
Big Idea: Face change with courage and trust.
We have 4 gospels and need all four.
The Gospels tell us how the early church told the story of Jesus in four different contexts – Michael Hardin
Matthew is about how to face and deal with change.
We still have our own “temples” today.
I have no certainty about my future, and you might not either.
A theme of Matthew is to have courage and trust.
Face change with courage and trust.
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Had you ever thought about the gospels being different before? How does knowing some of the context change things? Are you in the midst of facing any change? What excites you, or worries you about it? What might “stepping” out of the boat look like? How can you be sure to remain focused on Jesus?
Challenge for the Week: To ask Jesus to call you out of the boat, and step out with courage and trust.
On Sunday we looked at the different stories we orient our lives around. The truth is life can turn dark quick sometimes. The truth is that life can be difficult: relationships can fail, jobs can be lost, and disaster can happen. And when that happens it becomes so easy and tempting to believe that the universe isn’t a generous place, that God is maybe not good, or that things will keep on getting darker and darker.
And that’s what we wanted to really examine and also challenge: that I don’t believe hurt, fear, or darkness is at the centre of the universe. And to do that we looked at Colossians 1 where we read this:
For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 22. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.
And this passage can manage to offend just about everyone. Paul begins reminding us that we are all broken. We are all sinful, and we are all hostile towards God. Whether we recognize it or not, we are broken. But Paul knows this but he doesn’t end there. Paul says that yes we are enemies of God separated by our evil thoughts and actions, but God takes an amazing step.
Paul says God responds to this enmity and hostility by reconciling everything and everyone to him through the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul says that all of creation is redeemed and reconciled to Jesus because of his depth of his obedience in and through the cross. Paul says that we are all included. That we are holy, blameless, and standing before God without a fault.
And this is so life changing, so world altering, it can only be called Good News.
The truth is that at the centre of the universe isn’t random chance, at the centre of the universe isn’t hate, at the centre of the universe isn’t disaster or difficulty.
At the centre of the universe is love.
At the centre of the universe is a God that is for you, not against you. A God that gives up all he has to bridge the gap between us. A God that holds nothing back to welcome you, to include you, to bring you into his family, his love, and his grace. This is the news that has changed the world and it does this by changing people. Its changed me, and billions of others throughout the centuries. And on Sunday I wanted to remind us of a story we so often forget: that love is at the centre of the universe.
Michael Gungor says, “Faith comes from listening to the right stories”
And so often it’s so easy to listen to the wrong or damaging stories: that hurt is around the corner, chance is the arbiter of fate, or that things will get worse and worse. But that is not the story of the gospel, the story of the gospel is that you are holy, blameless, and standing before God. This is the message of hope that we need to hold onto, that needs to shape our lives, and that we can’t drift from.
So Sunday all we sought to do was to remind ourselves of the good news: that love is at the centre of the universe. For those of us who have never heard this, we invited them to accept Jesus and this truth. And for those of us who have heard this, we invited us to never drift from this truth but to welcome and celebrate it. Because it is Good News that goodness is at the centre of the universe.
Big Idea: Love is at the heart of the universe
We all have at certain points the feeling that things aren’t going for us but against us
“Faith comes from listening to the right stories.” – Michael Gungor
God is Jesusy
We are all broken and separated from God
Through Jesus everything is reconciled to God
God is for you not against you
The gospel is that the resurrection changes everything, and every single person.
I don’t care what you or anyone else have done in your life I care what Jesus has done for your life
Love is at the heart of the universe
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What did you think of the deer story? What would be your “deer story” where things just get worse and worse? Have you ever felt like hurt or difficulty is just around the corner? What “stories” are you trusting? How can believing that love is at the centre of the universe change your life? How can you ensure that you never drift form that good news?
Discussion Questions for Families:
Today talk to them about how easy it is to get scared, to have fear drive us, or to believe that things wont’ get better. But share with them the passage that the heart of the universe is a God who loves us and is for us.
Challenge for the Week: Trust that God is for you not against you.
I don’t normally review books here. It’s not that I don’t read books, it’s just that most of the books I read I don’t really think most people would like. The reason I say this is because whenever Krista sees what I’m reading she says, “Andrew…why?” I figure her reaction is pretty much standard for most people.
But I recently read a book I really enjoyed, called The New Parish, by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight Friesen. And there was one line or idea that I really appreciated (among others). It’s this:
The gospel bids us to the seek the flourishing of life for all. The New Parish
I just think that line is beautiful. The Gospel bids us to seek the flourishing, extending, and growing of life for all – all around us. I think this is a beautiful mission statement for Christians. You are to help life flourish in your community, your neighbourhood, your family. You are to be not only a source of life, but a catalyst for life all around you.
And this idea is deeply rooted in Scripture, because Jesus came to give us life abundant (John 10:10). I don’t think that was just so we could experience life, that was so we could share life.
So my question for you is this: how can you seek the flourishing of life for your community? How can you be a catalyst of life to grow in your neighbourhood? How can you share life with your family?
And the beauty of those questions is that they don’t have to be hard things. They can be simple but life giving things. What about throwing a party so neighbours can actually get to know one another? What about cleaning up a park so kids can play? What about mowing a neighbour’s lawn? What about dropping off food for your sister? What about watching your brother’s kids?
These are simple, but they are life giving things. And as the authors of the New Parish remind us – the gospel is about giving life for all, and the flourishing of all.
It’s a pretty big thing. In fact, if you think about it, all relationships are built on it. It’s something that takes years to build, and moments to lose. It’s something that is the difference from a relationship being healthy, to horrible. It is something we often take for granted, but is the grounding for almost everything.
I’m writing a little bit about trust because I think this is one thing we as Christians need to develop most. We need to develop trust. Let’s just be honest: the culture around us doesn’t trust us as the church. Stats show it. Anecdotal evidence shows it. And I think this is something we know deep down. But here is the beautiful thing: it’s something that can be changed.We can rebuild trust in our families, friendships, and communities. And if I can be so strong – this is something we need to do. We need to invest in rebuilding trust and connections with our culture and our communities.
I was talking with someone about why today “gospel presentations” often don’t seem to work. My answer was a lack of trust and relationship. Formal presentations without the basis of trust and relationship simply don’t carry much impact. It’s not that the gospel doesn’t have weight and impact on its own. The point is that the gospel is inherently relational. So when we share the gospel without relationships, it loses impact because its lost something important: trust.
So all of this is simply to say one thing. Trust matters. It matters if we want to follow Jesus fully. It matters if we want to leave an impact on our communities. It matters if we want to be faithful to the gospel and to Jesus. It matters more than we think.
But that’s the difficulty with trust, it’s so easy to take it for granted. But if we want to see lives changed, it can’t be something we take for granted, it’s something we need to cultivate.
On Sunday we looked at the story of Baptism. You’ll be able to download the sermon here. And what I realized as I prepared the sermon on Baptism is that it’s really about grace, gospel and gift.
We looked at Acts 8 and in the story we meet a eunuch. This is a man who has been socially excluded, hurt, suffered something that is humiliating, and has no opportunity for a family or descendants. And he is reading a passage about humiliation, cutting, and a loss of family (Isaiah 53:7-8). This is a passage that would resonate with a man who has been cut, humiliated, and will never have descendants. Right at that moment Philip asks if he understands what he has read and shares with him the Gospel of grace and Jesus Christ.
The Eunuch understandably wants to join this movement, to be included in a family, but he is scared and scarred. Because the eunuch has just been turned away from the Temple in Jerusalem (see Deut.23:1). He has just been excluded, thrown out, and rejected because of who he is. What is amazing about the story in Acts 8 is that Philip immediately baptizes him and welcomes without wasting any time. The gospel of grace doesn’t demand that the eunuch change before he comes to Jesus; the gospel of grace is that people change by coming to Jesus.
So from this story I pulled three main thoughts. That baptism is really a reminder and a marker of the story we are a part of. It also reminds us of grace, identity, and inclusion in God’s family.
First, baptism is a reminder of the wideness of God’s mercy. So we need to be careful if we limit the scope and activity of God’s grace. The religious institution of the day excluded this man whom the Kingdom of God welcomed. The truth is God’s gospel of grace is for everyone and anyone. Everyone is free to come to Jesus. Jesus died for the whole world and baptism is a reminder of the wideness of God’s grace.
Secondly, it reminds us of our identity. The eunuch is no longer a broken, excluded man with no descendants. He is a part of a spiritual family. He is pure, holy, and clean. Baptism doesn’t save us, make us holy or clean; Jesus Christ does that. Baptism doesn’t change us, but it does remind us of the change that has happened. And when we follow Jesus, we are new, we are no longer sinners, but holy, perfect, and clean because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Paul says, “Those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore for the old life is gone. A new life has begun (2 Cor. 5:17). So Baptism is a reminder of our identity in Christ. We are no longer the same anymore. The old life is gone and new life has begun. We don’t need to cling onto our old identity but embrace our identity in Christ.
Lastly, it reminds us we are part of a family. The eunuch joins a family of God, and tradition says that he brought the gospel to many people. So while he may not have any physical descendants, he has many spiritual descendants. He is a father to many. Baptism is a reminder that we are apart of a family and a people called by God. We are included in God’s family and that gives us reason to celebrate.
So from an odd story about chariots, eunuchs, and running disciples, we learn about God, gospel, and most of all grace.
On Sunday I’ve chosen an odd topic, one that now that I’ve got into it, I find so beautiful, compelling, and life-changing. What’s odd about the topic is that it is Baptism.
I would say that most people don’t feel that a sermon on Baptism is beautiful. They either feel forced or guilt driven by it, if they haven’t been baptized, or feel it’s a waste of time or redundant, if they have been baptized. The problem with that is, when you read about the story of Baptism in Acts 8, it is anything but boring, redundant, guilt-driven, or forced. The story is all about grace, gospel, life, and beauty. The story is about how we see ourselves, how we see others, and how we see the church. The story of baptism reminds us of our identity, the gospel of grace, and the people of God.
So I know it’s odd to preach on Baptism. I know that you might have heard sermons that seem to be trying to convict people to make a choice to be baptized. I know you might have heard sermons that didn’t speak to you because you’ve already been baptized. But I don’t believe Sunday is going to be at all like that, because as I’ve been preparing, God’s been changing me. He’s been using this odd topic to remind me of who I am in Christ, of how I should see my neighbors, and how I should value the church. So my prayer is that on Sunday he’ll keep doing what he’s started in my life, changing us through a story of grace and gift.
So on Sunday if you want to find out about the gospel, grace, and your identity in Jesus, we’re going to find out all about that through the spiritual practice of Baptism. But before we get there why not take a moment and read Acts 8. Simply read it a few times, and see what you notice and how God speaks to you through it. And come Sunday we’ll see how one man’s life was changed and how ours can be as well…